LINGUIST List 4.334

Sat 01 May 1993

Disc: Racial terms

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Racial terms
  2. benji wald, Re: 4.319 Racial terms
  3. Susan Ervin-Tripp, epithets

Message 1: Racial terms

Date: Wed, 28 Apr 93 18:50:18 EDRacial terms
From: <>
Subject: Racial terms

I have not been following this discussion closely, and apologize
if this point has been made before, but --

The whole point of offensive words is to be offensive, just as
the whole point of humorous words or constructs is to be humorous.
To tell people not to be offended at the former is like telling
them not to laugh at jokes, not be excited (or offended, as trhe
case may be) by pornography, and so on.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 4.319 Racial terms

Date: Fri, 30 Apr 93 19:09 PDT
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 4.319 Racial terms

I don't want to give the impression that I relish conversations on offensive
terms, but I have to admit that I find the mixture of academic and personal
concerns fascinating and relevant to my interest in cross-cultural
 communication. Therefore, I would like to make a commnt on Leanne Hinton's
question about Jews not using the inversion of offensive terms strategy. In
 the abstract, the question is interesting, because it may be true of Jews
 today, but it was not always true. After the last word had been said on
 the last ling.list discussion on this topic, started by Geoff Nunberg but
 drifting from his original intent, I came across a book called (I think)
 Jewish Reactions to Anti-Semitism in Germany, 1870-1914. Sorry. I don't
 have the ref available. It was a Columbia U PhD. It noted that the word
 "Jude" (Jew) had been avoided by assimilationists and was pushed by Zionists
 and some other nationalists in defiance of its bad connotations. Before that
 organized Jewry used "Israelite", "Mosaic" and "Hebrew", just as observed in
 by some discussants the last time we discussed this topic. Then I realized
 that as a political tool, the 1960s change from ":Negro" or "colored"
 (themselves having different connotations) had a precedent, although I
 don't think the originators knew of it -- (seems that Nation of
Islam was first to really aggressively push "black" and despise "Negro",
 which they prefaced with "so-called" when not using it as a synonym for
 "Uncle Tom".) So Jews too at times have used the inversion strategy.
 Beyond that, as a child I knew working class Jews who would jocularly use
 the word "kike" in-house as a criticism of a habit or trait that they
 considered associated with Jews (by other Jews mainly) but which they
 disapproved of. This is not the inversion strategy, but it does show the
 adoption of an offensive term for ingroup use. I think it's worth saying
 not just for its intrinsic sociolinguistic interest, but because there is
 a certain anti-Semitic strain that thinks that Jews take themselves too
 seriously, and would not be surprised by what Leanne Hinton's student
 claimed, but would be surprised that the Jewish community is more
 complicated than that, and what the student said isn't true.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: epithets

Date: Thu, 29 Apr 93 00:14:54 -0epithets
From: Susan Ervin-Tripp <ervin-trcogsci.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: epithets

The recent discussion of social group address terms which are not insulting
between ingroup members reminds me of related phenomena which may be
common in many languages. Does anybody know of any systematic study
of usage in various languages of address terms
which have the property that they can be terms of jocular friendship when
+intimate and of insult in -intimate or hostile contexts?
Old examples in English that come to mind are bitch and bastard.
Is the content of the terms in this class special in any
way? Can any insulting epithet take on this property with friends?
I am especially querying whether there is any systematic study anywhere,
since these +/- switches are of sociolinguistic interest in providing
clear marking of relationship contrast by the reversal.

Susan Ervin-Tripp
Psychology Department
University of California, Berkeley
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue