Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Thug Too Far!


Debate has broken out among the chattering classes about the word "thug" which often is used to describe miscreants, often poor urban blacks, who act out. The word of course has a long history which it might be useful to remind ourselves about. Check it out here. I'll wait.

Now then, the current debate wants to add "thug" alongside "nigger" as an epithet which should never be uttered. I get the connection to race, I grant the connection to race, but nonetheless I am not eager to retire yet one more word from the lexicon. When words go off-limits they become overly charged with a harmful power. Instead of adding "thug", or as some folks are already saying the "T-word", to the list of forbidden language, let's use it and then make sure we hold folks accountable for what they mean, whether they be reporter, mayor, or president.

It's a poor dog whistle which can be heard by anything other than a dog, and the argument needs to be less about the language used to describe events than those events themselves. Allowing ourselves to be distracted by the impolite language all too often means the facts which prompted the discussion go unremarked upon. There's plenty to focus on without, as is all too often the case with modern media of all kinds, chasing off after the next shiny controversy which  offers convenient talking points.
 
Sticks and stones are mighty weapons, but so are words and we should use them carefully and with serious intention. But we shouldn't behave like intemperate school-marms and outlaw language which merely hurts our increasingly tender sensibilities.

'Nuff said...for now.

Rip Off

P.S. Just saw the latest Avengers movie and both Captain America and Baron Strucker used the word "thug" without the slightest hint of racial code. It was just a word. 

NOTE SOME WEEKS AFTER THE FACT: I'm leaving this post as is for rhetorical purposes, but my opinion has changed. Despite my wishes that the word not become code, the facts have superseded that and it has been appropriated by those who desire to label and demean a certain sector of society. It's a shame but it is how it is. 

7 comments:

  1. It never even occurred to me before today that "thug" had any racial connotations at all - here in the UK the word has been used for a long time with no suggestion whatsoever of race. I've read that the word "hooligan" comes from a notorious Irish family called the O' Hoolihans who lived in 19th century London - perhaps we should stop using the H-word in case it's anti-Irish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One Irish slur that is forgotten here has been cropping up in connection with this same story out of Baltimore. "Paddywagon" is an old and exceedingly unkind nickname for a vehicle which transports prisoners. Its origins should be obvious and come from the time in America in the early part of the last century and before when the Irish had most of the same difficulties seen by blacks now. I keep hearing it and no one seems the least bit self-conscious. I think they don't know.

      Rip Off

      Delete
  2. Words change their meaning, or at least acquire new connotations, and we just have to roll with it even if we weren't consulted to approve of the change. Otherwise we'll look as silly as the old folks who say "Why did the pansies have to go spoiling a perfectly good word like 'gay'?" or insist on using terms like "Negro" or "Colored." Such people may be entirely free of malice and intend no offense whatsoever...but younger folks are snickering at them behind their backs, or at best smiling indulgently at their refusal to keep up with the times.

    Thug has only just recently become racially loaded in the past couple of years, almost certainly in relation to its use in hip-hop along with "gangsta" and "mob" and the iconography of organized crime. I don't have to like that the word "thug" has become tainted to admit that it happened. Surely we can carry on for a while without this word and embrace its many alternatives: goon, mug, bruno, torpedo, crumb, yegg...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure we can. But I don't think in this instance the die is quite yet cast. There is still time to reclaim it from this limited and potentially charged usage.

      It's actually not the usage that bothers me, so much as the sensitivity to not using it by the elites. I'm not often one who bothers about "political correctness" since so much of what is suggested is not really that, but in this case I think we might just have a winner.

      I get it, I just didn't like the idea that suddenly a word which moments before (the Avengers showing a perfect case in point) lacked the pejorative which is lashed onto it has now become something I'm not allowed to say. It feels a bit like a verbal trap.

      Excuse while I go chase some kids off my lawn. (wink)

      Rip Off

      Delete
  3. You are spot on about focusing on the problem and not the symptoms. In this case the problem is systemic racism, and the symptom is code-words to describe black people. As a writer you clearly realize the importance of word choice. Repeatedly saying thug to describe, every person in Baltimore or Fergeson protest is a poor word choice. The racial motivation is to accentuate the criminality, brutality, and stupidity of the people being described without actual calling the people criminals, brutal and stupid.

    Code words, like urban, or even describing someplace as a "bad neighborhood" become racial codes. There some good articles about sports journalism and racial code words. I wish I had time to point them out here, but a google search will get you there, mind the Richard Sherman posts.

    More important than pointing out the negative impact of "losing a word," is making a conscious effort to broaden our language to be more descriptive, or simply saying what you actually mean. If what you actually mean is racist, THEN you might want to rethink your stance on things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I take your points and truth told the recent events in Texas in which the word "thug" was not uttered when it was easily appropriate to describe a biker gang has convinced me that "thug" is now and for a good long time to come been racialized. My complaints seem meager in the face of that sad brutal fact.

      Rip Off

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...