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Neutral national identifier becomes ethnic slur
Posted: 24 July 2010 07:05 PM   [ Ignore ]
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We’ve discussed similar matters before but not all together, clear of other material.

It’s odd that some words, seemingly neutral in origin, have come to be ethnic slurs. I’m specifically talking about terms that derive directly from acceptable, neutral national identifiers: not talking about Black or Gook or anything like that.

Polack is basically a deadset transliteration of the Polish word for Polish person, but it is unequivocably offensive when used in English.

Some shortforms are not acceptable. Jap is considered inappropriate, though perhaps not offensive to the same extent. Similarly, Iti, Nip.  In the UK, I gather, Paki is considered a term of abuse, whereas in Australia it is no ruder than Aussie: just a short form. There are some borderline terms in Australian English that would probably depend on how they were said and who was saying them: Lebbo, Gyppo.

But that’s a different matter. Abbreviation could be considered disrespectful. On the other hand, it is not always. No one thinks of Aussie or Brit as offensive terms.

I wonder how words, starting as very straightforward and obvious national identifiers, become abusive terms. I suppose it would have to happen gradually. Maybe if the people in question are referred to in a derogatory way most of the time, the derogation becomes stuck to the noun itself. It would be hard, I suppose, to trace the “feel” of the word just by looking at literature.

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Posted: 25 July 2010 02:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I guess it won’t be long before somebody brings up ‘Dutch’. Might as well be me.

I like to think that envy was an important factor in ‘Dutch’ becoming a derogatory term. And Dutch BTW has no such expressions about the English. We are a much kinder people ...

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Posted: 25 July 2010 03:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I didn’t even know Dutch was a derogatory term. There’s so much to learn.

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Posted: 25 July 2010 04:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I believe Dutchtoo is referring to such expressions as “Dutch courage” and “Dutch treat”. “Dutch”, of course, wasn’t the English ethnonym solely for people from the Netherlands until about the end of the 16th century, and meant, or included, “Germans” earlier.

I believe it’s the way people use neutral ethnonyms as if they WERE insults, such as “Jew”, particularly in the expression used, as the OED says, “as a name of opprobrium”, jewboy.

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Posted: 25 July 2010 04:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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"I believe Dutchtoo is referring to such expressions as “Dutch courage” and “Dutch treat”. “Dutch”, of course, wasn’t the English ethnonym solely for people from the Netherlands until about the end of the 16th century, and meant, or included, “Germans” earlier. “

The French fare rather worse in that regard.

“I believe it’s the way people use neutral ethnonyms as if they WERE insults, such as “Jew”, particularly in the expression used, as the OED says, “as a name of opprobrium”, jewboy.”

The word gin is an Eora (aboriginal language) word meaning woman, but in modern Australian English it is the most offensive term you could apply to an aboriginal woman.

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Posted: 25 July 2010 04:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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OP Tipping - 25 July 2010 04:18 AM

The word gin is an Eora (aboriginal language) word meaning woman, but in modern Australian English it is the most offensive term you could apply to an aboriginal woman.

Similarly with “bint”, “a girl or woman (usu. derog.); girl-friend.” (OED), which comes from the Arabic for “daughter” via British Army slang. A woman referred to as “X’s bint” in Britain 40 to 50 years ago, at least, would be having her virtue seriously defamed.

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Posted: 25 July 2010 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It’s odd that some words, seemingly neutral in origin, have come to be ethnic slurs.

It’s not so odd, really. If there is a tendency for a word to be applied where it can be interpreted offensively, then it will acquire an offensive connotation in general, regardless of the origin. Nigger originally simply meant “black,” but it certainly does not carry that simple denotation today.

If Paki is not offensive in Australian, then it is because Australians do not tend to use the term to imply offense. (I’m not saying that Australians never do—its a tendency—nor that they are less racist than other English speakers, but simply that they may not use this particular term offensively all that much.) Paki would not be offensive in the US either, but it is not a term that is used much in American dialect. Its overall effect here would be more of novelty and Briticism than offense.

Things can go in the other direction, with offensive words becoming acceptable in certain contexts. In my youth, queer was unfailingly offensive, sometimes mildly so, but offensive nonetheless. It has been reclaimed and rehabilitated so that in many contexts, academic queer studies for example, it is the generic and utterly inoffensive term. Of course, it can still be used offensively in other contexts, so the reclamation is not complete.

[ Edited: 25 July 2010 06:01 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 25 July 2010 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Similarly, Iti, Nip.

Iti??

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Posted: 25 July 2010 06:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Perhaps that’s not the normal spelling. It means Italian. Pronounced “eye tie”.

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Posted: 25 July 2010 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I had thought a Dutch wife was English slang for bolster (a long, cylindrical pillow only not for one’s head and with frottage implications), used in bed and the term ironic from men being denied conjugal company ie a racial slur like capote anglaise for condom in French and French letter in English. It turns out they are from Asia (not just Indonesia which was a former Dutch colony) and perfectly legit and practical though the usage has expanded since. Dutchtoo, what is the Dutch name?
Does the OED have a more concise explanation?

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Posted: 25 July 2010 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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A bolster is called a ‘peluw’ in Dutch and a pillow is called a ‘kussen’. A hug-pillow is called a ‘goeling’ but that is borrowed from Malay of course.

[ Edited: 25 July 2010 10:28 AM by Dutchtoo ]
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Posted: 25 July 2010 12:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Perhaps that’s not the normal spelling. It means Italian. Pronounced “eye tie”.

Ah, gotcha.  The canonical spelling seems to be eyetie (Urban Dictionary, Wiktionary).  But I think we hear it a lot more than we see it written, so it’s not surprising usage fluctuates.

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Posted: 03 August 2010 03:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Dutchtoo, are there many derogatory “English” expressions in Dutch along the lines of Dutch courage and Dutch wife?
Or in other languages? (I could only think of French capote Anglaise (English hood) for condom which I mentioned above).

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Posted: 03 August 2010 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I was taught at school that the French equivalent of ‘take French leave’ is filer à l’anglaise, and the Italian is andarsene all’inglese.

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Posted: 03 August 2010 05:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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‘take French leave’

What’s that mean?

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Posted: 03 August 2010 05:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Go AWOL.

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