This Message Brought to You By the World’s Biggest Drag

Earlier this month, the State Department’s Chief Diversity Officer, John Robinson, admonished us all to watch what we say because, yet again, somebody somewhere might be offended. Source. (see column entitled “Diversity Notes”, beginning on P. 8)

Most people are already familiar with the term “handicap” and why those who take issue with it do so. Similarly, anyone who’s seen the Boondock Saints knows the consequences of using “Rule of Thumb”. But also added to the growing list of verboten phrases are: “Hold down the fort” for being offensive to Native Americans, “Black and Tan” for being insensitive to the Irish, and “Going Dutch” for portraying Nederlanders as cheap.

I guess a PhD in obscure history and phrase etymology are now prerequisites to stay off the PC Police’s radar. To be honest, I find Mr. Robinson’s dusting off of that terrible 1990′s phrase “NOT!” more egregious than any of the new inductees to the PC handbook.

No apologies to NHRA racing enthusiasts who may take offense to being compared to something that is un-fun.

10 Responses to This Message Brought to You By the World’s Biggest Drag

  1. senpai71 says:

    Oh dear…

    Seriously Beth, this column just isn’t up to what we’d (well, I’d) expect.

    First off, Mr Robinson isn’t admonishing ‘us all’ – he’s warning State Department employees (who are pretty much the only people to read the State Department magazine) to be careful with what they say, because they might use a phrase which is offensive. A very sensible thing to do, given they work for, y’know, THE STATE DEPARTMENT. Given the explicit example he cites (the Nike shoe), I don’t see why you’d think he’s being a drag at all. Nike lost goodwill and a bunch of money with that debacle – his warning just came a little late for them.

    I’d also disagree that most people are already familiar with the possible origins of the word ‘handicap’ – I frequently hear the term used around disabled friends by otherwise well-meaning people.

    In fact, I heard someone use the phrase ‘Indian giver’ just last week – and this is in liberal, uber-PC San Francisco. It wasn’t in jest either. And many bars round here will sell you a drink called an Irish Car Bomb, especially round St Patricks Day.

    Obviously this whole ‘watch what you say and whether it will give offence’ issue cuts both ways (see e.g. the ‘niggardly’ dust-up of a few years ago). But I hardly think it warrants a column where you mock someone for pointing out something we should all be aware of.

    Although I agree with you about his use of ‘Not!’….

    • Beth Hutchens says:

      To start, thanks senpai71 for your criticism, and thanks for holding me to a high standard. No sarcasm- I mean that- Thanks. Now for my response:

      You say that Mr. Robinson isn’t admonishing us all and is only speaking to state employees. I beg to differ. The State is a public publication (Yea! Attributive adjective!) I agree that it is more widely read by government employees than it is by the random citizen but it does, as stated, cater to the general public. As such, Mr. Robinson is subject to my ridicule. Tabling, naturally, the argument that public servants are not subject to public ridicule and that government publications are subjected to a lower level of scrutiny due to their audience. Therefore, my calling Mr. Robinson a drag is well within my rights as any citizen critical of her government.

      To counter your specific points, though, let’s start with your example of “niggardly”. When hearing that word, one conjures a very ugly racial slur, but the word actually means stingy or miserly. What is the etymology of the word? I don’t know because I didn’t feel the need to embark on an interwebz search justifying use of the term. And that’s my counter to your other point. Who has time to do such a search to make sure that this term or that isn’t offensive to someone somewhere? And who would want to? One cannot expect others to be cognizant of every single nuance of history that has the mere potential for being offensive. Trying to keep all these definitions and standards straight is just too exhausting. At at some point the PC Machine needs to stop. All I’m trying to say is that we need to just lighten up, choose not to be offended, and engage in respectful, educational conversation without the undertone of “be careful because you might offend someone”.

      I abhor political correctness. I am a woman, a natural blonde (Norwegian by descent), and a lawyer. How’s that for a stereotype triple whammy in the PC handbook? Wait- lawyers and blondes haven’t made it in yet? Damn! In all seriousness, though, Mr. Robinson’s expressed thoughts suggest to me that he is fearful of the potentially negative repercussions for his speech as opposed to the dialogue an otherwise unknown offensive term or phrase would inspire. And he would seek that others adopt the same fearful approach. This is something I cannot condone, as it, in my opinion, does nothing more than enable the perpetually outraged and chill open debate in a public forum.

      Seriously though, about the “NOT!”, thing. Yeesh.

      • senpai71 says:

        Beth,

        I agree that the “PC Machine” has to stop somewhere. I also agree that Mr Robinson is fair game for your ridicule.

        However, it sounds like you’re saying that because you don’t have time to do an internet search, you just won’t worry about offending others…

        There is a big difference between lawyer jokes and blond jokes and jokes about e.g. physical disabilities or racial background, surely?

        • Beth Hutchens says:

          senpai71-

          You are correct- I do not spend much time worrying about the tender sensibilities of others. Some people take issue with a certain phrase while others couldn’t care less so why should I worry about which is which? Since I have no control over another’s behavior and cannot predetermine who will take offense to what and when, I don’t sweat it. Nor do I seek to neuter my words out of fear that I’ll get harumphed at. Being offended is a choice -not an involuntary response.

          I will give you that there is a big difference between lawyer jokes and racial jokes. Lawyer is a choice, race is not. But I can no more help what color my hair is or what my gender is than another can help what color his skin is. I simply choose not to be offended by mere words while others choose differently. Bully for them, but I have better things to do with my time than get upset about a trivial turn of phrase or enable the hypersensitive.

  2. Isn’t it interesting that the source for the vast majority of claims to offence (at least in this country – Australia) are the people who actually aren’t handicapped? The god-botherers, the do-gooders, the people who, in previous decades, caused the majority of the offenses in the first place (are you listening, Mum?)

    I worked with, (and to my relief, still have some friends who are) ‘vegies’, and in any reasonable context, they enjoy the humour of political incorrect names and jokes more than I do. It’s the watchers on the wings who are causing all the grief, and it IS causing grief to those same people the do-gooders think they’re “protecting”. They’re not protecting anything, they’re trying to apply their own retarded sense of superiority to human beings who don’t deserve that kind of asinine, degrading, holier-than-thou, self-important condescension.

    I’m sorry to get so hot under the collar about this, but I learned the hard way, as a boy from the bush, and I learned quickly that “disabled” people are just people with disabilities. Now that I have my own disabilities, I understand a hell of a lot better what some of these people must have gone through. I’m not sure I could have stopped myself from running over someone’s foot if they continually treated me as though I were less than a normal human being!

    Thanks for showing up the insanity.

    • Beth Hutchens says:

      Well met, friend. And huzzah for not subjugating yourself to the yoke of perpetual victimhood the PC movement would tether you to.

  3. John Burgess says:

    As a former FSO, I have the right to take special offense at that stupid column. And I did. Below, my letter to the editor:

    May I kindly suggest that John Robinson do a bit of checking his facts before he spouts them? His column in the July-August issue is wildly off the mark.

    “Hold down the fort” long predates the American experience. While the American form of the phrase is slightly different from the British “Hold the fort”, racism does not creep in on the heels of a preposition. I’m sure Hittite warriors war warning their fellow soldiers with that phrase.

    Nor is “rule of thumb” as sexist as Mr. Robinson might have us believe. The phrase, meaning “an approximate measure”, has been around for quite a while and falls in the same category of words like “foot”, “arm’s breadth”, or “hand”, used to measure horse’s height. It has nothing to do with corporal punishment or the law. Or, need I add, marital relations.

    And while we’re at it, “handicapped” dates back to the 18th C., when weights were added to race horses to slow the faster ones down so that a race wasn’t just a blow-out. It continues to mean “operating under a burden”, with no slights attached.

    I’m glad to see that the Department is so concerned about sensitivity training, but that mission is not promoted by false and folk etymologies of common speech. Nor does it enhance the perception of HR as a whole. Hyper-sensitivity does not equal sensitivity.

    • John, your comments raised an issue I didn’t mention in my comment earlier, but that I think is relevant.

      It is far too easy, and far too common, for particular individuals to misunderstand the derivation of common sayings and phrases, in particular those they find personally offensive, and to then translate that into an attempt to stop the use of the phrase or saying by declaring it offensive to a real or perceived group of people.

      At the risk of re-bloviating, I suspect that this is a far too common reason why some hyper-sensitive people or groups gain credence as “defenders of the “.

      That said, of course there is a line that must not be crossed when using common turns of speech; but in my (admittedly limited) experience, these tend to be derogative terms when used in reasonable company, let alone in a mixed group!

      I feel I should point out that on some Freethought blogs, you can be tarred and feathered for simply pointing out a fallacy as you have! Since you’re a male, that would be classed as “mansplaining”, or some other equally puerile term. I was even called out for being an “ableist” (whatever the hell that is) for pointing out that I had a particular physical disability! So yeah, there’s sensitive, and then there’s hyper-sensitive, and ne’er the twain should meet.

  4. Er, that should be “defenders of the (insert your favourite group here)”.
    And it’s ‘derogatory’, not ‘derogative’. Nuances. :)

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