Unacceptable Designations of People

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Orleander, Jul 27, 2007.

  1. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

    My Mom still calls Downs people Mongoloids. My older neighbors calls my daughters black friends Colored. I call savants Idiot Savants. Retarded is now Mentally Handicapped.
    I know people thinks its all PC, but is it?
    How does an accepted term become unaccepted?
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  3. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    When it's added to the lexicon of swear words
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  5. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

    How does that happen? Who decides?
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  7. draqon Banned Banned

  8. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

  9. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

    Actually, it's nothing more than an attempt to "soften" the impact of the label. Once a term has been in use long enough to carry a distinct negative connotation, you will find people making an effort to change it.

    Pretty much the same reason that "garbage man" became "sanitation engineer" (besides the little status boost tied to it). Eventually, "mentally handicapped" will become too negative-sounding for some and will be replaced with something like "cognitive-challenged." And it will be the same with all the rest of them, too.
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    In modern America, it's generally the press that establishes these conventions. They may be initially perpetrated by populist organizations and given a little time to be tested to see if they catch on within the community sympathetic to the cause they are meant to promote. But they don't really permeate our culture until the media pick them up.

    My own personal hot button is the term "creationism" and this scholarly discussion is probably the only time you'll ever see me legitimize it by typing it. Excuse me while I wipe the spit off of my screen. It should be called what it is: "evolution denial," just like the term "Holocaust denial." The C-word was coined by religious fundie crackpots, it caught on in the religious fundie crackpot community, and for reasons only the goddess knows the media adopted it at the time of the Great Religious Fundie Crackpot Revival in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Language is a powerful and subversive tool, and tens of millions of Americans have been brainwashed by the seeming respectability of the C-word into believing that evolution denialism is a legitimate scientific theory.

    "Idiot savant" was in use as recently as 1988, when the movie "Rain Man" brought the public attention to the issue. Who could call Dustin Hoffman an "idiot"? The problem with just plain "savant" is that it means something else. A savant is a person of learning, especially in a particular field of expertise. I doubt that Marilyn Vos Savant, the popular columnist with the world's highest documented IQ, is pleased with the trend of using her name for a type of cognitive disability.

    "Mongoloid" was in use thirty years ago. It was the title of one of New Wave band Devo's jumpiest songs.
    The terms mongoloid, caucasoid and negroid are still used in the popular paradigm of three human "races," but they are so politically incorrect--as are virtually all alternative naming conventions that include labels like "white" or "Oriental"--that discussion of this paradigm is somewhat stifled.

    I have seen non-Americans innocently use the term "coloured" on SciForums. The discussion of race is so politically charged that the terminology that is safe and accepted changes at least once with every generation. I must point out that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is one of America's most honored organizations. The cliche goes, "My great grandpa was a [N-word], my grandpa was colored, my uncle was was a negro, my pa was black, and I'm an African-American. That's the major difference between my great grandpa's life and mine."

    Ethnic names are the most controversial. Many people object to the word Jew, although none of the members of the Jewish branch of my family tree feel that way about it. What else are they supposed to be? Hebrews? Israeli-Americans? They are absolutely flummoxed by the newfound political incorrectness of the Yiddish word shvartze, which literally means "black person," the very term that is politically correct in English. They're struggling to find a replacement. They can't just say Afrikaner-Amerikaner like we do because the Yiddish language community is not Americentric. Maybe they'll adopt whatever Hebrew word the Israelis use.

    Some strident leaders of the "Latino" community have made a tempest in a teapot over what they wish to be called. When I was a kid in the Southwest they just called themselves Mexicans. "Sure, we weren't born in what is now Mexico, but we were born and still reside in what was once Mexico!" Then their children wanted to be called Chicanos, a word whose most authoritative etymologies I regard with suspicion but I can't offer a better one. As immigrants and their children with roots in Cuba and then all of Latin America turned the community into a miniature Melting Pot of "people with ancestry in Spanish-speaking Western Hemisphere countries," the federal government stepped in and labeled them "hispanic" with a lower case H, a word still enshrined in census forms and other government documents. The more strident "hispanics" rebelled at that one, "You're identifying us with the occupying armies that destroyed our own indigenous civilizations." Now the strident seem to want to be called Latinos with an L that is sometimes capitalized and sometimes not. Which is fine as long as they agree that the people of Brazil, the 600-pound gorilla of "Latin" America, are also Latinos because Portuguese is also a Romance language. As is French, the language of Haiti and Martinique, as well as Quebec and much of Louisiana. I can hardly wait to see Céline Dion and Buckwheat Zydeco perform at the next ALMA Awards!
  11. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    Since the moderator went on a tangent, I feel semi-safe following. I think there actually is some basis for using the term creationism. In fact there is a fundamental difference between beliefs based on steady states and beliefs based on beginnings. Back when creationism became a term, I believe, most physicists were still going on the idea that the universe had always been around or was always being 'created'. Everything is just eternally unfolding or going in cycles. To believe that things started at some point is distinct from this and oddly enough became the generally accepted theory until recently when ideas about time before the first big bang and multi-universes starting getting tossed around. (I realize that physicists tend not to talk about a creator, nevertheless those with the 'mythology' were surely mocked by philosophers for positing a beginning and a causeless cause. Yet, physicists ended up saying something similar. ((Don't worry, I don't think any of this proves there is a God)))
  12. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

    When is a person supposed to know that they can no longer say something? Wait to be corrected? Its not like there's a memo that goes out.

    My Mom was medically trained to say Mongoloid. Why was there a shift away from it?
  13. DeepThought Banned Banned

    One word.


    Hypocritically it becomes unacceptable for the majority (white) population to use such terms since it's a political tool to attract minority votes.

    However, you'll find minorities continuing to use these terms like their going out of fashion.
  14. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    Because it was a somewhat odd cross-over from anthropology, where "mongoloid" was a term for "oriental" racial types. People with Down's Syndrome were termed "mongoloids" because (mostly Caucasian) doctors thought the afflicted looked like east Asians.

    It arose because John Langdon Down (of "Down's Syndrome) thought that the seemingly Asiatic features of Down's Syndrome were evidence of evolutionary degeneration of whites...which is how he medically explained Down's Syndrome. The term "mongoloid" thereafter picked up the connotation of being a degenerate idiot in common speech, as opposed to "person with Down's Syndrome." As such, it started to seem a bit cruel to use the same term—which grew into a general insult rather than just a technical medical term—to describe those with the medical condition.

    Since it's not very descriptive of those with Down's Syndrome to start with, being based on a 19th century misunderstanding of both the causes of Down's Syndrome and the evolution of Asiatic facial features in East Asian populations, it's not such a huge loss.

    "Colored" fell out of use for somewhat more complicated reasons. Some whote people did start to use "colored" in an condescending way, but also some blacks began to see those accepting the "colored" moniker as being too docile. "Black" arose as more powerful statement of racial pride, and simply came to replace the "colored."

    I don't think "colored" is considered innately particularly offensive, but it draws attention simply because it's so dated. One might wonder why one would use such a dated term in the same way one might be momentarily perplexed hear a child referred to as "poppet," a family farmer called a "peasant," or a dog called a "cur." That some people formerly used "colored" to mean "not as good as white" once upon a time then increases the potential that some invidious use will be perceived.
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Reading a big-city newspaper regularly--not even every day--will probably get you to the 90th percentile of politically correct speech. I suppose TV news will get you to the 75th percentile since its bandwidth is smaller, but I'd rather be punished for political incorrectness than endure The News For People Who Can't Read.
    Well yeah! Americans love to form cliques and make those who are not in them go through rites of passage. Calling a woman a "lady" instead of a "person" is equivalent to saying she's "cool" instead of "hot" or whatever the kids say today. I remember when "phat" was a compliment, that blew over quickly.
    It tends to come out a little too late. Yesterday was the first time I saw a news article in which a "Latina" complained about being called "hispanic," and that controversy has been brewing for fifteen or twenty years.
    I didn't even know about that one! As I said, I see people shying away from Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid in discussing gene pools that developed after the diaspora out of Africa. But that leaves them with White, Black and Yellow, which is both a little retro and a little imprecise since the "red" people are Mongoloid. European, African and Oriental is even more retro and more imprecise. I first heard the term Downs Syndrome about ten years ago so I would have assumed that medical professionals were familiar with it before that, but obviously that's not true. I didn't know that Downs = mongoloid, but they would.
  16. MacGyver1968 Fixin' Shit that Ain't Broke Valued Senior Member

    When I was a child, my grandmother from Tupelo, Mississippi, came to visit us. She still used the term "colored" to descibe black people. One day, I was upset because none of my friends could play. My grandmother suggested I should go down to the schoolyard where she saw a group of "cul'lud" children playing. I ran off...excited...thinking I was going to see blue and green and red children. (since I had never heard of the term "colored")

    When I returned from playing, she asked me if I found the colored children, I said no...but I didn't find a group of black kids.

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  17. Nutter Shake it loose, baby! Registered Senior Member

    Message deleted. See below.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 27, 2007
  18. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    For a related use of that honorific, here: http://www.rosicrucian.com/ssa/ssaeng01.htm

    The use of 'science" and "scientific" to describe a particular methodology or rigor in approach, with the results so obtained, is also appropriate - although less complimentary, since it carries an implication of uncertainty and ever-present possibility of error.

    As a synonym for "asserted firmly, with unshakeable conviction", "scientific" is a bit prissy - we look forward to better terms, perhaps "fatwaic" ?
  19. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Both idiot and moron used to be terms to indicate the mentally retarded. I think it's a matter of when the words are annexed by the ill-intended.

    Additionally, some of the "PC" terms are actually more accurate. One of my teachers in high school had a son who was affected by a rare genetic disorder that presented mild learning difficulties. This was at a time when the word used for the mentally retarded was "developmentally delayed". This one has the capacity to achieve a "normal" level of knowledge, but it's just going to take longer, and a bit more effort. I certainly would not have classified him as a "retard".
  20. Orleander OH JOY!!!! Valued Senior Member

    My Mom has never liked the term "deaf and dumb" she prefers "deaf and mute" Don't know why cuz she never shuts up.
    Anyways she now says "I am not deaf, I am hearing impaired. And by the way, how is your mongoloid son."

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  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    "Deaf" generally means "so deaf that you can't talk to me." A hearing impairment can be a less catastrophic condition such as hers. "Dumb" originally meant "lacking the power of speech," so "deaf and dumb" was a logical description of the condition of most people who were deaf from birth and therefore never learned to speak because of that handicap. (Some do learn with patient teaching, by mimicking mouth shapes and feeling the vibrations of the teacher's voice box, Helen Keller being the most famous example.) As recently as 1969 The Who called Tommy "that deaf, dumb and blind kid."

    But "dumb" was also an epithet for animals, who obviously could not speak either. "Dumb animal" came to refer as much to their presumed stupidity as their lack of fluency in human language, and eventually the meaning easily transferred to its use with humans. M-W.com lists "stupid" as meaning #6, but in colloquial American speech it was #1 by the time I was old enough to realize it in the 1950s. It's so well established that the computer industry had no qualms about coining the term "dumb terminal" for a workstation that has only data communication capability but no data processing. In other words a dumb terminal can talk, but it can't think!

    Spanish uses mudo, its descendant of the Latin word mutus, for "mute." They have the compound word sordomudo for deaf-mute, a durable kind of word that probably won't be easily subverted. (Sordo is from Latin surdus, "deaf. You may encounter our word "surd" in this subforum, the linguistic term for a voiceless sound, e.g., F and T as opposed to V and D.) Shakira's megahit that broke her into the Mexican market, the steppingstone to the American market, was Ciega Sordomuda, "Blind Deaf-Mute Lady."
  22. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    I hate PC vocab changes too. Words have meaning. Mongoloid became an insult because people with Down's Syndrome have low IQ's.

    Hell, most people don't even know that words like moron, imbecile, and idiot have technical meanings but are no longer used because it might hurt peoples feelings.
    • Moron (IQ 50-69)
    • Imbecile (IQ 20-49)
    • Idiot (below 20).
    All of these terms became unacceptable because people knew what they meant. They are used to describe some deficiency in our mental or physical capabilities.

    So some do-gooder comes along and creates a new term. You're not retarded, you're "mentally challenged". That works for a while, until everyone learned that "mentally challenged" means the same thing retard does. Then it's time for a new term.
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It's interesting that we don't have terms for people that many sigmas above average. "Genius" is not very specific. One of the hallmarks of our collectivist era is that we don't want to give any kid the impression that he's "special" in a good way. Our educational philosophy should be more honestly called, "No Child Pushed Ahead."

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