Armor Chinks, Niggardly Sums and Retarded Growth…Political Correctness Controls The Dictionary
The English language grew harder to learn, speak and understand this weekend. ESPN editor Anthony Federico was fired for penning a headline about New York Knicks’ phenom Jeremy Lin (who is American) having a high rate of turnovers, noting that his lack of ball control may be a “chink in his armor.”
As if US - Chinese relations weren’t strained enough, Rep. Judy Chu (D, Calif.) claimed the use of what she called “the C word” (apparently now taking its righteously indignant place among initialized words along side the N word) was a racist slur.
The etymology of the phrase “chink in the armor” goes back to The Middle Ages when men fought in suits of armor. One would look for a chink, as in a hole (chink actually means hole), in the armor of the opponent and attack that weak point, hoping to break through his protection to deliver a kill shot. This action is the same as today’s boxing pugilists who “work the cut” when one develops over an opponent's eye. All of it has absolutely nothing to do with race. Finding a “chink in the armor” of an opponent is a common sports euphemism used by Federico a hundred times in the past, by his own account. Not one Asian congresswoman ever complained about it.
Certainly the word “chink” was later bastardized (my apologies to the children of unmarried couples) into a slur referencing the shape of Asian eyes. That, of course, still has nothing to do with the medieval concept of attacking an opponent’s weak point.
Unfortunately, in today’s America, actual instances of racism are so rare that false allegations of racism are the new racism. We are left with bizarre new English language rules with perplexing vagaries on usage: May I use “chink in the armor” when referring to the weakness in the game of non-Asian basketball players, or has the very meaning of a non-racist phrase been so consumed by the slurred meaning of one of its words that we must never again speak, even with historical accuracy, of the practice developed by the men in armor?
First Amendment be damned – political correctness is forming a list of words we can’t say. Sometimes, the new rules hold that certain people can say words, but others cannot.
Controversy recently surrounded the word “niggardly.” It is a word of Nordic etymology that means a small sum, having nothing to do with race. The N-word* is a slur of Latin etymology (Latin for the color black is niger) that has nothing to do with sums. They aren’t even homonyms as they are spelled differently (note the “er” vs the “ar” difference). At best, they share an inexact phonetic sound, making the two words about as related as Jeremy Lin and Loretta Lynn.
Back in 1999, David Howard was a white aid to black DC mayor Anthony Williams. Howard referred to that year’s budget as “niggardly,” noting of course its size, not its color. Swift came the allegations of racism and Howard tendered his resignation and the Mayor accepted it. What happened next confounds those of us trying to navigate the new language rules. Howard is gay. The gay community lobbied for his reinstatement, and the Mayor offered to re-hire him. I’m not sure if that means gays can’t be racist, blacks can’t fire gays, niggardly is not the N-word for thee but is for me, or something else.
‘Owned” words are now becoming fashionable. For instance, black people are claiming dominion over he N-word.* Recently on “The View,” Sherry Shepard took the position that it is OK for black actress Whoopi Goldberg to pronounce the N-word* in full but not OK for white host Barbara Walters to do it. According to this new English language rule we must not judge one’s speech on the content of their word characters but on the color of their skin.
The owned word rule really took shape when white radio and TV personality Don Imus was fired by MSNBC for joking that the Rutgers girls basketball team, in comparison to their opponents, looked like “nappy headed hos.” The use of the word “ho” in particular was seen as a horrible affront to black women. The issue was so important that NJ Governor Jon Corzine was critically injured in a high-speed car accident as he raced to get to a meeting between Imus and a black pastor to fashion Imus’ public apology.
The same year Imus was fired, the song that won the Oscar was “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.” While lamenting the difficulties of mastering prostitutes, the song, now enshrined in pop culture with such beautiful music as "Over the Rainbow," also referred to black women as “bitches” “niggas” and “hos.” Not one college basketball team complained about it.
Jesse Jackson not too long ago used the N-word* (referring to black people while criticizing President Obama) without a public backlash large enough for him to be fired from whatever it is he does. Jesse apparently owns the N-word* to white exclusion as well.
One very dangerous form of politically correct wordsmithing pits scientists against comedians.
Modern pop culture has a certain affinity for insults, ranging from America’s love for Don Rickles to MTV’s insult contest show “Yo Momma.”
Compare Rahm Emanuel’s use of the word “retarded” to describe Democrats which, according to Sarah Palin, is not OK because he meant it as an insult, and Rush Limbaugh’s use of the word “retarded” to describe Democrats, which Sarah finds OK because he used it as satire.
Let’s look at a definition from The American Heritage Medical Dictionary for context:
mental retardation – Subnormal intellectual development or functioning that is the result of congenital causes, brain injury, or disease and is characterized by any of various deficiencies, ranging from impaired learning ability to social and vocational inadequacy.
There is a cycle that repeats itself in the world of insults, having to do with adopting scientific medical terms and using them as insults. The weird rules that apply to “socially acceptable” insults eventually catches up to the medical dictionary usurpers and the PC police try to shut them down. Some insults, it seems, are just too insulting.
But the usurpers have traditionally won the battle, and the medical terms are removed from the medical books, to live out eternity in the land of misfit words.
For instance, the words idiot, imbecile and moron all started out as medical terminology, not insults. So much a part of the acceptable lexicon were they that the constitutions of Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and New Mexico were written to say an “idiot” can’t vote. New Jersey’s constitution says you can’t vote if you are an “idiot” (before Chris Christie was elected it appeared this provision of the New Jersey Constitution was being fully ignored).
Some words, like midget, are still in medical dictionaries, but with a disclaimer against usage as it is now a pejorative term.
Odd as it seems, America allows the purveyors of insults to trump the purveyors of science in deciding which words are acceptable. Imagine a doctor telling parents of a child, “I’m sorry, your son is an imbecile, idiot and retarded moron, destined to live out his life on public assistance or as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.”
The doctor would have used nothing but scientific terms, but all would agree his bedside manner is atrocious and his civility beneath that of a treating physician. The medical terms are now insults. Don Rickles wins.
It makes you wonder what the world would come to if insult comics were to decide to wreck havoc on our language and eternally chase doctors around the thesaurus.
What if, and this is scary so sit down, but just what if insult comics began abusing the word “challenged?” For instance, “How do you become an American president? Be the most challenged man from Kenya!”
Where, or to what word, will the doctors run next?
Will any of us be left to speak if words that are not racist are used as proof that we are racists?
* Note that I use "N-word" without spelling out the word. I once wrote for a newspaper where spelling out the word was allowable so long as it was being used as an historical reference or to note its usage, so long as it was not written out in insult. I don't know Ricochet's policy on this. Perhaps the editorial board can clarify. For those of you that say it is quite cowardly to force the editors into that sticky wicket and not go there myself, I say, "You're right."