Barely three weeks ago, Ethics Alarms offered this post, “The New York Times Refusing To Inform Its Readers What Meyers Leonard Was Suspended For Saying Is Far More Unethical Than Leonard Saying It.” Readers of the Times and many other news sources had revealed that the NBA’s Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard was in big trouble because he had used a word that was an ethnic slur so terrible that we couldn’t be told exactly what it was. This is censorship and journalism incompetence at its worse: without knowing the word, the story makes no sense. It is a central fact that the public must know in order to assess whether the outrage over the utterance and the eventual consequences were just.
Ethics Alarms had to inform readers that the word was “kike.” That’s not my job. Nonetheless, I have respect for the public, language, the duty of communication and free speech that the majority of American journalists do not.
Now, in an example of bad ethics deja vu, it’s happened again. Rather than do their job and tell the story, most of the news media is requiring the public to play “Wheel of Fortune,” and complete a phrase by guessing what a word is in order to understand why its utterance by a professional athlete is newsworthy.
Here was how USA Today reported the episode:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis apologized for a tweet he sent Sunday night that contained an anti-Asian slur. Davis said he confused the term for one he was intending to mean “lame” while trying to blame the media for the traction the tweet received.”I would never offend any group of people,” Davis, 24, wrote. “You reporters can look for another story to blow up. The term was directed towards a producer claiming he ‘ran Miami’ With that being said I’ll retire that word from my vocabulary giving the hard times our Asian family are enduring. According to ESPN, Davis wrote “Gotta stop letting (expletive) in Miami” in the tweet that has since been deleted. Anti-Asian attacks have increased recently as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its second year.In response to the tweet, the Asian American Journalists Association Sports Task Force said in a statement that it “is disappointed by his sentiment, especially at a time when Asians in the United States are experiencing a sharp increase in anti-Asian hate which has resulted in harassment and attacks.”
Wait: what did he say? What was he referring to? I’m pretty good at word games, but this stumped me. At least ESPN provided some hints: ” “Gotta stop letting (expletive) in Miami.” Hmmmm. This is hard! What’s in Miami? Cubans? Can’t be that: this is an anti-Asian secret word. Sushi? Did Davis use the dreaded description of the pandemic virus that accurately describes its place of origin. as in “Wuhan virus”?
I went to Google News and tried to find a source that actually revealed the word. Even the conservative websites are intimidated: Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze” would only say that the word was “g****.” Now we’re getting somewhere! Goats? I looked further. An Indian source called RepublicWorld treated the media’s self-created mystery as the story, with the headline, “What Did Colin Davis Say?”…and still wouldn’t print the word! Ah, but it added another letter: “k”! Now we knew the word was “g**k*, and it took RepublicWorld four paragraphs to even reveal that.
OK, I’ll spill the censored beans. The Word That Must Not Be Revealed was gooks. Gooks. It’s a word that turns up in about 50 movies about the Vietnam war. (Davis claims that he didn’t know the word was an ethnic slur. Sure.) I had Vietnam war veteran room mates in both college and law school, and they used the term occasionally in private, not to describe Asians in general but to describe the enemy soldiers who were trying to kill them, and that they had been trained to kill. Yes, it’s a slur, no doubt about it. It’s also a word, and the Ethics Alarms position, first articulated way back in this post, is that it is unethical, not to mention stupid, to make any word taboo in the United States of America.
That eleven-year-old post was about an effort to ban “retarded,” and to only refer to it as “the r-word.” I wrote in part,
Word-banning is simply a micro-version of book-banning. It is an effort to ban unpopular, unfashionable, politically incorrect thoughts by removing the words to express them, and this is sinister, dangerous, and unacceptable….
I can think of lots of other unsavory, mean words that begin with an “r.” How about “raghead,” Ruskie,” “redneck,” and “redskin”? If “retarded” is banned (along with “retard”), can these be far behind? Then what…do we have to talk in terms of “r-word #1” and “r-word #2, 3, 4,and 5”? Do the Washington Redskins become the Washington R-word #5s? Does George C. Scott’s rant about the “Ruskies” in “Dr Stangelove” get bleeped out on television, or do we just ban the movie? What do we do about non-offensive uses of “retard” and “retarded,” as in “Brushing with Colgate retards plaque build-up”? Is that still using the “R-word”?
Mark my words, the same word-bullies who embrace this Orwellian website will try to argue that using “retard” to describe what flame-retardant treatments do is still offensive.
Every single word has a valid use.
Every single word can support or enhance or clarify an important thought.
Every single word can be part of an engrossing story.
“Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” classics all, would be diminished without the use of the epithet “nigger,” for example. The history of race relations in the United States can’t be understood or discussed without using that word. Imagine how difficult it will be to discuss various historical and social issues when every group gets to condemn words they find demeaning, and they are promptly banned from the language by a conspiracy of websites [and] advocacy groups…Women will ban the c-word, the b-word (too bad for dog-breeders), and the d-word. Prostitutes will want to ban the w-word. Gays don’t like the h-word or the q-word (unless they use it themselves, much as the n-word isn’t the n-word if a black comedian uses it. ) Jesse Jackson has been trying to ban the n-word, and he probably is going to want to do the same with Harry Reid’s N-word, which is clear in print but will have to be called “the capital N-word” in speech or nobody will know which banned word isn’t being said. Jews will probably want the h-word and the k-word banned, probably the y-word too, just as Canadians will want to banish the c-word (actually, the c-word that is banned will already be on the feminist’s list, so this will have to be be the capital-C word) and the French will want to ban the f-word, except that they won’t be able to call it the f-word because the f-word means something else entirely, so I guess it will be the “f-r-word.” But what about when a French chef wants to make f-r-word-legs in garlic butter? Or when some crude individual says, “I don’t like your restaurant’s fucking froglegs!”? Will that become, after the… word-purge, “I don’t like your restaurant’s f-wording f-r-wordlegs!”? Just stop. STOP! Stop banning words and thoughts, ugly or otherwise. Teach people to be civil, to respect each other and to treat fellow Americans with kindness and tolerance, but let people express themselves as they choose, as long as they aren’t hurting anybody or doing any harm. And trying to control thoughts and speech by banning words, ideas, sentences, insults, poetry, jokes, opinions, stories, history, books, plays and movies is causing harm, and must not be be tolerated. Don’t tell me, or anyone else, what to think or say in private, and leave my vocabulary alone. I don’t trust the word police to stop at “retarded.” I don’t trust them to stop at all, because they are never satisfied until everyone thinks just like they do.
Did I see all this coming, or what?
And here’s an update: Ken Burns’ latest PBS documentary debuted last night. The topic is Ernest Hemingway. In one segment, we were told that one collection of stories was criticized because the writer used the rough language of the groups he was writing about, including, a “literary scholar” told us delicately, “the N-word.” The film then showed shots of Hemingway’s manuscripts. Black boxes had been inserted by Burns to cover all but the first letter of the words “nigger” and “niggers.” In past documentaries, Burns has shown horribly emaciated naked bodies of Holocaust victims with their genitals exposed as they were scooped into a common grave, but showing five letters on screen was just too horrible.
After all, seeing the pages that Ernest Hemingway wrote as he wrote them might damage the psyche of some PBS viewers, or worse, cause one of its woke, nascent totalitarian donors to withhold a check.
28 thoughts on “The Great Stupid Rolls On: Once Again, The News Media Makes Us Play “Wheel Of Fortune”…”
This article took a completely different turn than I expected. I thought it was going to be about the recent attempts to cancel Pat Sajak.
Anyway, it occurred to me how absurd this whole guessing game is. While most of us would have a pretty good guess of what the “n-word” is, words like gook and frog might fall well below our radar. Furthermore, the problem with languages is they are always evolving. Words don’t always have the same meaning and are often in and out of vogue.
Pretty soon, we will be after all the words that even sound like slurs. College Humor did an interesting video to illustrate this point (includes a musical number).
I have to say that I was slow on the uptake about the French. I wasn’t sure why we needed to ban “fromage”. That made me sad. I like fromage.
This reminds me of the chapter about the tumblebug in James Branch Cabell’s novel Jurgen, in which the eponymous hero faces similarly unstated complaints from the tumblebug. I have heard that Cabell wrote that as a parody of the Kafkaesque treatment his writing received at the hands of the good burghers of Boston about a century ago. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
What a great reference!
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Any tangentially Rush-related post or comment makes me happy.
Nope. Rush = Tom Sawyer = Huckleberry Finn = banned. Sorry.
I had not known of that. Si no e vero e ben trovato.
I have noticed that the number of things considered a ‘slur’ or even a hate crime is increasing. In one of the recent articles highlighting the recent ‘surge’ in anti-Asian hate crimes, a father complained that a classmate referred to his son as ‘that Chinese boy’ and the father was upset the kid wasn’t punished for his hate crime. The man’s son is Chinese, but apparently pointing it out is now a hate crime. I wish all minorities well with this strategy I hope you enjoy your erasure from society. I have seen people commenting that mentioning that someone is black is now racist. It won’t be long before showing a picture of a black person is racist. Aunt Jemima is racist today, having a black person in your commercial is just one step away. Blackface is racist today, having black actors and actresses is racist tomorrow. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is racist now. Grand Lake of the Cherokees is racist tomorrow. The Trail of Tears in a textbook is racist the next day.
How long before looking at or talking to someone of a different race is racist. Slippery slope argument? Sure. How many of those HAVEN’T come true when we are dealing with racial politics?
We semi-literate Shakespeare lovers laughed and laughed when we learned about the 1818 attempt to “Bowdlerize” the Bard’s plays: remove all potentially offensive language and assume that playgoers/readers would knuckle under. Many of us know just how far that attempt went. Bowdler was laughed at then and still is (for those who know or care).
These days however, with mass communications inconceivable by Bowdler in the Victorian era, who knows what will come next? No one believed that Thomas Bowdler was or should be the arbiter of language: who would believe him now? Do these mass communication idiots really think they can be Bowdler reincarnated, and actually pull it off? I am afraid that they do, and that they will meet with success. Control language and you control thought.
Justice Thomas tackles this problem in his concurring opinion in BIDEN v. KNIGHT FIRST AMENDMENT INSTITUTE AT COLUMBIA UNIV., 593 U. S. ____ (2021). He stated:
“The disparity between Twitter’s control and Mr. Trump’s control is stark, to say the least. Mr. Trump blocked several people from interacting with his messages. Twitter barred Mr. Trump not only from interacting with a few users, but removed him from the entire platform, thus barring all Twitter users from interacting with his messages. * * * Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors. Also unprecedented, however, is the concentrated control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties. We will soon have no choice but to ad-dress how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated,privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.”
Justice Thomas seems to sending social media platforms a message that they should tread carefully while wielding control over content – they might not like the regulation Congress imposes on them;
Of course they feel they can resurrect Bowdler – they did such a good job with so many others. Cromwell’s Ministry of Speech isn’t getting along with Goebbels over at the Ministry of Truth, but they’re a powerful force to be reckoned with, and soon a balance will be found. Alestair Crowley has made himself quite cozy in the Ministry of Culture, and we’re confident that Lenin will quickly settle into his position as the head of the Ministry of Wealth. Lysenko has been in charge of the Ministry of Plenty for years now, and now that Mao has been hired to assist him, we’ll soon be making great leaps forward. Kafka has the Ministry of Justice chugging along, Sanger is in charge of the Ministry of Youth, and we should all be excited that the Ministry of Health will now be lead by Dolores Umbridge. She may be fictional, but that doesn’t prevent us from bringing her to life and making the most of her bold managerial strategies.
And folks complain that kids today don’t know their history!
I have heard of spooks, and I have heard of mooks, but I have never heard of gooks. Older people are making assumptions about younger people knowing what all these slurs mean, and telling us to make sure we know every offensive word ever used and their offensive definitions. Why not just let the offensiveness die? If a word has evolved or fallen out of use as a slur, why resurrect its offensive meaning?
If we are going to have these media who cried slur episodes, can someone provide a helpful list of no-no words for the younger generations so we at least know what we are not supposed to say and why?
Just because someone heard it in a movie one time, doesn’t mean they understood what it meant. Trying to infer malevolent intent can be tricky, especially if the prejudices that were prevalent at the time have waned and most people do not encounter them anymore. If you don’t have any experience with a particular brand of prejudice, you may erroneously assign some innocuous definition to a word, and be in trouble somewhere down the road. Let us all hold hands and get on the same page of offensiveness!
Doesn’t the Urban Dictionary exist to provide you with a list of offensive words? Of course, you will learn a whole lot of things you never knew and probably never wanted to know. However, to make sure you never say these things, you need to know what they are. With additions to the list each day, all productive work in the US will screech to a halt as everyone spends every waking hour trying to memorize all the new racist content.
Of course, trees are now considered racist in Oregon, so maybe we just shouldn’t care anymore about being racist. When everything is racist, nothing is racist.
Oh, is that what urban dictionary is for? I thought it tracked slang, not slurs. Well then, I will get to memorizing!
You really thought “JackMarshallizing” was slang?
Is “ JackMarshallizing” seriously in the urban dictionary? I obviously don’t spend enough time reading that website.
You can add your own definitions. It looks like you have to have a facebook login or a google one though.
If only my sock drawer weren’t in crisis…
Young people need to be historically linguistically literate, or they make really stupid mistakes, like saying “fuck” on live TV, because it never occurred to them that “fuck” was more than innocent punctuation. If Asian Americans haven’t forgotten “gook,” and Jews haven’t forgotten “kike,” and Italians haven’t forgotten “dago,” and the Irish haven’t forgotten “Mick,” and Germans haven’t forgotten “Krauts,” and Japanese haven’t forgotten “Japs,” and blacks haven’t forgotten “jiggaboos,” then everyone else has an obligation to keep up, or at least not use words they haven’t made sure they understand.
Here in Virginia, Gov. Northam claimed that he didn’t know blackface was offensive to blacks. Sorry—not an excuse.
In all seriousness, how are you supposed to educate yourself on these words? There has been a practice since I was a kid of trying to eradicate those words from the English vocabulary. Parents, even if they had prejudices, tried not to spread those prejudices to their children. The words are censored from television, censored from media, and censored from speech. If you grow up in a censored world, how are you going to learn what has been censored from it?
Should you spend a few years asking every minority group what words they consider slurs? I think that would probably be construed as racist. I’m all for educating oneself, but how do you know what you don’t know?
Obviously, basic courtesy and manners should apply, and people can simply not use words without knowing their definitions. I don’t use words I don’t know the definition of simply because I don’t want to sound like an idiot. Young people should be wary of what they say, especially in a public sphere like Twitter.
I think intent matters, though, and canceling people for making a dumb mistake is wrong. Ignorance might not be an excuse, but culture made people ignorant and now culture is punishing them for being ignorant. The real problem seems to be the culture.
All true. I wrote here recently about how my Hawaiian classmates freshman year in college kept referring to the rest of us as ‘howlies,” which is an islander antiwhite slur that we didn’t know was a slur—but the did. If a slur falls in the forest and nobody notices, is it still a slur?
I’ll have the cuisses de grenouilles Ру́сский, please…with a side of “differently abled” offensiveness.
Oh My God. I remember that cartoon from the New Yorker in 1972 or so. Tremendous.
Bing from Miami, I think it’s a good idea to keep all N.V.A. out of The Magic City. I’m all for it.
Being. Grr. And I proofed it. But I’m sitting outside in the glare.
“…I’m sitting outside in the glare.”
That’s probably what made National Lampoon read like New Yorker to you 😉
In Korean, the last syllable of the word for the name of a country is “guk” pronounced gook. When American soldiers arrived in Korea during the Korean war they learned that the Korean word for the name of the country they were in is Hanguk and the name of the country they came from Miguk pronounced me-gook. It’s pretty easy to see how this led to them referring to the Korean people in general as gooks. It carried over into the Vietnam war where it was primarily used to refer to enemy soldiers. During my brief time in Vietnam I only heard it used to refer to the enemy. During my longer tour in Korea I almost never heard it. There apparently were some earlier uses of the word not related to Korea in the military in the early 20th century but it only entered widespread use during the Korean war and later in Vietnam.