Saturday 20 December 2014

Offensive Language - @#!!*{&¡?$

[Please note that words or phrases that may cause offence (offense) will appear throughout this article. If the reader is likely to be offended and might become upset at being offended, then read no further!]

Yesterday The Indy newspaper asked what one called food from a Chinese restaurant, as apparently a populist politician had justified one of his party's prospective candidates use of the word "chinky". Below is a link to the article and the headline, followed by my comment and various folks' response before I sum up at the end.

'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
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  • 305 people like this.
  • Colin-Roy Hunter Criquaer
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  • Colin-Roy Hunter Criquaer I am fifty years old, liberal and non-partisan. I have called Chinese take-aways chinkies all my life. My Concise Oxford Dictionary (2001 Ed., p.247) states that the term "chinky' is offensive if used in relation to a Chinese person, but NOT in relation to Chinese eateries. Offence is in the ear of the listener or the eye of the reader. Context is all.
    Like · Reply · 63 · 15 hrs
    • 'Ian L. Hannaford Well stated Colin-Roy Hunter Criquaer!
      Like · 2 · 15 hrs
    • Dimas Putra just stop calling chinese ppl or foods 'chinky' if they are offended because of that word
      Like · 7 · 15 hrs
    • Robert Miller i suppose you get your daily mail from the paki shop too ?
      Like · 40 · 15 hrs
    • Ian Richardson Your;e kind of 30+years out od date. I'm aware there are some eledewrly donsausrs who;ve never cottoned to changing their language. 99% of us who were brought up with it have and dropped the tearm years ago.
      Like · 13 · 15 hrs
    • Annie Johnston So a Chinese person who is offended at being called a 'chinky' would be fine with a takeaway being called that, because the dictionary says so. Garbage!!
      Like · 18 · 15 hrs
    • Cat Furniss Robert- brilliant. You win comment of the day.
      Like · 5 · 15 hrs
    • Andy Palmer Consider this - you and some others are ordering take away. Imagine you don't know everyone really well. 

      One guy's Chinese. 

      Do you suggest a 'chinky'?

      If no - it shouldn't matter whether he was there or not.
      Like · 10 · 15 hrs
    • Paul Bowtell Colin-Roy: well said, there are too many professionally outraged these days. Mountain out of a molehill springs to mind.
      Like · 3 · 15 hrs
    • Andrew Wale Still, now you know that some Chinese people are offended by the term, you will choose to stop using it won't you?
      Like · 5 · 15 hrs
    • John Walker I love to see the intellectually challenged trying to justify their hateful weasel words, we can now recognise them by the rancid political party they belong to, unfortunately they think it gives their archaic beliefs some sort of relevance.
      Like · 9 · 15 hrs
    • Cat Furniss Hey you guys! I just found the N word in my Oxford concise dictionary and it says its OK to use it as long as we're not talking about black people so we should all totally start throwing the n word around, screw what anyone else thinks , doesn't matter if it's disgusting in one context if the dictionary says it's OK!
      Like · 11 · 15 hrs
    • Cat Furniss I'm obviously joking, but just to clarify: offensive language is not OK *even if* the dictionary says it's OK...
      Like · 7 · 15 hrs
    • Nathan Harrison Is the dictionary a legal document ?
      Like · 3 · 14 hrs
    • David Waldock You know the OED reflects established use, and isn't the arbiter of offence, right?
      Unlike · 6 · 14 hrs
    • Jake Smith Are you sure It's not the one from 1951?
      Like · 5 · 14 hrs
    • Joanne Bradley Isn't it always funny, that its the white folk who tell us what the minorities are offended by
      Like · 7 · 14 hrs
    • Joanne Bradley Hey Cat, its ok for Black people to use the term themselves though eh, pc all for the white folk. You really need to do your research on the back ground of political correctness, whilst I am in no way defending the use of this tone the organisation who brought it out was the Frankfurt school of marxism, so as to silence debate. When are black people going stick up for me if I am called honky.
      Like · 4 · 14 hrs
    • John Walker Because white folk usually think they're right, Joanne. Sad but true.
      Like · 1 · 14 hrs
    • Roy Sholay I don't give a monkeys waft it says in the dictionary or what context the person used it in. If a person of that ethnicity is offended by it, that's all there is to it.
      Like · 7 · 14 hrs
    • Gary Galbraith Fair comment Roy. But what about those of them who aren't because they have a grasp of what 'context' actually means ?
      Like · 14 hrs
    • Ian Smith It must be the context that is important if not all of those rappers are racists!
      Like · 13 hrs
    • Jason Burke So I guess we'll have to stop calling Australians Aussies and they stop calling us Pommies. I believe Paki is a shortened version of Pakistani, like we abbreviate many things.
      Like · 13 hrs
    • Nikolay Krustev You are 50 years behind in time, end of story. No One cares what you called them. Do you go to a German pub and call it "lets visit the Jerry"?
      Like · 3 · 13 hrs
    • Davey Gwynne joanne, the difference being between black people and white people using the N word is black people deserve to reclaim said word AFTER BEING SCREAMED THAT WORD AT THEM AS THEY ARE BEING WHIPPED TO DEATH BY WHITE PEOPLE. is that clear? moron.
      Like · 4 · 13 hrs
    • Leon Reeves Colin-Roy Hunter Criquaer: Doesn't matter how eloquently you state your racism.
      Like · 6 · 13 hrs
    • Davey Gwynne oh and jason, ask some pakistani people if you can refer to them as "pakis" and see what the response is. go on, i dare you.
      Like · 7 · 13 hrs
    • Khayer Abdul If Chinese generally find it offensive then the word should be banned. There a reason why the old dictionary has it and not the new one I guess. And when people try succeed from poor backgrounds it's to better themselves and be a good example not remain a yob!
      Like · 2 · 12 hrs
    • Chris Singer I'm Welsh and have been called Taff for years. It's a term used sometimes in a derogatory manner. But do you know what I'm Welsh and proud of it. I to have always called my Chinese meals chinkies. I have never referred to a person as such. There is too much PC correctness that is causing divide. I agree offence is in the ear of the listener and eye of the reader. 
      Unlike · 2 · 12 hrs · Edited
    • Veruschka Jose Bryant Oh I see, so because you are a self proclaimed "liberal" it makes you immune from giving consideration to the derogatory historical context the word "chink" and hence the implied derogatory nature of a colloquialism like "chinkies". Do you also think that calling those black gob-stopper style sweets "niggerballs" is ok?
      Like · 2 · 12 hrs · Edited
    • Darlajaan Daulatiya Really, how utterly foolish it sounds.
      Like · 11 hrs
    • Jan Ennis-Clark No manners and loads of excuses for having no manners.
      Like · 11 hrs
    • Tom Mah I agree we must change our dictionaries to recognise the world has moved on , sometimes for the better. The fact that I may have used racist language all my life is no excuse not to change for the better. Language is often used to ' put people down'. ...See More
      Like · 10 hrs
    • Max Lee Hey colorless honky
      Like · 9 hrs
    • Colin-Roy Hunter Criquaer Thanks for all your comments folks, both the knee-jerk and more thoughtful ones. I am happy to attempt to understand other opinion - but that does not mean I have to follow it. I do not particularly care whether or not I cause anyone offence. Free speech is essentially about saying what you wish, in so far as one remains within the law. It is noreworthy that much art & literature challenges & offends.
      It is interesting that some commentators would like me to use modern English language usage, which presumably means I ought to be swearing every word and using the latest youth argot (I imagine many will be cringing at the very thought already).
      I am gay and disabled and label myself a cripple, a wheelie and a queer. I own the language, and as such, it cannot be used to make me feel insulted even if meant to insult. My use of such terms upsets some folk within my communities. But for my own amour-propre, my stance is appropriate to my personal well-being.
      The obsession with "correct" language is diversionary and reminds me very much of "1984".
      I for one shall not be telling folk what they can or cannot say; one is at liberty to take one's one stance and I am in no position to criticise such.
      Like · 

I was born in 1964. When growing up in north-west Cheshire there were no Indian take-aways (take-outs), no pizza parlours, no Thai restaurants, no McDonalds, KFCs nor Subways; there was however a Chinese restaurant, The Lantern, run by the father of my school-chum, Soo Yeung. In a sea of white faces, she was the only child of any other ethnicity in the school, until the arrival of some Vietnamese refugees. As I grew older my father began to work with and became friends with a black man, with a very posh RP accent. His son would occasionally come round to play with us or would join us for outings. There were no folk of any colour other than white living in our lower middle-class neighbourhood.

Back in the nineties, when one of my siblings was discussing which school to send  my nephews to, out of a choice of three - a lack-lustre lower middle-class predominantly white school; a very pushy academic middle-middle-class predominantly white school; or, a mixed-class, mixed-race school - I suggested the one that would allow the children to encounter the most diverse range of potential chums. And I am glad to say, my advice was taken and acted upon.

Nowadays, I live on a middle-class housing estate on National Trust land not far from the parental home. I have Anglican, Agnostic, Atheist, Chinese, Church of South India, Hindu, Humanist, Muslim, Roman Catholic and Sikh neighbours. We get together for occasions like Bonfire Night, Hallowe'en, Christmas Carols, World Cup, the Olympics, BBQ's, Children in Need and so on. Folk share their baking, their garden produce and look out for one another's children.

I honestly cannot say that I do not see the shades of their respective skins - but only in the same way I observe anyone for new hairstyle, clothes, make-up, spectacles and so forth. In my neighbourhood there is only one person with whom I do not really get along, but that is due to personality clash - she is however white.

Am I racist? I often question whether I am. If I find I am judging a whole race - such as Jews after some atrocity committed by the Israeli armed forces - I remind myself that not all Jews are war-mongers, that many folk in Israel demonstrate for peace. I calm myself. I bring to mind the lovely Jewish people I have known and those with whom I am still acquainted. I ponder the warmest of welcomes at various synagogues I have had the privilege to visit. I turn my thoughts to the personal, to the individual and then it is impossible to feel anger, just a flowing of love for friends, for fellow humans. I suspect many folk occasionally re-act in an emotional knee-jerk fashion complaining about a whole race; but then, as they calm down, permit reason to take over. I do not think this is racism. The reader may - and is quite entitled to - think the opposite.

Readers of this blog are aware that I have health issues and impairments, I am disabled. It is obvious I do not have an issue with describing myself as crippled. Yes cripple can be pejorative; yes it can be a term of pity; but for me it is merely descriptive, for I am de facto crippled. I am also queer - gay, a poof or poofter, a shirt-lifter, a fudge-packer,…. These terms and many others have been thrown at me since I was a young lad. I am non-conformist and rarely succumb to peer-pressure: I like to think for myself and will not have my decisions made for me. Straight friends occasionally will use one or other terms in jest. I know from their facial expression, their body-language, the inflection and tone used and by the delivery. Occasionally - very rarely I must admit - I have had these terms launched at me in the street with anger, hate and vitriol. I can tell the difference. As I stated in my initial comment to the newspaper item, "Context is all."

I consider that words are neutral: it is how they are used that makes words good or bad. Even the phrase "I love you" can be filled with malevolence - ask someone who has been domestically abused.

So now then, do I ever get offended myself. I have been rattling my brain to think of an occasion when I have been and I genuinely cannot recall such. No doubt I must have been at some point in my past, but it must have been so slight as to make no lasting impression.

Of course some folk go out of their way to cause offence: this can be seen at its extreme in US shock-jocks, but also in the UK in commentary pieces in some newspapers or even on television.

However, whether someone has the intention to try to cause offence or not, it is within ourselves whether we actually become offended.

The use of the words "penis" and "vagina" are seldom heard on television programmes. They are anatomical words used by medics, biologists and so forth. So what is the issue? Perhaps some folk are discomfited by reference to toileting habits; others to the fact these body parts are involved in sex; for still others they have been told by those who raised them that these words are "dirty" and not to be used in polite society; and so on… The point I am trying to make is that one's own discomfort at the use of any given word can be quite personal, bringing emotional resonance to the fore and causing embarrassment &/or fear, which in turn is transmuted into taking offence. It is a form of deflection from acknowledging something which we do not wish to fully address or grapple with. We fear we may be racist, sexist, whatever, so we don a veneer of outrage to disguise what we truly think and feel or what we might think or feel. This is why many artists/writers try to shock and cause offence, to help us look deeper or in a different way at matters.

Language usage, naturally, does change over time. The term "gay" was included in reading-scheme books when I was at school: it meant happy, cheerful and carefree. Now of course the first thing that comes to mind is "homosexual". In the mid-1990's the GayWay reading scheme books were replaced with the name NewWay to take account of this fundamental change. Though my grandparents' generation still use the former meaning.

[Image description: one of the GayWay front covers]

When I use the term "chinky" it is affectionate: it brings to mind birthday parties and wedding anniversaries celebrated in my home town's solitary Chinese restaurant; it makes me recall all the occasions I have passed the time of day with the person out front whilst awaiting my take-aways to be cooked; I remember gifts presented to me for Chinese New Year given for loyalty to the eatery; and most of all it brings back family and friends no longer with us, who shared a chinky with me, especially my maternal grandmother.

Please don't judge me harshly for not wanting to let go of the term! %)

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