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"Indian giver" is still not okay April 2, 2013 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Calling someone an Indian giver is still racist.

Yes, I've already already argued this point. It's still offensive and racist. I used the contact form yesterday and it's still up. Let's raise the bar.
posted by kamikazegopher to Etiquette/Policy at 2:51 PM (420 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Did you get the long email gnfti wrote back to you about why we left it up? In short: I think it would be great if people would be a lot more tactful about weird "Help me not use this racist term, what's a better one?" questions, but that's explicitly what's being asked for in that thread and why we left it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:54 PM on April 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


Like you say, you did use the contact form yesterday (which we totally appreciate) and I feel like goodnewsfortheinsane laid out the practical situation pretty well: the term's problematic, not everybody is equally aware of how problematic it is, but in any case this is a case of someone specifically (if kinda ham-handedly, for sure) trying to acknowledge their sense that it's problematic while looking for a non-problematic replacement phrase.

I don't know if there's something specifically you're looking for from us as mods or if you're looking for some sort of community action on this, beyond what was discussed last time you brought it to Metatalk.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:57 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Please, no grief about the term. I understand the problem with it."

Seriously, I don't see how that could possibly be an acceptable use of askme if only because at best its asking two totally unrelated questions and really looks a lot more knowingly like using a racial slur to conveniently communicate an idea and wanting no grief about it. The term is a reflection of the most hideous varieties of genocidal racism and should have no place here, particularly used in ordinary conversation.

Has there been stuff deleted from the thread?
posted by Blasdelb at 3:04 PM on April 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


Actually, I didn't get the email. I assumed it would come via MeMail. I would like for it to be deleted, but I can understand your logic. I suppose it's not something that can be solved in one trainwreck of a thread.
posted by kamikazegopher at 3:05 PM on April 2, 2013


The OP knew that the term is offensive. They acknowledged it. They asked for an alternative term:
I cringe using the term , “Indian giving”? Is there a less offensive word used today to describe taking a gift back? Please, no grief about the term. I understand the problem with it.
So, what's the problem?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:17 PM on April 2, 2013 [32 favorites]


[Other than the clumsy combination of two questions, that is].
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:18 PM on April 2, 2013


Previously, sort of.
posted by Ned G at 3:18 PM on April 2, 2013


Sorry, same link as in OP, ignore me.
posted by Ned G at 3:19 PM on April 2, 2013


I don't get why you would knowingly use an offensive term like that. Why not say, "Is there a non-racist term for when someone who gives a gift, then takes it back?" and trust that people will know to which racist term you refer? There's no call for using a phrase that you know to be offensive in a context like this.
posted by BrashTech at 3:20 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suppose it's not something that can be solved in one trainwreck of a thread.

And yet, here we are.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:24 PM on April 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


And yet, here we are.

Maybe it will be solved in two trainwrecks of threads?
posted by yoink at 3:26 PM on April 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


I thought it was really annoying the OP used that term, too. It was like he or she was saying, "I just CAN'T think of any other word for this, so I'm just going to use this racist term. Sorry. But I totally get that it's racist so don't mention it to me." Like, everyone could have still understood and answered that question without the racist bit. I really didn't get it. Not sure if it should have been deleted necessarily, but I don't think "yeah I know it's racist, but it can't be helped" is a good excuse.
posted by sweetkid at 3:26 PM on April 2, 2013 [28 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken: "And yet, here we are."

Two! Two trainwrecks of threads!

sweetkid: "t I don't think "yeah I know it's racist, but it can't be helped" is a good excuse."

I don't read it like that. Maybe the asker is up to its elbows in DUMB FAMILY DRAMA that affects real life that maybe the question about "what is a less loaded term?" is sincere, even if it just reads like flip whaddya-gunna-do-ness to you.
posted by boo_radley at 3:29 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think "yeah I know it's racist, but it can't be helped" is a good excuse.

Except the claim is not "I know it is racist but it can't be helped." The question is, quite clearly, "I know this term is racist--can you help me find a non-racist equivalent." Help is precisely what the Asker is seeking.
posted by yoink at 3:30 PM on April 2, 2013 [18 favorites]


oh, hey, and look, skwirl was pretty level-headed in that askme.
posted by boo_radley at 3:31 PM on April 2, 2013


Please! Some sensitivity!

my cousin was killed in a train wreck
posted by found missing at 3:34 PM on April 2, 2013 [32 favorites]


I personally got the sense that English may not have been the author's first language and they were sacrificing sensitivity on the altar of communication.

On that note, while I can't condone the use of the term in the question, I feel like your public display of intolerance trumps the one you're complaining about in terms of relative levels of rudeness.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 3:35 PM on April 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


I'm just going to use this racist term.

There is a difference between using a term and referencing it. For example, kamikazegopher references it in the title of this post, but does not use it in a negative way.

Is the askme question an instance of using the phrase, or referencing it? It seems more along the lines of what kamikazegopher does in the title, and not actually adopting the phrase as a slur. For that matter, the poster seems to reference it specifically (in the form of a question) because she does not want to use it, if it's negative.

I think people are assuming a surreptitious use of the term under the guise of a reference, but I'm not sure that's a fair reading.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:35 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


The question is, quite clearly, "I know this term is racist--can you help me find a non-racist equivalent." Help is precisely what the Asker is seeking.

Well, as said above there are two questions. The gift card family thing and "what is an acceptable term for Indian Giver.?" Everyone could have answered the gift card question. I read the OP as saying they just could not ask the question without using the term Indian Giver, which is really odd. Also being stuck in dumb family drama is not an excuse for racism, either.
posted by sweetkid at 3:37 PM on April 2, 2013


If I'd written that post, I would have titled it something like "Hey! No Take-Backsies!" and everyone who read the title (all 15 of you with titles still turned on) would have known exactly what I meant.

There were plenty of ways to describe the situation without NEEDING to use that term.
posted by Brody's chum at 3:39 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read the OP as saying they just could not ask the question without using the term Indian Giver
I cringe using the term , “Indian giving”? Is there a less offensive word used today to describe taking a gift back?
This really isn't very ambiguous or difficult to parse. I think people rather enjoy jumping on an occasion to say "Look how much more attuned I am to the prevailing cultural sensitivities than you are" and are engaging in a somewhat forced misreading of the Asker's post in order to do so.
posted by yoink at 3:44 PM on April 2, 2013 [55 favorites]


There were plenty of ways to describe the situation without NEEDING to use that term

Would you say the same thing about the title of this MetaTalk post, as well?

If not, I think you might be mixing up the difference between use and reference in language, and making some unfair assumptions about the intentions of the askme poster. And it's a really important language distinction if we are going to have discussions about things that are potentially offensive.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:45 PM on April 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


My point is the poster could have asked that whole question without asking anything about the term Indian Giver.

"Look how much more attuned I am to the prevailing cultural sensitivities than you are"

No, this isn't true, Racism Gotcha Game isn't a thing.
posted by sweetkid at 3:45 PM on April 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


The asker made it so clear that they don't want to keep using this term. If they had said "I currently use a certain racist sounding term - I'm sure y'all know what it is - please help me find a better one", would their coyness have saved anyone any pain? Heck, we'd probably still have this MeTa.
posted by ftm at 3:49 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


If I'd written that post, I would have titled it something like "Hey! No Take-Backsies!" and everyone who read the title (all 15 of you with titles still turned on) would have known exactly what I meant.

There were plenty of ways to describe the situation without NEEDING to use that term.


"Take-Backsies" doesn't mean much to me (I could imagine it meaning taking back something one had said as much as a gift). I think the reason the Asker wanted a term to substitute for "Indian Giver" is that they wanted some word or phrase they could use to express to the person who was asking for the gift card back why that request made them unhappy. In other words they wanted to be able to name it (in the event that they did, in fact, decide to express their feelings) in a way that framed it as something we all agree is wrong. "I'm upset that you asked for this because it seems like BLANKing." Somehow I don't thing "take backsies" would fill that blank very persuasively.
posted by yoink at 3:49 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Clearly, Racism Gotcha is a thing.

Notice, for example, how the native cali OP admitted white guilt regarding her childhood spent in an organization called Indian Princesses, and how she carefully glossed over and declined to respond to this comment from the other thread:

Sort of an ironic call-out, considering the OP's username makes light of ritualized ethnic suicide attacks from a contentious war. My Japanese friends don't think that shit is funny, but whatevs.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 3:50 PM on April 2, 2013 [22 favorites]


My point is the poster could have asked that whole question without asking anything about the term Indian Giver.

Except it's clear from the post that that particular poster could not come up with an alternative phrasing. That you can, or that I, as someone who has never had 'Indian giver' in their vocabulary (I think I learned the phrase from Metafilter), could is totally irrelevant.

(Coincidentally, as someone who doesn't have 'Indian giver' in their vocabulary, I have no alternate noun. I would have to say 'person who takes gifts back', which is perfectly satisfactory, but I can see how it might not occur to someone who has a word, even if they are trying hard not to use it.)
posted by hoyland at 3:51 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Look how much more attuned I am to the prevailing cultural sensitivities than you are" and are engaging in a somewhat forced misreading of the Asker's post in order to do so.

Maybe "everyone needs a hug" should be amended with "people who disagree with you can still do so in good faith."
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:52 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


No, this isn't true, Racism Gotcha Game isn't a thing.

I so wish this was true.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:52 PM on April 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


No, this isn't true, Racism Gotcha Game isn't a thing.

Clearly the rule book is modeled on that of Fight Club.
posted by yoink at 3:52 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is the askme question an instance of using the phrase, or referencing it?

Both. I think the title and the paragraph above the "more inside" are probably just referencing it and acknowledging it as problematic. But later, he seems to just plain use it:

I’m annoyed that she is essentially Indian giving her mother’s gift to my uncle, who gave it to me, only to regift it to her daughter. There’s a whole lot of levels of re-Indian gifting here.

To me it looks like Che boludo! knows the term is offensive, but didn't have the time or inclination to find a synonym, so just went with it and added the disclaimer upfront. Which... seems kind of disingenuous to use a term that you know will offend people, but expect immunity just for acknowledging that it's offensive.
posted by payoto at 3:52 PM on April 2, 2013 [16 favorites]

"Would you say the same thing about the title of this MetaTalk post, as well?

If not, I think you might be mixing up the difference between use and reference in language, and making some unfair assumptions bout the intentions of the askme poster.
"
The OP of this Meta thread is referencing the term to address the virulent racism inherent to both it and its use in that AskMe, the OP of the AskMe referenced the term so as to describe their family as being like objects of racial hatred so as to more concisely complain about them.

There is a really big distinction to be made here
posted by Blasdelb at 3:53 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


(I know renege/reneger was suggested in the post. 'renege' is totally in my vocabulary, but I wouldn't use it for the situation described.)
posted by hoyland at 3:54 PM on April 2, 2013


Except it's clear from the post that that particular poster could not come up with an alternative phrasing. That you can, or that I, as someone who has never had 'Indian giver' in their vocabulary (I think I learned the phrase from Metafilter), could is totally irrelevant

There were two questions:

1) What should I do about this gift card

2) What is a better word for Indian Giver

Poster should have stuck with question 1. Everyone would have understood and answered appropriately.

You're not supposed to ask two questions in an AskMe anyway.
posted by sweetkid at 3:54 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Virulent racism?

Was that a smallpox blanket reference, Mr. Bureau of Indian Affairs?
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 3:54 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


yoink: “This really isn't very ambiguous or difficult to parse. I think people rather enjoy jumping on an occasion to say 'Look how much more attuned I am to the prevailing cultural sensitivities than you are' and are engaging in a somewhat forced misreading of the Asker's post in order to do so.”

This seems uncharitable of people here.

Honestly, the part you're quoting is apparently not the "question" of the question. If it were, it would be the last sentence of the thing, and there wouldn't be many more paragraphs of other stuff where the poster uses the phrase in question over and over and over again. It reads as "this may be offensive but what are you going to do?" because the poster doesn't really seem concerned about the racism of the phrase at all; the question reads as an afterthought, because they don't really seem to care enough not to use the phrase in the rest of their question.

So maybe the poster could stop and think about the fact that, if a phrase is offensive, it's a good idea to stop and figure out a good alternative before diving in with a long question that will require you to use that phrase many times.

But... frankly I agree with the mods on this one. No matter what the asker of the question intended or seemed to intend, explicitly they stated this question: what is a good alternative for the offensive phrase? And on Metafilter we customarily give people the benefit of the doubt and take them at their word. I think that's a good communal standard we follow.

Probably the asker could have done better, but we meet people where they are here, and "what is a better alternative to this phrase?" is the right question to ask. So I think it's better that people answer that question rather than want this thread to be deleted. There's a lot of room in that thread to gently and decently point out that the offensive phrase in question is worth avoiding, while also hopefully trying to clear up a relatively unrelated family drama.
posted by koeselitz at 3:56 PM on April 2, 2013 [24 favorites]


The OP of this Meta thread is referencing the term to address the virulent racism inherent to both it and its use in that AskMe, the OP of the AskMe referenced the term so as to describe their family as being like objects of racial hatred so as to more concisely complain about them.

I don't think so. I think the askme poster referenced a term to ask if it was appropriate to use it in her particular situation. That's one step removed from use or description.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:57 PM on April 2, 2013



No, this isn't true, Racism Gotcha Game isn't a thing.

I so wish this was true.


For the most part, people who believe that other people just like pointing out racism/sexism for chuckles are people who can't imagine being affected or insulted by that sort of thing.

"To me it looks like Che boludo! knows the term is offensive, but didn't have the time or inclination to find a synonym, so just went with it and added the disclaimer upfront. Which... seems kind of disingenuous to use a term that you know will offend people, but expect immunity just for acknowledging that it's offensive."

Yeah this was my take as well.
posted by sweetkid at 3:57 PM on April 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


I was working last night when that question went up. In these cases we have two tools: delete, or talk to the poster to see if they would be willing to edit it.

I tried to reach the poster to ask if we could edit the question to remove all that business (using the term, asking for an alternative). But I didn't hear back from them, and the thread seemed to go okay, with people being able to look past the bad framing to give answers focused on the meat of the question, and one or two people giving alternative terms to use. I prefer to keep a question up where possible, so I left it up.

More generally, there are occasionally framing or phrasing issues in AskMes that are sort of gross or somewhat offensive or otherwise ugh, but which don't quite cross the line into 100% auto-delete. (And in this case, the acknowledgement that it's an offensive term and they want an alternative was enough to keep it on that side for me.) It can be tricky to balance those cases, since we do mainly want to help people find answers even if they have phrased their question in a somewhat bad way.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:59 PM on April 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Poster should have stuck with question 1. Everyone would have understood and answered appropriately.

Yes, but you have to assume that question 1 would have featured the words 'Indian giver'. And no one would have answered the damn question.

A charitable reading of the question would be to assume the OP knows the term 'Indian giver' is problematic and can't come up with anything better. Then you answer question 1 and say "You can say 'renege'." (Or whatever. I'm continuing with the 'renege' example.) Or simply, as one person did, suggest 'renege' and go on your merry way.
posted by hoyland at 3:59 PM on April 2, 2013


For the most part, people who believe that other people just like pointing out racism/sexism for chuckles are people who can't imagine being affected or insulted by that sort of thing.

No, it's just not true that no one points these things out for the reasons you dismiss. You clearly said that it wasn't a thing, which is a pretty universal statement.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:00 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Virulent racism?

Was that a smallpox blanket reference, Mr. Bureau of Indian Affairs?


Duder. If there was a user I was going to get into it with about the definition of 'virulent' blasdelb who does all the science posts is not the user I'd choose.

In re the subject at hand, we're none of us perfect, and while the OP using the term is unfortunate, I think since they recognize that the term is a problem and are asking for alternatives, the kind, helpful not-hiding-our-light-under-a-bushell-basket thing to do would be to grab their hand and help them take the next couple steps toward not being a racist fucknut rather than nuking the post from orbit for its half-assed confused fucknuttery.
posted by Diablevert at 4:00 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


(To be clear, the fact that I didn't hear back is not a criticism of the poster. Some people don't know about MeMail, or check their email frequently, and if we're going to edit something, it needs to happen pretty quickly or not at all.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:01 PM on April 2, 2013


yoink: “I think people rather enjoy jumping on an occasion to say 'Look how much more attuned I am to the prevailing cultural sensitivities than you are' and are engaging in a somewhat forced misreading of the Asker's post in order to do so.”

sweetkid: “No, this isn't true, Racism Gotcha Game isn't a thing.”

SpacemanStix: “I so wish this was true.”

yoink: “Clearly the rule book is modeled on that of Fight Club.”

Whether it's a thing or not, the accusation that "you don't really believe what you're saying, you're just saying it to look cool" is a pretty low and cutting accusation, and I think discussions like this one would go much, much better if we could refrain from making such accusations as much as possible.

Address what people are saying. If what they're saying is unfair or untrue, say so. Ignore the people saying the things and focus on the content of what they're saying. This is, in my experience, the recipe for keeping things civil and preventing them from getting personal.
posted by koeselitz at 4:02 PM on April 2, 2013 [26 favorites]


for chuckles

And I wouldn't say for chuckles, either, I guess. But I'm not sure that everyone is a paragon of virtue when they try to find vices in other people when it comes to race.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:03 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


you don't really believe what you're saying, you're just saying it to look cool

this exactly, and it's weird that people jump to it so quickly. It happens in every single thread where we discuss this type of thing.
posted by sweetkid at 4:03 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, people usually make a conversation personal because they feel personally attacked. Feelings are funny; they aren't really rational, although it is fair to say that there are times when it's justified for one to feel attacked. In any case, I guess the problem to be solved is that we need to try to create a situation where people don't feel attacked when we discuss ideas and happen to disagree about them.
posted by koeselitz at 4:05 PM on April 2, 2013


Oh, good, an appropriate place to ask. Is the related concept of "welching" on an offer or bet as much of a slur as it seems on its face or is there a non-obvious etymology as in the case of "niggardly"?
posted by Justinian at 4:24 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


OED suggests it's unresolvable but notes it's sometimes considered offensives regardless; there's a citation of speculation from the mid-19th century that it's derived from a rhyme about an untrustworthy Welshman, but that's pretty thin by itself.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:28 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I also found this, which suggests that the implicit insult is to the English, not to the Welsh (attributed to Morris' Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins): "It was ENGLISH bookies who, having too many long shot winners against them, fled over the border to 'boondock' Wales to become the original welshers and escape irate bettors looking for their payoff."
posted by gingerest at 4:31 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, people usually make a conversation personal because they feel personally attacked.

You'd think that, but people also seem happy to make conversations personal when they feel completely unrelated groups are being attacked. I'm not always sorry. If someone's throwing around racial epithets, I'm glad when someone tells them to cut it out. I'm slightly less glad when it's done as a personal attack, but whatevs.

I'm not really clear what kamikazegopher wants to get out of this thread, however, and I don't see where she went into the thread and explained what a better phrase would be.

Actually, I would also like to hear answers to that. While I don't think it's a phrase that should be used, I also don't think there's a better one. While we're on the subject of racist phrases, if anyone has spot-on substitutes for gypped ("cheated" is not a 1:1 correlation) or jewed-down (again, "bargained down" isn't 1:1), I'd love to hear them. So far as I can tell, English hasn't filled these gaps yet, which is an interesting language situation. (Wait- does German have words for these? Don't they have words for everything?)
posted by small_ruminant at 4:32 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was that a smallpox blanket reference, Mr. Bureau of Indian Affairs?

Speaking of uncharitable "gotcha racism."
posted by zarq at 4:35 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Use/mention distinction.
posted by John Cohen at 4:38 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


While we're on the subject of racist phrases, if anyone has spot-on substitutes...

I think ripped off is as close to gypped as you are likely to get. Haggled or bargained down is as close as you are likely to get to jewed because all the other semantic nuance comes from the association with stereotypical Jewish traits. There is really no such thing as a true synonym. As much as I wish there were something that got across what "tar baby" gets across but without the racist overtones, to me it's sort of like saying "I care about precision along one axis (very similar meaning) more than I care about precision along another axis (not offending people) and I'm more hung up on the abstraction than real life people." Not saying you are saying that, just saying it's sort of the thought process I went through, wanting to be accurate and empathetic at the same time and being interested in where my edge cases were.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:38 PM on April 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


small_ruminant, I think the reason people don't have perfectly spot-on substitutes for those terms is that they are very invidious and designate the person doing the behavior as "other" and acting outside the social contract you subscribe to. You could just spell all that out. Why do you need that kind of term for an Askme anyway? You can always just describe what people are doing, as accurately as possible.

As far as what someone would get out of posting here instead of responding there-- I was tempted to post something about this thread here. It seemed like a very meta sort of thing. I can well believe that the OP wasn't trying to push anyone's buttons. (And I realize it's personal with me that pre-emptive things like, "Please no grief about this" do push my buttons like crazy; they always strike me as crude power moves.) But I think without assigning moral deficiency to him, that was ugly to see. It was not a question of straighten the OP out, but rather a question of what kinds of things should be on the front page.
posted by BibiRose at 4:44 PM on April 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Two! Two trainwrecks of threads!

"Double your pleasure. Double your fun"!
posted by ericb at 4:47 PM on April 2, 2013


While I don't think it's a phrase that should be used, I also don't think there's a better one. While we're on the subject of racist phrases, if anyone has spot-on substitutes for gypped ("cheated" is not a 1:1 correlation) or jewed-down (again, "bargained down" isn't 1:1), I'd love to hear them. So far as I can tell, English hasn't filled these gaps yet, which is an interesting language situation.

So, I've already mentioned in this thread that I don't have 'Indian giver' as part of my language. I don't have 'jewed down' either and I learned of it from Metafilter. I do have 'gypped'. 'ripped off' really is a perfectly good substitute for the 'gypped'. I've really never found myself thinking that this is a gap in English. I mean, I'm not even sure I totally understand what 'jewed down' means (if it is in fact distinct from 'bargain down'), so it's kind of hard to imagine some situation where I'd need it. There's a difference between 'this is something that's embedded in my vocabulary and it's hard to talk around' and 'English really needs this word'. For example, I wrote some comment recently about gay marriage in Germany and it took serious effort to figure out how to word it. Why? It's something I only read about in German and English has no obvious equivalent for 'Gleichstellung'. But we're perfectly able to talk about the idea of making civil unions equal to marriage in the eyes of the law without having an equivalent noun.
posted by hoyland at 4:49 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Even if I didn't find the term racist the "apology" statement is a little irksome. It's kind of like saying "look I need help with this problem which I'm going to describe in this certain racist way that I KNOW some of you will give me crap about so let's just cut to the chase, eh?" There's an implication of "I don't want to deal with your racism policing right now".

And on the one hand a little perspective and seeing that the OP is feeling stressed about the situation goes a long way to mitigating that implication, on the other hand I can also understand why other people feel compelled to say something about it.

But on my third, invisible hand --which hovers over me like a protective-yet-slightly-evil cormorant-- is the concern that the mere presence of the term, no matter how well the author understands its problems, still exists in this fairly banal way in the middle of this legitimate problem, and I can see why that sticks in people's craws. Like, we're just going to ALLOW this poor choice of words to sit out there for all to see, with rushed half-apology and all?

I mean it's not the worst thing ever but it is kind of cruddy because now there is another perpetuation of the phrase and in some ways the apology is kind of like saying "I don't want to be racist...but this really is the best way to describe it..." which legitimizes the phrase yet again and I completely understand why that sucks.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:49 PM on April 2, 2013 [23 favorites]


To be clear, I'm not a paragon of anti-racism or something, it's a dialect quirk that means I don't have these words.
posted by hoyland at 4:52 PM on April 2, 2013


There is really no such thing as a true synonym.

Start and begin? Toward and towards?
posted by John Cohen at 5:11 PM on April 2, 2013


There is really no such thing as a true synonym.

Start and begin?


He turned the key and the engine started.
* He turned the key and the engine began.
posted by painquale at 5:16 PM on April 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yes, those words have different senses and are used in different ways. Part of meaning is use and context. Soda and pop are not synonyms because they're used in different geographical regions, for example. I'm not trying to be fighty here, just explaining the context. Part of the meaning of "jewed down" is wrapped up in the negative cast of Jews' role in society (as racist or incorrect as it is) and you can't remove that and have an exact synonym for the term.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:18 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Flammable and inflammable?
posted by boo_radley at 5:19 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh Christ, it's the Mefi gets righteously offended show. Yet again. I wish some of you people would just go out and get pissed once in a while. In the British sense.
posted by Decani at 5:24 PM on April 2, 2013 [23 favorites]


small_ruminant: chiseled, chiseler.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:26 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


oh good Decani is here to tell us what we're not allowed to be upset about. Also to tell us he's British.
posted by sweetkid at 5:26 PM on April 2, 2013 [46 favorites]


OED suggests it's unresolvable but notes it's sometimes considered offensives regardless; there's a citation of speculation from the mid-19th century that it's derived from a rhyme about an untrustworthy Welshman, but that's pretty thin by itself.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:28 AM on April 3


Sounds like this.
posted by Decani at 5:27 PM on April 2, 2013


I mean, I'm not even sure I totally understand what 'jewed down' means (if it is in fact distinct from 'bargain down')

It doesn't mean "bargain down." The stereotype being invoked is of a stingy, dishonest, untrustworthy, miserly Jew who will always cheat people out of money in a business transaction. "I Jewed him down" means 'I screwed him over, like I was a thieving Jew.'
posted by zarq at 5:27 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Over the years, I have learned that the signal-to-noise ratio around here ebbs and flows like the tide.
posted by davejay at 5:28 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


oh good Decani is here to tell us what we're not allowed to be upset about. Also to tell us he's British.
posted by sweetkid at 1:26 AM on April 3


I did neither of those things. Don't exaggerate. Actually, I'll edit that and say don't tell lies.
posted by Decani at 5:29 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


"look I need help with this problem which I'm going to describe in this certain racist way that I KNOW some of you will give me crap about so let's just cut to the chase, eh?"

I don't really want to defend this question because boy howdy it sucked, but your paraphrase here is basically the exact opposite of what they actually said. They didn't want people to "cut to the chase" and ignore the word choice; they invited comments on how to not use that term in the future.

I think we can all agree that it's a racist phrase and the asker would have been much better off not using it at all. But let's not put words in their mouth.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:29 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Chiseled! That's perfect!

Definitely someone should get on the "tar baby" thing, though.
posted by gingerest at 5:31 PM on April 2, 2013


Rain? That makes literally no sense,
posted by boo_radley at 5:32 PM on April 2, 2013


Yes, those words have different senses and are used in different ways. Part of meaning is use and context.

If two words are used in different ways or have different emotional or rhetorical connotations, that does not imply that they have different semantic meanings. Linguists usually distinguish semantics and pragmatics. Two sentences can mean the exact same thing and yet have different pragmatic effects on the listener and be appropriately used in entirely different contexts. (For example, sentences in two different languages.)

The work on racial slurs I've seen suggests that they do mean the same thing as innocuous phrases, but they have strongly different pragmatic effects that are not part of their linguistic meaning. This explains why, when you quote a racial slur without drawing upon its linguistic meaning -- when you talk about it rather than use it -- people still take offense.
posted by painquale at 5:34 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Definitely someone should get on the "tar baby" thing, though.

My Mexican-American in-laws use the slang word "moco"* to refer to a sticky situation that just keeps getting stuck to you no matter how you try to brush it off but I have no idea if that usage extends outside of the family.

*booger
posted by jamaro at 5:36 PM on April 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


That Snot Unusual.
posted by jonmc at 5:36 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gahhhhh.
posted by gingerest at 5:40 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


"righteously offended" doesn't adequately describe the concern raised in this thread for the way language can, intentionally or not, perpetuate racism.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:44 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh Christ, it's the Mefi gets righteously offended show.

I did neither of those things. Don't exaggerate. Actually, I'll edit that and say don't tell lies.


hahahaha
posted by kagredon at 5:53 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


You're right. You win. Happy?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:04 PM on April 2, 2013


Here's an honest question. Truly honest.

Is there an example of a historically racist or otherwise offensive term (in English) that, although it was recognized as such during its heydey, it is now so old that the original offensiveness is now completely gone.

Let's imagine 8th century politically correct Vikings didn't want you to use the term "Viking" as a verb meaning "to destroy," because it disparages peaceful Swedes. "Think before you speak, Lars! Don't say 'That's So Viking!'"

But if today, I say "Dude, I'm gonna totally Viking this bag of chips," nobody would get offended.

Does such a word exist?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:12 PM on April 2, 2013


Vandals
posted by jamaro at 6:17 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, coast guard. As in "I'm totally going to coast guard this kitten".
posted by arcticseal at 6:18 PM on April 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


Is there an example of a historically racist or otherwise offensive term (in English) that, although it was recognized as such during its heydey, it is now so old that the original offensiveness is now completely gone.

Scumbag? I wouldn't say "completely gone," but in common enough usage that few would blink at it's use in a headline in a mainstream publication, e.g. here.
posted by dsfan at 6:26 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The word slave? I mean, I'd be offended if someone tried to make me a slave, but the word itself wouldn't offend me as someone of partially Slavic descent.
posted by Justinian at 6:27 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


philistine?
barbarian?
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:35 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Don't we use barbarian in a very similar way as the Romans? "Those uncivilized, uncouth brutes beyond our borders."? Yeah, there may not be the whole bar-bar-bar language aspect, but that seems the least problematic part of the word.
posted by Justinian at 6:37 PM on April 2, 2013


"Gadzooks", "Gadzounds", and the derivative "zounds" are just cute these days, but they're actually rather gruesome religious oaths (God's hooks, i.e. the nails of the Cross, and God's wounds.)

If you're looking for formerly-offensive terms based on race or ethnicity, 3M's Scotch tape brand took its name from the stereotype of Scots as tightwads. "Scotty McTape" wore a kilt and said things like "Hoot, mon, it's thrifty".
posted by gingerest at 6:42 PM on April 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Is there an example of a historically racist or otherwise offensive term (in English) that, although it was recognized as such during its heydey, it is now so old that the original offensiveness is now completely gone.

Yes. The word 'bohunkus' which everyone who knows it uses to mean a giant bottom, was originally a slur against people from Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic!

I found this out once when I called a friend a bohunkus and he told me it sounded like one of those words that are slurs no one has ever heard of and lo, it was!
posted by winna at 6:47 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


this is dumb. the person asked if there was a better word. what is the purpose of the callout, exactly?
posted by Ironmouth at 6:54 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


not only that but the purpose of AskMe is to help the asker. Is that being done here? Especially when they asked for help?
posted by Ironmouth at 6:56 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is that being done here?

Well, we are in MetaTalk here. This is where we discuss site policy and community norms, among other things. Is that being done here?
posted by Scientist at 7:06 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Being snippy and snide really helps this conversation stay civil and on-point. Thanks.
posted by carsonb at 7:09 PM on April 2, 2013


Fuckin' hamburger.
posted by carsonb at 7:10 PM on April 2, 2013


"righteously offended" doesn't adequately describe the concern raised in this thread for the way language can, intentionally or not, perpetuate racism.


this actually gets at what bugs me about these conversations. what if using language like "indian-giver" doesn't actually perpetuate racism, at all? i really don't think it does, frankly. in fact, i'm pretty damn sure it doesn't.

i think it's indicative of vulgarity and dumbassery on the part of its user, but of all the genocidally insane shit that has been perpetrated on native americans by "real" americans over the past 400 years, i'm going to hazard a guess than zero of them are the result of anyone using the phrase "indian giver". it actually makes a mockery of the reality of racism to pretend that suppressing the use of "sensitive" phrases has anything to do with opposing real racism.
posted by facetious at 7:11 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


using slurs is a form of racism, yes. "Real" racism in fact.

it actually makes a mockery of the reality of racism to pretend that suppressing the use of "sensitive" phrases has anything to do with opposing real racism.

No, it doesn't make a mockery of anything. It's not "pretending" either.
posted by sweetkid at 7:27 PM on April 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


The word slave?

I've noticed recently that historians call them 'enslaved persons'. And I think that's actually a good substitution.
posted by empath at 7:30 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


what if using language like "indian-giver" doesn't actually perpetuate racism, at all? i really don't think it does, frankly. in fact, i'm pretty damn sure it doesn't.

That's a perfectly valid and substantive argument. I disagree, but at least it's something we can discuss. However, to oversimplify or outright dismiss contrary substantive positions raised in the thread by assigning them to the "righteously offended show" impedes productive conversation.

To address the substance of your point, I think the causal direction is a little different (and more complex) than you describe when you say "but of all the genocidally insane shit that has been perpetrated on native americans by 'real' americans over the past 400 years, i'm going to hazard a guess than zero of them are the result of anyone using the phrase 'indian giver'."

I don't think that racist language use directly causes racist behavior. I think racist language use correlates with racist beliefs (conscious and unconscious, individual and systemic), and both beliefs and language correlate with racist behaviors. People don't necessarily use racist terms consciously, just as they don't consciously realize they hold prejudiced views. I see calling attention to and criticizing unreflective uses of racist/sexist/abelist/etc terms as helping call attention to and fighting racist/sexist/abelist/etc. attitudes in our culture. I see a similar value in criticizing the use of the term in question in this thread as I do in criticizing the use of "gay" to mean stupid or phrases like "he throws like a girl," both of which are deeply caught up in the homophobic and sexist attitudes in our culture.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:32 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is there an example of a historically racist or otherwise offensive term (in English) that, although it was recognized as such during its heydey, it is now so old that the original offensiveness is now completely gone.

I have a good one that's kind of this in reverse, or turned inside out or something. It may be apocryphal to some extent, but it's such a great (horrible) story, I want it to be true, because it's so painfully ironic.

During the Korean War, American troops would have kids running up to them and shouting 'mi-guk saram mi-guk saram! (미국사람)'. It still happens today, actually. Mi-guk (mee gook) is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters (美國) for American, and is the Korean word for American (and it is said that the 'mi' syllable makes reference to another meaning -- 'beautiful' as in 미용실 or 'beauty salon' -- but that etymology is disputed).

So, basically these kids were just literally saying 'American person(s)! American person(s)', maybe even with the 'beautiful' notion in mind as they said it.

What the soldiers heard, though, of course, was 'Me gook!'

Which led us to the nasty racist term we are familiar with today.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:33 PM on April 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I let my IRL boredom get the best of me there. Sorry Ironmouth, carsonb, everybody. My bad.
posted by Scientist at 7:37 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


audi alteram partem, I see what you're saying, but I don't agree that it's substantive to say that using racist terms doesn't perpetuate racism. Using racist terms IS racist behavior, intentional or not. Racism doesn't need to rise to the level of genocide to be called out, and frankly it's insulting for that to be implied (not saying you were saying this in your comment).
posted by sweetkid at 7:44 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


...I think the reason people don't have perfectly spot-on substitutes for those terms is that they are very invidious and designate the person doing the behavior as "other" and acting outside the social contract you subscribe to.

Well, technically, wouldn't that include using the word racist, too ? Because, in my experience, the word racist is, if not almost always, at least all too often applied to him or her or them over there, possibly including you but nearly never me.
posted by y2karl at 7:46 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


yes, saying something is racist is definitely the same as a slur.

ffs.
posted by kagredon at 7:55 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sort of an ironic call-out, considering the OP's username makes light of ritualized ethnic suicide attacks from a contentious war. My Japanese friends don't think that shit is funny, but whatevs.

If your Japanese friends would like some historical literacy with their offense, it may interest them to know that the word "kamikaze" is a reference to the storms that thwarted two attempted Mongol invasions of Japan in the 13th century.

(and in case they were wondering, my username is a reference to the Showa-era novelist, not the robot scientist from the hit BBC series "Torchwood")
posted by Tanizaki at 7:55 PM on April 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't agree that it's substantive

I would say that the substance of the argument is wrong but that the argument still has substance (it has a claim supported by reasoning). I'm using substantive in the sense that there's an argument that has some structure, as opposed to a a viewpoint that refuses to engage the details of an argument by dismissing it as "righteously offended." There's no substance there. There's a claim, but it doesn't fairly summarize the views forwarded by people in the thread and it isn't supported by any sort of reasoning or evidence.

There's a pattern of discussion that recurs in these MetaTalk threads where instead of engaging direct quotes of interlocutors (thus addressing the substance of their views), people at times use overly broad and inaccurate paraphrases or attribute positions that their interlocutors don't hold (the traditional strawperson argument). I'm sure I've been guilty of these discursive indiscretions myself, but I also try whenever possible to engage the substance of my fellow discussants' arguments, even when I find those arguments wrong or odious.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:03 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The word slave?
I've noticed recently that historians call them 'enslaved persons'. And I think that's actually a good substitution.


This seems to contradict current thinking about ways to describe people using traits - putting the 'person' part first to emphasise that they are, first and foremost, a person. Like saying 'person with a disability' rather than 'disabled person'. I'm not sure that it works quite as well for a group of people that have been historically defined by being enslaved more than by being people, though, so maybe it's one of those edge case thingies.
posted by dg at 8:18 PM on April 2, 2013


in my experience, the word racist is, if not almost always, at least all too often applied to him or her or them over there, possibly including you but nearly never me.

For the most part, I don't think we need to call anyone a "racist" really. But we need to call out racist behavior in everyone. Me included, sure, I can be racist or prejudiced etc.

See Jay Smooth etc.
posted by sweetkid at 8:26 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


As much as I wish there were something that got across what "tar baby" gets across but without the racist overtones

Quicksand, maybe? The more you struggle, the quicker you sink. The solution is to relax, make controlled, slow movements, and try to float on the surface.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:37 PM on April 2, 2013


Yes, I've already already argued this point. It's still offensive and racist.

You should consider a previous comment of yours and weight whether posting another MeTa about this is necessary.

Most people here dislike the term and don't use it. The specific instance your'e complaining about this time isn't even that problematic, so it's not clear what you expect to get from this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:39 PM on April 2, 2013


Gaaaahhhh, rule 34 warned me but still I was unprepared for what Slate told me when I attempted to find out whether quicksand really works like that: there are quicksand kinksters.

(I still don't know if quicksand works like that.)
posted by gingerest at 8:53 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, wait. I am R'ing tFA and people are less dense than quicksand so no matter how you flail, you aren't going to sink completely. But I suppose the analogy works up to a point.
posted by gingerest at 8:56 PM on April 2, 2013


Quicksand, maybe? The more you struggle, the quicker you sink. The solution is to relax, make controlled, slow movements, and try to float on the surface.

Wasn't "quagmire" originally used to refer to quicksand or something like it? And then got abstracted to "bad situation that is difficult to get out of", though it usually doesn't come with the connotation that struggling against it makes it worse.
posted by kagredon at 9:02 PM on April 2, 2013


For the most part, people who believe that other people just like pointing out racism/sexism for chuckles are people who can't imagine being affected or insulted by that sort of thing.

I would genuinely like to hear from someone of Indian and/or Native American descent who was affected or insulted by that post. No gotcha intended; I would like to learn if this really is a thing. Is taking stuff back a stereotypical behavior imputed to Indians (from India, or Native Americans? I don't even know which the term applies to although I will now Google). I do despair that discussions of "racism" in Metafilter are overwhelmingly about language. Not economic oppression. Not health care disparities. Not educational outcomes, job opportunities, fair housing, hate crimes, and the list goes on. I understand that language plays a role in oppression, but I just don't see the endless wrangling over posts such as the one called out (which explicitly was not intended as a slur) as some sort of valid, valiant charge against racism. Would love it if someone could explain, because indeed, it looks like there is a game of gotcha being played. I can only imagine the beneficiaries of racism being delighted that the game gets played so vigorously and so earnestly, because it doesn't affect them at all!
posted by Wordwoman at 9:10 PM on April 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


Pilgrim giver?
posted by klangklangston at 9:10 PM on April 2, 2013


"I do have 'gypped'. 'ripped off' really is a perfectly good substitute for the 'gypped'."

Gaffled, or where I grew up "gafoed," is a pretty perfect synonym for "gyped" in a way that "ripped off" isn't quite.
posted by klangklangston at 9:14 PM on April 2, 2013


At the knowing risk of being piled on, what's the persuasive argument that this term is actually racist? Because I haven't seen anyone make the case, just assert that it's self-evidently true. I'm not so sure it's self-evident. I totally grant that many people nowadays consider it problematic, but I wonder if this is actually a case of hyper-correction? Perhaps because the term's fallen out of use, people who aren't aware of its historic meaning make the incorrect assumption that a) if the term includes an ethnic label, and b) the overall meaning of the term is considered negative, then c) it must therefore be a pejorative statement about that ethnic group.

But couldn't that ethnic label be an accident of history? Linking to the Wikipedia entry again, it has a definite meaning that stands independent of ethnicity, but happens to have gotten its name from a specific accident of history:
Indian giver is an American expression used to describe a person who gives a gift (literal or figurative) and later wants it back, or something equivalent in return... The phrase originated, according to researcher David Wilton, in a cultural misunderstanding that arose when Europeans first encountered Native Americans on arriving in North America in the 15th century. Europeans thought they were receiving gifts from Native Americans, while the Native Americans believed they were engaged in bartering: this resulted in the Europeans finding Native American behaviour ungenerous and insulting.
How is the term "Indian giver" not in the same category of terms as "Indian summer," "Russian roulette," or "Yankee swap," which say nothing, good or bad, IMO, about the character of the people that originally lent their name to these terms? Is the claim being made that "Indian giver" actually existed as a widely-held stereotype about Native Americans beyond the specific historic accident of mistaking bartering for gift-giving?
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 9:15 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wordwoman: "I do despair that discussions of 'racism' in Metafilter are overwhelmingly about language. Not economic oppression. Not health care disparities. Not educational outcomes, job opportunities, fair housing, hate crimes, and the list goes on. I understand that language plays a role in oppression, but I just don't see the endless wrangling over posts such as the one called out (which explicitly was not intended as a slur) as some sort of valid, valiant charge against racism. Would love it if someone could explain, because indeed, it looks like there is a game of gotcha being played. I can only imagine the beneficiaries of racism being delighted that the game gets played so vigorously and so earnestly, because it doesn't affect them at all!"

I don't quite think this is the case - not in my experience, anyway. It is true in a narrower sense, though. Discussions on Metatalk are overwhelmingly - I would even say exclusively - about language. And since Metatalk is the loudest and freest forum on Metafilter, it is generally the place where long, protracted and memorable disputes about important matters take place. There are long discussions elsewhere, but the freedom of Metatalk means this is where people tend more to insult each other, flame out, burn out, and do whatever else it is we find most notable.

And - the fact that arguments about racism in Metatalk are invariably about language makes sense to me. Language is all we Mefites have, as Mefites anyway. We don't generally have economic relationships with each other, we aren't generally employers of or employed by each other, we don't generally even see each other face to face at all, and we don't generally even have the opportunity to commit crimes against each other. Of course there are minor exceptions to this (jobs.metafilter.com, IRL meet ups, etc) but they are very minor. And this is even largely true on Metafilter in general, too, I think.

When we encounter racism on MetaFilter, from each other and from the world at large, it is in the form of language, which is the medium the Internet trades in. For better or for worse, those are the terms in which we're most likely to deal with racism here: linguistic terms.
posted by koeselitz at 9:27 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


...But we need to call out racist behavior in everyone. Me included, sure, I can be racist or prejudiced etc.

Well, then, perhaps a little more attention to the log in my eye and little less to the mote in thine might be more persuasive all around. In theory, at least. But, in practice, we would rather speak than be heard.
posted by y2karl at 9:39 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is there an example of a historically racist or otherwise offensive term (in English) that, although it was recognized as such during its heydey, it is now so old that the original offensiveness is now completely gone.

I'm not sure about completely, but there don't seem to be many complaints about stuff like "lame", "moron", "idiot", and "sucks" just off the top of my head. They're meant to be insulting, but don't seem to carry the original offensiveness much if at all.
posted by ODiV at 9:41 PM on April 2, 2013


Maybe the point isn't to call out racist behavior in everyone - rather, we should talk about the words and phrases people use, not the people themselves. The best thing about this callout was that it was a callout of a phrase, not any particular person.
posted by koeselitz at 9:42 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dixon Ticonderoga: " Is the claim being made that 'Indian giver' actually existed as a widely-held stereotype about Native Americans beyond the specific historic accident of mistaking bartering for gift-giving?"

If such a stereotype didn't exist, how in the world would the phrase have become popular? If it were simply nonsensical, like "Irish refrigerator" or "Chinese cotton candy" or something, then I don't imagine people would use it; people used it because they thought there was some meaning behind it. Isn't that the way people use words, generally? I can imagine over the space of decades or centuries the original meaning might fade away, as it has for "slave" or a few other words. But that clearly hasn't happened in the US, where these issues are still very much alive.
posted by koeselitz at 9:43 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


How is the term "Indian giver" not in the same category of terms as "Indian summer," "Russian roulette," or "Yankee swap," which say nothing, good or bad, IMO, about the character of the people that originally lent their name to these terms?

Well, I've always heard "Indian giver" used to indicate that someone is unreliable and insincere — you're saying something bad about the person. Was there a place and time in the last century where it didn't have this meaning?

And also, just from a historical trivia point of view, my mother, who comes from a small Nebraska town, knows the term "bohunk" as an insulting term for Bohemians (who lived on the other side of a very small town, danced, drank beer, and weren't Lutherans). Though I guess the term is past its heyday, and is only used when she talks with her brother about how things were in the 30's.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:51 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


you [meta/askme] only made me throw up a little bit

"Indian giver" is not in the same realm as "Indian summer," "Russian roulette," or "Yankee swap,". More like "jungle bunny", "Pinkos" and "Yanks". It certainly isn't favourable. It certainly isn't neutral. It is nasty. It is designed to hurt. It is designed to compromise the trustworthiness of an entire race (and if you don't like race as a signifier, try on nation) of people. It is designed to hurt for no reason other than for the speaker to acquire dominance over the one spoken to. It is nasty and a shortcut to profit for those that use it.

And that is why I object to the phrasing of the question and also to the defense of the question. Nasty business. It is.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 10:05 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I've always heard "Indian giver" used to indicate that someone is unreliable and insincere — you're saying something bad about the person.

I totally see that, I just think it's one further leap of logic to assume the negative meaning automatically extends back to the group that lent its name to the label.

If such a stereotype didn't exist, how in the world would the phrase have become popular? If it were simply nonsensical, like "Irish refrigerator" or "Chinese cotton candy" or something, then I don't imagine people would use it; people used it because they thought there was some meaning behind it.

I guess I'm saying, in fact, that I think people CAN use a seemingly-nonsensical phrase if they grow up hearing it without getting the context, and now I think that perhaps I'm the one missing the historical meaning in my own previous comment. I mean, I always took "Indian summer" to be just such a nonsensical term as your examples-- there was no reason to describe a late-autumn heat wave as "Indian," it just was. But Googling around a bit, it looks like the "Indian" in "Indian summer" means precisely the same thing it does in the phrase "Indian giver," e.g. a gift of summer that gets taken away again! But anyway, that's my answer to your question, and I should have phrased my own as, is the claim being made that "Indian giver" CURRENTLY exists as a widely-held stereotype about Native Americans? Because I'm pretty sure I tended to see it more in the nonsensical way before this thread.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 10:10 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


...it has a definite meaning that stands independent of ethnicity, but happens to have gotten its name from a specific accident of history...

That puts it into a shade of gray.

It certainly isn't favourable. It certainly isn't neutral. It is nasty. It is designed to hurt. It is designed to compromise the trustworthiness of an entire race (and if you don't like race as a signifier, try on nation) of people. It is designed to hurt for no reason other than for the speaker to acquire dominance over the one spoken to. It is nasty and a shortcut to profit for those that use it. And that is why I object to the phrasing of the question and also to the defense of the question. Nasty business. It is.

Which puts it into black and white, either/or and no nuance alllowed. Anyone who uses the term is on the side of evil, clear and simple. Good intentions and ignorance of the law are no excuse. Nuff said.
posted by y2karl at 10:19 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think until the person comes along who has racism figured out, we can probably address situations like this with grace. And I say that as an Indigenous mefite. FWIW I don't find the use of this offesnive term offensive in this case. There was a comment up thread with several other offensive terms discussed by a poster which alos in this context were not offensive to me. If I had been referred to as one of those terms, o boy, watch out! But when we are discussing terminology and usage, especially when someone is looking to change their usage for the better, grace is the better strategy.


But I am not perfect and my sensitivities are not your sensitivities...
posted by salishsea at 10:26 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is designed to compromise the trustworthiness of an entire race (and if you don't like race as a signifier, try on nation) of people.

I guess I'm asking, how would I be able to know that this is true, other than someone just saying so? Is it because the term is actually used in this way today? I had apparently never understood it to have this meaning.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 10:29 PM on April 2, 2013


salishsea, you sound kinda Irish to me.

y2karl, I'm not convinced our interpretations of the "law" or good 'n evil are even remotely compatible, but thanks for hearing me out.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 10:31 PM on April 2, 2013


... attacks from a contentious war

that is one way of characterizing W.W. Eleven

That people don't know about the history of these things is not an "accident", or an oversight of some ideosyncratic historical end-note... it is the result of a project, of intense, and active re-framing of topics, of writing a particular sort of history. No one lent their name to the label, they were targeted for their alternative to a market economy, anthropologists, sociologists, economists of earlier eras all treated these modes of economy as "deficient", "lacking", "perverted"... the school yard taunts of this phrase are merely byproducts of this massive project. Clastres (an anthropologist) said, there had not yet been the "coprernican revolution" in understanding cultures, states and societies; that the world and "civilization" did not revolve around the one that shaped a global discourse we see the remains of (*to their credit many of the formerly oppressive disciplines have been repurposed to breaking some of the old beliefs) all around us today (racialized, gendered, ethno/eurocentric).

Just because people have used the phrase against more ethnic groups doesn't change the origin and propagation of the phrase. Tacking it onto another questions just doesn't allow it justice, such a question deserves full answers, but really full answers would really be derails over what the actual question as written (relational issues). It is far too complex an issue to be addressed as an aside. Ethnically charged attacks don't have 1:1 transpositionals. Better is to address what is underlying the beliefs (as in many people hold differing views on what that phrase means [since it exists in our world, and we all have to navigate past, or through it]... many seen to choose to see it as making a comment on the so called receiver who [as in the real situation] is ignorant of anything but a self centred world-view, and acting ignorantly...)

What I mean is that it cannot be dismissed as "I know the problem with it"; we all know that it is a phrase that is at issue... but, no, I'd wager the asker doesn't know "the problem with it", they know there is an "issue" with it. To head off those who think that people talking about stuff is disingenuous sport... I couldn't say what the "single" problem with it is. In fact scholars of the topic still have long discussions regarding exactly "how" it is wrong. Wrong-headed. Misunderstanding a complex society. Presumptions that the European market economy is the only "real" sort...

It is true in a narrower sense, though. Discussions on Metatalk are overwhelmingly - I would even say exclusively - about language.

This, precisely. But rather than a negative, this is useful, when the posts aren't the battlegrounds for dispassionate people for that sort of "exclusionary" language, it allows more people to participate in the mainline discussions about the issues raised in the other comment.

"Not economic oppression. Not health care disparities. Not educational outcomes, job opportunities, fair housing, hate crimes, and the list goes on". Well, right, those aren't meta-issues (issues about how we talk about issues), but rather the issues themselves. There absolutely are many posts on these issues... but they are on the blue, where that belongs. Meta-posts about words is basically anyone on the site negotiating/navigating with their ideas of how we might or may improve discussions, include more people, exclude fewer... Poeple make posts about the studies that show why those are key to human development, and links to articles about these topics in posts, and and people talk about their experience and or understandings of these things in comments; by keeping the ethnic slurs, "is this racist phrase racist" questions, sexist jokes, and related discussion over the way the discussion is had (and smaller, more nit-picky issues) etc., to metatalk, it allows a discussion of the the very issues described to proceed without having a thousand derails. Those discussions are happening on the blue site every-day (some days better than others)
posted by infinite intimation at 10:35 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


How many questions are you allowed to ask in an AskMe "question"?

This one obviously has at least two unrelated questions.

Can we do that now?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:48 PM on April 2, 2013


I guess I'm asking, how would I be able to know that this is true, other than someone just saying so?

How else are you supposed to understand a negative term that uses an entire race/ethnicity as a keyword? Like... I honestly don't understand how this is even a question.
posted by kmz at 11:06 PM on April 2, 2013


For our purposes, "I have a question about Foo... and by the way, is there a better term to use than 'Foo?'..." isn't the same as asking two different questions.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:20 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


shoesfullofdust: salishsea, you sound kinda Irish to me.

Thanks for your superficial assessment of my ethnicity. I'll pay closer attention to how I sound in the future to be sure you can judge me correctly from here on out.

Note to self: refrain from joining trainwreck threads
posted by salishsea at 11:27 PM on April 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


How else are you supposed to understand a negative term that uses an entire race/ethnicity as a keyword? Like... I honestly don't understand how this is even a question.

Well, we only know that the "giver" part of the phrase is negative because of context, since the word "giver" could just as easily be used to mean something positive. The question is, what is the context that tells us the "Indian" part of the phrase is still intended to suggest a stereotype about Native Americans? Since, for example, the phrase "Russian roulette" is not, in most contexts, literally intended to refer to a game played in Russia.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 11:46 PM on April 2, 2013


I would genuinely like to hear from someone of Indian and/or Native American descent who was affected or insulted by that post.

At your service.

Here's why that post got all up my butt like a Size 2 thong: the OP knew it wasn't cool to use that expression. S/he "cringed" about using the term, and then begged to not get taken to task for it?

Weak.
posted by nacho fries at 12:11 AM on April 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


Dixon Ticonderoga: "I guess I'm saying, in fact, that I think people CAN use a seemingly-nonsensical phrase if they grow up hearing it without getting the context, and now I think that perhaps I'm the one missing the historical meaning in my own previous comment. I mean, I always took 'Indian summer' to be just such a nonsensical term as your examples-- there was no reason to describe a late-autumn heat wave as 'Indian,' it just was. But Googling around a bit, it looks like the 'Indian' in 'Indian summer' means precisely the same thing it does in the phrase 'Indian giver,' e.g. a gift of summer that gets taken away again! But anyway, that's my answer to your question, and I should have phrased my own as, is the claim being made that 'Indian giver' CURRENTLY exists as a widely-held stereotype about Native Americans? Because I'm pretty sure I tended to see it more in the nonsensical way before this thread."

This seems like a place where it's a good idea to draw some of the distinctions I was sort of hinting at earlier. I mean: this is a complex situation with a lot of different factors. One of those factors is blame.

In the context of blame it really matters what our intentions are; and on that point it's important to mention that you and me and plenty of other people grew up hearing the term "Indian giver" used as though it were innocuous and completely unconnected to its racial overtones. And this can be true of a lot of edge cases. Because of that, it seems to be a good idea to assume good faith and make it a habit to just guess that anyone who uses these kinds of terms is probably just oblivious to their cultural resonances and the context a lot of other people might be aware of.

Now, lots of people prefer to stop here, after having covered intention. And I have to say that I think it's easier for people like me to do that, since I am a privileged middle class white male. It's easy for people in my situation to say: "well, that's that, then. I don't mean anything by that term, so it's harmless, and we should move on. Anybody who gets worked up about this is getting righteously offended for nothing, and they should probably go get pissed or something."

But - the other side of the coin is that our words do have an effect on other people. We're acknowledging that every time we avoid mentioning suicide around that friend of ours who tried to kill himself or restrain our language somewhat around our parents. That's a natural human response to the fact that words can hurt people; and, moreover, words like these can lead other people to end up thinking things about us that we'd rather they didn't think ("man, that koeselitz guy keeps using that offensive phrase, he must really hate Native Americans.") So there are a number of reasons why it's a good idea to try to avoid saying certain phrases when we realize they're offensive to a certain group.

So, like a lot of responsibilities in the world, this one is complicated. It's not necessarily our fault for using a phrase when we aren't aware that it's offensive; but we do have some duty to society and to ourselves to try to be aware of the contexts behind these phrases so that we can avoid them. In other words: the words we use mean what we intend them to mean, but we can't blame other people for misunderstanding them if we're using them in a nonstandard way because we aren't aware of a specific context they're hearing it from.
posted by koeselitz at 12:14 AM on April 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sorry, but I find the casual jokiness of the username "Kamikaze Gopher" far more offensive than the well-intentioned question of someone looking for a non-racist alternative to "Indian giver."

(And no, despite the term's origins, when people hear the word today they don't first think about 13th-century Mongolian warships.)
posted by Umami Dearest at 12:14 AM on April 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think ripped off is as close to gypped as you are likely to get.

A good non-offensive word is "diddled", as in "that bloke just diddled me out of a tenner, the gypsy jewish hundog thieving swine."
posted by MuffinMan at 1:39 AM on April 3, 2013


Is there an example of a historically racist or otherwise offensive term (in English) that, although it was recognized as such during its heydey, it is now so old that the original offensiveness is now completely gone.

Dutch uncle. Dutch courage. Dutch anything, really, all slurs based on the jealousy the perfidious English felt for the inherent superiority of the Netherlands, now I think much more common in US English than UK English. Which is a bit annoying, as if there's one country that would need to be grateful to us for actually even existing it should be the US, but then the French have more to complain about in that regard.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:34 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sorry, but I find the casual jokiness of the username "Kamikaze Gopher" far more offensive

Why, because it refers indirectly to a painful part of Japanese history?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:36 AM on April 3, 2013


Is there an example of a historically racist or otherwise offensive term (in English) that, although it was recognized as such during its heydey, it is now so old that the original offensiveness is now completely gone.

In philosophy of language, many papers about slurs use 'boche' as an example, as there is pretty much no chance whatsoever that any reader will be offended. I had never even heard it before.
posted by painquale at 2:44 AM on April 3, 2013


Except the claim is not "I know it is racist but it can't be helped." The question is, quite clearly, "I know this term is racist--can you help me find a non-racist equivalent." Help is precisely what the Asker is seeking.

Hear hear. I also think that the clumsy way in which this help was asked, is something you see a lot of in well meaning, but still clueless people trying to be or sound less racist, or using the correct words to call people. There can be this tendecy online in communities sensitive to racist or sexist or homophobic language to dismiss anybody who isn't using quite the right terms as inherently wrong, but in general a lot of people who haven't had to deal with this sort of stuff before, will sound clumsy or wrong when trying to improve their language.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:47 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dutch uncle. Dutch courage. Dutch anything, really, all slurs based on the jealousy the perfidious English felt for the inherent superiority of the Netherlands, now I think much more common in US English than UK English.

What do the Dutch call it when someone farts in bed and pulls the blankets over their bed-mate's head? An English Oven?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:47 AM on April 3, 2013


Foreplay.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:55 AM on April 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


Is there an example of a historically racist or otherwise offensive term (in English) that, although it was recognized as such during its heydey, it is now so old that the original offensiveness is now completely gone.

In the late 1980s, before 'political correctness' was an epithet, Rosalie Maggio published The Non-Sexist Word Finder, which professed to offer rigorously neutral terms for words and phrases that she felt had sexist or racist roots. She wrote that the term 'black maria' for a police van used to transport prisoners was offensive and should be replaced with the neutral 'paddy wagon.' I gather it never occurred to her that persons of Irish descent might have an issue with that, but then again, I guess it never occurred to us either.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:12 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Foreplay.

Aren't you thinking of the Germans now?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:30 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, they're separate countries?
posted by MuffinMan at 3:32 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, but you have to assume that question 1 would have featured the words 'Indian giver'. And no one would have answered the damn question.

This is a valid point, and absolutely true. This is the first thing i thought as soon as i saw this MeTa as well.

The thing is, i feel like both the usage of this phrase and the argument over it's use are almost in rube goldberg machine territory.

The entire thread could have existed and served it's purpose perfectly fine without that phrase ever being in it anywhere, or even being hinted at. They could have just replaced that phrase with a few words that meant their intent for it like "And now they're doing that shitty thing where they ask for a gift back". It's compounded by the fact that this isn't even an efficient way to explain their point, in that a lot of people read the thread and went "huh, what's that even mean?" since it's such an old fashioned BS term.

The rocket science going on in this thread about people getting offended(or not) by this phrase and all the thought police/etc arguments are almost cart before horse. The post should have been deleted, and the mods should have requested they rewrite it because using that term is lazy and poor writing.

Everyone would understand at a glance exactly what they were talking about if they just described what they meant by the term, it's objectively more legible.

I'm also entirely with nacho fries both in that i'm native, and that the whole presentation of "hey, i know this is a shitty thing to say but pssst..." thing is shitty. And once again, also lazy.

I'm trying my best to be tactful, but the entire lead in to that question just read to me as "I'm too lazy to put enough thought or effort in to writing this question in a way that makes sense unless you're familiar with this slur, or without using it. But since i framed it the way i did and asked you not to give me flak for it, just take it on the up and up ok?".

Screw that.

This is exactly the kind of crap i came back to metafilter to get away from in a lot of other places. I really, really appreciate that this site tends to do a badass job of walking the line between 4chan like spewing of slurs in the name of "free speech" and ridiculous tumblr-esque attitudes that would cause MeTa threads to be created over someone saying "stupid". Everyone here tries to be decent human beings, and the mods try and keep the general community decent. And it's job well done almost always. But i'm just saying, the poster of that thread dun goofed. And i feel like you guys made the wrong call on just letting them walk.
posted by emptythought at 3:33 AM on April 3, 2013 [17 favorites]


I answered in thread that no, it is not ok. it is a racist term that embodies the very essence of "projection," since "white man giver" would make a lot more sense historically for people who break promises, treaties, and communities by lying intentionally for personal gain.

But as someone who has been given so much by Indians and other indigenous friends, and who spends a lot of time in Native America/Indian Country, I see no reason to flip out and attack the OP. They asked. They learned. Problem addressed.

I'm glad they asked, actually. Now anyone else who ever wondered about that term can read it and learn something.

Justice is not ultimately a matter of using only the safest language.
posted by spitbull at 3:56 AM on April 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


A good non-offensive word is "diddled"

Masturbated? I don't think that's what the writer wanted to convey.

If it requires a word at all -- and I don't remember ever needing a special categorical label for someone who took back a gift -- I think it requires a new word.

Anyway, I enjoy these conversations, even if they are repetitive and tend not to resolve things. MetaFilter (including the MetaTalk court) is a sort of proving ground for people engineering progressive/left English. If it works here, it's safe in the wider progressive/left world. If it blows up in someone's face here, use it at your peril in the wider progressive/left world. (And fuck the rest of the world.)
posted by pracowity at 4:00 AM on April 3, 2013


Dutch anything, really...

I must cry uncle on this one. Since when is dutch uncle a pejorative ?
posted by y2karl at 4:59 AM on April 3, 2013


Many papers about slurs use 'boche' as an example, as there is pretty much no chance whatsoever that any reader will be offended. I had never even heard it before.

Boche is actually the anti-German slur in French, though (it's a World War thing). I'm not sure how offensive it sounds to modern Germans, but it was supposed to be offensive in French and still is.
posted by elgilito at 5:10 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoops -- should have googled it. My understanding of the phrase was entirely different. I never heard it as a severe scold but rather a someone happily paying the bill for sweets. Well, I live and learn.
posted by y2karl at 5:12 AM on April 3, 2013


Although, the sense of dutch uncle as stern crtic is certainly not out of place here.
posted by y2karl at 5:15 AM on April 3, 2013


What the local ruling on Indian summer, Indian corn, and Indian burn?
posted by pracowity at 5:36 AM on April 3, 2013


...and I don't remember ever needing a special categorical label for someone who took back a gift

I have encountered more than one person who has given lavish, tasteful treasures as gifts and, then, when the recipient somehow failed them, repossessed or attempted to repossess said gifts. It is not a common thing but it does happen. And the thing is it is almost always that the recollecting giver is someone who was close -- as in friend or family. Imagine having to buy back a birthday present. You have led a fortunate life if you have never encountered such a thing.
posted by y2karl at 5:40 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Growing up I always thought that Indian Summer had something to do with warm weather extending into the autumn, and came from the climate in India being generally warmer than the UK. I assumed its origins were in the UK's colonial past in India, rather than being directly related to "Indian giver" (which isn't really a UK thing, and I only learned about from MetaFilter). If "summer" is actually directly related to "giver", then it seems weird that "summer" is a fairly common UK phrase (at least with the older generation maybe), whereas "giver" isn't.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:43 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]




I have encountered more than one person who has given lavish, tasteful treasures as gifts and, then, when the recipient somehow failed them, repossessed or attempted to repossess said gifts.

I look at it like I look at words for poor drivers. There are a million ways to be a poor driver. You can speed, you can weave, you can use your phone, you can fail to signal, you can refuse to let other people merge, you can race up to stops, you can race away from stops, you can drive when you could have walked, you can struggle to pass other cars just so you can get home 30 seconds faster than you would have, etc. Some of these behaviors are easy to name, like speeders and weavers. But if I don't have an easy and acceptable name for one of them, I'll get by with "assholes who [do this and that]". Unless it's part of my daily discourse, I don't have to summarize each form of driving imbecility with its own special word.
posted by pracowity at 6:04 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


If material objects were only things, they should not mean so much but they come loaded with emotional meanings when they come from or belong to our beloveds. I know someone who when she and her husband finally split, her husband went through their house and took everything he had ever bought for her and their children back. I know someone who was at his mother's apartment after her death and, not knowing what to do, took down some greasy tea cups that belonged to her mother from a top shelf in the kitchen. One was a tea cup of the King of England when the King was the soon to be Duke of Windsor. And he washed them in a sink and then one sister-in-law dried them and then another sister-in-law took and hid them from the first sister-in-law. I heard a Moth talk on NPR about a man who came home from college and came out to his parents and then went back thinking, wow, that went rather well. And then his mother took every childhood painting he ever made for her in grade school, every stick of furniture, every piece of clothing she and his family gave him and burnt them in a bonfire in their backyard, cut off all his credit cards and never spoke to him again as long as she lived. And he struggled so long thereafter trying to get back in contact with her because up until he came out, she was the most loving mother. He went through years of therapy over it and it still hurt him to speak of it. It was just a searing thing to hear. People can be so cruel to each other through and over things.
posted by y2karl at 6:14 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


koeselitz, I agree with pretty much every point you make here, and I could even rephrase my original request thusly: I think it would be a good idea for posters of Metatalk threads to "assume good faith and make it a habit to just guess that some people who use these kinds of terms are probably just oblivious to their cultural resonances and the context a lot of other people might be aware of."

(Even though the AskMe post in question seemed to be aware of that context.)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 6:24 AM on April 3, 2013


People can be so cruel to each other through and over things.

The things are a proxy - it's a symbolic gesture that is predicated on the notion that we show our affection by holding certain items as especially valuable because they were given by a particular person.

It's the tangible equivalent to "I take back all the nice things I said about you and the times I said I love you" - in reality, you can't really do that, but when (perceived or actually) scorned, people act in all sorts of irrational ways to attempt to hide the fact that they are vulnerable, hurt people who invested in something and got a negative return.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:39 AM on April 3, 2013


What the local ruling on Indian summer, Indian corn, and Indian burn?

Out, use flint corn or calico corn, out.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:41 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And no, despite the term's origins, when people hear the word today they don't first think about 13th-century Mongolian warships.)

Which people would those be?

No matter who they are, they are ignorant of history to the point they are not to be taken seriously. This is not some obscure occurrence but one of the most famous events in all of Japanese history. That is why it was able to lend its name to a naval squad seven centuries later. (for those of a historical bent, the term was 神風特別攻撃隊 "Kamikaze Special Attack Squad" and was only formed less than a year before the war ended). Actual Japanese-speaking Japanese people in Japan know the term, and they don't need misguided Anglophones taking offense on their behalf.

To give you a modern American example that may be of help, it is no different than a person hearing about the Tea Party movement and thinking about old ladies sipping tea after church instead of colonists throwing crates of tea into Boston Harbor.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:52 AM on April 3, 2013


What's Indian burn?

See this this why some of these things are odd to me. I'd like to not be an ass by accident. This often takes effort. I hear "rule of thumb" all the time. Knowing it's origins makes it a term I'm not going to use. Knowing most people don't know the origins means I am not going to take offense at it's use (ignorance is bliss!). I hear, "A coon's age" and "Sometimes a spade is a spade," and if you google those terms you can read some people calling them racist and some saying the people who think they are racist are idiots. Since I don't know which side is correct I don't use those terms. Spending your days educating yourself in bigoted terms to make sure you don't use them is not a good use of a life if you ask me. Censoring yourself to not give offense is often a waste of time. You can try your best to not give offense and still fail. You can also be firmly in the right and still have people disagree (i.e. the use of niggardly).
posted by cjorgensen at 7:00 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actual Japanese-speaking Japanese people in Japan know the term, and they don't need misguided Anglophones taking offense on their behalf.

I am pretty sure that a natural citizen of Japan would face somewhat less endemic racism and prejudice in Japan than they would in the US.

Also, for those not in the know, Japan has some of the most brutal histories of race politics in all of East Asia. It's debateable whether or not that stemmed from Matthew Perry's black ships and the rapid industrialization and modernization of Japan in the 1800s that adopted the Western world view of Social Darwinism.

In any case, Native Americans do not have an independently recognized nation state, there's a large number of issues in terms of public health concerns and socioeconomics on reservations, there's not a whole lot that's being done in the US to address these issues, and we still have caricatures of Native Americans as mascots and Abraham Lincoln is not well remembered for having signed the directive for the largest mass hanging in the United States' history.

Actual Japanese-speaking Japanese people in Japan know the term, and they don't need misguided Anglophones taking offense on their behalf.

Equating racial standards to all non-white races is a form of ethnocentrism that emphasizes the majority view. Different cultures and different out groups require different standards of approach given history and contemporary issues. It seems appropriate to not only be sensitive here but to also take the time and examine the historical basis is of that sensitivity, which is largely what seems to be happening in this thread.
posted by dubusadus at 7:09 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's Indian burn?

A friction burn, commonly made by wrapping your hands around someone's arm and twisting in opposite directions. So there's a perfectly good term for it - friction burn.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:10 AM on April 3, 2013


They were (are?) known as Chinese burns in the UK. No idea why.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:11 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


No matter who they are, they are ignorant of history to the point they are not to be taken seriously.

Because their first thought isn't the event you want it to be? Even if it's their second thought, then they're ignorant enough to not be taken seriously? That seems a bit extreme.

To give you a modern American example that may be of help, it is no different than a person hearing about the Tea Party movement and thinking about old ladies sipping tea after church instead of colonists throwing crates of tea into Boston Harbor.

But there the reference is intended to be the Boston Tea Party. What do you suppose the intended reference is for "kamikaze gopher"? Personally, I'd bet on the naval squad.

Growing up in Northern Canada we called friction burns "snake bites".
posted by ODiV at 7:13 AM on April 3, 2013


The Finnish name is much better: "kuuma makkara" (hot sausage)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:13 AM on April 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


I saw that post, and the term, and it did not really bother me. I knew what the OP meant, and understood the frustration of trying to find the right way to say it.

The phrase came and went with an apology in advance for even using it. The post itself was not racist in anyway, just dealing with your typical nutjob family dynamic.

I haven’t looked, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the OP doesn’t have a long history of raging about Native Americans here. So what’s the problem?

Words are about as powerful as you let them be.

I know from a community standards POV it might seem problematic as precedent. Imagine if the standard “.” for an obit, or “eponysterical” started as “O niggah please!” or some such rot. I don’t think anyone would think it was evil racism at work there but yeah, but it might be offensive to some, there is a better way to say it, so let’s err on the side of more elegant language from now on.

It’s good to stop things from getting a foothold as it were, but it is also silly to yell at a grain of sand when you are lost in the desert.
posted by timsteil at 7:15 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now I'll know to refuse if a Finn offers me a hot sausage.
posted by ODiV at 7:15 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The origin of Rule of Thumb is unknown and disputed.
posted by Jeanne at 7:16 AM on April 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I am pretty sure that a natural citizen of Japan would face somewhat less endemic racism and prejudice in Japan than they would in the US.

Perhaps. I live with three of them and have fathered two of them. I will ask them and let you know what they say. I am sure they will be interested to know your insight.

In any event, I am surprised to learn that the username "kamikazegopher" somehow implies racism and prejudice.

In any case, Native Americans do not have an independently recognized nation state,

Why would they? Native Americans do not comprise a single nation; rather, there are over 500 federally recognized tribes.

Equating racial standards across the board to all non-white races is itself a form of ethnocentrism that emphasizes the middle-class white person's view that views all foreign cultures as exotic and different

I have tried very hard to parse this sentence but I do not know what it means.

Because their first thought isn't the event you want it to be? Even if it's their second thought, then they're ignorant enough to not be taken seriously? That seems a bit extreme.

Death being the price for merely touching a live wire seems a bit extreme. Reality gets to be extreme. If someone is going to scream that the history of a term is X, they need to know the actual history of that term and have nothing of value to say on the matter until they do. No one has the right to an uninformed opinion.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:26 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Imagine if the standard “.” for an obit, or “eponysterical” started as “O niggah please!” or some such rot.

There are certain places on the internet where large groups of white, 18-24 year old men perpetuate the 'o niggah plz' meme without full comprehension of its borrowed usage or the insipid and enduring legacy of racism in America. It's less how actually correct its usage is than it is than which group is using and to what effect. Say, for instance, if this group was also known for memes like this one or this one.

It's all a minstrel show of sorts. Imagine if, instead, there was a High Expectations Asian Father sitcom written largely by white men or if the Successful Black Man meme were, instead, a corporate rulebook specifically targeted at black men. While it looks innocent enough on the face of it the values being expressed and the implicit message of who you are and who you should be are very much identity politics.
posted by dubusadus at 7:29 AM on April 3, 2013


A friction burn, commonly made by wrapping your hands around someone's arm and twisting in opposite directions. So there's a perfectly good term for it - friction burn.

When I grew up we called that a snake bite.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:32 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


If someone is going to scream that the history of a term is X, they need to know the actual history of that term and have nothing of value to say on the matter until they do. No one has the right to an uninformed opinion.

First of all, no one is screaming.

What I'm asking is how can someone be ignorant of something if it's their second thought?

Thinking of the naval squad first when presented with a pretty clear reference to the naval squad itself isn't ignorance. You need to consider the context.
posted by ODiV at 7:34 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps. I live with three of them and have fathered two of them. I will ask them and let you know what they say. I am sure they will be interested to know your insight.

Is this where it gets personal? Should I reveal that, I too, am not white (boo!) and am, in fact, Asian and so you should take my word as superior to that of your own? Because we can play that stupid shitty game though you should know that I have gotten quite a lot of experience with it in grade school when Mulan came out or whenever Japan or Taiwan would pop up in the news.

The point is that you cannot equate the experience of an ethnically Japanese person with that of an ethnically Native American. These are two completely different cultures with completely different values who have had completely different legacies of engagement in the US and abroad. Cultural sensitivity isn't something you apply across the board to all cultures or all races.
posted by dubusadus at 7:37 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cultural sensitivity isn't something you apply across the board to all cultures or all races.

USians is still OK then. Phew!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:40 AM on April 3, 2013


To give you a modern American example that may be of help, it is no different than a person hearing about the Tea Party movement and thinking about old ladies sipping tea after church instead of colonists throwing crates of tea into Boston Harbor.

I think a better analogy might be hearing the phrase "Tea Party" in isolation. You seem like something of a history buff, so it's possible that your first thought would be December 16, 1773. But for many people, their first thought would be the modern political movement. This doesn't mean those people are necessarily ignorant of American revolutionary history, but merely that language evolves.
posted by cribcage at 7:44 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


shoesfullofdust: "salishsea, you sound kinda Irish to me."

What the fuck?!
posted by barnacles at 7:49 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hear "rule of thumb" all the time. Knowing it's origins makes it a term I'm not going to use.

As a long-time paractitioner of sloppy measurement, I find this offensive.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:53 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Six of one, twelve dozen of another ?
posted by y2karl at 8:09 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Japanese are not the only people who can take offense at the casual use of the word kamikaze. There were Americans who died as a result of such attacks.

Wikipedia says, quoting a US Air Force paper, "Approximately 2,800 Kamikaze attackers sunk 34 Navy ships, damaged 368 others, killed 4,900 sailors, and wounded over 4,800. Despite radar detection and cuing, airborne interception and attrition, and massive anti-aircraft barrages, a distressing 14 percent of Kamikazes survived to score a hit on a ship; nearly 8.5 percent of all ships hit by Kamikazes sank."

I'd venture to say that most Americans would not think of "the divine wind" when they hear that word, they'll think suicide attack or, to a lesser extent depending on their love of alcohol, the drink.

It is a word that, like holocaust and jihad, have innocuous origins and meanings but whose connotations have become overwhelmingly distressing to many ears.
posted by inturnaround at 8:25 AM on April 3, 2013


What about "nuking" things (in the microwave or from orbit)?
posted by pracowity at 8:35 AM on April 3, 2013


I still catch myself saying "in a coon's age" and stopping, reworking what I meant in a less offensive way. TBH, I never thought of it in a racist way because as a child--it being used not uncommonly in my Southern family--I parsed it as something that had to do with raccoons. It wasn't until I was older that I learned different.

I still wished it had something to do with raccoons.
posted by Kitteh at 8:41 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Japanese are not the only people who can take offense at the casual use of the word kamikaze. There were Americans who died as a result of such attacks.

But do they? That's like saying that using the expression "war on [xyz]" can be offensive to some because there are people who have died as a result of wars.
posted by deanc at 8:43 AM on April 3, 2013


I find it surprising that anyone could dispute that Indian giver, or Indian summer, or Indian anything, are racial slurs. The whole point is that they are carrying the racist connotations about Indian-ness onto the nouns. I grew up steeped in racist culture--and because I'm Canadian, that was primarily racism directed at First Nations people--and I was told, explicitly, that Indian giving was about taking something back, just like First Nations people persist in arguing that their land is their land, when they clearly gave it to white people during colonization and Indian summer was called that because it was the chance for Lazy Indians to get work done they should have done in the real summer.

Every time those words get used, even if it isn't explicit, they reinforce those stereotypes.
posted by looli at 8:44 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


As a rule of thumb, the distance between an alligator's eyes, in inches, is equal to its length, in feet.
posted by echo target at 8:44 AM on April 3, 2013


Rule of claw.
posted by pracowity at 8:47 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I still wished it had something to do with raccoons.

Apparently it does.
posted by logicpunk at 8:54 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think a better analogy might be hearing the phrase "Tea Party" in isolation. You seem like something of a history buff, so it's possible that your first thought would be December 16, 1773. But for many people, their first thought would be the modern political movement.

Sorry, I'd first think of scones... or muffins. Possibly cupcakes.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:59 AM on April 3, 2013


I was told, explicitly, that Indian giving was about taking something back, just like First Nations people persist in arguing that their land is their land, when they clearly gave it to white people during colonization and Indian summer was called that because it was the chance for Lazy Indians to get work done they should have done in the real summer.

This certainly qualifies as the evidence of current usage I was curious to see! It also reinforces my belief that you won't know a term has a negative connotation unless or until someone teaches it to you, either explicitly or by using it in context, since I was never told either of these things growing up (in Houston, TX).
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 9:05 AM on April 3, 2013


But do they? That's like saying that using the expression "war on [xyz]" can be offensive to some because there are people who have died as a result of wars.

I would imagine that at least some of those who were wounded might take offense at the casual way it was used and a good number of their survivors might.

That said, I won't take offense for them or presume to say they must be offended. I'm merely saying that, considering the gravity of the situation, they might.
posted by inturnaround at 9:05 AM on April 3, 2013


Heh. I went to school with a South Asian whose parents had named her Summer explicitly for the geddit geddit pun. That's what I always think of.

As for reinforcing stereotypes, it can, but it doesn't necessarily — it counts on people holding those stereotypes to begin with, and since there's a mixed etymology for "Indian summer," that's not a given. It's certainly more muddled than "Indian giver" (even though I grew up under the notion that was about how Euros reneged on treaties, i.e. gave the "Indians" something then came and took it back).

And as for songs, I prefer Luna's cover to the Beat Happening original.
posted by klangklangston at 9:07 AM on April 3, 2013


I went to school with a South Asian whose parents had named her Summer explicitly for the geddit geddit pun. That's what I always think of.

Weird, that's the "wrong" Indian...
posted by sweetkid at 9:09 AM on April 3, 2013


Indian summer

I always thought of that as a good and pleasant thing, not a negative. Something happy, surprising, and extra. I understand why some of the other terms are loaded with negatives but this struck pleasant associations for me so I never saw it as controversial.

On another note, I laughed hilariously at MuffinMan's well-meant advice here:
A good non-offensive word is "diddled", as in "that bloke just diddled me out of a tenner, the gypsy jewish hundog thieving swine."

Dude, don't be telling people to substitute diddled, ha, ha. That may be the old meaning, but it has sort of taken on a more common sexy times connotation.

That reminded me when I was a teen and I heard the word dildo and found the word funny, I heard it used in a "you dope, you silly person" context so that is what I thought it meant. I walked around calling people dildoes for years and I am sure I said it to anyone - parental units, teachers - whoever, and my poor hapless parents picked it up thinking it was teen slang. It wasn't until college that someone called me on it and I was mortified - I had to tell my parents not to ever call people that again.

Sigh. It was a simpler, more sheltered era so I suppose a lot of people were also unfamiliar with the term.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:09 AM on April 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


I never thought of Indian summer as anything but a pleasant patch of weather. If it meant anything about Indians to me, it meant something positive, an additional bit of good weather given to us, not something taken from us.
posted by pracowity at 9:11 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


What some people consider a "simpler" time I consider a time when other kids thought it was totally cool to make swami jokes and tell me "the dot" is stupid and ask what country I really come from, so.

(not picking on madamjujujive, it just irritates me).
posted by sweetkid at 9:12 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is this where it gets personal? Should I reveal that, I too, am not white (boo!) and am, in fact, Asian and so you should take my word as superior to that of your own? Because we can play that stupid shitty game though you should know that I have gotten quite a lot of experience with it in grade school when Mulan came out or whenever Japan or Taiwan would pop up in the news.

I seem to have touched a nerve. While it appears that you are telling me that your eyes have a epicanthal fold, I do not see what that adds to the discussion or what relevance it has. It appears that your grade school classmates could not tell the difference between Japan and China. Can you? You presumed to speak to the experience of Japanese citizens. Do you have a Japanese passport? ほんなら、これから日本語でこの争論を続けよう。それはどうや?你会说中文吗?你们说中文吧!怎么样?

The point is that you cannot equate the experience of an ethnically Japanese person with that of an ethnically Native American. These are two completely different cultures with completely different values who have had completely different legacies of engagement in the US and abroad. Cultural sensitivity isn't something you apply across the board to all cultures or all races.

Tell that to the person who said it was somehow "ironic" that a person with a username containing the word "kamikaze" started this thread. (Hint: that person was not me)
posted by Tanizaki at 9:13 AM on April 3, 2013


While it appears that you are telling me that your eyes have a epicanthal fold, I do not see what that adds to the discussion or what relevance it has.


Dude, this is really rude, and I think you should understand why.
posted by sweetkid at 9:19 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Japanese are not the only people who can take offense at the casual use of the word kamikaze. There were Americans who died as a result of such attacks.

So what? A lot more were killed by Nazis. I guess we need to shame all the folks who say, "lol! I'm such a grammar nazi!" Also, we need to destroy all copies of "Hogans Heroes". (the fact that a sitcom set in a Nazi POW camp could air 20 years after WWII is good evidence there was a time when the US wasn't a country full of people yearning to be offended at the drop of a hat)

What should we call the guy who said, "no soup for you!"?

But do they?

No. In just about any department store or convenience store in Japan, one can buy headbands for a few dollars that bear slogans such as "certain victory", "fighting spirit", or "pass the test". One of the slogans on these popularly sold headbands is "kamikaze". Here is a shop that sells such headbands. The one that says "kamikaze" is in the upper-right corner.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:25 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Weird, that's the "wrong" Indian..."

Who are you to tell them they're the wrong Indians?

(Kidding. I have no idea what they knew about the origins of the phrase, just that they thought it was funny and Summer thought it was THE WORST THING EVER as many people in middle school feel about pretty much anything their parents do.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:27 AM on April 3, 2013


"Also, we need to destroy all copies of "Hogans Heroes"."

I have an Austrian friend who thinks that show is crazy offensive. But she can be remarkably blithe about using "Chinese" as an adjective that means "inferior," despite being in the disability rights community. People care more about their own oxen being gored.
posted by klangklangston at 9:30 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You seem like something of a history buff, so it's possible that your first thought would be December 16, 1773.

While my undergraduate and graduate education was in history, particularly Japanese history, anyone who saw Schoolhouse Rock would know about the Boston Tea Party.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:30 AM on April 3, 2013


Why would someone buy a headband commemorating a storm?
posted by ODiV at 9:34 AM on April 3, 2013


I have an Austrian friend who thinks that show is crazy offensive.

Does your friend know that an Austrian arrested Anne Frank? Did his/her family cheer the Anschluss or try to escape? If an Austrian thinks the worst part of WWII was Sergeant Schultz, perhaps a reordering of priorities is needed.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:37 AM on April 3, 2013


I guess we need to shame all the folks who say, "lol! I'm such a grammar nazi!"

A: Is "Grammar Nazis" offensive?
B: Not as offensive as "Grammar Nazi's"
posted by deanc at 9:39 AM on April 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


I guess we need to shame all the folks who say, "lol! I'm such a grammar nazi!"

I, for one, cringe every time someone says it.

Does your friend know that an Austrian arrested Anne Frank? Did his/her family cheer the Anschluss or try to escape? If an Austrian thinks the worst part of WWII was Sergeant Schultz, perhaps a reordering of priorities is needed.

Now you're just being an asshole.
posted by hoyland at 9:40 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


What should we call the guy who said, "no soup for you!"?

I was always fine with calling him Al Yeganeh, since that's his actual name, and since he's not fond of being called a Nazi, even a Soup Nazi.
posted by bakerina at 9:40 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


If an Austrian thinks the worst part of WWII was Sergeant Schultz, perhaps a reordering of priorities is needed.

I am assuming this is some sort of inside joke or something.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:41 AM on April 3, 2013


Why would someone buy a headband commemorating a storm?

The term "kamikaze" actually describes two separate typhoons that demolished Mongol invasion fleets. The term means "divine wind" or "gods' wind" because it was attributed to the kami of Japan protecting the islands. Japan was never conquered by mainland Asia, and the events still have cultural cache. The headband commemorates the divine favor behind the storm.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:42 AM on April 3, 2013


Tanizaki, you're coming off terribly here. Cut it out or go do something else.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:42 AM on April 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't really think we get anywhere focusing on the idea of "offense." It doesn't really matter whether an individual is or is not personally "offended" by a phrase or word, and it doesn't really matter that an individual never knew or construed the phrase as "offensive." What matters is that in just about all these cases, there's a track record of the phrase as deployed in and connected with a clearly documented history of systematic racial oppression.

"Offense" is not the reason we ask ourselves and each other to stop using racial slurs. You don't have to be "offended" in order to decide to draw the line at indulging in their use, and you don't have to even care about other people's being "offended" or not. You just have to oppose racism.
posted by Miko at 9:46 AM on April 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Does your friend know that an Austrian arrested Anne Frank? Did his/her family cheer the Anschluss or try to escape? If an Austrian thinks the worst part of WWII was Sergeant Schultz, perhaps a reordering of priorities is needed."

Huh? Yes, she's well aware of the history of WWII and the Holocaust. Her ex-husband was a Heidegger scholar, and honestly, growing up in Austria, WWII history isn't the sort of thing you miss — the German and Austrian cultural reaction to WWII has been a lot more, well, chastened and apologetic, than the Japanese one has been.

Suggesting she thinks that the worst part of WWII was Sergeant Schultz is such a bizarre, willful misreading of what I wrote that it's more like you misheard it in a bar instead of reading the plain words in front of you.
posted by klangklangston at 9:48 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Offense" is not the reason we ask ourselves and each other to stop using racial slurs. You don't have to be "offended" in order to decide to draw the line at indulging in their use, and you don't have to even care about other people's being "offended" or not.

What that means is that using "kamikaze" as a racially-motivated term is offensive, while using it as a metaphor is fine. "Going all hari kari" is offensive, but using "seppuku" as a figure of speech is ok. I think most of us are competent enough to make these distinctions without having someone chime in to police our language. It's comparable to that guy who thinks he's being smart by pointing out you should write "dx" at the end of your simple integral.
posted by deanc at 9:51 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: It's comparable to that guy who thinks he's being smart by pointing out you should write "dx" at the end of your simple integral.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:53 AM on April 3, 2013


""Going all hari kari" is offensive,"

Getting drunk at a Cubs game?
posted by klangklangston at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's comparable to that guy who thinks he's being smart by pointing out you should write "dx" at the end of your simple integral.

Please let's not get into improper symbolism in calculus - this could get ugly real fast.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:56 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I was getting from that comment by Tanizaki is that, if we are going to judge the unmalicious use of a colloquialism like "Indian summer" based on the fact that, long ago, someone used it to be mean to Native Americans, maybe that's a bit like judging an Austrian based on the fact that, long ago, some mean Austrian arrested Anne Frank.
posted by scrowdid at 10:01 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


As long as we're on the subject of Nazis, the swastika is a pretty interesting example of something that people in the West aren't generally going to connect with its original meaning outside of some specific uses.
posted by ODiV at 10:05 AM on April 3, 2013


yes, as an Indian American I have seen the swastika used a lot in Hindu religious practice. My father draws one out in water before a weekly prayer.
posted by sweetkid at 10:08 AM on April 3, 2013


It's a good thing the Nazi salute wasn't the "thumbs up" because then Facebook "likes" and the Fonz would be racist.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:10 AM on April 3, 2013


It's a good thing the Nazi salute wasn't the "thumbs up" because then Facebook "likes" and the Fonz would be racist.

Seeing a SNL skit there . . . what if the Nazi's won WWII? How would the sitcoms be? Cool Fonzie would give the Nazi salute. What other sitcoms would change?
posted by Ironmouth at 10:12 AM on April 3, 2013


The Fonz?

No way!
posted by ODiV at 10:12 AM on April 3, 2013


Is Dutch Oven still okay? I believe that term is really about the cooking vessel and not the flatulence of people from the Netherlands.

With a lactose intolerant spouse, I'll need that term or a suitable replacement.
posted by 26.2 at 10:13 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


What other sitcoms would change?

There would be no Seinfeld.
posted by y2karl at 10:14 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


that's a bit like judging an Austrian based on the fact that, long ago, some mean Austrian arrested Anne Frank.

I understand your point, but this is a terrible example. "Long ago" is actually "in living memory" and "some mean Austrian" is "the collusion of so significant a portion of an entire country that a child had to hide in a crawlspace for three years in order to avoid being deported to a death camp, the culmination of which was that she, her family, and her friends were deported and all but her father died."

I would not judge contemporary Austrian by this (or people in the Netherlands, where the Anne Frank story actually happened), but if they used a phrase like "Jewed," and minimized their country's collusion in the destruction of an entire segment of their population so recently that there are still people alive who survived it, well, I might say something.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:16 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


There would be no Seinfeld.
Or Fonzie.
posted by scrowdid at 10:16 AM on April 3, 2013


I guess we need to shame all the folks who say, "lol! I'm such a grammar nazi!"

I, for one, cringe every time someone says it.


Me too. For me, lighthearted use of the term nazi is plenty offensive, thank you. I can't read or hear it without thinking of genocide.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:20 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's worth noting that the characters on Seinfeld were deliberately awful.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:21 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seeing a SNL skit there . . . what if the Nazi's won WWII? How would the sitcoms be?

The show would be called "Klink's Konvicts".
posted by Tanizaki at 10:24 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was always fine with calling him Al Yeganeh, since that's his actual name, and since he's not fond of being called a Nazi, even a Soup Nazi.

The actor who played the Soup Nazi, Larry Thomas, is in the news this week ...
No Catchphrase For You! Seinfeld's Soup Nazi In A Stew Over Gunmaker Serbu -- "Larry Thomas objects to 'No Serbu for you!' T-shirts sold as protest against New York state ban on civilian assault weapons."
posted by ericb at 10:28 AM on April 3, 2013


To me, what makes a phrase offensive is the target audience it is presented before, and the reason for the presentation.

I personally don't have much of a problem with racist terminology which stereotypes my race or any other race, and I often joke around with my like-minded friends using such terms.

I make a conscious effort today to cut from my vocabulary hurtful words which my brain has unfortunately translated into a synonym for an existing harmless word (i.e. "gay"), as due to this in the past, these loaded words have passed through my filter as an acceptable word to use in normal conversation and I have hurt people's feelings.

Perhaps it's just ignorance, but I honestly just don't think about specific terms as being offensive outside of a negative context.

I find it incredibly offensive if someone is degrading the man who dropped off our order from the local Chinese restaurant as a "chink." I do think it's odd and antiquated if people use a term like "chinaman" in conversation, (and truth be told, I didn't even know that "oriental" was considered offensive when referring to people for a long while.) But, I do not cringe at all at people who use any racist term to self-deprecate in a humorous way, or used in friendly ribbing.

Can someone explain to me what their opinion is about the harm caused by using racially specific words in a humorous context or within an friendly, accepting audience? Of course, the obvious issue is the problem I described in the "gay" example, but that is a singular case for me. I'm not being facetious, but genuinely curious.

TL;DR Knowing the audience on metafilter, I would never use the term "Indian Giver" or any other similar word/term in this venue, but am I a bad person for not having a problem with these words/terms with my buddies or in comedy routines?
posted by Debaser626 at 10:32 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


They were (are?) known as Chinese burns in the UK. No idea why.

Ah, that helps.
posted by bongo_x at 10:35 AM on April 3, 2013


If an Austrian thinks the worst part of WWII was Sergeant Schultz...

Is it just me, or has trolling been more prevalent lately?

In the gun-control threads somebody was trying to pass off a serious suggestion that gun owners be limited to four recyclable bullets. In the Adria Richards thread somebody was making up facts almost at random; and then in the resulting MeTa, somebody else kept asking where despite the comments being repeatedly pointed out, linked, copy-pasted, etc. Last week somebody posted a MeTa under the pretense of opening a discussion, then popped back in to announce that he knew no discussion would happen.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm seeing something that isn't there, or only just seeing something that always was. But I feel like there's an increase in the level of insincere participation lately. I'm curious if anybody else feels the same.
posted by cribcage at 10:36 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


cribcage, please don't refer to my people as 'trolls.' We are Caprivore-Americans.
posted by Mister_A at 10:50 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not that this excuses anything, but I initially interpreted "Indian giver" as if it were hyphenated, "Indian-giver," like one who gives to Indians.

It's a roundabout mode of substitution, but "buyer's remorse" is the feeling you get when you bought something and want to return it. If you give someone a gift and want it back I suppose you suffer from "giver's remorse".

In my Pokémon-trading days, a kid might finalize a trade by shouting "No takebacks!" so the act in question is a takeback, surely. You'd never hear the word if you undid a trade by mutual consent.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:51 AM on April 3, 2013


the fact that a sitcom set in a Nazi POW camp could air 20 years after WWII is good evidence there was a time when the US wasn't a country full of people yearning to be offended at the drop of a hat

There’s not a country full now. But I’ve often thought of this very thing. Actual WWII vets were sitting and watching that show.

No, this isn't true, Racism Gotcha Game isn't a thing.

And these are not the droids you’re looking for. Some of us lived through the last wave of this decades ago. Many people thought it got carried away and others used that as an opportunity to run with the "politically correct" thing. That’s the way people are. No matter how good the cause or the argument people will take it too far for whatever reason, often selfishness and ego, and start a backlash which undermines the cause. But if they’re more interested in being the crusading underdog than changing things for the better it doesn’t matter to them.
posted by bongo_x at 10:51 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


1. Talking about racist terms is not the same as perpetuating racism. Words are magic, but grammar is the incantation that invokes the spell.

2. I like to think that English is poor in synonyms, but rich in shades of meaning.

3. I see a lot of muddy thinking going down among the thought police.
posted by mule98J at 10:52 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


TL;DR Knowing the audience on metafilter, I would never use the term "Indian Giver" or any other similar word/term in this venue, but am I a bad person for not having a problem with these words/terms with my buddies or in comedy routines?

I think the principal problem is that it's much harder than you seem to think to prevent words from being heard in a context you don't intend. Some of the buddies you refer to probably harbor racist ideas they have not considered. That doesn't make them bad people; I think most humans have harmful ideas they've not considered, and the ethical solution is to consider them. Using the terms in a joking way, establishing them as things to be joked about, tends to make it harder to discuss them seriously.

I'm not an absolutist about this. It's possible to use racist terminology in a way that does not perpetuate racism. But it's difficult; it's hard to tell if you've succeeded or failed; and it's not particularly difficult to use other terms for the purpose anyway. Like maybe use "Cylon" as if it were a racial slur.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:58 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not that this excuses anything, but I initially interpreted "Indian giver" as if it were hyphenated, "Indian-giver," like one who gives to Indians.

In a similar vein, I thought the saying was chewed down. I didn't find out it was Jewed down until I read it on Mefi. It's not a phrase I ever use or even hear often. I was sort of stunned when I found out that it was Jewed and not chewed as I had assumed.
posted by 26.2 at 11:02 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The one account written by an actual Kamikaze I have been able to find, sent to his parents in a letter before his mission, casually lets drop that he and his family are Christians.

It would be an interesting parallel to the extremely high casualty rates experienced by US units recruited from the internment camps if Christians turn out to have been significantly overrepresented among Kamikazes.

Notice, for example, how the native cali OP admitted white guilt regarding her childhood spent in an organization called Indian Princesses, and how she carefully glossed over and declined to respond to this comment from the other thread:

Sort of an ironic call-out, considering the OP's username makes light of ritualized ethnic suicide attacks from a contentious war. My Japanese friends don't think that shit is funny, but whatevs.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro


No doubt you are aware that
The term "gitano" has also acquired among many a negative socio-economic connotation (much as the term quinqui) referring to the lowest strata of society, sometimes linking it to crime and marginality and even being used as a term of abuse. In this, one can be Gitano "by degree" according to how much one fits into pre-conceived stereotypes or social stigmas.
As well as referring to Spanish (and I assume Mexican?) gypsies in general.
posted by jamjam at 11:05 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not a phrase I ever use or even hear often.

Likewise. I was unpleasantly surprised to notice in a recent online Scrabble game that JEW was a permissible play but that ARAB was not. Then I recalled why: the former has a verb sense.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:20 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


As well as referring to Spanish (and I assume Mexican?) gypsies in general.

They may be aware. They may be a Roma from Gueretaro, and there is considerable unsettled discussion in the Roma community abuse the use of the word Gypsy and similar words. I don't know that it will be useful for this thread to devolve into users making presumptions about other's names or playing gotcha with them. If a user has a name that is unquestionably offensive, the best response might be to email a mod, rather than make it a derail in a larger discussion.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:27 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


What that means is that using "kamikaze" as a racially-motivated term is offensive, while using it as a metaphor is fine.

Actually, I don't agree with that at all. My point was actually the opposite: that if you don't want to participate in structures of systematized racial oppression, you just don't use those terms, whether or not they're intended to offend. In short, I really don't think intent matters. Unintentional slurs still have the power to harm because they help maintain the structure of thought and language that was/is a tool for oppressing people who are somehow other. It doesn't mean a person who uses racial slurs always has ill intent - they may be entirely innocent of ill intent - but it can still have the effect of supporting racism, so the best possible path for anti-racists is just to avoid them, not to argue about their semantics.
posted by Miko at 11:43 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Since it wasn't the point of the question, the "Indian Giver" AskMe should have been deleted and the poster asked to try again.

Is it so hard to say what you mean in plain English?

"My relatives frequently give me presents, but take back the presents, so they are not really presents."
posted by KokuRyu at 11:53 AM on April 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is not deletion-worthy.

This is more a “just grow a set already Metafilter, the person is trying to say it right.” moment, and leave it alone

Yes, we don’t want to see an offensive word gain traction as being acceptable but this is so far from that as to be laughable.

If you want to beanplate this into extinction, fine.

But the sun is out, and fresh air smells good.
posted by timsteil at 12:02 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


just grow a set already

"A set!" It's the new "thicker skin!"
posted by Miko at 12:05 PM on April 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


Well a set with thicker skin would have its advantages!
posted by Big_B at 12:07 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, we don’t want to see an offensive word gain traction as being acceptable but this is so far from that as to be laughable.

That's like, your opinion, man.


But the sun is out, and fresh air smells good.


Have at it, then?
posted by sweetkid at 12:08 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


"My relatives frequently give me presents, but take back the presents, so they are not really presents."

Well, that's longer than 72 characters.

I'd make a joke about "Grr, titles again.", but I'm afraid too many people would take that as a serious excuse to re-iterate all the problems they personally have with titles. Which I don't think we need here.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:24 PM on April 3, 2013


You can also be firmly in the right and still have people disagree (i.e. the use of niggardly).

I feel like you would have gotten a lot more sympathy, acceptance, or traction with your point if you hadn't brought this up.

Anyone I've ever seen say that phrase now, or similar phrases come off as a cross between a little kid going "but it's not ass like a butt mom, it's ass like a donkey! See!" And some over pretentious nerdy undergrad, or even highschooler trying to show how much smarter they are than you with their huge vocabulary and knowledge of deprecated old phrases people will have to google to understand.

Which actually quite well brings us back to the context of what this thread was originally about, since several people had to do the same for that phrase.

If you had a point, you kinda burried under a few thousand gallons of water with that one. Not intending to offend someone doesn't matter if they don't understand what you say, and take offense to it(especially in this case, ffs, it sounds like the n word and some racist bs comment to make). This is very compounded by the fact that I've only heard people use if once or twice, out if a crap-ton of times when they weren't coyly making some joke or "sly" comment that centered on it sounding like that slur.

Since I don't know which side is correct I don't use those terms.

Which is the right answer, and what a lot if people in this thread should take to heart and move on. Jesus.

Censoring yourself to not give offense is often a waste of time.

What? This directly contradicts most of the rest of what you said. How is this true? If someone's offended just appologize and move on. Own it and any decent person will back down, especially on here but also in general. Trying to lawyer your way out is rarely a good look, nor is it generally worth it. It's almost always a shitty hill to die on.

It's best to make an effort to be a decent person, and appologize when you fail even if you know you're right. Part of being a fucking grown up in my opinion is knowing when to concede and pick your battles, and this is not some glorious stand to take on principle. Repeat that to yourself, all of you, until it really sinks in. Fuck.

(oh, and sorry to single out your specific comment. I was mostly addressing a particular attitude or approach to this, and your comment summed it up pretty well. The fact that you try and be a decent person even when frustrated matters a lot)
posted by emptythought at 12:36 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


My point was actually the opposite: that if you don't want to participate in structures of systematized racial oppression, you just don't use those terms, whether or not they're intended to offend.

I'm not aware that "kamikaze" was part of "the structures of systematized racial oppression," though I can imagine how someone could use it that way if they wanted to make specific racial remarks. To me, it is purely hypothetical, so my response is, "yes, someone could hypothetically use it in a racially offensive way, so you should not do it." But in my experience, it does not have such a history.
posted by deanc at 12:41 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see a lot of muddy thinking going down among the thought police.

By referring to others as "thought police," you are doing a bit of thought-policing yourself, are you not?
posted by nacho fries at 12:44 PM on April 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Can we somehow continue to work in the derail concerning Beat Happening and Luna, and how even though Luna's cover of Indian Summer *is* superior to the BH original, as a whole Galaxie 500 is better than both of them?

Galaxie 500>Beat Happening>Luna>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Dub Narcotic Sound System
posted by item at 12:48 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, it doesn't make a mockery of anything. It's not "pretending" either.

it's not a big deal, but i want to point out that as far as i can tell no one has addressed any of the merits of my argument. my conscience is super-super-clean here, i'm making more than one good-faith point - saying "no it isn't" is not a counter-argument.

how exactly does calling out someone's thoughtless use of an ignorant slur prevent or ameliorate racism? why is it not analogous to yelling at people who sneeze rather than doing something to treat disease?
posted by facetious at 12:57 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


why is it not analogous to yelling at people who sneeze rather than doing something to treat disease?

There are different ways of sneezing. If you sneeze into your elbow, that's great. If you raise up your head and broadcast your sneeze, damn straight I'm going to yell at you. Though actually, if you do that you're most likely to be younger than 10 years old, so I'm going to give your parent a really dirty look. I think the analogy is almost perfect.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:04 PM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Luna's cover of Indian Summer *is* superior to the BH original

There's a certain point in the process of coming down where the guitar solo is beyond all human conception of epic, especially if you tended to start early, so that the sun is still at least partly up as you're bringing the afternoon's fun to a close.

So, yes, Galaxie 500, but let's not sell Luna too short here.
posted by aramaic at 1:05 PM on April 3, 2013


just grow a set already Metafilter, the person is trying to say it right

Hahaha! I happen to agree with your point, but I have to point out (OK, I am a bad person) that saying "grow a set" directly and unambiguously refers to the idea that people without testicles (e.g., women) are weak and timid. Carry on!
posted by Wordwoman at 1:06 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


(More seriously, I daresay the idea that men are more powerful and brave than women *is* a pernicious and damaging stereotype that hurts women (and men) far more than the notion that Native Americans don't mean it when they give you something. And, at the same time, I don't think a damn thing would be accomplished by banning or censuring or giving two shits about that phrase.)
posted by Wordwoman at 1:15 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


If someone's offended just appologize and move on. Own it and any decent person will back down, especially on here but also in general. Trying to lawyer your way out is rarely a good look, nor is it generally worth it. It's almost always a shitty hill to die on.

It's best to make an effort to be a decent person, and appologize when you fail even if you know you're right.


Offense is an emotional reaction. Just because someone is offended does not mean the offense is justified. Perhaps it means the offended person needs to do some "soul searching". If A is in the right and B is offended, why should A apologize?

Wait, you just used "lawyer" as a verb in a manner that is not flattering to lawyers. As a lawyer, I declare offense.

Part of being a fucking grown up in my opinion is knowing when to concede and pick your battles, and this is not some glorious stand to take on principle. Repeat that to yourself, all of you, until it really sinks in. Fuck.

Why is it never on the offended person to pick their battles? Another part of being is grownup is not demanding the world to walk on eggshells so that you never, ever experience a negative emotion.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:15 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I actually have heard the term "Indian giver" used about Indians, as invective. Not frequently, but often enough. In my experience it is definitely a racially charged term that is used in a racially charged way, to demonstrate why Indians are not to be trusted and barely to be tolerated. I think it's a horrifying phrase and I can't believe people are defending it.
posted by KathrynT at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2013 [11 favorites]



it's not a big deal, but i want to point out that as far as i can tell no one has addressed any of the merits of my argument. my conscience is super-super-clean here, i'm making more than one good-faith point - saying "no it isn't" is not a counter-argument.


you said:

i think it's indicative of vulgarity and dumbassery on the part of its user, but of all the genocidally insane shit that has been perpetrated on native americans by "real" americans over the past 400 years, i'm going to hazard a guess than zero of them are the result of anyone using the phrase "indian giver". it actually makes a mockery of the reality of racism to pretend that suppressing the use of "sensitive" phrases has anything to do with opposing real racism.

It might be good faith, but what I see here are two things that are mentioned over and over to diminish racism: 1) It's not real racism unless it's murder, genocide, severe economic strain, so "words don't hurt" 2) Bringing this up "makes a mockery" of real racism because, as said in 1) "real racism" is the really bad stuff.

It's not new, what you said. I've heard it many times to dismiss and brush away racism and sexism.

I strongly believe that this is wrong. I have been hearing racist things about my culture since childhood, and didn't read a political screed or anything to decide it was wrong. I felt it, little by little, over the years. I saw it happening to other groups and felt that it was wrong for them to suffer the same things. I don't believe it is more important for insensitive people to make crass jokes at the expense of minority groups, and it really does hurt to hear those things, over and over and over. I also think even when people are not intending to be harmful, they can and should still be corrected whenever possible.

I think we need to do this not because I think I'm better than anyone else or because I like to pick on people or because I want everyone to live in a sanitized world of my own design and creation, but because I think it is better for everyone to live in a world where individual voices can be heard without the drone of stereotype drowning everything they say. I don't believe this is happening now, but I believe it can.
posted by sweetkid at 1:21 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why is it never on the offended person to pick their battles?

If the "offended person" in this case is a minority or a woman or both, take it from me that they are always always always picking their battles.
posted by sweetkid at 1:24 PM on April 3, 2013 [17 favorites]


It's not new, what you said. I've heard it many times to dismiss and brush away racism and sexism.

again, this is not arguing the merits. you're impugning my motives by suggesting that i'm mindlessly repeating racist arguments. i get that you have strong feelings. why don't you get that i have strong feelings?
posted by facetious at 1:27 PM on April 3, 2013


you have strong feelings that we are ruining the criticism of racism having this discussion? you feel like we are doing a disservice to genocide by talking about this here? Maybe you could explain what you think the merits of your comments are.
posted by sweetkid at 1:31 PM on April 3, 2013


Maybe you could explain what you think the merits of your comments are.

We're done. I'm not going to be talked down to by you.
posted by facetious at 1:41 PM on April 3, 2013


Offense is an emotional reaction.

I hate this response. What's your point? Does this somehow make it invalid? Do you think this every time and use it to justify yourself not giving a crap? I just don't get how there could be any good point behind made here besides "emotions are something to be ignored because they're obviously not serious". This entire thread is about negative emotional responses. Presenting your point in this way doesn't really scream "engaging in good faith" to me.

Just because someone is offended does not mean the offense is justified.

I never said otherwise. I just said that very rarely is this a battle worth fighting, because very rarely is the offended person being "ridiculous". Seriously, I know this is totally anecdotal, but 9/10 times I see someone offended by something someone else said the person who offended then is in the wrong. However almost always they take it as a personal attack and come back with something obviously sourced from a thought process like...

Just because someone is offended does not mean the offense is justified. Perhaps it means the offended person needs to do some "soul searching".

The first part is something to consider, but all of this a shitty point to begin engaging with another person from. How ridiculously negative is it to always assume bad faith. I mean really? unless you're obviously engaging with a troll or someone with an agenda to make you look foolish, this is just a really sad way to approach conversations with other people. If you assume at least a modicum of good faith, this almost instantly seems like a ridiculous viewpoint.

If A is in the right and B is offended, why should A apologize?

Because intent isn't magical. I agree with this point on principal in a narrow band of situations, but most of the time you've gotten to that fork in the road either because someone misunderstood your intent, or through just an honest misunderstanding. This is assuming you're even right, which is a pretty damn big assumption.

Mostly though, what do you have to lose? How damn short is life? How nice is it to have pleasant conversations with people? Exactly. So you upset someone. You can

A. Own it, appologize and move on. maybe state your intent if you can do it without it coming off as "I know I'm really right, I'm just placating you" which is shitty and condescending as all get out.

B. "That isn't what I meant! Here's how I'm right" which instant puts them on the defensive and changes the tone of the entire conversation.

It's like tripping over someone's foot at a party. Did they stick it out to trip you? Maybe, but that's an awfully big unlikely assumption to make that places a hell of a lot of bad faith. You'll have a way nicer life just going "oops, sorry :)" and moving on. Anyone who saw the whole situation will be thinking "god, what a dick" at the initiator of the offense, and you come off as cool, collected, and mature. Engaging in battle is only for the most egregious situations.

Why is it never on the offended person to pick their battles? Another part of being is grownup is not demanding the world to walk on eggshells so that you never, ever experience a negative emotion.

It is, and i never said otherwise. Just keep repeating to yourself that by diffusing it, apologizing, and moving on you look like the better person. Anyone paying attention will notice they're the ones being ridiculous if they're genuinely out of line. This is very much a "interesting game, the only winning move is not to play" situation. It's very easy to look like an asshole doubling down on someone being offended. As I said, it's not worth it but in a few select situations that will be painfully obvious, and not just because you're upset that you're essentially getting trolled.

Wait, you just used "lawyer" as a verb in a manner that is not flattering to lawyers. As a lawyer, I declare offense.

Shenanigans. I know this was just a crappy example, but this is the kind of stuff you can ignore and move on. I know you know that I know that you know exactly what I'm talking about here. I didn't write any of this to be coy.
posted by emptythought at 1:42 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]



i think it's indicative of vulgarity and dumbassery on the part of its user, but of all the genocidally insane shit that has been perpetrated on native americans by "real" americans over the past 400 years, i'm going to hazard a guess than zero of them are the result of anyone using the phrase "indian giver". it actually makes a mockery of the reality of racism to pretend that suppressing the use of "sensitive" phrases has anything to do with opposing real racism.


To augment the important idea in sweetkid's comment (and it is important to point outthat while YOU might not be hurt by a particular thing, that doesn't mean others aren't, and they have to live their lives):

I'd say a big part of racism, maybe even ALL of racism is the idea that whatever race is "Other," and terms like the ones being discussed DO reinforce that type of thinking. In fact, they're explicate in it, otherwise why mention them? If EVERYBODY gives gifts and takes them back, then we'd just call it "giving." Since it's much much easier to act lousy towards people who not only are different, but are different in a way that you think is negative, that slurs my not cause race based violence and repression, but they sure as hell aid it.
posted by Gygesringtone at 1:44 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


facetious: “i think it's indicative of vulgarity and dumbassery on the part of its user, but of all the genocidally insane shit that has been perpetrated on native americans by ‘real’ americans over the past 400 years, i'm going to hazard a guess than zero of them are the result of anyone using the phrase ‘indian giver’. it actually makes a mockery of the reality of racism to pretend that suppressing the use of ‘sensitive’ phrases has anything to do with opposing real racism.”

First I want to say, facetious, that I don't doubt you're in good faith, and I don't care if anybody has ever heard "similar arguments" to this one before. I don't think those things matter.

However, second – I disagree, and I think this kind of relativising of wrongs is ultimately an incoherent way to judge mistakes. For one thing, I think it's simply concretely wrong that the prejudice inherent in the phrase "Indian giver" has been relatively harmless compared to other racist tropes. They are all part and parcel with each other. Look at the current state of Native America today: the racist tropes paint them as unreliable, and relegate them constantly and consistently to the lowest class of society, imposing on them poverty, alcoholism, and the deepest outcast status. Terms like "Indian giver" are, I think we can say, central to the problems that Native America faces today. We really shouldn't forget this fact.

But – more generally – I think it's quite fallacious to insist, because instances of racism are very different in degree, the lesser instances shouldn't be seen as "real racism" at all. This is just a fact about categories; they are groupings according to a set of variables, and vast differences in some other variables doesn't render the category any less cohesive.

To illustrate this with an example: if a nine-year-old kid steals a candy bar from Walgreen's, we call that theft. Also, if a team of ex-paramilitary assassins pulls a well-planned heist stealing a hundred million dollars of gold bullion from Fort Knox itself, that's also theft. We don't say it "makes a mockery of the reality of theft" to use the same term for both crimes, because, as crimes go, well, they are both theft. That doesn't mean that they're both on the same level, and it doesn't mean the punishments for both crimes should be the same. Still, they are both theft.

In the same vein, the genocide of millions is racism, just as much as the accidental use of the term "Indian giver" is racism. They are both instances of racism. The term "racism" isn't cheapened or made a mockery of simply because it applies to both of these events. That's just how the category works.

And it should probably be pointed out that what I said about how we come in contact with racism on Metafilter applies here. The only thing we Mefites have in common is language. I know that linguistic racism can seem paltry when compared to the very solid and concrete instances of institutional racism that deny people food and even can kill, but it is still very real racism, and moreover that's the only racism we'll probably every come in contact with here on Metafilter. Metafilter only has meaning and significance insofar as language has meaning and significance; so it seems worthwhile to accept that, yes, linguistic racism is a serious thing that has real impact on our lives.
posted by koeselitz at 1:48 PM on April 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'm not aware that "kamikaze" was part of "the structures of systematized racial oppression,"

I had pretty much nothing to say about the word kamikaze in my original comment, so that's a connection you made, not me. I don't think you can take anything I said as necessarily permitting or condemning the use of the word "kamikaze" - it appears to be a total nonsequitur, and I just wanted to clarify that.

If we wanted to talk about "kamikaze," again I would not argue that intent matters. What matters is whether it has a documented history of being used in systemic racial oppression. I'd have to say that yes, it does have a bit of that history, somewhat. I just spent some time reviewing Google Books for the word. During most of World War II, the word merely connotes - the texts explain their tactics, that there is a training corps, and its meaning of "Divine Wind." But even during the war, and then to a large extent after it's over, the word's meaning is extended to cover territory that is used in arguments for bias - that the Japanese are given to murderous insanity, slavish devotion to power, etc. "Kamikaze," at various times, means an "Oriental" girl who preys on American servicemen, a mode of service for the "inflexible" Japanese, "something the Japanese mind could grasp - and perhaps only the Japanese," and so on. I suppose it simply didn't quite catch on, because its meaning covers maybe too much territory to make a handy slur, but it does plug in comfortable to anti-Japanese stereotypes - ruthless, murderous, slavish, dumb - of the time.

the idea that men are more powerful and brave than women *is* a pernicious and damaging stereotype that hurts women (and men) far more than the notion that Native Americans don't mean it when they give you something

Who are you to say this? How, exactly, do you know how much harm prejudice against Natives does? Can you really say that a simple offhand comment like "grow a set" is part of a systemic pattern of discrimination that hurts women, but a simple offhand remark like "Indian giver" is just a colorful phrase that shouldn't upset anyone?

Since I've been in a job where I interact a lot more with Native people, I've become a lot more aware of the power of this stuff and its insidious commonness - it's so common as to seem harmless, yet it represents the attitudes underlying a couple centuries of justified genocide. Prejudice against Natives gets to continue flying above the radar, and I think a lot of it is because so many non-Native people don't know, or don't know they know, any Native people. It's all very abstract to people who haven't had to live with it at a personal level, and the structural biases it supports.

There's really nothing so trivial, comical, boring and frivolous as an idea your own privilege allows you to completely ignore, is there?
posted by Miko at 1:51 PM on April 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


facetious, I wasn't trying to talk down to you, I just really didn't understand what you were looking for here.
posted by sweetkid at 1:51 PM on April 3, 2013


saying "grow a set" directly and unambiguously refers to the idea that people without testicles (e.g., women) are weak and timid.

That's not a given. A set of what? Could it be... ovaries?
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:56 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone really say "grow a set of ovaries?" The few women I know who jokingly use that phrase know they're referring to (and subverting) a common sexist trope when they do. And they pointedly always refer to ovaries. So I'm not sure the phrase "grow a set" should get a pass here.
posted by koeselitz at 2:01 PM on April 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Koeselitz, fair enough. But I'm hoping we can reinvent this expression so it can mean either testicles or ovaries.

A woman can dream, right?
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:05 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


The degree of juvenility on display here today is actually unusually high for MetaFilter.
posted by Miko at 2:06 PM on April 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm hoping we can reinvent this expression so it can mean either testicles or ovaries.

The question of "reclaiming" is a fairly complicated one. It rarely succeeds thoroughly, because you can't erase the pre-existing semantics, and you also can't erase the historical record.
posted by Miko at 2:07 PM on April 3, 2013


(Personally, I don't really know what people say or don't say in English. I mainly know what they write, and that may not be the same. I don't regularly talk to native speakers of English.)
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:07 PM on April 3, 2013


Then maybe it's best not to mount strong arguments about what English colloqualisms mean.
posted by Miko at 2:08 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


That, too, is fair enough. I'm not sure I mounted a strong argument, but I'm also not entirely sure what that means. I thought I uttered a possibility. Oh well, never mind.

/me lets it go
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:10 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


(It didn't seem like a particularly strong argument to me, Miko.)
posted by koeselitz at 2:11 PM on April 3, 2013


Sorry, then. It's not a realistic possibility. I've seen a few people try to turn the phrase around in a pro-feminist way, but it's about balls and not really to the point of ever signifying anything else without a lot of semantic help to encourage that interpretation.
posted by Miko at 2:12 PM on April 3, 2013


Also, we need to destroy all copies of "Hogans Heroes". (the fact that a sitcom set in a Nazi POW camp could air 20 years after WWII is good evidence there was a time when the US wasn't a country full of people yearning to be offended at the drop of a hat)

Erm, it wasn't as uncontroversial as you made it out to be. Werner Klemperer, who played colonel Klink ("a Jew playing a nazi? Well, if I can play Richard III...") was very insistent that the nazis should never, ever win in any of the shows.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:22 PM on April 3, 2013


I also never understand the "destroy all copies" thing...when did we ever want to destroy anything? There is a whole world of racist and offensive things out there, and I have no desire to see any of them burned or destroyed, or anyone arrested for creating or liking them. I haven't seen others call for this, either.

Just try not to use certain offensive words, thanks.
posted by sweetkid at 2:28 PM on April 3, 2013


This is more a “just grow a set already Metafilter, the person is trying to say it right.”

Perhaps the best substitution for "Indian giver" on MetaFilter is "timsteil".

You could also substitute "timsteil" for any other term if you like. Not "trolling", but "timsteiling". Not snarking, but "timsteil".

Timsteil won't mind - s/he has grown a set and should be able to hack it.

/timsteil
posted by KokuRyu at 2:28 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a piece of albeit hearsay evidence: when growing up, I had a number of Jewish friends. To a person, every single one of their parents was adamant that "Hogan's Heroes" was an offensive and disgusting television show that would not be allowed in their homes. So, at least in my little world, it certainly wasn't a show that was accepted happily.
posted by koeselitz at 2:31 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hate this response.

Your hate is an emotion reaction. It is not a rational argument.

because very rarely is the offended person being "ridiculous".

This is a guess, but you are arguing as if it were a true fact.

How ridiculously negative is it to always assume bad faith.

How ridiculously negative is it to knock down a straw man? I never said anything of the sort. I simply suggested that offense is not always justified. "Not always" is not a synonym for "never".

Because intent isn't magical.

I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, or what you are suggesting by "own it". I never said that offense doesn't happen. I simply questioned why the offender must apologize no matter what. That position does not make sense.

It's very easy to look like an asshole doubling down on someone being offended.

So what? You don't need to worry about how other people look at parties. Your argument enables the ridiculousness of the eggshell offendee.

I know this was just a crappy example, but this is the kind of stuff you can ignore and move on.

This is exactly the point. How do you propose to explain what "kind of stuff" can be safely ignored and what "kind of stuff" requires apologies and examinations of what is "problematic"? Doesn't this carry the risk of "looking like an asshole"?
posted by Tanizaki at 2:32 PM on April 3, 2013


but it does plug in comfortable to anti-Japanese stereotypes - ruthless, murderous, slavish, dumb - of the time.

You don't have to read very much about the history of 20th-century Japanese imperialism in Asia to learn that "ruthless" and "murderous" are pretty accurate descriptors of how that war was conducted.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:36 PM on April 3, 2013


Wait, how are "Indian corn" or "Indian summer" offensive? Isn't that like saying "French toast" is offensive?
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:48 PM on April 3, 2013


And "Guinea pig" too. Everytime a Guinean person looks up Guinea in Google, the autocomplete feature insults him/her.
posted by elgilito at 2:57 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure about Indian corn, but here's something about Indian Summer.
posted by sweetkid at 2:57 PM on April 3, 2013


Your argument enables the ridiculousness of the eggshell offendee.

Please consider dialing the rhetoric down a little bit if you are trying to have a sincere good faith conversation here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:00 PM on April 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


You don't have to read very much about the history of 20th-century Japanese imperialism in Asia to learn that "ruthless" and "murderous" are pretty accurate descriptors of how that war was conducted.

And hey, the US was ruthless and murderous enough to even beat them! I guess we're all Kamikazes here. <>>

Hey, let's look for unusual examples of things that prove I don't have to take systematic racial oppression or the refusal to indulge in unnecessary racist language seriously! Come on, kids! Collect 10 and you can win this camping tent from Grit!
posted by Miko at 3:01 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


... I interact a lot more with Native people, ...
Trying to use words that don't cause offence is sometimes incredibly difficult when describing a group of people, isn't it? To me, the term 'native' to describe the original inhabitants of a country is loaded with cultural negativity to the extent that I wouldn't use it in that context. I thought 'indigenous' was the preferred descriptor?
posted by dg at 3:03 PM on April 3, 2013


Best terms vary a lot locally, there's no agreed-upon thing. In the US as I understand it, mostly Native American or American Indian are preferred umbrella terms if you don't know the more specific group name; in Canada, First Nations and a few other terms depending specifically on which group of people you're talking about.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to this link, some people find "Native" offensive, but it's not generally considered so (link is from Canada):

Is it okay to say "native"?

While "native" is generally not considered offensive, it may still hold negative connotations for some. Because it is a very general, overarching term, it does not account for any distinctiveness between various Aboriginal groups. If you are referencing a specific group, it is generally considered more respectful to use another term that more specifically denotes which peoples you are referring to.

However, "native" is still commonly used. Many people find it to be a convenient term that encompasses a wide range of populations. When wanting to use a general term in the Canadian context, one might prefer the use of the term "Aboriginal."

posted by sweetkid at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2013


I thought 'indigenous' was the preferred descriptor?

I've had it recommended to me that "Indigenous" is a word you can never go wrong with. In North America, there is a pretty wide variety of opinions as to what people prefer and use - ideally, most people like to be called what they are, that is what nation they identify with as ancestral (Mohawk, Mashpee, Maliseet, etc) - but to refer to all those nations that pre-existed conquest in the aggregate, people really differ on whether they want to be called/call themselves: they might individually prefer Native, Indian, First Nations, Indigenous, etc. It really varies and it's best to ask people individually when unsure.I've never personally heard an objection to "Native people," but I have worked in situations where we're super careful about essentializing the word "Native" - for instance, "the Native imagination," "locating the Native," etc., are not a good way of using the word because it identifes "Native" as a quality inherent in a person. However, I have never been asked not to use it as a descriptor, like "there are seven Native artists in this exhibition" or "of the panelists, Elayne and Martin are Native, Karen is non-Native."

It makes complete sense to me that there are places where "native" is pejorative because of its history of use in a system of oppression, and I wouldn't want it to be perceived that I support or intend that use - so if you'd rather we just use "indigenous" on MeFi I will begin to try.
posted by Miko at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


But there the reference is intended to be the Boston Tea Party

In which the colonial protesters dressed in feathers and pretended to be Indians, as I recall.
posted by spitbull at 3:15 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


If we wanted to talk about "kamikaze," again I would not argue that intent matters. What matters is whether it has a documented history of being used in systemic racial oppression. I'd have to say that yes, it does have a bit of that history, somewhat.

We will have to agree to disagree on that. Invoking kamikaze attacks with reference to modern Japanese people would have racist overtones. But using it as a metaphor is acceptable, as much as, say "Blitzkrieg" or "blitz" is. I'm pretty sure most people are capable of using their best judgment on that one.
posted by deanc at 3:34 PM on April 3, 2013


No, I have no strong preference (and my individual preferences aren't particularly relevant anyway) and I was not meaning to suggest that you stop using the term. My point of reference on first seeing your comment was around British colonialism and the use of 'natives' as a disparaging way of describing the current inhabitants of a land the British were intent on 'civilising', which I still hear when people say things like 'the natives are restless'.

I'm an avowed non-PC person, in that I hate the most common implementation of the concept that language should not define people or things negatively, which seems to be to invent stupid new words to pretend to be gender (or other characteristic) neutral while making the point that the new word is being invented to satisfy the bleeding-heart liberals. However, I try to be conscious of the words I use to describe people and to consider all people to be people first, rather than defining them by a single characteristic. It can be really hard to do this in a way that isn't linguistically clumsy, though.

Back to the point, as someone who regularly speaks in public on behalf of a government agency, I'm interested in seeing how others present the touchy issue of colonial history to the public and was surprised to see the word 'native' being used in place of 'indigenous', but I think that is likely more a difference in country norms than anything. When speaking in public, one of the first things I speak about (to be honest, it's a requirement, but I'm happy to do it) is an acknowledgement of the 'original owners of the land on which we meet', naming the tribes that occupied the local area. At first, it seemed to me like a bit of wankery, but I've come to see it as a low-impact, polite way to acknowledge the local indigenous peoples without emotional language. The common term historically has been 'Aboriginal', but that word has a lot of baggage and seems to be less favoured than 'indigenous' these days.
posted by dg at 3:42 PM on April 3, 2013


Your hate is an emotion reaction. It is not a rational argument.

You're doing it again. You're basically saying that any feelings about a statement someone makes are completely irrelevant to the value of the statement, correct? i don't want to put words in your mouth here, feel free to counter that. That's sure as hell how it reads though.

What i was saying, however, is that it's a low quality childish way to approach it that won't win you any points with anyone. It reflects badly on you to present yourself as "i don't think feelings matter at all" when no discussion, as of yet, take place between robots or other artificial intelligence with no emotions. To ignore that component of the whole situation is reductionist and almost willfully ignorant. You also, to reiterate my point, just come off poorly saying "your feelings don't matter" or trying to be above saying that, but heavily wink wink nudge nudge imply it by saying "feelings don't matter in this conversation" without pointing any fingers, which is barely even coy because everyone involved will know exactly what you mean, and you'll still come off in a not great way.

This is a guess, but you are arguing as if it were a true fact.

I said it was anecdotal. I'd love to know where you're finding all these incidences of people being offended to prove some point rather than having some kind of legitimate grievance, because i sure as hell haven't seen it happen more than a few times. I know it's infuriating when it is, but my general point was what do you have to lose by assuming they're presenting their offence in good faith?

I simply suggested that offense is not always justified. "Not always" is not a synonym for "never".

And my point was that by even presenting it that way, you're implying that, correct me if i'm wrong, this is an issue that happens often enough to merit serious consideration. Rather than a straw man in it's own right that exists to ignore both offending people and saying hurtful things, or saying objectively racist or otherwise hurtful things that you can easily draw a line to how and why they're offensive. The only reason i'm even swinging my sword at this mess is that i've heard a lot of genuinely offensive people defend themselves in this manner. Understand where i'm coming from at least a little bit here please? reflect on that for a moment?

I have no idea what this is supposed to mean

Simply that the fact that you didn't intend to say something offensive, or that you said something that you can't easily draw a line to how/why it's offensive in your own head doesn't mean that you get a free pass, or that it isn't actually offensive. Basically, it doesn't matter if you didn't intend offense, or even just know what you were saying is grey area. It doesn't matter how you presented something. This isn't court, and there isn't some burden of proof now placed on the offended person in more than a very small way. Nor is it even up to the offended person to explain why it's offensive.

or what you are suggesting by "own it"

I simply meant that you will always come off looking like the better person if you take responsibility for what you said, instead of just going "no it isn't!" in some way. If they are being ridiculous, they will look ridiculous on their own. Maybe not right then, but i'd be willing to bet someone else in the situation noticed and is at least silently mulling it around how they're overreacting/etc if they really are.

I never said that offense doesn't happen. I simply questioned why the offender must apologize no matter what. That position does not make sense.

Notice i never said unilaterally no matter what, just that it's the best out a large percentage of the time. Obviously if it's blatantly some kind of character assassination setup or abject trolling then you engage if you think getting you to engage wasn't the point, but most of the time it literally isn't worth it, and will reflect badly enough on the offendee on it's own if they're not being sincere.

So what? You don't need to worry about how other people look at parties. Your argument enables the ridiculousness of the eggshell offendee.

The second sentence there is really gets me. If they're sincere, you just look like a decent person. If they're insincere, by engaging them you're letting them win even more. Shrugging off their response by apologizing and being sincere may enable them, but they were more than likely looking for a battle if they're not sincere. Why give it to them? you're just feeding the troll. Caring about whether or not you're "enabling" them is just giving them brainspace they don't deserve. Engaging them wastes way more energy than just apologizing and moving on. And what do you lose, pride? Pride is very often the shittiest reason to get in to an argument. That's the reason drunk frat bros fist fight outside of bars, and that's what you're basically doing on an intellectual level here. Again, why play their game?

How do you propose to explain what "kind of stuff" can be safely ignored and what "kind of stuff" requires apologies and examinations of what is "problematic"? Doesn't this carry the risk of "looking like an asshole"?

Use your Better Judgement™? There is nothing except pride and ego blocking you from just apologizing mid way in to sincerely asking someone something if you assumed they were on the up and up. You can never look like too much of an asshole being sincere. Dismissive, yes, but not so much sincere. I mostly meant the cases you can ignore are when someone is obviously trolling like you were with the lawyer thing. And i kinda get the feeling you know exactly what i meant there.

To finish up though, i really think that the biggest problem you're having here is some kind of pride/ego thing about not wanting to back down when you're so sure someone is pulling one over on you or just being a cockbag. And again, what's the point? What do you win? you end up rolling around in the mud with someone who's either an asshole, horribly misguided, looking for a fight, or just generally some other mindset that isn't productive to engage with. Yes, you're letting them "win" by just forfeiting the match, but what do you even really lose in that situation? At the very worst you look like you agree with them, but honestly you end up looking much more down to earth and reasonable by just not wanting a wrestling match and projecting an aura of being a decent person who cares about other people.
posted by emptythought at 3:43 PM on April 3, 2013


"I'm not sure about Indian corn, but here's something about Indian Summer."

That link isn't really well thought out, honestly. There are multiple overlapping possible origins for "Indian summer," just like many idioms, and some of them are probably racist.

"Best terms vary a lot locally, there's no agreed-upon thing. In the US as I understand it, mostly Native American or American Indian are preferred umbrella terms if you don't know the more specific group name; in Canada, First Nations and a few other terms depending specifically on which group of people you're talking about."

Native Americans are, like, thousands of different nations who have their own sets of preferences and prejudices and preferred terms, and there's always honestly going to be some folks upset by sloppy categorical nomenclature. Especially since the forced marches, cultural genocides and all the other historical crimes against them lead to a general distrust of European naming privileges. It's also an area where there are just tremendous numbers of false, folk etymologies and narratives of racism that fit the experience but not the facts of certain words. The best example is Eskimo, which is a slur in most of Canada but an accurate self-applied name for a nation in Alaska. (Another is "squaw," which had a big flare up in the late '90s, early 2000s based on, basically, well-meaning bullshit that reified the offense in a purported cunt cognate.)

Another example that I often think of is that the college I went to, they used to be called the Hurons, after a local tribe (and river). There was a well-meaning group of Native American and white activists that campaigned to change the name, and it was changed to the anodyne "Eagles." But the actual local Huron tribe liked having the college sports teams use their name, and were annoyed that other people were essentially being offended in the Huron's name, without actually caring what the Hurons thought about it. (The Hurons were actually hoping to get some scholarships set up, figuring that college educations would help the tribe more than banning a mascot.)
posted by klangklangston at 3:52 PM on April 3, 2013


I appreciate all of the communication going on here. I certainly don't agree with all of it, but I am glad for those participating in good faith arguments about what I posted.
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:04 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Wait, how are 'Indian corn' or 'Indian summer' offensive? Isn't that like saying 'French toast' is offensive?"

"No wonder some aboriginal Americans resent at least some of these usages; as an attributive noun in Indian corn, Indian burn and especially Indian summer and Indian giver, the word means 'false.' The Indian sign is a hex, and the Indian side is the wrong side of the horse for mounting. A squaw winter is unseasonably cold."- William Safire, 1996
posted by koeselitz at 4:27 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure about Indian corn, but here's something about Indian Summer.

I'll be damned. Still, it seems to me a sign of progress though that the negative connotations of such phrases have largely worn off. At some point, I feel we need to accept that etymologies are sometimes a little dark and let the language be. "Hysterical", for instance, has an extremely sexist origin, but when people use it today, it doesn't carry the same implications, and I think that's okay.
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:15 PM on April 3, 2013


so if you'd rather we just use "indigenous" on MeFi...

I would rather we just use autochthone and autochthonous from the ancient Greek for from the earth itself -- in mythology, people born from the earth , and, by extension, the word for the earliest known inhabitants of a given land. And it is a word oft used by Jack Vance, to boot, for bonus points.
posted by y2karl at 6:15 PM on April 3, 2013


The downside to doing that, at least on a Saturday night in my hometown, which is about 30% aboriginal by population, is that one would almost certainly get punched in the mouth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:28 PM on April 3, 2013


[NOT HOMETOWNIST]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:39 PM on April 3, 2013


Yeah, I suspect many would see "from the earth" as essentializing.
posted by Miko at 7:14 PM on April 3, 2013


I see Safire's argument, which is that "real corn" means "wheat" and "Indian corn" means "maize", therefore "Indian corn" is a false corn. But all maize is Indian, because the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica painstakingly bred Zea mays into existence from teosinte. And if "corn" actually means "grain" instead of specifying "wheat", then "Indian corn" is only as inaccurate as "Indian" is to describe the native peoples of the Americas. I really don't know whether it's hurtful or not on the face of it.

Do people actually say "Indian corn"?
posted by gingerest at 7:19 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Indian corn" is the variegated, decorative kind, at least in my experience. I had learned that was because the vague American Indian peoples used it to decorate.
posted by klangklangston at 7:29 PM on April 3, 2013


Corn varieties are divided into a few big groups, one of which is flint corn, and I think it's mainly this which is referred to as Indian corn today. (Flint corn is one type of field corn.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:45 PM on April 3, 2013


I think "Indian" is sometimes just used to mean "exotic/outside the usual" by Americans who don't have a lot of contact with Native Americans. Which usage I don't think is a compliment and is best left on the trash heap of history.

And the odd thing for me about "Indian summer" is that I think of it as nature giving you a few nice warm days when the calendar says you should expect it to be much colder — it's a wonderful gift to be appreciated. But it still beats me as to what the heck that could have to do with Native Americans.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:48 PM on April 3, 2013


by nacho fries: By referring to others as "thought police," you are doing a bit of thought-policing yourself, are you not?

Maybe our terms are not clearly defined: thought police don't want me to use certain words (or perhaps think certain thoughts, and so on). I didn't try to imply that.

Maybe I am guilty of sniping, though. Or maligning the thought police: sorry guys.
posted by mule98J at 8:00 PM on April 3, 2013


And the odd thing for me about "Indian summer" is that I think of it as nature giving you a few nice warm days when the calendar says you should expect it to be much colder — it's a wonderful gift to be appreciated. But it still beats me as to what the heck that could have to do with Native Americans.

I typed a comment pedantically pointing out the obvious but then thought wait, I better scratch that, because this is probably some really elegant sarcasm.
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2013


If it is, it's confusing me. Your comment is as well. I know that people feel that we've been around this rodeo a lot of times, perhaps too many, but so much of what was the conversation here is turning into folks snarkily implying but not stating their points that my little mental filters are shot.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:18 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I suspect many would see "from the earth" as essentializing.

Well, I meant more that in my hometown, using a word like 'autochthonous' would inspire in stages confusion, resentment, anger and then violence. So, for that matter, would 'essentializing'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:20 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


... this is probably some really elegant sarcasm.

It wasn't intended as sarcasm. I was just pointing out that my attitude towards days of "Indian summer" (free bonus gift) runs totally opposite to the attitude lots of people are citing here (shifty and unreliable). The last line was just saying how it made the discussion confusing for me, and apparently the confusion is contagious.

But it was maybe an odd little side-observation on what is already a pretty baroque conversation. I'll agree with jessamyn, and say let's drop as a derail.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:26 PM on April 3, 2013


benito.strauss: “And the odd thing for me about 'Indian summer' is that I think of it as nature giving you a few nice warm days when the calendar says you should expect it to be much colder — it's a wonderful gift to be appreciated. But it still beats me as to what the heck that could have to do with Native Americans.”

The etymology seems to be that "Indian summers" – those deceptive warm fronts that roll in before the end of the Autumn – are either (a) times when Indians are rumored to attack you or (b) times when it's convenient to attack Indians. Generally, it was apparently a term for a window of opportunity for violence. Which is (I agree) considerably less pastoral than anything we probably thought when we were growing up hearing that phrase.
posted by koeselitz at 8:38 PM on April 3, 2013


"Indian" Corn... *Plutarch's goblet that is funny**.
One little type-sort, the funny one that is "primarily used ornamentally, notably as part of Thanksgiving decorations". How blooming magnanimous; sharing... no, wait, that fits exactly in with the prevailing narrative, casting Indigenous societies as other, or 'lacking'', a sideshow to some imagining of a Cultural Rotation around... some few, it nestles precisely with the prevailing discourse of defining the world around us to shape our perceptions of it. If that kind is called that, then "obviously" the rest is some "shared human achievement". It is just another thing preventing North Americans from seeing the debt of gratitude (and a pile of gifts due) owed. We Built This. Indeed. That was what struck me when that became a refrain; "well, it wasn't a new refrain".

As if it isn't all.

It needs to be said again that it really isn't some long lost thing hiding in the mists of time. The taking and re-writing, it is not simply some 'in the past' thing. People still use the phrase "in the racist way". The 'old' implications are still there at the front (frankly with "hysteria" too, but that might be another thing).

*“Philippus aunswered, that the Macedonians wer feloes of no fyne witte in their termes but altogether grosse, clubbyshe, and rusticall, as they whiche had not the witte to calle a spade by
any other name then a spade.”
[ruling: 178 BC comes before American Racism, seeing clubbyshe and spade together sparks the image of an early deck though. But then the intervening huge racism that is tied to and bound up with the phrase changes that. Words get meaning from history, but also from useage.] **funny peculiar, not funny haha

posted by infinite intimation at 8:44 PM on April 3, 2013


> I actually have heard the term "Indian giver" used about Indians, as invective. Not frequently, but often enough ... I think it's a horrifying phrase and I can't believe people are defending it.

Quite a few people have objected to this call-out. I don't think anyone here has defended the phrase the poster of the AskMe question was called out for using.

I agree that the asker could have just described the situation, and maybe tacked on something like "I realize people who do this are often called 'Indian givers', but I realize this is problematic, what's a better phrase?" and this would have been better.

Given the dynamics of these kinds of call outs, it's a reasonably good assumption that the OP was looking to start a pile on, and hopefully provoke a flameout by the asker. (I can't read other minds of other MeFites, of course, so I don't know the OP's motivations in this case. But I do know how these types of MeTas generally work.)

It's perfectly possible for somebody to object to phrases like "Indian giver", and not use them, and think this is a shitty call-out at the same time.
posted by nangar at 8:58 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh. Until today, I thought "Indian Summer" referred to the other India - like, perhaps summers in India are later.

The mental association I have with it is an orange-red and also there is an elephant and a married pair of British colonialists being terrible to "the natives".


(Now I know better, obviously.)
posted by subbes at 8:59 PM on April 3, 2013


My point about benito_strauss' comment was that it recognizes that Indian summer is like a wonderful gift that is going to be taken away again.

I get that this stuff is hard and irritatingly shifty. That's just the nature, to me, of trying to engage in well-meaning conversation. I'm pretty much always good with "when in doubt, leave it out."
posted by Miko at 9:05 PM on April 3, 2013


"when growing up, I had a number of Jewish friends. To a person, every single one of their parents was adamant that "Hogan's Heroes" was an offensive and disgusting television show that would not be allowed in their homes. So, at least in my little world, it certainly wasn't a show that was accepted happily."

My father -- a concentration camp survivor -- loved the show, and when I was little I was allowed to stay up late to watch it with him. He would also quote Arte Johnson's Wolfgang character saying his "Very interesting..." catchphrase from Laugh-In and then I'd bug him to repeat it for hours because we laughed so much. I was too young for The Producers, but since we spent many hours around the hi-fi listening to The 2000 Year Old Man I'm going to guess he was a fan of the film, and if he were still alive I'm sure he would love hearing Larry David whistling Wagner.

Of course he would never have joked about the actual experience of Nazi Germany (and we had very serious discussions about it) but learning to laugh in the face of tragedy (and at myself) was a great lesson, and probably very cathartic for my dad. From my perspective Hogan's Heros is not offensive, but that doesn't mean that people can't be offended by it. I think that applies to a lot of the subjects that crop up in these threads.

Another interesting note about Hogan's Heros:
The actors who played the four major German roles—Werner Klemperer (Klink),[12] John Banner (Schultz), Leon Askin (Burkhalter), and Howard Caine (Hochstetter)—were Jewish. Furthermore, Klemperer, Banner, Askin, and Robert Clary* (LeBeau) were Jews who had fled the Nazis during World War II.
It doesn't mean "bargain down." The stereotype being invoked is of a stingy, dishonest, untrustworthy, miserly Jew who will always cheat people out of money in a business transaction. "I Jewed him down" means 'I screwed him over, like I was a thieving Jew.'"

Jon Benjamin and David Cross try to combat this stereotype with Jew Them Up!


*Robert Clary actually spent time in a camp and has a prisoner ID tattoo.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:07 PM on April 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm a Jew and I liked Hogan's Heroes. Even now, I don't really mind a show that presents Nazis as subjects of ridicule.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:21 PM on April 3, 2013


Given the dynamics of these kinds of call outs, it's a reasonably good assumption that the OP was looking to start a pile on, and hopefully provoke a flameout by the asker. (I can't read other minds of other MeFites, of course, so I don't know the OP's motivations in this case.

No, that's not a reasonably good assumption at all. What I want is for the term "Indian giver" to stop being an acceptable part of the American lexicon.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:59 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Well, I meant more that in my hometown, using a word like 'autochthonous' would inspire in stages confusion, resentment, anger and then violence. So, for that matter, would 'essentializing'."

"Fuck you, college."
posted by klangklangston at 11:22 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, that's not a reasonably good assumption at all.

I agree. It's a rather shitty one.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:24 PM on April 3, 2013


"Indian summer" is a curious one if it's true it has pejorative origins.

When we Brits pour ourselves another glass of Pimms and are forced to adjust the jaunty angle of our boaters to cope with late September sunshine, an Indian summer is never, ever a bad thing.

After having a few washed out summers in succession and now having one of the coldest springs on record, an Indian summer sounds pretty good.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:31 AM on April 4, 2013


If you offend someone by accident, and don't feel you've done anything wrong, I find that it works pretty well to find out what offended them and promise not to do it again...but without actually apologizing for anything. Rarely has anyone specifically demanded that I admit guilt.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:43 AM on April 4, 2013


an Indian summer is never, ever a bad thing.

To try to be abundantly clear, no one here is suggesting that the weather phenomenon known as Indian summer is a bad thing. We love it, actually. It's fantastic to have an extension of warm weather. And the origin of the word is ot definitively known, so it exists in a gray area where we're not super sure it was created as a pejorative. But the fact that Indian summer is a unreliable summer, an untrustworthy kind of summer, a false form of summer, is where there is, at the most benign, an uncomfortable overlap with other tropes in which "Indian" means "unreliable, false."

No one's saying they don't like that kind of weather or that what people call "Indian summer" is in itself a bad thing. It's just that the term "Indian summer" may partake of concretely harmful biases in the past that associated Indian-ness with reneging or unreliability.

I don't quite know what to do about it myself. I used to use it without a second thought, now I kind of go to "gorgeous weather this October!" It may be that an old phrase passes into archaicism unnecessarily when it was never meant to harm anyone; that's OK by me, as we lose old phrases all the time for far more boring reasons -- we don't fret about what a big pity it is that we're not calling a con man a coney-catcher any more, or looking for a jack-at-a-pinch at the last minute. Somehow we managed to find another way to express the ideas.

"It's just language" cuts both ways. "It's just language, it's harmless, don't be so PC" on the flip side can mean "it's just language, it changes anyway, it's easy enough to find another phrase if you don't want to suggest something negative."
posted by Miko at 5:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


without actually apologizing for anything

Well, if you meant no harm, what would there be to apologize for? This seems self-evident to me, but maybe people think they'd have to go through some enormous shaming ritual for using a term you didn't know had a racist history. But you're right, I can't think of a time I saw anyone demand more of a demonstration.

BUt sometimes it happens that a discussion about language ends up revealing not just simple ignorance of the charged nature of a word, but a bigger intellectual conflict -- so it's not always just "gee, I didn't know and will stop using this word," but " I don't think that your point of view is valid and legitimate and will continue using it and arguing for it obstinately until you produce enough argumentation/evidence to satisfy me, which might be never" - maybe supported with reasons and maybe not. We saw something like that here earlier - "I don't think the objection is legitimate; I think you're [looking for attention/like feeling self-righteous/are overeducated/enjoy being offended]." At that point it becomes a discussion about a deeper form of bias, which might be racial but might also be purely interpersonal, rather than about language.
posted by Miko at 6:10 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're doing it again. You're basically saying that any feelings about a statement someone makes are completely irrelevant to the value of the statement, correct? i don't want to put words in your mouth here, feel free to counter that. That's sure as hell how it reads though.

I think my statement was pretty clear. Telling me about what you "hate" is not a rational argument. It is just your subjective emotional experience. It doesn't make what you say right or what I say wrong. I find it novel that you find the statement to be "childish" since children are generally not known for their cold rationality and logic.

what do you have to lose by assuming they're presenting their offence in good faith?

You keep talking about "good faith" when I never have. I have never said that anyone has pretended to be offended. I am simply saying that some are unreasonably sensitive. To use a non-verbal example, I think that most people would agree that a punch to the face is an unacceptable assault. I think most people would also agree that jostling against other passengers on a crowded subway, while also touching, is not assault. However, we can certainly imagine a person who considers that jostle to be a battery. That person would be unreasonable. To use an example from my actual legal practice, I recently defended a lawsuit where my client was sued for sending two letters to someone six months apart. The recipient of the letters sued on the basis that this was an invasion of privacy. I convinced the judge to dismiss the case because that person was unreasonable.

Do you understand that a person can be acting in "good faith" but still be utterly unreasonable? I agree that we should be mindful of social conventions upon which reasonable people agree. To be really specific, the term "Indian giver" is not in my active vocabulary. However, I see no reason to alter my behavior for the unreasonable. It is not reasonable to concede to the unreasonable.

I do not know why this is so hard for people to understand. To use a recent example in the news, there were same-sex "kiss-ins" at Chick-Fil-A restaurants to make a point about marriage. Do you think any of the kissers intended to cause offense? Do you think any of them caused actual, good faith offense? If so, do you think they should have apologized and "owned it"?

The second sentence there is really gets me. If they're sincere, you just look like a decent person. If they're insincere, by engaging them you're letting them win even more...At the very worst you look like you agree with them, but honestly you end up looking much more down to earth and reasonable by just not wanting a wrestling match and projecting an aura of being a decent person who cares about other people.

What "gets to you" does not matter. It is not reasonable to coddle unreasonable people, so I do not. Like I said, how I "look" at a party does not matter to me. It is hard for me to imagine something I care about less. I wonder why it is something that is so important to you.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


That somebody hates something can be a good reason to avoid doing it.
posted by nangar at 7:14 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Fuck you, college."

A woman once threw a drink on me because she was angry that my friend used a big word. Not to her. He and I were talking at one table, and she was sitting nearby with her friend and overheard. It was THAT offensively multisyllabic, apparently.

Obviously she was drunk. But still, true story. Some people dislike big words.
posted by cribcage at 7:18 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tanizaki, what kind of "rational argument" would be persuasive to you, in terms of language and metaphor? I think there's room for rather deep levels of disagreement here, depending on your views about how language functions. To me, language is a system of differences which can be extremely subjective and based on individual experience. I wouldn't expect someone to be able to make a purely logical argument about this sort of thing. So for me, then you talk about only accepting rational arguments, it suggests that you won't give credit to any criticism of language at all.

Maybe you won't, but that seems like kind of an impossible position.
posted by BibiRose at 7:19 AM on April 4, 2013


And also, I think it is possible to have this argument without resorting to the concept of offense. What kinds of things do I want to be saying? What kind of world view does my language reflect? When it comes to language, I am a big believer in trying to keep my own side of the street clean. I debated coming here to comment on that post, because I wasn't sure I had any responsibility to do so. This situation struck me as interesting and unusual because of where the language was used, and how. If this were a situation where someone put up a poster in a common room with those words on it, even if the words were presented as a mention of the term, I might well take the poster down, depending on how much ownership I felt of the room. I'm still not clear how I feel about seeing those words on Askme. It feels pretty bad to me, but on the whole I am coming to think I don't have much responsibility for it. Someone's potential personal offense might weigh into that, but it's not the sole criterion by any means.
posted by BibiRose at 7:36 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tanizaki, what kind of "rational argument" would be persuasive to you, in terms of language and metaphor?

I think the issue is one of reasonability. To use a real example from my life, I know a person who uses the word "Monday" to refer to an ethnic group that he doesn't like. He does this so he can talk in the open about it and say things like, "man, there were a lot of Mondays at that party". Do we all still get to use that word to refer to the day of the week between Sunday and Tuesday? I think the answer is yes. It would be silly for people to claim offense at the word "Monday" when used to refer to the day of the week, even if that person knew of my acquaintance's use of the term as a secret slur.

To use a perhaps more accessible example, I can imagine an atheist making up new days of the week because they don't worship Thor and the other deities that give many days of the week their English names. I suppose they can do that, but if I say, "I"ll meet you at noon on Thursday", I don't want a lecture about how offensive it is to make them agree to meet me on Thor's day. Yes, this is a very extreme example, but that is the point.

I think the example of battery in my last comment is a good analogy. It is reasonable to consider a punch in the face to be a battery, but it is not reasonable to consider being jostled on a crowded train to be battery. If someone says, "don't say 'chink' to talk about Chinese people," I don't think many people would complain. However, I think it is silly not to say "war on poverty" because hey, people die in wars.

To be clear, I am not defending use of the term "Indian giver". I do not use that term and prefer it not be used in my company. However, I disagree with some of the arguments that have been presented that if someone is offended, no matter how reasonably or not, I am to "own it" and apologize so I can "look good".
posted by Tanizaki at 7:46 AM on April 4, 2013


"It is reasonable to consider a punch in the face to be a battery, but it is not reasonable to consider being jostled on a crowded train to be battery"

However, as a sometimes subway rider, "Don't fucking touch me," or "Get the fuck off of me," or "Hey, asshole" are all common reactions to jostling that sometimes elicit an apology even if it's not battery. Elevating standards to the level of rationality required by court is to hold interactions to an improper level, not least because courts require that barrier to eliminate hearing many things that are totally dickish but not illegal.

I agree broadly that just whether or not someone is offended is too weak a standard, but I disagree that pure rationality is required at this level — discounting feelings, which you seem to (correct me if I misunderstood) — and think generally that this stuff can be decided on a case by case basis, and that reasonable people may differ.
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


However, as a sometimes subway rider, "Don't fucking touch me," or "Get the fuck off of me," or "Hey, asshole" are all common reactions to jostling that sometimes elicit an apology even if it's not battery.

I would say that the person who says "hey, asshole" to an inadvertent jostle is the unreasonable one. Your apology to that unreasonable person is a move of self-preservation to prevent escalation.

I must correct you. I do not discount feelings, only any argument to the effect of the listener's emotions being the sole determinant of what is acceptable. It is hard to believe that we are twenty years from the "water buffalo" incident, but it is emblematic of the point I am making. I agree that there are often case-by-case situations where reasonable people can disagree.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:39 AM on April 4, 2013


Yeah, 99.9973% of discussion about IG here and now is not about 'offended'... it is about perpetuating ugliness, perpetuating a reading of the past, an ideology and a framing of history and people. It should matter not if 'we' have a human specimen in the room to look at, poke and prod, swear at and rattle off ethnic slurs, until until they pronounce something to be "offensive", whereafter people will be called jerks for violating that one persons sense of propriety. It is always a little odd to see calls for "a specimen from group X to 'weigh in' on the 'offensiveness' of thing y". Bill O'reilly and Rachel Maddow are both white, but their views on what is 'offensive' have some differences.

No, that isn't what (most) people are talking about, or asking for. It is about justice, which, spitbull mentioned earlier, in the context of justice not being in talking nicely, but at the same time acknowledged that such issues do need to be addressed. If we have to wait for someones arbitrary 'approval' before even daring to raise a question over the usage of words phrases or language... then justice is, in fact, hindered and blocked. Discussions of words are the gateway to discussing roots of issues, such as injustice. Words are how we frame discussion, and words absolutely centrally impact how a discussion progresses, and frames not only the terms of 'debate', but also right, and wrong, truth and justice.
I think most people would also agree that jostling against other passengers on a crowded subway, while also touching, is not assault.
No, I would not agree to this as a 'given' or 'class statement'. Many "situations" are imaginable within about 10 seconds wherein it IS assault. So, no, analogy not taken. Definitely not enough to call someone disagreeing with the analogy "unreasonable", or not worth listening to.

how I "look" at a party does not matter to me. It is hard for me to imagine something I care about less. I wonder why it is something that is so important to you.

"look", here, in textual discussion, is "be perceived as", "tint the perception and reception of your words" (even your friend who has that thing about a group... cares about this, hence the "code" of mondays, so the coy "why do you care so much about appearance" goes several ways).
What I mean is that when someone says "It is not reasonable to coddle unreasonable people"; how, or why should I believe that "you" (anyone pronouncing this) is "reasonable" in the first place.

What proof or evidence has been presented showing me that "you" are more reasonable than "they"? Far as I can tell, none, none evidence. This is not an impugning of "your" character, it is an objective statement from my perspective that I have no proof either way, so if someone wants to talk to me about something that is hurting them, I am going to listen to their case before I listen to the person telling them to shut up already, or telling them that they are "policing" something as fluid, and un-policable as language. If someone feels that it is possible to "police" language in a real or meaningful way (rather than some rhetorical flourish which is what most accusations of language policing are)... it is bananas, soon as you "clamp" on one "unit" of language (let's say racist thing X), what was there was not the "word", but the root, underlying ideology... so like your person, Tanizaki, they call people "mondays" or whatever that is. But for the rest of the non-absurd world, we will still want to talk about the root lies/dishonest writing of history that underlie that person's racist/supremacist ideations. Regardless of whether they are "at this moment" using some "Code". The root problem is still there. Most of the other people who share their ideation are not using that same code, they are using the old slurs... and, hey, if their code becomes the common vector for that ideation, if it becomes vernacular (actual vernacular, 10 people say this, omg, they want to ban the word monday), then yeah, lets talk about how people are using mondays. They were not policed, they cared about how they "looked", and cooked up a code... so that they could perpetuate that ideation.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:39 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


only any argument to the effect of the listener's emotions being the sole determinant of what is acceptable.

To reiterate, no one I see is making an argument of this sort... history, the body of power in society, political actors, past and present, the language used in inscribing the past, laws, legal memory, institutional effects... dozens or even hundreds of things... I only see people who sort of 'don't think we should talk about how we talk' saying they need proof of offence, or talking about how "offensiveness" is an integral part of discussion of words, or wanting "proof" that someone, somewhere is "offended". And it sadly often seems to be used in a dismissive sense. "you're too easily offended". I guess I would just love to see that persons official long-form credentials as arbiters of "appropriate offence". I hope they never blew up over their favourite band getting a bad review, or their favorite word being criticized, misspelled or mangled.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:46 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


To use a perhaps more accessible example, I can imagine an atheist making up new days of the week because they don't worship Thor

Actually, Quakers do that and have for centuries. They call the days of the week First Day, Second Day, Third Day, etc. Same for the months. As Christians, they established that practice so as not to participate in a naming scheme which alluded to pagan gods.

This regress to the "reasonable" is just an ad populum fallacy. It was reasonable to use racial slurs in the 1930s that are clearly unsupported today. There is nothing in the fact that "most people agree" that makes a decision to do or not do something right or wrong. Their agreement may simply be a function of their ignorance or baseness.

Do you think any of the kissers intended to cause offense?

Thanks for pointing out exactly why I no longer believe "offense" is a useful standard to determine appropriate and respectful conduct. Sometimes it is a great idea to offend people who advocate oppressive social structures. Some nutty folks are offended when my museum, for instance, shares the actual facts surrounding a well-loved American myth. "Offense" is just a feeling, not a useful standard.

But I do believe willingly and knowingly participating in and perpetuating social structures that support and connote racial oppression is a useful standard.

It is about justice

Exactly.
posted by Miko at 9:01 AM on April 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Tanizaki: "However, I disagree with some of the arguments that have been presented that if someone is offended, no matter how reasonably or not, I am to 'own it' and apologize so I can 'look good'."

Offense doesn't really matter, for what it's worth. We live in an exceptionally anti-PC world, and I appreciate that you, like a lot of people, have a sense that "being offended" is often a theatrical affair. So leave that be; offense is not a big deal, and if you're worried that people are going to play up being offended in ridiculous situations, feel free to ignore them if they do.

What matters is when certain words and phrases hurt people. This is a real situation in the world, and unfortunately it's something I think we all have to face. I don't think there's a simple formula to it, and inevitably we all end up hurting people accidentally with the words we say. But as civilized humans, as we grow up we learn to try to minimize the hurt we cause as best we can, although of course nobody is perfect and everybody makes mistakes. So, for instance, if the phrase "Indian giver" is hurtful to the Native Americans I know, if it tends to bring up a lot of crap they've had to deal with in their lives, and if it drags them down to hear it, then I can let that go. I generally don't even use the word "niggardly," because I don't want to hurt anybody who might not be a grammar and etymology whiz (and anyway, it's an ancient and rather pointless word, I think.)

What I'm getting at is that - at the core, I don't think this is a complicated request; it's more a request that people do a little more of what they're probably already doing as civilized adults. I know you do it - avoid using words that are likely to hurt people - and of course so do I. The Internet is a peculiar sort of place because it's hyper-public, and anything we say here can be seen potentially by millions of different people in millions of different situations, so being careful not to hurt people takes on a new dimension; still, we're all just human, and I think this doesn't have to be a huge deal. It's just a thing to think about, that's all.

And while of course I can't know for sure, I have a feeling that that's all emptythought was getting at - the simple human request that we extend our common human courtesy to making a consideration of the feelings of others on this one point. Perhaps it wasn't phrased perfectly, but I believe that was the point, anyway.
posted by koeselitz at 9:01 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


"I would say that the person who says "hey, asshole" to an inadvertent jostle is the unreasonable one. Your apology to that unreasonable person is a move of self-preservation to prevent escalation."

This begs the question of the interpretation of the incident. One can inadvertently be an asshole. For example, if someone wearing a large backpack turns around quickly and hits me with it, I'll feel entirely justified in calling them an asshole without it reaching any "battery" claim.

You are imagining a context in which being offended is unreasonable and then using it to claim that reactions of being offended are unreasonable, rather than realizing that interpretations can differ, that intent can be secondary, and that, again, the particulars matter and those particulars include the subjective experience of the aggrieved.

Further, we're fairly far afield of "Indian giver," which any reasonable person should be able to see is offensive regardless of intent. A similar, but more extreme, example would be "nigger toes," which some old folks still call Brazil nuts without meaning to be offensive.

"I must correct you. I do not discount feelings, only any argument to the effect of the listener's emotions being the sole determinant of what is acceptable."

Could you point out where someone is actually making that argument, or is this all based on some hypothetical that doesn't actually exist here?
posted by klangklangston at 9:36 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for pointing out exactly why I no longer believe "offense" is a useful standard to determine appropriate and respectful conduct. Sometimes it is a great idea to offend people who advocate oppressive social structures. Some nutty folks are offended when my museum, for instance, shares the actual facts surrounding a well-loved American myth. "Offense" is just a feeling, not a useful standard.

Part of the problem, too, is that offense has often become synonymous with identifying opposition that is contrary to a personal social cause, and many people would like to think that they endorse important ones. If there's a moral component to this cause, disagreeing with someone else will more often raise the notion of offense as a normal part of social discourse, which then isn't always helpful in the midst of conflicting opinions.

Now, there isn't anything wrong with offense per se, or being emotional about an important cause, or letting emotions play some part of the moral calculus (sometimes emotions can motivate one to proper action, for example). But it's not reliable enough to be the fundamental standard for deciding ideologically which social cause is worth adopting. Notions of justice really should be fundamental, with proper emotional response stemming from this.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:39 AM on April 4, 2013


This begs the question of the interpretation of the incident. One can inadvertently be an asshole. For example, if someone wearing a large backpack turns around quickly and hits me with it, I'll feel entirely justified in calling them an asshole without it reaching any "battery" claim.

Well, that’s one difference between us. I would realize that the person probably didn’t mean any offense and ask them to be more careful.
posted by bongo_x at 9:41 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


This regress to the "reasonable" is just an ad populum fallacy

Only if the argument is "it's reasonable because it is popular" or "it's unreasonable because it is not popular". I certainly haven't made that argument. Is common descent right because almost all biologists agree it is, or do almost all biologists agree because it is right? What makes it an ad populum fallacy is the flow of cause and effect.

What matters is when certain words and phrases hurt people.

Yes, I agree with that. Unfortunately, I think there is a fair amount of lip service paid to this idea without the practice. The phrase "magic underwear" is not unknown on MetaFilter to ridicule LDS temple garments, for example. I never noticed a whole lot of gasps at that one, and there is no question that the term is intended to ridicule. More popular would be general dismissiveness of monotheists with variants "man in the sky". Usually he's "invisible", more often than not "old with a long beard", and sometimes "magical", but there are about 14k hits for variations on "lol man in the sky!" These aren't people making mistakes; they know what they are saying.

Generally, how much tiptoeing people are going to do around here to avoid hurting people will often depend on how much the other person comports with the MetaFilter View. Hence, the winking at "magic underwear". It is more about "who's who" than "what's what". Case in point from this thread: a mod wrote to me, presumably with a straight face, to explain why saying "you're being an asshole" is acceptable because it is different than saying "you're an asshole".
posted by Tanizaki at 9:44 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Well, that’s one difference between us. I would realize that the person probably didn’t mean any offense and ask them to be more careful."

I'll recognize you on the subway by your mitre and ferula.

"Yes, I agree with that. Unfortunately, I think there is a fair amount of lip service paid to this idea without the practice. The phrase "magic underwear" is not unknown on MetaFilter to ridicule LDS temple garments, for example. I never noticed a whole lot of gasps at that one, and there is no question that the term is intended to ridicule. More popular would be general dismissiveness of monotheists with variants "man in the sky". Usually he's "invisible", more often than not "old with a long beard", and sometimes "magical", but there are about 14k hits for variations on "lol man in the sky!" These aren't people making mistakes; they know what they are saying."

Yes, they're being assholes.

"Generally, how much tiptoeing people are going to do around here to avoid hurting people will often depend on how much the other person comports with the MetaFilter View. Hence, the winking at "magic underwear". It is more about "who's who" than "what's what". Case in point from this thread: a mod wrote to me, presumably with a straight face, to explain why saying "you're being an asshole" is acceptable because it is different than saying "you're an asshole"."

This seems like a gussied up standards=censorship argument. And if you can't understand why, "You're an asshole" and "You're being an asshole" are different, I don't think you're trying very hard.
posted by klangklangston at 9:48 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The phrase "magic underwear" is not unknown on MetaFilter to ridicule LDS temple garments, for example.

I grew up with a lot of Mormons and consider the "magic underwear" bit pretty offensive. I might not start a Metatalk on it but if someone did, if I included my opinion in the thread it would definitely be in favor of not using that type of phrase.
posted by sweetkid at 9:49 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tanizaki, you use a lot of examples by analogy. And very few of them are the "cold, rational" analysis you assert they are. They are generally, in fact, completely tangential to the question of offensive language not as a legal matter of right, but an ethical matter of interpersonal kindness and respect.

We are not talking about suing people for using racist language.
posted by spitbull at 9:50 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


And with apologies for peppering the thread, insulting someone on the basis of their "race" (phenotypic expression, and cultural experience that results from it in a racist or race-conscious society) or ethnicity /= insulting their belief system. Both are insulting, insensitive, etc. But in the latter case you are debating (or insulting) propositional content that can at least in theory be subject to revision through debate.

"Race" is not the same thing as religion. We don't choose our ancestors.
posted by spitbull at 9:53 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


One can inadvertently be an asshole. For example, if someone wearing a large backpack turns around quickly and hits me with it, I'll feel entirely justified in calling them an asshole without it reaching any "battery" claim.

Please forgive me, but I think that reaction is uncharitable to Mr. Backpack. I would also suggest that your level of perceived justification to say "asshole" will be proportional to the disparity of burliness between you and him. I can imagine you apologizing to Mr. Backpack if he's wild-eyed and has a few inches and weight classes on you.

You'd probably feel less justified in saying "asshole" to Ms. Backpack.

Could you point out where someone is actually making that argument, or is this all based on some hypothetical that doesn't actually exist here?

That is certainly what I took from emptythought's exhortations to apologize, apologize, apologize, but I am sure she can speak for herself.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:54 AM on April 4, 2013


Tanizaki: "the MetaFilter View."

Considering that specific commenter's very extensive history on this site, in my humble opinion he is perhaps not the best judge of whether discourse around here has changed for the better or not.
posted by zarq at 9:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Please forgive me, but I think that reaction is uncharitable to Mr. Backpack. I would also suggest that your level of perceived justification to say "asshole" will be proportional to the disparity of burliness between you and him. I can imagine you apologizing to Mr. Backpack if he's wild-eyed and has a few inches and weight classes on you.

You'd probably feel less justified in saying "asshole" to Ms. Backpack.
"

I'm not sure whether it's me, subway etiquette or both that you're misjudging. I have no problem calling women assholes, or people bigger than me, and the etiquette is to take off your bag so that you don't hit people with it. It's the same way that I'd call someone trying to barge on without letting people get off, or someone who was able bodied and didn't give up one of the designated seats for an older/disabled person, an asshole.
posted by klangklangston at 10:01 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I threw out "offence taken" when I learned that people who were racist made laws that controlled groups of people because the very existence of those people offended the people who were racist.
(using JSmoo's framing is useful in modern discussions with people one is talking with, but it is important to remember that the past [and people in the present] have people who actually are/were racist, not simply "whoopsies, that offended someone"/"what you are saying sounds racist"), the past is frequently uglier than hindsight paints it.

Wrong things can be "reasonable". Now we see two "views" on the actions and reactions of imaginary people in this subway thing... so, see, "rational", responses, reactions, attacks or otherwise are relational, between actors in a discussion or situation. Reasonable is just something that someone can find reason it, it is arbitrary, barring a system of absolute statements, or a common ground set of views, and two contradicting things can be reasoned logically using rhetoric.

Like we are now rolling around in the mud of your analogy... it is an analogy, and if we have to jump into imaginary mud to even make the analogy, it is not acting as it should, to clarify a point to someone who doesn't understand the point being made, analogies are not best implemented to "Argue" a point, but to shine a light on a point, which can then be made using the actualities. Racists can have a rationality for their beliefs.

There have been posts criticizing crappy attacks on Mormon folks in random comments from some single user, some of which included that "lolunderwear" thing. So, balance, some people are hot headed on some topics, and cool users on others... There are also posts criticizing actions of the Mormon church, and posts noting some change in their official stances... metafilter contains multitudes.

Yes, some people can be jerks about religion, others are really insightful about it, and other criticize it without being jerks, others have made posts or comments that show value in actions of religious folks... but, there spitbull is right, race/religion should not just be casually interchanged.

That "mf view" thing seems like a weak reading of the site. There are actually many conservative views, and positions shared... and almost all of them are well recieved. What is not well recieved is "persecution complex conservatism" the sort that wraps up opinions with "this will be attacked here because _____", close reading shows that there are many smart, well participating conservative people who share conservative views (where conservative doesn't mean the weird "conservatism" that is all new-like, the radical sort, the sort that seeks to reform and reshape our society, in service of "false" narrative of the past, but the actually interesting sort.
posted by infinite intimation at 10:02 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Considering that specific commenter's very extensive history on this site,

Remember when I said it's about who's who and not what's what?
posted by Tanizaki at 10:04 AM on April 4, 2013


Tanizaki: " Remember when I said it's about who's who and not what's what?"

Yep. And I think you're wrong. The person speaking brings his own biases and perspectives to the table. Ignore them all you like, but they still matter.
posted by zarq at 10:09 AM on April 4, 2013


Tanizaki: "Yes, I agree with that. Unfortunately, I think there is a fair amount of lip service paid to this idea without the practice."

I am not sure that that's a fair accusation. And please note that you're doing exactly what dios and a few others among us (myself included) have done in moments of bitterness: you're lumping together "Metafilter" as though it were a huge, cohesive body of same-thinking people, and applying this same flat accusation to all of us.

On the surface, this accusation is a dodge, a distraction from what we're actually talking about. But more fundamentally, it's an ad hominem attack, and one that isn't warranted here. Do you really believe that people here are simply "paying lip service" to the idea of not hurting people? If so, what evidence can you offer that they're not being sincere?

If people on Metafilter are unfair or hurtful to a group that's in the minority, then say something about it. Say something when it happens; don't ignore it or save it up as ammunition for a later debate. As a Christian myself, I know this principle. If you think we're unfair to Mormons, that's a perfectly valid complaint; make it when people are treating Mormons unfairly, make the point clearly, and let your voice be heard. But bringing that kind of thing up now is either a complete distraction or an ad hominem attack based on past wrongs.

And by the way, it generally pays to notice that Metafilter is emphatically not a single same-thinking entity, and when you talk about us as if we are you marginalize all the interesting and worthwhile parts of this community. I understand the temptation to be dismissive - when a conversation is difficult, it's easy to be bitter - but I still believe strongly that it's better to set aside that bitterness and try to work to make this place better.
posted by koeselitz at 10:14 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


(And, Tanizaki - yeah, it kind of sucks to be told that I'm a narrow-minded dilettante who only cares about avoiding hurting people when they're in my prescribed "Metafilter view" group. So it'd be cool if you could avoid making that blanket accusation. If you see an instance where that happens, like I said, by all means point to it; but simply vaguely laying that on all of Metafilter isn't very cool.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:20 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hence, the winking at "magic underwear". It is more about "who's who" than "what's what".

The magic underwear thing is shitty. The invisible sky god thing is shitty. Both have gotten mods telling people to cut it out before. Both have been discussed in Metatalk on the basis of being shitty things to do. You seem either not to be aware of this or not to think it counts somehow, which is kind of weird given how much you seem to be trying to make an argument for objective, clear-eyed assessments of things.

Case in point from this thread: a mod wrote to me, presumably with a straight face, to explain why saying "you're being an asshole" is acceptable because it is different than saying "you're an asshole".

Which was a response to an email you sent me archly requesting permission to call people assholes.

I wrote you a few paragraphs back, noting also that I think that while there's a difference between responding to specific behavior that just went down as assholery and just generally calling someone an asshole as random insult, I still think there's better ways to talk about someone's behavior and that "asshole" not necessarily getting deleted doesn't actually make it a great idea to toss around. You didn't respond.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:21 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Remember when I said it's about who's who and not what's what?

I am fond of dios, we are internet buds, and a review of Metatalk history will reveal me actually standing up for him on a number of occasions back in the day on contentious points of his participation, but he (a) has by his own admission had pretty serious behavioral run-ins with the site over the years and (b) does not come at Metafilter with anything like an unfiltered view.

You quoting him declaring The Way Metafilter Is reads as misguided not because of Who He Is but because of the established long-standing friction between his take on Metafilter and the more general understanding the userbase at large has about the place. If you believe he's the lone clear-eyed outcast who sees from a distance the place for what it truly is, by all means clarify that when you link to him in an appeal to his manifesto, but don't imply by omission that his notional statement of "The Metafilter View" is something other than one dude with a notably storied history of butting heads with the site at large offering up yet another restatement of what he thinks is wrong with the place.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:28 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Want to know why I think you were being an asshole? I have the distinct impression (and correct me if I am wrong) that you would vehemently argue that a Japanese person born long after the Second World War should not be blamed for the actions of the Japanese government or military during the war. Given that, perhaps you should extend the same courtesy to Austrians.

Why did I say you were being an asshole and leave the thread until now? I was pissed, but it also seemed like expending the energy to articulate why I had a problem with your comment was not worth it. My most shining moment on Metafilter? No. Of course not. But 'you're being an asshole' sounds like a pretty good approximation of the previous paragraph.
posted by hoyland at 10:35 AM on April 4, 2013


The invisible sky god thing is shitty. Both have gotten mods telling people to cut it out before.

The phrase "man in the sky" results in approximately 13,800 hits on this site, so "cut it out" is ignored with impunity.

I wasn't asking permission to call anyone anything. I simply made an observation. To me, "being" is not behavior. "Being" is an inflection of the verb "to be".

I don't know who dios is so I have no interest in convincing you that he is a cool guy or right more often than he is wrong. But, that does not detract from the comment I linked. I think it is hard to dispute that the site's memberships in general has a particular set of leanings. If dios somehow poisons the well, then how about this definition offered just a few minutes ago at AskMeFi? "people who are bespectacled, people who know the difference between “your” and “you’re”, people with leftish politics, secular . . MetaFilter people, in other words."
posted by Tanizaki at 10:37 AM on April 4, 2013


Sort of off topic, but that is a really snobby question.
posted by sweetkid at 10:40 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If dios somehow poisons the well, then how about this definition offered just a few minutes ago at AskMeFi?

You can link to stuff like that all day, but it won't prove anything about Metafilter, nor will it have anything to do with the current discussion.
posted by BibiRose at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me, "being" is not behavior. "Being" is an inflection of the verb "to be".

If you're sincere about not understanding "to be" as having as one of it's major meanings the concept of behaving or acting, you are out of your depth on a basic point of linguistics. This is not other people's problem.

then how about this definition offered just a few minutes ago at AskMeFi?

That's one person's definition, one I don't really agree with. One of the biggest problems with any attempt to nail down the "this is who Mefites are" thing is that it's hopelessly reductive, because there's tens of thousands of people who belong to the site and they're varied along every axis you can imagine. There's demographic biases when you look at the site in aggregate, but no one person here comments in aggregate or represents a platonic ideal or demographic touchstone of the site.

Who some notional In Crowd is supposed to be seems to vary pretty wildly from accuser to accuser mostly in complement to what they specifically have disagreed with people about on the site, and e.g. accusations of mod bias have managed to come from both directions on any number of occasions as well from people somehow unwilling or unable to realize how poorly that bodes for their theory of how this place secretly works.

Metafilter is a big, complicated, imperfect place full of basically good people who disagree with each other a lot and don't always do a great job of it. Trying to make that work out okay is an ongoing process and a bumpy one. Criticism of the site in the form of "well, some people were being jerks" is kind of missing the point that in a large crowd of course some people are going to be jerks. It's not a good thing, but short of a draconian code of behavior it's part of the way large crowds work. Doing things like reserving the right to be a jerk because you think someone else was a jerk, even as just rhetorical posturing, doesn't help make the place any better.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I haven't been able to read this whole thread and had to close the internets entirely when I came across the AskMe when it was originally posted. Indian giver is a hateful awful racist thing and has been used as an excuse to do hateful racist awful things to my family. If someone thinks of you as an "Indian giver" because of your race, they use it as an excuse not to uphold their end of contracts. They use it as an excuse to act the way they interpret that phrase towards you.

It is a uniquely and actively hurtful phrase because there are people who genuinely believe it of Native Americans and use it as an excuse not to honor their responsibilities. When I hear it, it reinforces that I ought to mistrust people. That's an awful feeling. And if you think it's not really racist because it's just words - yippee for you. It's not just words to plenty of people who use it, and it's certainly not words to the people that have experienced discrimination directly related to the phrase.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


The phrase "man in the sky" results in approximately 13,800 hits on this site, so "cut it out" is ignored with impunity.

And at least some of those hits are objections to its use. As one of MetaFilter's relatively small number of self-identifying Christians, but more importantly as someone who advocates for tolerance of religion and religious diversity on the site, I guarantee you that this and similarly rude phrases have greatly declined in use because of the exact process mentioned above: people saying "I don't like to see this on the site," and mounting cogent arguments about why it is not a fantastic way to behave.

The search test is uninformative. I searched for the word "cunt" on Metafilter, and got over 4,000 resulting citations: that should not lead you to believe it's okay to use the word to describe another user, a post subject, or any other egregious use.

As for a "MetaFilter view," we are not a randomly composed sample of humanity, but that also is a long way from saying there is an endorsed worldview from which deviations are unacceptable. That's certainly not accurate. What a lot of people do seem to find unacceptable is the regular, well-argued requests that we avoid categorically dehumanizing others and participating in perpetuating racism. I don't really understand that, but we've been having this flavor of conversation for a long time.
posted by Miko at 11:18 AM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


MetaFilter people.
posted by klangklangston at 12:12 PM on April 4, 2013


Why the heck shouldn't there be a "Metafilter view?" It isn't imposed, but certain discourse norms darn well should be expected to emerge out of a free and relatively open process of interaction among people of good will, in a medium in which writing skill is paramount (hence the influence of well educated members on the site, I think).

I know I have learned myself (sometimes in hard ways) to modulate certain habits of both thought and language when I am interacting on Metafilter, and that these insights (which rarely feel like constraints, actually) have carried over into my life beyond Metafilter. Among other things, I've learned things were offensive to people I didn't want to offend when I didn't previously *know* they were offensive or bother to think about it. I value that as a product of my membership in this community, even when the lessons have sometimes stung my pride.

If there is no metafilter view, there is no community.
posted by spitbull at 12:40 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think there's a distinction to be made between community norms as a general thing and the idea of some canonical Metafilter viewpoint to which the userbase subscribes or accedes as a whole, is the thing. There are absolutely community norms here that express the areas of significant overlap between otherwise varied individual users of agreement on one or another aspect of how mefi functions as a community space.

But all those varied individuals still disagree about a whole lot of things, and even the stuff where there's broad agreement doesn't see unanimity or even really anything very close to unanimity more than once in a blue moon. There's not a standard position, there's not a litmus test; there's just, try and have a sense of what's expected at a baseline level of behavior around here, try to be decent to each other about where you disagree. There's not the or a Metafilter view, there's ten thousand of them that all look a bit different from each other.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:09 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


If there is no metafilter view, there is no community.

Yeah, I'm with cortex in distinguishing a "view" from a "community." Communities are groups of people held together by some shared bond, which can be shallow or deep. That bond doesn't always or necessarily require a "view." I'm a member of my local town community, for instance, but there's no local town "view" on things (which makes city council contentious, but that's the point really).

We have a lot of variance of opinion here on a whole lot of topics and one person is not interchangeable for another. What norms we did have started out being nonexistent; all were developed by people coming forward to embody or suggest changes to an existing norm. One thing we seem to largely agree on is that we don't want this to be a place where people come to be insulted or dismissed because of some inherent quality in them, and we occasionally need to spend time talking about what that means with regard to a certain piece of language or policy.
posted by Miko at 1:31 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If there is no metafilter view, there is no community.

Spitbull hit it on the head. Any community is going to have a certain view. I expect certain things from the comments section at any blog, so I don't understand the posturing of pretending there is no general culture here. There's nothing wrong with that.

It's great to say "that's one person's definition, one I don't really agree with", but not agreeing with something doesn't change reality. I don't think it shocks the conscience to say that if you are "with leftish politics" and "secular", you are going to have a better time here with a larger group of like-minded people than if you are of "rightish politics" and religious. One doesn't have to have read the site very long to look at a new FPP on a given social or political issue and predict with high accuracy how the comments will go. Yes, there are tens of thousands of members with their own different views. There are also hundreds of thousands of people in Portland, OR with their own "little bit different" views. Despite that, "Portlandia" is funny because the city has a certain culture. The same scripts wouldn't make sense if set in Provo.

And at least some of those hits are objections to its use.

Ok. Let me go beyond "at least some". Let's pretend that a full 50% are objections. Now you have 7,000 pages where the term is used with sincerity. How much better do you feel?
posted by Tanizaki at 1:33 PM on April 4, 2013


Tanizaki, how many times have you spoken up in-thread to object to the "invisible sky wizard" stuff? It seems to me like you're complaining about this stuff being left to stand, while you yourself are also letting it stand.
posted by KathrynT at 1:38 PM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I do not discount feelings, only any argument to the effect of the listener's emotions being the sole determinant of what is acceptable.

And i think that trying to turn this in to some cold logical robotic thing doesn't work here, because we are primarily talking about peoples feelings. I can't think of a way to talk about this meaningfully that doesn't include peoples feelings with that being a huge elephant in the room.

I also think bringing up the water buffalo incident is completely hyperbolic here.

I think we may disagree on a very fundamental level here, which is fine. This is very much an opinion based topic. It's not like we're measuring what's offensive with an oscilloscope and writing down our findings. I'm on the side of nangar, that someone hating something is more than good enough of a reason not to do it unless you have a very good reason to be doing it that doesn't just come off as some sort of "i'm going it because they don't like it", barring of course political resistance and such. I'm talking strictly about interpersonal relations here.

I think my statement was pretty clear. Telling me about what you "hate" is not a rational argument. It is just your subjective emotional experience. It doesn't make what you say right or what I say wrong.

I didn't really intend for it to be, since one of the pillars of my argument is that this is not something that you can solve in a particularly great way entirely with logic and reason. If you aren't willing to take peoples feelings, what they "hate", and subjective experiences into account then you're just never really going to come up with a solution that makes most people happy.

I'd also be willing to bet that i'm not alone in a lot of these opinions. I've talked to a lot of great people about this kind of thing and what they've had to say was quite similar. Basically, i guess i care more about being a decent person than being right.

To use an example from my actual legal practice, I recently defended a lawsuit where my client was sued for sending two letters to someone six months apart. The recipient of the letters sued on the basis that this was an invasion of privacy. I convinced the judge to dismiss the case because that person was unreasonable.


I addressed this, with the "use your better judgement" part. I'm completely acknowledging that sometimes people over react, act in bad faith, or just generally ridiculously. Comparing an outlier extreme situation to something you'd encounter in every day life just isn't fair to the discussion imo.

I am simply saying that some are unreasonably sensitive.

This is VERY hair splitty here. My entire point with that part hinged around the fact that you're of the opinion that their offense is completely invalid, or at least a vast overreaction. For my point here, it doesn't really matter why you think that, just how you behave after you come to that conclusion and how it seems to everyone else involved. My point was that you're not going to come off in a particularly good way, but...

how I "look" at a party does not matter to me. It is hard for me to imagine something I care about less. I wonder why it is something that is so important to you.

I think you're writing this off as some sort of mean girls type high school esque social posturing crap, when in fact that's not my point at all.

Maybe you won't get what i'm saying here, maybe i'm not the best at putting my thoughts in to words when it comes to this as someone else had commented(and their analysis of my point was spot on, by the way).

What i'm getting at is that it doesn't matter if you don't think you're an asshole. At all. All that matters is how it seems to everyone else. If you give that little of a crap about that, i really doubt you'd be a particularly great person to be around if this type of situation came up. I just recently ran in to someone, who i was in fact giving a ride somewhere in my own car who presented a very similar argument to you when they were told that something they said was offensive. Point by point, almost exactly the same. They left confident they were right(and hey, maybe in some way technically they really were. maybe my friend really was over reacting, just for the sake of this argument. i didn't think so at the time, but nonetheless).

Everyone else in the car pretty much went "Christ, what an asshole" as soon as they got out. He wasn't yelling, and calmly stated his point. But he just doubled and trippled down on the same points about how "someone hating something isn't a reason" and such. I would think long and hard about whether this is REALLY a hill you want to die on.

Basically, it seems like you would rather battle someone who was unreasonable simply because they were acting as such than keep the peace. The crux of my point was that this is not a way to make friends, and is probably a very hard path to take in life.

I do not know why this is so hard for people to understand. To use a recent example in the news, there were same-sex "kiss-ins" at Chick-Fil-A restaurants to make a point about marriage. Do you think any of the kissers intended to cause offense? Do you think any of them caused actual, good faith offense? If so, do you think they should have apologized and "owned it"?

Do we really need to sit down and explain why this is different? I mean i could, and i bet i could make a decent argument as to exactly why... but it just seems like a complete waste of time for everyone involved when i feel like you know exactly why this is different, and how that has absolutely nothing to do with my point and is simply being brought up to stir up shit.

The only good point you could maybe, maybe make here is that by declaring the offense taken by the people who had a problem with this "less important", that i(or, the many many people who would agree with me) are creating a double standard. But i feel pretty damn comfortable saying that offending bigots is at the very, very bottom of the care scale and offending minorities(especially to prove some point about how you're "technically right" and them "hating it is not a good argument") would be somewhere right at the very top.

It is not reasonable to coddle unreasonable people

I could get in to an aside here about how much i hate the word "coddle", and how i've never really seen it used by anyone who was arguing anything in good faith. But nonetheless, i still have to say here why exactly? You've never explained this in any meaningful way. It still comes off as some kind of pride or principal thing of either not wanting to admit defeat, or not wanting to tell someone who's wrong that they're right(or that you did wrong) simply to end a fight. What the hell is the point of fighting with someone that you yourself even concede is being unreasonable?

I said it before, and you never really addressed it. What do you actually have to lose by letting this singular person think they're right this one time? "Maybe they'll go on thinking they're right and go be shitty in some other situation!" isn't a particularly good answer to this either, it's not your problem to make society a better place in this sense or to "put that person in their place" who's taking offense where there is none. Hell, you quoted one of the parts where i asked this and responded to the rest of it without even touching that part.

This is not court, they're not winning anything meaningful by "winning". And you sure as hell aren't winning anything meaningful by somehow besting them in some duel of words that they seem to be raring to fight you in.

In the end, someone being hurt by something really isn't up to you to decide. You seem to think that there needs to be some greater standard of what is and isn't objectively offensive, that you can then point at and go "See, you can't really be offended and are being unreasonable because it isn't actually offensive". Your entire argument seems to center around this. The fact of the matter is that what offends one person might not bother another. I feel like approaching someone being offended with high levels of skepticism instead of an attempt to understand where they're coming from is just in pretty bad faith.

Your later attempts in to the thread to make some kind of point that metafilter isn't that great by how many times they had said various phrases via google, and how the community standards are somehow double standard bullshit is also a bit bizarre, but that wasn't something i really wanted to address with this post.
posted by emptythought at 1:52 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]



I could get in to an aside here about how much i hate the word "coddle", and how i've never really seen it used by anyone who was arguing anything in good faith


Oh, I agree. "Coddle" has been entirely taken over by people engaging in trolly, inconsiderate behavior. It should remain in the realm of egg preparation methods where it belongs.

MMM eggs.
posted by sweetkid at 2:37 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


If there is no metafilter view, there is no community.

We all look at the world from the wrong end of our own telescopes.
posted by y2karl at 2:40 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think it shocks the conscience to say that if you are "with leftish politics" and "secular", you are going to have a better time here with a larger group of like-minded people

Will you find a larger group of like-minded people? Probably. Will you have a "better time?" That entirely depends on your own reasons for being here and your own habits of discourse. One doesn't necessarily follow the other. Not everyone is here to bathe in agreement, and I can quickly give you a list of 10 things that come up here a lot that I'm in personal disagreement with. That doesn't mean I am hounded out for my views. It also doesn't mean I play the aggrieved soul sentenced to toe some party line. I choose to participate. It's okay if I don't agree with every point of view. There'd be no reason to read this site if the only points of view or arguments I ever encountered were the ones I already had.

Let's pretend that a full 50% are objections. Now you have 7,000 pages where the term is used with sincerity. How much better do you feel?

I feel a lot better about the site culture in general since those 7,000 (or whatever) objections were lodged, because it changed the site culture. It was at one time fairly uncontroversial to carry on like that and freely insult people of faith about their supposed ignorance. Today, after some often difficult but good-faith discussion on the part of many people, it has died down quite a bit; trying it will usually draw community opprobrium and there has been plenty of explicit moderation. The reason I brought up the "cunt" example is that there was a time where that, also, was pretty uncontroversial. Through the casual use of that word and through contestation of that casual use, things changed. The community worked on it and improved matters. A simple count can't tell you about that process; you have to partake.

But I agree that this thread has nothing much to do with "sky wizard" comments. The time and place to oppose them, flag them, and start MeTas about them is when and where they're happening. It's not especially relevant to a discussion about "Indian giver."
posted by Miko at 3:09 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I agree. "Coddle" has been entirely taken over by people engaging in trolly, inconsiderate behavior. It should remain in the realm of egg preparation methods where it belongs.

MMM eggs.


Perhaps most telling of all, it's used by people who have never had a well coddled egg, because if they had, they could never associate it with something negative.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:22 PM on April 4, 2013


Any community is going to have a certain view. I expect certain things from the comments section at any blog, so I don't understand the posturing of pretending there is no general culture here
I think you are conflating two different things in talking about a community 'view' and 'culture' together like this.

Speaking specifically about this community, there is definitely a culture (although it's certainly not universal) of intelligent discourse and mutual respect, which (mostly) happily co-exists with a disparate view among the community on, well, pretty much everything.
posted by dg at 7:27 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hmmmm, I dont even know where to begin. Here it goes: I am First Nations person from the Okanagan Band. We are split in two, Canadian Bands and American Bands divided by the borders the Whites devised after conquering, slaughtering, and allotting us to live on Reserves, or in American, Reservations, not too long ago in North AND South Americas. There are not too many of us left compared to all the other races that came to our land seeking better lives from the countries they came from. In fact we are quite the minority considering my people make up less than about one percent of the population here on America. Fuck, do I really gotta give a fucken history lesson here? I will not. I will say however, we do exist as a people and diverse culture depending on our locales. I will also say, that I am in an inter racial Gay relationship with the wonderful, beautiful, and intelligent Kamecozy Gopher. Since being with me for the last ten years, and still going strong (we hope to get married for real someday), she has learned a lot of my culture, my language, our spiritual connectedness to our mother world. She also knows of the bullying I went through always being the only Native in my 90 percent Whitemans school. Mostly, because of PROUDLY wearing my hair in braids and wearing my buckskin moccasins that my Grandmother made for all of her granchildren. It is so very sad to me that people cannot understand the pain my people have suffered, even in modern day, by usage of denigrating speech. I have to ask, would the poster above come to one of our Pow wows (whom people from any race are always welcome), and ask that same stupid question?! Because, she can't think of something more polite and non racist way of expressing herself? Really? People still defending the use of IndianGiver? Yes, I do understand that some First Nations couldn't really give a fuck what non Natives think, i mean really, what more could " They" do to us? We are still proud, we are still here. It does bother me though. Now, most ignorant people only know us because of Casinos. But whatever, Those who arrogantly CHOOSE to remain ignorant just speaks volumes about themselves as decent, considerate of others cultures...Go ahead and attack my lady for speaking up for us, its just more of the same we have already endured through hundreds of years. Its just more subtle and embedded in your ignorant language you call English. That is all I gotta say.
And yeah Im SteelDancin down that Red Road my ancestors made for us, no matter what.
posted by SteelDancin at 10:19 PM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


People still defending the use of IndianGiver?

No one has done that here. However, people in this thread have defended the OP referencing the phrase 'Indian giver' in an attempt to ask for a non-racist alternative phrase. That is the opposite of 'choosing the remain ignorant'.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:45 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, my bad .
posted by SteelDancin at 12:03 AM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


And people are also disputing whether appending:
“Indian giving”? Is there a less offensive word used today to describe taking a gift back? Please, no grief about the term. I understand the problem with it."
Is really some kind of 'opposite of choosing to remain ignorant' or if it is instead a pathetically insufficient fig leaf for smearing casually used racist slurs over our website. The only real question is whether we value native peoples on this site and our own collective dignity enough to never give permanent home to words used in ordinary conversation like:
"I’m annoyed that she is essentially Indian giving her mother’s gift to my uncle, who gave it to me, only to regift it to her daughter. There’s a whole lot of levels of re-Indian gifting here."
posted by Blasdelb at 4:59 AM on April 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


If re-gifting is an established term for the act of giving away a gift you got--and that's considered unpleasant--surely de-gifting should be taking a gift back.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:18 AM on April 5, 2013


Sort of off topic, but that is a really snobby question.

You know, honestly, when you're being somewhat aggressive about making choices about whom you want as friends and colleagues and what kind of working environment you want to have, inevitably you're going to end up engaging in a little snobbery.

How did I describe the cultural bias of MeFites? Ah, yes, it was in a a previous conversation when I said it was, "liberal non-theists with social anxiety who are alienated from their families." And yet there are so many people here who are not that.

I am not fond of dios, myself, and I see Tanizaki resorting to similar behavior, possibly out of professional habit-- the lawyerly, "I'm not OPINING about anything, I'm just inevitably surrendering to the COLD HARD FACTS AND REALITY about that matter. It's not about me at all!"

What I think some believers might find uncomfortable about MeFi is that being a believer isn't considered normative, and the language of MeFites reflects that. That can be a bit jarring for many people, because many of us grew up in a milieu where the "norm" was to be Christian and to be a non-believer particularly was an "exception." Our language and assumptions are much different here on MeFi.
posted by deanc at 5:31 AM on April 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


That being said, the outright mocking of religious people has softened quite a bit. Threads on religion are no longer routinely interrupted by belligerent fellow atheists who instant pipe up to say "but it's all nonsese!", there's a lot less dismissive language, and there's an increased communal sense that, while religion may not be science, some people find value in it, and as long as they are not bothering us, they have a right to it.

A few years ago, there was a lot more magic sky wizard-ing and magic underwear-ing. I started a MetaTalk thread on it back in 2010, and I have to say I think the community has, in general, gotten hugely better about discussing this topic respectfully, even if we disagree about it. It's fine to disagree, but the naked mockery and the refusal to engage in discussion was chronic back then.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:58 AM on April 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

"What I think some believers might find uncomfortable about MeFi is that being a believer isn't considered normative, and the language of MeFites reflects that. That can be a bit jarring for many people, because many of us grew up in a milieu where the "norm" was to be Christian and to be a non-believer particularly was an "exception." Our language and assumptions are much different here on MeFi."
I work in an industry where less than 7% profess a personal belief in God, I have never had a boss or adviser who described themself as religious and that has never been ambiguous, the closest thing I've known to a co-worker who described themselves as religious much less Christian was at my last position where two colleagues I never worked with in a five dozen person department, not one of my many close friends describes themselves as religious, my partner does not describe themself as a Christian, and I live in Flanders where only 55% of people total describe themselves as religious at all where I am in its least religious town dominated by the big University. The only place where my religion has been normative for me has been at the church I attend, and hell even that is sometimes a stretch at the liberal congregations I frequent.

I can only speak for myself but as a Christian, but being surrounded by non-religious people is not something I find the least bit unnerving or uncomfortable about MetaFilter. I guess its my unusual perspective but it feels almost normal and natural for me, if anything I find it a positive aspect of this place as I generally really appreciate the thoughtfulness and intentionality that seems to correlate with the kind of people who pick their own religion or lack thereof. There are however a lot of aspects of how MetaFilter does religion that are honestly pretty terrible, from the magic sky wizard-ing and magic underwear-ing to this thread, and I think you've hit on a big part of the cause but from perhaps the wrong direction. As a community we do really strongly select against attracting religious folks who would be uncomfortable with non-religious voices, but for the most part we don't select at all against folks who are really uncomfortable with religious voices.

MetaFilter is a place where discussions about religion, and ones tangentially related to it, are dominated by voices that self identify as non religious and that is indeed a really weird thing for most people. I would however suggest that one of the driving factors in some of the terribleness we've seen is how weird and unnatural it must be for many of the non-religious people on this site to have a primarily but not exclusively non-religious audience for thoughts about religion. I definitely agree with Bunny Ultramod that we seem to be doing a lot better with this over the last couple of years and I think a lot of that has to do with all of that becoming less weird for all of us, along with some timely mod positions, a number of really awesome religious people either showing up or coming out as religious, and a few outstandingly problematic users getting bored with it all.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would however suggest that one of the driving factors in some of the terribleness we've seen is how weird and unnatural it must be for many of the non-religious people on this site to have a primarily but not exclusively non-religious audience for thoughts about religion.

I agree that frustrated expectations do play a role. We all operate from narratives about how the world works, and it is difficult to read a contrary narrative on its own terms instead of seeing it as a deviation from our own preferred narrative. For example, a worldview that emphasizes individual agency can have trouble reading arguments in this thread about language, society and power, recasting them as arguments about personal offense and censorship.

These misreadings occur on all sides. For example, the thread Blasdelb links to sparked a MetaTalk thread that included less than generous interpretations of what interlocutors had said. Personally, I do not find it weird, unnatural, unnerving or uncomfortable to address an audience that is not exclusively non-religious, because the other audiences I interact with, online and in person, usually contain diverse religious perspectives. I think it is less helpful to speculate about what our interlocutors' many worldviews are than it is to get to know those worldviews firsthand as they are revealed in our dialogue. This is slow, difficult work, though, easily frustrated because what we think we hear/read is at times not what another intended.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:36 AM on April 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is slow, difficult work, though, easily frustrated because what we think we hear/read is at times not what another intended.

Amen, fellow primate, amen...
posted by y2karl at 10:55 AM on April 5, 2013


Indian Giver
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:04 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hooeee flap, that's one from the vaults.

I will never cease to be amazed at the 2nd- and 3rd tier garage/psychedilic/bubblegumpop bands that the 60s archives can chuck up. And I know that song was kind of well before AIM was in the news and everything so consciousness was as yet pretty un-raised, but damn, that album cover...wow. The whole package is like a poster session on appropriation.

And then, not only that, but that song went to #5 on Billboard, and not only that, but was covered by the Ramones in 1983 and not only that, but also got covered by Joan Fucking Jett in 1993.

And we wonder why this stuff doesn't just go away.
posted by Miko at 12:19 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Every time I look at this thread I end up humming the Joan Jett cover. Disgraceful.)
posted by gingerest at 5:45 PM on April 7, 2013


Maybe we can just kindly warn First Nations/Native Americans that most people here on Metafilter couldnt give a rats ass what we are offended by, especially if one of us voices it.
posted by SteelDancin at 9:24 PM on April 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I must be reading a different thread then, since, apart from the digressions and tangents that come in every long discussion here, from the title on to the comment just above yours, it seems to be overwhelmingly intensely concerned otherwise.

And, as for your ignorant language you call English from your comment above, excuse me ?

That is the language in which William Shakespeare, William Blake, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Vladimir Nabokov, Chinua Achebe and Sherman Alexie, to name but a few, have written many beautiful deep and wise words.

No one here has ever denigrated Native American or First Nation languages here to the best of my knowledge. Not ever. But maybe I am missing something. I will take you at your word about how you have been treated in the past but where has anyone here treated you with anything less than respect or run down your culture with such contempt as your ignorant language ?

Under the MetaFilter logo up there in upper left hand corner in the blue there used to be, among a number of subtitles, one that read We are All In This Together. That is pretty much still the predominant view here, I think. And not mocking people or their class or culture, even inadvertently, doing the right thing by people of every eth and ilk and gender construction are topics about which people here care about deeply and in detail, as this thread has demonstrated, at to least me.

And, remember that everyone here, too, walks their own path and each path starts and ends in the darkest part of the forest for each one who walks it.
posted by y2karl at 3:38 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


That is the language in which William Shakespeare, William Blake, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Vladimir Nabokov, Chinua Achebe and Sherman Alexie, to name but a few, have written many beautiful deep and wise words.

Stupid fucking white man.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:34 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

"That is the language in which William Shakespeare, William Blake, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Vladimir Nabokov, Chinua Achebe and Sherman Alexie, to name but a few, have written many beautiful deep and wise words."
FINALLY, the savior that white people culture has always needed against the insidious insults of its survivors has arrived! We need fear no more.

It’s almost telling that you include in this list Lincoln, who ordered - in English - the largest mass execution in American legal history in an act of callous genocide against indigenous peoples. Regardless, the thread that sparked this one is itself proof that the English language not only had but continues to have an ignorance of indigenous experiences and even just basic humanity embedded into its vocabulary and metaphors. The language we are speaking now does indeed have a long and brutal history of being used as a weapon for the worst sorts of racism and it was knowingly used as such a weapon in that AskMe. It’s wrong, it’s disgusting, it’s unacceptable, and it has no place here.

So please, spare us the pitiful hypocrisy of a cry of reverse racism and spare us the pious lecture.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:54 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


The language we are speaking now does indeed have a long and brutal history of being used as a weapon for the worst sorts of racism and it was knowingly used as such a weapon in that AskMe. It’s wrong, it’s disgusting, it’s unacceptable, and it has no place here.

Which is wrong ? The English language or its knowing use as a weapon ? If it's the former, what do you suggest we use ? French ? Newspeak ? Lolcat ?

And I guess I am having the knowing use as a weapon part in that thread or this just a tad over the top. But that is my reading. As for Lincoln, I had the Gettysburg Address in mind. Can't beat the latter for concision. But point taken on the case of his signature on what he signed..

And I am not crying reverse racism, thank you. I just don't see how making an insult persuades anyone. In your case or in that of Steeldancin's.
posted by y2karl at 5:22 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Especially an insult that is just wrong on the face of it. In both cases.
posted by y2karl at 5:40 AM on April 8, 2013


I'm doing a bit more than suggesting that we not casually use racial slurs on this website, that the use of racial slurs as metaphors for ordinary situations in the English language is a clear example of ignorance embedded into it as SteelDancin correctly noted, that those slurs in the English language have been and continue to be used as brutal tools of oppression, and that none of that has any place here.

A thread about the racial slurs in English is a sad place for an encomium to it, and to direct that encomium as a pious 'correction' of someone's lived experience of how fucked up the English language can get is a sick insult. SteelDancin has absolutely no obligation to be polite to those who would use the English language who would use the English language to oppress her that could possibly affect their duty to not do that, and no amount of concern trolling about what is persuasive could change that.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:29 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey, if you're going to have this debate on the tail end of a MetaTalk thread, please debate each other on substance and not so much with the sarcastic hyperbole, thanks.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:34 AM on April 8, 2013


y2karl's noble defense of the English language on behalf of Shakespeare, Achebe, etc reminded me of these lines from the movie "In the Name of the Father"(about a Northern Irishman wrongly imprisoned for an IRA bombing in 1970s Britain):

Gerald Conlon: You see, I don't understand your language. 'Justice.' 'Mercy.' 'Clemency.' I literally don't understand what those words mean. I'd like to put in an application to get all my teeth extracted.That way I could put my fist in my mouth and never speak another word of fuckin' English so long as I live.
posted by sweetkid at 6:55 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember that line, sweetkid. "In the Name of the Father" is a really powerful film, everyone should see it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:00 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


that movie inspired me to start an Amnesty International chapter at my school. It had a huge impact on me. I also recommend people read the book, actually - the situation in the movie seems rosy compared to the more complex reality described in the book.
posted by sweetkid at 7:02 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, for the record, I am not and was never asking anyone to apologize for anything, for one. I guess that what I thought is that English in itself in not a stupid thing. What people use it for, well, that is another matter. And I wish I had never mentioned it because that is a sidetrack to what I think is true. And that is that people here care very deeply about how language is used and that this thread is proof of that and always has been. I really disliked the insinuation that people here don't care and that was what I was reading. People here are trying to do the right thing. I simply do not believe that anyone here is or was acting in bad faith on the topic. People may be thoughtless but I do not see conscious ill will on anyone's part in this matter.
posted by y2karl at 8:23 AM on April 8, 2013


Oh Christ, it's the Mefi gets righteously offended show. Yet again. I wish some of you people would just go out and get pissed once in a while. In the British sense.

I disagree.

There are more, but I'm at work and won't have time to expand until later.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:30 AM on April 8, 2013


Sometimes the ill will doesn't have to be fully conscious; I'll reserve any thoughts about what the original user in the post mentioned, but I think Blasdelb and others are trying to talk a bit about the way a culture's biases and power structures are reflected in the very way they construct the language that they use - the words and idioms they do and don't create, the labeling which reflects hierachy and power relationships, etc. And then, quite literally, the long history of using English as a tool of domination - outlawing speech and writing in indigenous languages and replacing it with forced and required English language educaiton, for instance. Which happened to both the Irish and the indigenous people of the Americas.

I think that may be responsible for part of the confusion: the idea of whether damage is only caused or continued by knowing use of a slur vs. the unconscious bias embedded in the language. I think both are deplorable and should be avoided by people of goodwill. When I argue that we should "just use another word," I am contesting that the idea that we should only condemn the knowing use of racial slurs with the intent to harm, and leave all other examples of racial slurs uncriticized as "accidental" or unknowing or lacking in intent to harm. Simply using slurs contributes to the harm, even if unintended, and since our language is littered with them, it's quite possible for people to learn and use them even when they really do have no ill intent.

So I base my personal decision on whether or not to use a charged term on whether it has a history of being used in structures of oppression (such as maintaining a negative stereotype), and also, I'd say, whether there is a well-supported critique of such words being mounted by people who, as part of their assertion of their right to the respect and dignity to be accorded to all humans, are promoting the use of alternative language.
posted by Miko at 9:47 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am contesting that the idea that we should only condemn the knowing use of racial slurs...

I don't know anyone who was asserting such a thing. I do make a distinction between conscious cruelty and thoughtlessless, however. There is a difference between malice and ignorance and it is a huge difference. At least, for me.

I'll reserve any thoughts about what the original user in the post mentioned...

My impression was the original user was not thinking particularly clearly about the phrase being used but rather about the fight over gifts. There is always a back story. Families fighting over things in such a context are not so much about the material things but rather fear and loss and a sense of their own personal suffering. And they climb over each other like drowning well diggers in a cave in, grasping at the most meaningless of straws. In any case, I am not a telepath, in person or online. I can not see into the heart of a stranger a thousand or more miles away.
posted by y2karl at 11:50 AM on April 8, 2013


here is a difference between malice and ignorance and it is a huge difference. At least, for me.

There are meaningful differences. But when you think about point of view, it's true that you experience a difference when you are either ill-intentioned, or not, to someone. But does that other person, who bears the brunt of a racial slur, experience any difference? Especially if they have know way of knowing or gauging your intent?

It's precisely because we can't see into the hearts of strangers, and they can't see into ours, that our words can help create or support terrible effects, even when we don't mean them to. And we have the choice of whether we use our words to sustain, or dismantle, those terrible systems.
posted by Miko at 12:45 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Oh Christ, it's the Mefi gets righteously offended show. Yet again. I wish some of you people would just go out and get pissed once in a while. In the British sense."
posted by Decani at 5:24 PM on April 2 [23


"For the most part, people who believe that other people just like pointing out racism/sexism for chuckles are people who can't imagine being affected or insulted by that sort of thing.

I would genuinely like to hear from someone of Indian and/or Native American descent who was affected or insulted by that post. No gotcha intended; I would like to learn if this really is a thing. Is taking stuff back a stereotypical behavior imputed to Indians (from India, or Native Americans? I don't even know which the term applies to although I will now Google). I do despair that discussions of "racism" in Metafilter are overwhelmingly about language. Not economic oppression. Not health care disparities. Not educational outcomes, job opportunities, fair housing, hate crimes, and the list goes on. I understand that language plays a role in oppression, but I just don't see the endless wrangling over posts such as the one called out (which explicitly was not intended as a slur) as some sort of valid, valiant charge against racism. Would love it if someone could explain, because indeed, it looks like there is a game of gotcha being played. I can only imagine the beneficiaries of racism being delighted that the game gets played so vigorously and so earnestly, because it doesn't affect them at all!"
posted by Wordwoman at 9:10 PM on April 2 [14 favorites +] [!]



"The OP knew that the term is offensive. They acknowledged it. They asked for an alternative term:
I cringe using the term , “Indian giving”? Is there a less offensive word used today to describe taking a gift back? Please, no grief about the term. I understand the problem with it.
So, what's the problem?"
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:17 PM on April 2 [32 favorites +] [!]

Y2Karl, I admit my anger at the dismissive tones like in the comments I reference above and all their " favorites " compelled me to say "your stupid English language". Most of the great writers you list above live in my many, many bookshelves. Especially the likes of Sherman Alexsie, Janet Armstrong, Mourning Dove, and many other Native writers from Canada and America. I would like to point out that those writers families and my families were forced to go to the white mans schools to learn English. My mom was part of a experiment that integrated First Nations kids into an all white public school. She was 8 years old and in first grade when she first started learning the English language.There were 27 of my relatives there with her. All got smacked with a yardstick if they spoke in their Native language, it was not allowed, they were encouraged to forget about speaking it in public. Im not even going to talk about what they did to my relations that went to Catholic school before these 27. I guess my mom and them were lucky there. Anyhoo, I admire the intellect, the broad range of interesting, and fascinating topics I get to explore here at Metafilter! I love learning, I love learning about my own misconceptions that are enlightened by this Awesomeness that happens in the Blue. Im very sad however, that when one lil' Indian stands up and says " Look, there are some nasty, hurtful, racist terms embedded in the English language, Can we please have a little empathy? Can we change this landscape without being labeled "thought police", "cali natives" and other insults to those who actually "See" what my point is. I tryed to be nice, and I also gave a little background in case no one knew that were still around and its not because of Indian Casinos. To tell you all the truth, I always hate threads like these, I get so angry at the people who seem above all this, using big words and theories to slough off the real meaning here. I seriously wanted to cancel my membership but, you know, I still think its a valuble and enlightening place. Yep, it most certainly is.
posted by SteelDancin at 3:51 PM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sorry WordWoman, I meant to say your comment is much more condusive to the thread rather than the ones I referenced above yours, oops!
posted by SteelDancin at 4:19 PM on April 8, 2013


Since I've been specifically quoted, I suppose I will respond. 'Indian giving' is an offensive term, and a racial epithet. Anyone who disagrees with this position is, quite simply, incorrect. There is in this thread and (IMO) on this site, almost no debate about this.

My disbelief in my comment quoted by SteelDancin above is that, at the beginning of this thread (in the dark ages when dinosaurs roamed the earth), some users (including kamikazegopher, who opened this thread) seemed to be objecting to the fact that the OP typed 'Indian giving' in a request for an alternative, non-offensive way to describe the act of giving a gift, and then taking it back. Was the question clumsy? Yes. Was it racist? Opinions seem to differ, but I personally think it was not. In my view, it was no more racist than kamikazegopher themselves expressly referencing the term in the title to this thread.

English, like any language that has evolved over time, is full of quirks and words with problematic origins. With respect to race issues, perhaps more so than most, because it gleefully borrows from multiple cultures, languages and histories, and is used by several nations with pasts that included expansionist colonial policies and serious institutional racism.

It's important to talk about the language we use - our ability to express concepts is essential to our ability to conceptualise and understand them. If the words and terms have racist connotations, then we shouldn't use them. English is a flexible and adaptable language, and we can find other, less offensive ways to express ourselves.

If you still have a problem with my comment, SteelDancin, feel free to memail me.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:12 PM on April 8, 2013


SteelDancin, I was up all night, working on some things I had to get done. And I am not in the best of places. I walked out my door a little bit before six in the morning last Tuesday to find fire trucks and aid car outside -- a neighbor had had an asthma attack and called 911 and by the time they got here, her heart had stopped. Oh, they got it going again but she never woke up again and, long story short, was taken off life support a day or two ago and breathed her last breath sometime yesterday. The idea that she died alone, in terror just horrifies me. It is my worst fear. And as someone once wrote, death, like the sun, is something we can not stare at very long. I am not making excuses here, just filling in the back story.

So, I read all your other comments in all places and got the sense of you, got that you are a good person and saw that you gave good advice on the Ask side, and that, in my experience, is a rare thing.

The truth is we all suffer, we are all weak and frail vessels. Or so it seems to me right now. We are all human beings. So, I took one little phrase you wrote and took offense for no good reason at all, so I owe you an apology for even mentioning it. So, my apologies for being such a windbag and I am sorry for the derail.

And I, myself, do not want to ever write anything that could hurt someone if I said in front of them in the real in person world. And being here has helped reinforced that. And the thing is, when people get upset, there is always more to it than the topic at hand. There is always a back story. On all sides. I got your point but still, I do think we are all trying hard to do the right thing here. I only wish I had said just that without getting on a high horse about one little thing you wrote.
posted by y2karl at 7:42 PM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


His Thoughts Were Red Thoughts, Lol, how ironically funny your name is to me. "Was it racist? Opinions seem to differ, but I personally think it was not." - Then lets agree to disagree on this one.
"It's important to talk about the language we use - our ability to express concepts is essential to our ability to conceptualise and understand them. If the words and terms have racist connotations, then we shouldn't use them."- I agree, but it seems to me, after telling EVERYONE that "I AM FIRST NATIONS ! " Lets not use this term, lets tell Op, It's not the crux of your Askme question, you dont have to use a racist term anyway, because: you cant think of anything else and please dont gripe about the racist term! IMO you dont get a pass period! Im shocked ( but not really, I am born of North America, and well versed on insidious yet not so obvious racisim that comes my way, to this day, I experience it. ) Please Mefites! Tell me, educate me, how do I make it better for my people without coming off as some sensitive whiny baby being all self rightous about "racist or not " language! Say anything constructive and I will listen and pass it on to my peoples, but dont dismiss me and Tell Me, " Im reading this all wrong, whatevs ! ".
posted by SteelDancin at 8:29 PM on April 8, 2013


Thanks Y2karl, for years I have always liked reading your comments. I am so sorry to hear of your neighbor, thats just awful! My condolences.
posted by SteelDancin at 8:35 PM on April 8, 2013


His Thoughts Were Red Thoughts, Lol, how ironically funny your name is to me. "Was it racist? Opinions seem to differ, but I personally think it was not." - Then lets agree to disagree on this one...

Yeah, I don't know what you mean here. And I've lost patience with this whole dialogue.

I appear to have offended you somehow. If so, I apologise; it was unintentional.

I've expressed myself above as clearly as I can, so I'll leave it there.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:25 PM on April 8, 2013


His Thoughts Were Red Thoughts, I am so sorry. Quite the contrary, I am not offended! When I referenced your name as being ironically funny, I meant that here in North America, us Indians have been known as names like : The Red man, Redskins, Red Devils, We walk the Red Road, ect, ect. I should not have expected you to know those terms, I am so sorry. Here, we are known as Red, like Black, like white, like Yellow, peoples- More racist terms, used in the past and present. I was honestly trying to make light, as when it comes to race and heated discussions about race. My friends and I refer to each other by color knowing the histories of such terms. Its how we lighten up the seemingly inherent rascism of all peoples who have suffered at the hands of oppressors or conquerers. I see where you are from. I also know of the struggles of the aboriginals of your country. Please, understand, those of us who have been oppressed have jokes about ourselves being oppressed. I guess it is how some of us have coped through great odds against us at a world going forth into a future we can not change. My most sincere apologies to you, for sure it was not meant to offend. I respect your opinions.
posted by SteelDancin at 10:08 PM on April 8, 2013


No problems. It's often difficult to parse tone, sarcasm, levity in text.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:33 PM on April 8, 2013


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