Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Linguist thinks President Shithole has limit to verbal transgressions

Professor John McWhorter, whose audio introductory linguistics course I loved, has predicted that Trump has a limit to the bigotry he'll be willing to express:

Words are treated as profane on the basis of what a society is truly hung up about. And let’s face it — American society as a whole is vastly less worried about taking the Lord’s name in vain or mentioning copulation and evacuation in public than it once was. Rather, what truly concerns us, horrifies us, inspires a desire to shield people from the full force of the language, are words like the n-word, the f-word referring to homosexual men, and the c-word referring to, well, you know.

... Note, however, that speculations that one of these days he might drop the n-word in a similar situation are almost surely fantasy; even with Trump I feel confident writing that for posterity. Even as obnoxious a personage as him would not dare to use that word, or the other two I alluded to, for public consumption. That those words exert a check upon someone as uncontrollable as Trump is a demonstration that they are today’s true profanity.

... However much he indulges in racist code, if Donald Trump were caught on a hot mic crowing that “The niggers just need to shape up” or “If only she’d stop being such a cunt,” it would likely be one of the very few things that actually would spark a sincere effort to eject him from office — so utterly unthinkable in public usage are they. That is, they are profane in the true sense.

McWhorter chronicles the evolution of what this society has considered unspeakable over the last hundred years. We just are no longer much bothered by causal irreligion, shit, or fucking.

He goes on to explain what we are nowadays bothered about:

...hatred toward vulnerable minorities that is truly considered obscene, and ... we euphemize words through which some people express such loathing. We — a few stodgy editors and public-news producers aside —can congratulate ourselves that we recognize that this is the new profanity, not words referring to things like poop and sexual congress.

What Trump probably didn't know until he crossed a line with his "shithole countries" comment is that a substantial and growing fraction of us also extend our sense of the profane to cover denigration of whole countries full of black and brown people. These too are part of those "vulnerable minorities". Onward cosmopolitans; the human future is global, whether we like it or not.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

I dislike profanity period and think it is always a mistake as it distracts from the argument. A lot of profanity is an excuse for not finding better, stronger words. Even in my books, I don't use the crudest words because I personally dislike writing or hearing them. I realize though it's partly my age, where we were raised to be polite even when we disagreed. When the left began to brag about being nasty, it was beyond me to understand why that was a good idea. As the year has gone on, I have a stronger disdain for such language than I had at the beginning. Trump though didn't write the word and used it in a private setting. It got spread by others, who evidently delighted in being profane. Again, it's beyond me to understand why. It doesn't win arguments with any except maybe those who already agreed and also enjoyed using profanity supposedly in a righteous way...

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