Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Slow Death of Satire Continues

The Great Debaters is also excellent because it educates its audience on the word “denigrate.” The word comes from the Latin words “de+nigrare,” meaning “to make black.” Washington’s character makes the case that the word we use to mean “disparage” or “defame” also means “to blacken” and that it has racist undertones.

I have used the word denigrate without knowing its origin or its ability to offend. I have also used other words unintentionally that were equally insensitive. Mulatto, a word that is sometimes used to describe a person with both black and white ancestry, comes from the Spanish word mulato, meaning “a young mule.” Papago, the name given by the Spanish to an Indian nation in Arizona, means “bean eaters.” Unfortunately, there are probably other words that I still use that are unintentionally insulting to someone.

The words we use have the power to inflame and incite or to heal and uplift. This holds true for debaters, screenwriters, television writers and all the rest of us. The lesson in denigrate is that it is important to choose our words well, and that it is unfortunate that even when we do so we may still accidentally offend. Resolved (as they say in The Great Debaters): Sticks and stones can break your bones and words can be MORE hurtful.


Unearthed by Steve Sailer in a recommended article here.


Black Sea said...

In the spirit of never offering even unintentional offense, should I pretend to be something other than utterly unsurprised that this person hails from Scandinavia (I took a look at her picture) by way of Minnesota?

I'm surprised she didn't tackle that tar baby term, "niggling."

Or can I say "niggling" . . . or can I say, "tar baby" . . . or maybe I should just crawl away somehere and die.

dearieme said...

It was only recently that I realised why Americans say "snicker" where Brits say "snigger".

Black Sea said...

dearieme's comment reminds me of an anecdote about my cousin, an American, who lived in London in the 1970s. At that time, smoking was permitted nearly everywhere, even in physicians' waiting rooms. (Can you imagine such a flagrant violation of human rights?)

Anyway, my cousin was puffing away while waiting to see a doctor, when a young man leaned over and said to her, "Excuse me, but could I pinch a fag?"

It took some time to work that one out.

Dennis Dale said...

The actor Richard Harris once related a story on the old Tonight Show about the perplexity an American showed to his remark about his habit of chain-smoking: "It's not often you won't see me with a fag in my mouth."

Dennis Dale said...

Offense no longer requires intention. It doesn't even require offense. As the Nice White Lady from Minneapolis relates, she and her victims were all unaware of her repeated transgressions. But it is no less a sin; no, more so, because she was ignorant of it.
Who knows what evils we work even now.