In a recent post on my other blog, which was titled The Kindergarten Thot Party, I used the term “ethnic” to refer to a non-white person. As a concerned reader let me know, that term is “offensive”, “inconsiderate” and “racist”. To me, “ethnic” does not have that kind of connotation at all, but what do I know? In some years calling a black person a person of color is offensive, in other years calling a black person black is. It’s all a silly game, concocted by the left.
I looked up “ethnic” in the dictionary and found it marked with the note “dated or offensive”. This made me perk up as it tells you a lot. From this you can infer that there was originally no derogative implication. Instead of “non-white”, which sounds a bit awkward, you use “ethnic”. It’s much more efficient to do so. Yet, over time, “ethnic” apparently took on a different connotation. It was no longer neutral but suddenly offensive. How could this have happened? Geez, I wonder.
I am quite certain I know how this has happened because there is a related phenomenon in linguistics called the “euphemistic treadmill”. Something bad is given a new name that does not sound quite as bad. However, because words are used to refer to an underlying physical reality, nothing changes, and the new word is eventually seen as offensive as well and needs to be replaced. A good exampe is going from “retarded” to “slow” to “special”. All those words refer to stupid people. Today, you better not call a kid “special” because the word no longer means what you may think it means. What I like about this example in particular is that the first term, retarded, was already a euphemism. The word means that something is “delayed”, but with the mentally handicapped, there is no delay. They will never catch up. Yet, because “retarded” was used to label morons, it changed its meaning, just like “slow” and “special” have.
Originally, “ethnic” certainly was a neutral term. After all, it was used in official documents. Yet, you can bet that the real-world behavior of ethnics had the effect that those people gave themselves a bad name. You heard “ethnic” and immediately thought of urban decay, crime, poverty, out-of-wedlock childbirths, and welfare queens. Thus, the problem is, at least for our politically correct elites, not that ethnics make poor decisions and cause all kinds of trouble, but that there is now a tainted word. If they could only change the word, they could cleanse the reputation of ethnics, too, or so they think. Their hope is that you’d discard a bad word like some old clothes.
None of this is an new phenomenon. There is a more striking one, which you may find entertaining. In English, there are the word pairs man/woman and gentleman/lady. The former refers to sexual identity, the other is used to address someone. In German, there are similar pairs. For man/woman, we used to have ‘Mann’/’Weib’, and for gentleman/lady ‘Herr’/’Frau’. However, the term ‘Weib‘ is nowadays, and has for a long time, seen as derogatory. The proper word pair is ‘Mann’/’Frau’. The reason is that women gave the term ‘Weib‘ such a bad name that the term was dropped. For hundreds of years, you could use ‘Weib‘, but no more. In contemporary German, ‘Weib‘ means “unpleasant woman.” Good job, ladies! Compared to that, “ethnic” versus “non-white”, or “special” versus “retarded” is nothing.
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