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Upvote!

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Most words in question aren't offensive in some objective sense. They are only offensive to the extent they are evidence that one hates the person in question. The more people use them despite not being hostile to the person/group in question, the less offensive they become/remain. Causing some offence, at worst, is a side-effect, not the goal.

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Have you considered the possibility that people are actually stating "If someone wants to pressure me to stop using a word that isn't offensive per se as a political power play, I will make a point of using it MORE from now on"?

Have you considered the possibility that the actual bullies are the people who berate others for using terms like "field work" or "master bedroom"?

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

Unironically a good thing, a sorely-needed beautiful display of Courage lacking in so many people.

>No wonder it's hard to sell the left

Bullshit, the left is easy to sell on Free Speech, I'm left leaning and a Free Speech advocate.

Every brain with 2 neurons to rub together understands that Free Speech disproportionately benefits those with less : less money, less awareness of the latest buzzwords and shibboleths, less connections to ease the inevitable fall when the inevitable slip up happens, less ability to materially fight (and thus more tendency to use offensive insults as defense).

It's hilarious that the ideology pushed by corporate HR drones and hollywood sluts think it's "Left", no it's not, Left is not when you rage about words. Left is when you rage about actual injustices, which words are not.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

"No wonder it's hard to sell the left on the importance of defending free speech, when so many free speech activists seem to equate "defending free speech" with "behaving like a high school bully"."

I suppose a decade ago *is* geological eons in today's online world, but the people going on about 'there is no right not to be offended' and arguing against censorship and if things being said offended someone, well that was just too bad were on the left, once upon a time:

http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2012/01/there-is-no-right-not-to-be-offended-true-or-false/

"‘There is no right not to be offended!’: It’s a popular slogan. At least, it must be if Google is anything to go by. I typed the phrase ‘no right not to be offended’ into ‘advanced search’ and came up with ‘about’ 1,780,000 sites. The slogan is especially favoured by those who, rightly or wrongly, see themselves as taking a stand for freedom of speech and expression against its enemies, and that includes Nicholas Hytner, Philip Pullman, John Cleese, Shami Chakrabarti, Rowan Atkinson, Peter Tatchell, Ronald Dworkin, Ricky Gervais, and the late Christopher Hitchens. That’s a fairly broad range of intellectually capable individuals , and I am sure the list could be extended considerably. "

Maybe the offended lefties should go read up about how Piss Christ was a beautiful and thought-provoking work of art, and only knuckledraggers could possibly be offended?

https://medium.com/club-cybelle/in-defense-of-piss-christ-532df2a13f23

https://freespeechdebate.com/case/the-piss-christ/

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True equality is when we're all bogged down in the mud senselessly yelling together! 😁

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You don't think "don't use that word or we will all know you are a racist" counts as bullying?

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deletedMar 10, 2023·edited Mar 10, 2023
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No. But he would be if his response to my saying something he disapproved of, on his blog or elsewhere, was to announce to the world that I was a racist with some reasonable expectation that many people would believe him and treat me less well as a result.

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She said "sexual preference", not "sexual orientation". But your point is correct.

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A friend told me “sexual preference” was offensive back in 2005. I can absolutely see why people care about that phrasing, especially in the context of a judicial appointment. It may well change how you interpret the law if you believe sexual orientation is merely a preference rather than an inherent aspect of a person’s identity.

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Nevertheless, it's fascinating how it jumped from 1% to 50% literally overnight.

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I mean for some people it is a preference…

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Wow, really? An appeal to a work of FICTION? One in which the white southerners are being demonized, primarily for the consumption of a bunch of non-southerners who have no real sense of how the flag is used in the real world and instead rely on precisely these types of fiction?

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Fiction is an example of communication. At a minimum, it's a reflection of the expectation of the creators of how audience members would interpret the symbol.

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As I just explained, those audience members only knew about the contemperaneous use of those sumbols *from those works of fiction* !

You think people in California or New York reguarly saw people brandishing confederate flag symbols in real life? Of course not. What they know about it comes from movies like this.

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And fictional works are the some of the most potent ways to create hyperstitial stereotypes. How many people have developed their entire picture of the Puritans from "The Scarlet Letter" or Southern religiosity from "Inherit the Wind"?

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> On the N-word shift, it's worth noting that such a shift also happened in French,

However, the analogous word shift did not occur in languages like Romanian - which has caused great confusion for Romanians immigrating to the West. In Romanian, their analogue of "negro" (negru) was the correct and accepted word to use for black people, whereas their analogue of "black" was considered racist!

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It's annoying that the way to signal respectability is to use the longer, less simple to say term:

https://www.overcomingbias.com/p/is-libby-a-slurhtml

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Annoying but traditional. Speech directed towards a social superior is longer in every language I've seen it.

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What a great point!

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yes'm

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"Sir" vs "varlet" or "scurvy knave"

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To omit "Sir" could get you in trouble, but "scurvy knave" is an optional flourish.

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Mar 16, 2023·edited Mar 16, 2023

Well, it's longer than "yes" at least.

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Formal speech is longer, and people are usually expected to be more formal with their superiors.

Formal speech towards inferiors can also be very long, as anyone who has ever been on the sharp end of the court system knows well.

More rules, more words. It's true for the judge condemning the criminal, the servant addressing the master, and the professor trying not to sound racist.

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I guess using longer speech conveys the message "This communication is important enough to spend a long time on". Using abbreviations and shorter words, or leaving out words altogether (e.g., not calling a superior "sir") conveys the opposite.

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The fact that it's harder to say might be the point: you're demonstrating that you're willing to "do the work", inconveniencing yourself for the greater good.

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Yes this is correct. I once heard a DEI consultant make exactly that point, without irony.

(After a moment the stony silence from her audience made her sense that she'd gotten ahead of the room and so she turned it into a sort of joke. But it was clear that initially she'd been entirely serious.)

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This is seen in other areas where groups try to separate themselves from other groups: you make it somewhat costly to signal group membership to try to reduce the amount of free riding by claiming that you're a member you're not. For example, not being allowed to eat certain kinds of foods, or declaring that you can't do things on a particular day.

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I think it's partially because the "respectable" terms are usually generated by academia. A longer phrase seems more precise (and maybe sometimes even is more precise), and slurs are usually very blunt, therefore short, therefore (the logic seemingly goes) if it's long it can't be a slur.

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Consarndlongearedyellabelliedvarmint.

-Yosemite Sam calling out Bugs Bunny.

Seriously, the meaning of every word is arrived at by consensus.

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Yes. The problem is that the consensus is being manipulated to control thought. Controlling speech/expression is the shortcut to controlling thought, is it any wonder that more and more Americans, or I guess people all over the developed world are looking to extricate themselves from society to regain control of their own thoughts?

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This makes sense because the early entrants into these sort of cascade are the weirdos from high school that would use a thesaurus to try and sound smarter, instead of just learning to write properly.

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Obviously, using longer, less simple terms signals a higher level of education.

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This also goes in the other direction, where a group reclaims what was once a slur and turns it into a term of empowerment (e.g. “queer”, “dyke marches”, etc).

What’s your take on (re-?)adopting language when it moves back in this direction? Would you also wait until 70% of people who say “queer” mean it in an empowering or at least neutral sense before you’d use it as well?

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This is an interesting question.

One position might be meaning conservatism. If some activist group wants to change the meaning, I'm not going to go along until 70% of people have agreed.

Another might be that there is an asymmetry between tabooing words and freeing them, and so we should have different standards. This is tempting because if you think that freeing words is good, maybe you want to join before the halfway point to help the process along, how early you join being dependent on how much social risk you're willing to take on.

Are there cases where it's ambiguous between the two?

And of course there are neologisms. I think sometimes about "latinx", which is something nobody who speaks Spanish generally endorses and is just a made up term to solve for the fact that English speakers feel weird about grammatical gender. (I personally hate it -- why have that extra thing that you have to memorize?!?) But lots of neologisms are good and some are bad or silly, so perhaps it doesn't make sense to have a particular position on them.

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If the goal is to minimize linguistic friction, then the post for freeing words should logically be 30%. I suspect an asymmetry in the process, though, and would guess that 40% is a better point...unless the particular term is important to you, of course, in which case you might (as an individual) even go a low as 20%. Don't go lower than that except as a member of a group.

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The convention that only people that are affected by words can reclaim them works well here, because if you're part of a group you don't have to worry so hard about risking signalling prejudice.

If you aren't in the group, you get on the train late if ever. I'm be happy using 'queer' as the umbrella term it has become, but wouldn't call a specific individual queer unless they used that label on themselves. There are plenty of terms that are prevalent within their respective in-groups but would still be taboo for me to use, though for obvious reasons I won't give examples.

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I think different rules apply when you belong to the group in question.

Gay men throw "fag" around a lot. Straight people aren't supposed to do that.

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That's true of "fag", and probably "dyke", but it's not true of "queer" (or rather, whether or not it's true of "queer" is an ongoing source of friction within queer circles, with one side feeling staunchly that it isn't).

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(I'm gay, for context)

If I'm understanding you correctly, I've had the opposite experience.

I rarely meet people who get upset about Queer, and they're mainly out-of-touch older people. It's preferred over other terms by seemingly a clear majority of queer people.

Fag, on the other hand, I like a lot and try to use but I've found it's generally poorly received. Nowadays, I mostly avoid it unless I know who I'm speaking to very well. I've actually had straight people get upset with me for calling myself a fag, which is probably a useful data point for the broader discussion of hyperstitious slurs

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I think you understood incorrectly, we're in agreement. I was replying to Coagulopath's statement that "fag" and "dyke" are terms which the people involved might reclaim within purely queer circles but still wouldn't like straight people to use; whereas "queer" is one that at least a significant slice of the community absolutely *wants* straight people to use.

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Depends how you say it. If you say ‘a queer person’ you’re mostly fine. If you say ‘a queer’ or ‘the queers’ then you sound hateful pretty much anywhere.

That’s probably not why queer won’t reach mainstream adoption, though. Queer just doesn’t signify a meaningful category.

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Lots of benign adjectives used with an -s at the end sound offensive. Blacks, poors, etc.

Saying that queer doesn't signify a meaningful category seems odd, seeing as it replaces an unwieldy acronym that people use all the time despite not even being sure how to spell it (how many A's? Is there an S now?)

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"Poors" seems entirely a neologism of the left, popular especially on reddit (in a populist way). I've spent my whole life with newsprint or other text before me and never heard it before a few years ago.

'

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Mar 14, 2023·edited Mar 14, 2023

‘Blacks’ is not remotely offensive unless all the offense is in the implication, any more than ‘whites’ is.

‘Poors’ is not even a word, it’s just a meme.

Being an unwieldy acronym has nothing to do with being a meaningful category.

LGBT are individually and taken together meaningful categories, ‘queer’ isn’t—it can mean anything from ‘Kinsey 6’ to ‘Kinsey 0 but professes being Kinsey 1.’

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Wait a while and it will be true. This is an ever-evolving rotunda of "things you can't say".

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Nah. As Logan concurs above, it's heading in the opposite direction, older generations of gays are kind of iffy about it but the TikTok generation think nothing of it.

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Perhaps that's true for this specific word and community - I don't move in those circles.

However Orwell was right - your vocabulary of small useful words is being replaced by long phrases that don't mean anything, made up by people who have nothing better to do. This is to keep you turning with the fish school and to prevent you from thinking about anything other than keeping au fait with the slang.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

>your vocabulary of small useful words is being replaced by long phrases that don't mean anything

This is completely opposite to the principles of Newspeak as described by Orwell:

1. Short words.

2. Practical applications.

3. Rigidly defined meanings.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

While those might be reclamations, I don't think they've reverted to the non-slur status quo, if anything it moves past being a hyperstitious slur into a meta-hyperstitious slur. It's now safe to be said by some people in some contexts, but only if you qualify your speech by assuring the audience you're one of the people allowed to say it. Presumably if they keep saying it often enough eventually it might be a legal word for everybody again.

I'd be curious if anybody could name a word that has gone full circle from ordinary word > hyperstitious slur > meta-hyperstitious slur > ordinary word

Edit: Seen elsewhere in the comments, 'God'

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I think "queer" is well on its way to being that, although there's some resistance. Certainly my default reaction to a straight person talking about "queer people" would be "they're an ally", not "they're a homophobe trying to use a slur". ("Queers" used as a noun still leans a bit more slurrish, but then, I feel the same way about saying "blacks" instead of "black people", and that doesn't make "black" a slur otherwise.)

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It really seems to depend on the age of the gay person. Older gay men I've talked to really, really don't like 'queer'.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

I think it really varies. Geography and social circles may be as important as age. Queer Nation was founded 30 years ago. Still, even if it's not unanimous, it's interesting that there *is* a widespread movement to make "queer" a general term to be used by straight/cis people, when (to my knowledge) no such movement exists for "dyke" or "fag" even among younger generations.

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"Queer" seems to have evolved in its meaning; into precisely what I'm not sure, but I understand it as more of a catch-all term now.

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As far as I can tell, people finally got fed up of adding letters to the acronym (long after I did) and decided to replace it with a word and picked "queer" for the purpose. So queer can be used for "this group of two lesbians, three bisexuals, two gays and a trans woman are all queer", but it can also be used as a personal descriptor for someone who either doesn't want to specify, isn't entirely certain themselves (lots of people take a while to be sure if they are bi or gay), or whose specific sexuality is inconveniently long so they use "queer" as a shorthand.

Something that I've noticed is that the long versions of the acronym (like LGBTQQIP2SAA) have largely fallen into disuse, with LGBT+ or LGBTQ+ being much more common, and just "queer" being used as an all-encompassing term.

Aside: one reason that many people aren't sure if they are bi or gay is that most people grow up with an assumption that they are straight - even small children know there is an expectation that they will eventually marry someone of the opposite sex, etc. When queer people discover an attraction to someone of the same sex, that's usually, initially, an attraction to one person. You then have to work out, internally, whether you are actually attracted to the opposite sex (ie, you're bi), or if that's just an internalised version of the expectation that you would be (ie, you're gay). This is why, in earlier generations, a lot of gay men came out as bi first. In the current generations the trend is to come out as queer, and then work out exactly who they are and aren't attracted to, and only then pick a more specific term, like gay or bi or pan.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

>Presumably if they keep saying it often enough eventually it might be a legal word for everybody again.

Depends. Certain black subcultures probably use the n-word more than any other, like a verbal tic, and yet the stigma against using it by anybody else is stronger than ever.

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I'm reminded of a certain Clerks 2 scene...

https://youtu.be/IYITxGniww4

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As a gay man who is not stereotypically gay I firmly reject the use of the word "queer", because none of the things it connotes - leftist political radicalism, gender nonconformity, alternative lifestyles - apply to me or to many other gays and I refuse to let radical leftist "queers" use linguistic subterfuge to try to force us to accept those things as part of who we are. I am not "queer" and never will be. It has nothing to do with its formerly predominant use as a slur for me.

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I think the 15-year-old boy who broke up with his girlfriend and now has a boyfriend and is still working out if he had a girlfriend because society expected him to or because he actually wanted to have one, and therefore isn't sure if he's bi or gay and calls himself "queer" isn't trying to use any of those connotations. In fact, the teens I know (my nephews and nieces and their friends) use "queer" to mean "anything other than cishet" and think it doesn't have any of those connotations.

Now, sure: I can see that it has those connotations: I remember Queer Nation the first time around.. I'm just inclined to think that the activists have only succeeded in making it an umbrella term by producing a generation of kids who don't know and wouldn't accept those connotations - and that means that the linguistic subterfuge has backfired on them; they've got ordinary gay and bi zoomers to use it as an alternative to LGBT, but without accepting that they are in any way politically radical or alternative in lifestyle in doing so (and gender nonconformity is more complicated; their gender norms are much wider than ours so they'd have to try really hard to be nonconforming. Lots of things that I would have regarded as way out there when I was in my teens, they think are perfectly normal)

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On my circles it’s just an umbrella term that means “not cis-het”. The community needed a blanket term, a pronounceable word for the wider community rather than the acronym salad that is “LGBTQIA.” A blanket term also allows people to identify as part of the community without labeling or outting themselves. You can’t exact identify as “I’m LGBTQ”… because you’re not all thinIts useful to have a vague way to identify for non-out trans person or a questioning person, or someone who doesn’t like the cultural baggage of “bi”

By the same token I’ve noticed “Saphic” evolving to become a catch all term for people who aren’t cos/het men who are attracted to people who aren’t cis/het men, this inclusive of trans, non binary, and bi people than “lesbian” events or Facebook groups or whatever.

For most people younger than 35 or 40, it doesn’t occur to them to understand “queer” as a political/lifestyle label. If you’re not careful you’ll start s hypersitious cascade that causes it to lose its catch all meaning! You don’t want to take this useful word and put it exclusively in the hands of leftists, do you? Cause you will if you convince enough political centrists/non political people that it not for them.

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Like I wrote elsewhere, I first saw it as a self-identification from people who hadn't yet worked out what they were for themselves, but knew they weren't cishet. Like the AMAB person who had a boyfriend and wasn't sure if they were a gay man or a straight trans woman. Or the cis woman with a girlfriend who wasn't sure if she was bi, pan, or lesbian.

I also see it from people who are opting out of the bi vs pan argument.

And yes - sapphic as a term for (basically) "people a lesbian might sleep with" is neat. Interesting that there isn't an equivalent male term.

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I would think that's dangerous to do early if you're not a member of the group that the slur was directed against. Lesbians can say 'dyke marches' a long time before cis-het Caucasian men can.

We quickly get into the whole "Blacks can reclaim 'n***a' but other groups can't say 'n****r.'"

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I think the people who only used that word to describe a cricket pitch felt robbed. But that was so long ago.

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Reclamation is complex. Just because the word dyke is reclaimed doesn’t mean you can substitute it in any context and have it sound as acceptable as the word lesbian. “My housemate is a lesbian” and “my housemate is a dyke” are going to be interpreted differently depending on who’s talking, who they’re talking to, and how they’re talking about it. By contrast, lesbian is much more general purpose. That can be true even if all right-thinking people agree that, in principle, dyke is a term of empowerment. That still doesn’t mean they’re going to stick up for somebody who uses the word dyke in a way that comes across as offensive for whatever reason.

Overall, my sense is that while a term like dyke might be respectable in 60% of contexts, it is 100% acceptable in 60% and 0% acceptable in the other 40%, not 60% acceptable in each context. You’re either with a crowd that embraces it or you’re with a crowd that’s horrified by it/is outspokenly bigoted, and it’s only controversial within a single group in rare occasions when you’re mixing subcultures.

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Or Quaker meaning coward as reference to their pacifism. The real name of the religion is the Religious Society of Friends, or just Friends for short. When you see somebody have a sign on their door saying "Welcome Friends", obviously they want Quakers to come visit. :-)

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Mar 12, 2023·edited Mar 12, 2023

I knew a young man who misjudged the progress and terms of the reclamation of the word "bitch". He innocently and well-intentionedly referred to a female ski resort worker as a "ski bitch" in a room full of liberals and everyone was horrified

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I think it's pretty rare for any word to actually go all the way to 99:1. Large swathes of the populace just aren't tuned in enough to care, and it's easy to self-select into those groups. It's extremely irritating to have your language corrected that way, nothing requires that I spend time around the kind of people who do that, so I don't. Probably if I were running in more rarefied circles I couldn't get away with this, but one of the benefits of finding a stable place in life without that variety of social signaling is that you can continue never to engage in it.

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ni**er, negro, redskin (as to the actual people), urchin, bum (as to generic homeless person)

I think it's actually quite common it's just that it's rare for the term to stick around afterwards and once they disappear we then forget they are even offensive.

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I think there are many more attempts than successes though. All of those slurs predate my birth, and I can't think of any modern additions to the list that I would feel uncomfortable saying.

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Tranny, transvestite, homo, retarded, oriental?

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"nigger" ... Not spelling out the word is what tends to add to the problem. The Late Great Lenny Bruce had a nice routine on it:

"Are there any niggers here tonight? Could you turn on the house lights, please, and could the waiters and waitresses just stop serving, just for a second? .... Well, I was just trying to make a point, and that is that it's the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness."

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Lenny_Bruce

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Maybe this falls into the "terrible hill to die on" category but one thing I cannot stand is using asterisks as self-censorship. Of course you see n***** for nigger but I've also encountered r*pe, m*rder, and Tr*mp. (Usually the vowels are the offensive parts, for some reason). This strikes me as the worst combination of totally unnecessary, obfuscatory/possibly confusing, and granting power to those people/acts/words that you hate by not even being able to call them what they are.

I mean, this is so basic that it's a lesson that even the first Harry Potter book gets right.

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Now I'm imagining the cultures that didn't write vowels were just trying really hard to not be offensive.

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One of those cultures was certainly trying hard not to offend YHWH, to the point that we're not exactly sure what vowels to interpolate there if we wanted to.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

Though in later books it turns out Harry is wrong, since saying "Voldemort" magically alerted the Death Eaters and so endangered the speaker.

(Though it's possible that not tabooing the name would have thrown up enough chaff to make it impossible for the villains to hunt people down for it.)

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That's also an example of hyperstition. If normal wizards hadn't stopped saying Voldemort, it would be useless to identify members of the Phoenix Order, and therefore the Death Eaters wouldn't have bothered to set up the taboo.

In this case, not being willing to spell out the bad granted the bad people not only abstract power but a practically useful weapon.

The Order weren't wrong, they just stood alone and didn't want to die on this hill.

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I think it's easier to make sense of words with vowels left out than with an equal number of consonants left out. That's presumably part of the reason why some languages leave out vowels in writing.

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Yeah, there are fewer vowels than consonants, so each individual vowel conveys less information than each individual consonant, so less is lost by hiding it. *nd*rst*nd*ng * s*nt*nc* w*th**t v*w*ls c*n b* h*rd, *u* o*e *i**ou* *o**o*a*** i* *ea* i**o**i**e.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

The Latin (and Greek and Cyrillic) alphabets are descended from the Phoenician Abjad. It had five consonants that could reasonably be repurposed as vowels, which, frankly, was not enough.

In practice, I don't think English is as easy to understand without vowels as Hebrew is (which has fewer vowel sounds and to which the abjad is pretty much native). But you've already put in the work: you know how to pron**nce thr**gh and c**gh even th**gh the vowels aren't being helpful.

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This is sometimes done because someone wants to write about a topic for their regular audience without attracting the sort of people who type Trump into the search box on Twitter, or whatever platform they're using.

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Quite agree on "asterisks as self-censorship".

But while it is maybe not a "hill to die on", it seems like one worth defending ... 🙂

You may know of Chris Rock's YouTube video, "Black People vs Niggas", but you may not have run across a linguist's, Adam Croom's, analysis of it in the general context of slurs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51vFbsZkhXU

The semantics of slurs: A refutation of coreferentialism (not paywalled)

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2215039015000041

Bit of a murky "thesis", and it's been awhile since I read much of it, but seem to recollect that his argument is that such slurs are "acceptable" if applied to "problematic" members of a tribe, but they cross the line into racism or sexism or the like if applied to the whole tribe. Interesting quote of Rock's video that I think underlines his argument:

"... it is clear that the slur nigger has in fact been used to apply to some but not all African Americans (Farley, 2004, Hoggard, 2006). As Rock (1996) illustrates the point in 'Niggas vs. Black People':

There’s like a civil war going on with black people, and there’s two sides: there’s black people, and there’s niggas. The niggas have got to go. ..."

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The Flashman books use this as deliberate kitsch, to show Flashman's editors were prissy weenies. And also to show that Flashman was a poddymouth according to all decent Victorians, because George MacDonald Fraser was great with multilayered irony.

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Quentin , good to have you around. As your movies use "nigger" a lot. To quote the study of Keith Allan: "I conclude that in ‘Pulp Fiction’ most occurrences of nigger are uttered by one African-American to or about another in the spirit of camaraderie (what Australians would call ‘mateship’). Where it is uttered by a white to a black friend it is also of this nature. The two instances where nigger is used by one white to another do show disrespect towards African-Americans but not malice, and they serve to make a dramatic point." (I assume you are not Tarantino, ofc.)

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Consider that if one member of a group uses a possible slur name for the group to another member of the group, they're saying "we're like each other". If a non-member of the group uses the term, they're saying "you're different from me".

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

Unfortunately disguising words with asterisks, and numbers in place of letters etc, is second nature now for most regular posters on forums and online newspaper comments, not so much due to squeamishness but for the practical purpose of evading automatic censorship by moderator bots!

I've even heard people verbally pronounce the f-word as "feck", so used have they become to spelling it like that! :-)

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"feck" is a perfectly good Irish word, which is a milder alternative to "fuck".

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Now you mention it, I've mostly heard it on Mrs Brown's Boys!

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I find this behavior online frustrating, though, because it seems to be that TikTok et al. ought to be able to update their bots to just look for the replacement terms, especially when some of the most popular replacement terms are complete nonsense words that never existed before, such as "seggs" for sex and "unalived" for killed. Unless the whole thing is just theater where TikTok doesn't actually care if young people see "sensitive content", they just need plausible deniability that they tried their best.

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The Scunthorpe Problem lurks in the weeds of profanity filters

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Words do change their meaning over time. For example, in the UK, a slut used to mean (until say the 1950s) simply a slovenly woman, with no sexual connotations.

But when some years later my mother accused my teenage sister of being a slut for not tidying her bedroom, or leaving dishes unwashed, or something equally trivial, the resulting explosion was a wonder to behold! :-)

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Every hill is terrible to die on, but sometimes it may be necessary or unavoidable.

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A very good point. When noone will die on any hill, eventually we are left with a single last hill and must die on it or give up the heights for good, whether it is a particularly lovely hill or not, assuming that their is a malignant force of some sort bent on stealing our hills which seems a safe assumption at this point.

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What's wrong with ropes and tramps?

Honestly I think the idea of having words you're not allowed to say, or even allowed to write out in full, is ridiculous.

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I think you're well outside the 70% on writing out the Word that may not be Said. And "rape" and "murder" (let alone "Trump") haven't reached the 5% threshold outside of TikTok.

It's interested that the Word has managed to carve out such a unique position that you can't even write it. Sorry, Yahweh.

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I think some of that, sometimes, is avoiding word searches online.

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And I always thought "n-word" meant "numinous".

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Yeah, I think you're probably wrong here.

"Urchin" just died a natural death, along with "sockdolager" and "lally-cooler".

"Bum" and "negro" are alive. "Bum" is probably above 1 percent, though it's evolved a bit and can be unspecific so someone may use a more specific term. "Negro" might be below 1 percent, but there are a decent slice of old people who honestly didn't get the memo. (e.g., the 2020 census was the first time 'negro' wasn't a race descriptor available for people to select).

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This is the first time I have heard that "Urchin" was offensive. Before this, I heard it exclusively used to refer to the literary trope of "Street Urchin", a poor child found in Victorian Britain living on the streets.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

Probably the main reason "urchin" is little used these days is that there no longer really are any, in most western countries anyway.

Some disparaging words are replaced by others with the same meaning. For example, the long-obsolete word "knave" came from the German "kbaben", meaning child. These days the equivalent word is "chav", which I think comes from Romany "charv" and also means child. SImilarly, the word "cad" came from "cadet", meaning "junior". So there seems to be a long tradition of (literally) belittling names along the same lines, such as patronisingly calling male adults "boy".

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FWIW, I have always thought that "cad" came from capra (i.e. goat). I know there's a consonant switch involved. (I also thought that of "cadet".)

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Though sometimes pejoratives come back. When I was in high school, "cuckold" was an archaic/obsolete word that most students had to have explained when they first encountered it in Shakespeare. Seeing it and its derivatives become common currency has been like watching a revival of "Zounds!"

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To be fair, there is an unprecedented increase of the signified.

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Yes, the pushback against the feminization of Western man(or at least demasculinization) needed a word to describe those who were accepting of their feminization, it chose a meaningful word that was unused in a time when it was unneeded. This is useful evolution of language, self-selection for the purpose of communicating ideas quickly and easily. You might say market-driven linguistic development, referring to the marketplace of ideas. Which clarifies much of what is so wrong with the hyperstitious use of language.

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I also have never heard of "urchin" being offensive. I often hear it used to describe a child who is scruffy or cheeky. I thought it was a bit like "brat" but less critical and more tongue-in-cheek or even affectionate. Like "scallywag".

I'm a bit worried if it is widely considered offensive. I know a family whose surname is Chin, and when they were expecting a baby, I joked that some people are named after Biblical cities like Bethany or Carmel, so they could call it Ur. Is Peter suggesting that was the equivalent of joking that they could call it N****r?

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I used to work construction. "Nigger" was thrown around casually and with a more expansive meaning than the generally accepted one - basically, a despised and contemptible person of any race, though especially blacks of course. But whites and Hispanics would be referred to as niggers all the time. Maybe it's at 90:10 but certainly not 99:1 or 100:0. Though of course in the professional-class circles I move in nowadays it is.

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Yeah, my dad is a contractor and still uses the word something like this. It refers often to someone doing menial labor, the 'low man on the totempole'(another seeming ethnic reference stripped of its ethnic content for colorful utility), is still the 'nigger' to him, even when he is that person. He's called me 'his nigger' more times than I can count.

Interestingly, when he actually wants to indicate opinions about African Americans-opinions which are not uniformly positive, rightly or wrongly, lets say- he usually uses the word 'black'.

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Wait, "bum" is offensive? If that's true, I'm flabbergasted. It's just a synonym for homeless person. I hear it in conversation all the time and have never been consciously aware of its conotations

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It seems to me that the usual connotation is that a bum is assumed to be primarily at fault for the circumstances he ended up in.

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Well, I believe that at least at one point that was the distinction between "hobo" and "bum". A hobo was hoping to find work, perhaps desiring that it be only of a temporary nature. A bum was trying to get along without working.

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Surely 'bum' is obviously offensive? It's literally using a word for your arse to describe a homeless person.

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Same spelling, same pronunciation, not the same word. And in American English, ‘bum’ as a word for ‘buttocks’ doesn’t really exist (neither does ‘arse,’ for that matter).

In American English, ‘bum’ as a verb means to beg charity or scavenge and this is the sense of ‘bum’ as a noun applied to a person.

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"Bum" has existed as a generalized pejorative for longer than I've been alive. E.g., "On the Waterfront" (1954): "I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it." See also "bum's rush", "throw the bums out", etc.

It's entirely G-rated, but not something to call someone you had good or neutral feelings about.

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In the US Civil War a 'bummer' was a soldier looting, or turned full-time bandit. Since the US population was largely descended from people whose ancestors fought in the Civil War through the 1940's, and since the South kept the details of the war alive as a duty, and since US history writing had a golden age from maybe 1890 (when all those brilliant Civil War memoirs were assimilated) to when Fletcher Pratt died (about 1960), the word meant impoverished bandit at least till then and to some extent today.

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> since US history writing had a golden age from maybe 1890 (when all those brilliant Civil War memoirs were assimilated) to when Fletcher Pratt died (about 1960)

I'm digging deep into US history lately. Any reading recs from this period?

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Strongly recommend Fletcher Pratt, very readable. And of course the brillliant Civil War memoirs by Grant, Lee, Sherman, Sheridan, and every one who served in the Civil War. Maybe start with Edmund Wilson's 'Patriotic Gore'. Brilliant survey by a brilliant critic. Mosby's memoirs are actually a little too highbrow for a beginner, given his amazing depth of reading. Wilson thought Mosby was faking it, but no Mosby really did read that much. I'd throw in John Myers Myers on the Wild West newspapers and the San Fran vigilantes. Of course Frederick Douglass and Lincoln.

Ah, everyone recommends the New England Deep Thinkers. If you like them, sure. Me, no.

Oh and there's a London Times reporter who visited the US at the start of the civil War.

'Flashman and the Angel of Light' because fun, and because George Macdonald Fraser knew more history than any one.

Remember the Union lost the Reconstruction. I think Fletcher Pratt was right. We we lost Reconstruction because the Union Navy won the war and ran up all navigable waterways in the South, ironclads where the water was deep and tinclads where it was shallow.

So no need for blockhouses every twenty miles in the Civil War.. So after the war no enforcement for Reconstruction. Also a lot of the best Union soldiers did not like black people. You know, the tough guys invaluable in a fight are not all nice guys.

Justice Holmes, say. Custer refused a commission to to serve in Reconstruction. That was Custer's great moral failure.. Had Custer pushed Reconstruction Reconstruction he'd probably have been killed, not a deal-breaker for Custer, he just didn't like black people, but America would be a better place if Reconstruction had worked and with Custer spearheading it it it might have worked. Custer was the leader of the elite Union cavalry, the Michigan Wolverines, all through the war.

II know Custer';s a joke now, because he lost to Sitting Bull plus Crazy Horse plus Galt. That's varsity. He lost to Jeb Stuart too, Jeb whipped Custer's elite Wolverines at Yellow Tavern. Jeb Stuart got killed whipping Custer and his Wolverines. And lost on points at a previous encounter. Jeb previously whipped a lot of Union cavalry without losing on points at the first try or getting killed when he did win. Custer was outfoxed by Wade Hampton's cracker ninjas on their own ground like everyone, Hampton's hagiographers mention this as a triumph for Hampton and change the subject fast. Because Custer 's Wolverines weren't outfoxed all that much. Custer's raid with KillCavalry Kilpatrick was a fiasco, like every time Killcavalry got command of Union cavalry, but the Custer's Wolverines pulled through. You may read in 'The Custer Myth' about everyone who told everyone afterwards how. they stood up to Custer.

Okay.

Allowing for technology, you could put Custer against Alexander or Genghis Khan. And Custer would get himself massacred, because Fuck You. Like the British at Islanlawana. And after the 'winner' would note, like Shaka Zulu after he massacred the Brits, that there were not enough living on his own side to count his own dead,. Sitting Bull was striking his tents BEFORE Custer's Last Stand so the Sioux could run to Canada,. Because Sitting Bull was a stone pro who knew who he crossed

The south end of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois was settled by whites from the South who hated slavery, because it lowered wages, and by extension hated black people. That's Abraham Lincoln, and his voting block. Lincoln was a decent man, and when Frederick Douglass said no, happens black folks don't want to be sent back to Africa, Lincoln said okay. But it's what Lincoln and the the south of the Midwest wanted What Lincoln's voting block wanted. Sundown towns are technically illegal nowaydays, but okay. Drive through small towns in the south of the Midwest, look around. I don't say things improve when the D party imports ringers from Mexico.

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The difficulty here is that I don't find it particularly controversial or even uncouth to say that being a bum *is* bad.

Is "racist" offensive? Is "nazi" a slur? No one wants to be called those things, certainly, but that's because no one want to be those things. Compare "Jap," where it is merely the word that makes it bad.

I do agree that "bum" is meaner than "homeless person," but bum is also a synonym for "lazy." I don't see a hyperstitious slur here, I just see a word with connotations that society doesn't value

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I think that's probably right about "bum", though I don't have a good sense of its full development. There has been a euphemism treadmill for things like "hobo" (which was intended by at least some to convey "migrant worker" neutrally, but probably stopped really being a polite or neutral term before I was born), "homeless", etc. I think it's at "unhoused" now, though I don't keep careful track.

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Using bum *as* a word for someone who merely lacks a home is offensive. Calling someone who lost their house and is now sleeping out of their car and is managing to hold down their job etc... a bum would be offensive as we now reserve it for the kind of smelly person who comes up to you and asks or change and is generally not welcome in society.

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Almost every term we have to describe a person of low intelligence or an ill-considered idea/statement derives from a word that once was used as a technical reference to intellectual disability or a class of people with a disability who were incorrectly thought to be possibly intellectually disabled. What has happened historically in American English is each use became mainstreamed as a slur due to the low social status of and bigoted ideas people have about the intellectually disabled, causing people who want to avoid that to come up with a different term to make a distinction. This cycle has repeated itself up until the present where the shortened form of "mentally retarded" has been rather successfully gradually turned into an act of extreme profanity over the past two decades. "Intellectually disabled" has held up relatively well, partially due to cultural improvements in lowing bigotry towards people with an ID and partially due to the term having the right linguistic stuff in not being as easily shorthanded into a slur.

Some of the older terms, however, are used freely by people without even giving a thought to their roots being awfully similar to how the r-word was used in 1993. Idiot, for example. There's an unbroken chain of use, but the profanity of it is mostly drained.

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British English speaker here, and "urchin" is a generally accepted term of ironic endearment for a small child, with no sense of edginess whatsoever. There's rarely a need to describe homeless children in the UK these days, so I guess it's lost its bite.

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I think Scott is just wrong that "All Lives Matter" is in a 1% category. It probably feels like it is from a West Coast perspective, but there are lots of people who never understood the distinction that BLM was trying to make and felt that it was a deliberate attempt to either claim that "[Only] BLM" or control the language of others (in the sense that Scott means) and actively refused to do it.

I've seen a lot of Confederate flags near where I live, and often with accompanying signs that explicitly state the person's refusal to accept an outside consensus forced on them. The equivalent of "You can have my flag when you take it from my cold, dead, hands." It's a middle finger to coastal elites trying to control language and customs in areas they would never visit and for which they show active disdain.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

The adoption of the confederate flag as a symbol of southern pride wasn't coopted by defense of racism. The use of it exploded in popularity specifically as a a symbol of defiance against the civil rights movement and in defense of the Jim Crow regimes that arose after the defeat of reconstruction efforts to build multiracial democracy. It's only after this period when the segregationists were politically and culturally defeated that people started in large numbers insisting that the flag functions for them as a generic symbol of Southern pride or a sense of "redneck" pride. But that was new. Within a lot of the lifetimes of people reading this comment new. This is largely an apologetic for its earlier use in mid-century America. Some people employ it in a knowing way, but there are some who genuinely seem confused about this.

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Absolutely. I elaborated on the same thought within another comment thread. The problem is determining if the use of such a symbol conveys some negative idea (as the flag did in the 1960s) or one or more positive ideas (as I would argue it did starting in the 1980s) and now a different connotation again in regards to a "screw you, don't tell me what to do" attitude.

I have a lot of memories from the 1980s of people wearing Confederate flags or having them around, and it was definitely a free-spirit kind of idea. Be free, be wild, biker gang or even hippie feel.

It reminds me of the Gadsden flag's cultural changes. It was a Revolutionary War-era flag that for a long time was a left-wing anti-government flag. Then the Tea Party incorporated it and it was suddenly a right-wing flag.

All three interpretations are correct, and conveyed the intended meanings at the appropriate times. To say that the Gadsden flag is a Tea Party affectation is currently correct, but that really doesn't speak to 40 years ago or 40 years from now.

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In the 90's I strongly associated the Gadsden flag with libertarians and libertarian adjacent movements like "militia" types. It was very popular in that segment of society. The Tea Party had a pretty strong paleolibertarian (i.e. Ron Paul revolution type) streak in its earliest iteration, to the point that it was at least in part an attempt to capture that energy in the wake of the discontent with George W. Bush and prevent it from damaging the institutional Republican party. That gave way, relatively fast, to generic hard-right conservatism where eventually the label ended up rightly connoted with the politics of someone like Sarah Palin. It's not particularly surprising that it picked up the Gadsden flag in its iconography early on, though. It's a flag libertarians loved.

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Writing from Georgia, I agree very much that Scott's perspective is highly coastal elite specific. Flying Confederate flags is very much often a symbol of disdain for the Establishment than any type of racism. This shows how much 'racism' has been used as a Trojan horse to catch any anti-establishment sentiment and control thought.

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Honestly Scott's framing (and the subsequent adoption of it by the commenters) of it is bogus.

It's not the *confederate* flag it's the *rebel* flag.

I literally saw a bumper sticker up by the Canadian border with the flag and the words "Yankee by birth, rebel by the grace of God."

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Of course the meaning of that flag and of the Civil War is different things to different people. It was perhaps the first thing that was ever 'canceled' in America. Does it represent the heroism of soldiers, a resistance to a centralizing tyranny, the loss of a simpler, freer way of life that is 'Gone with the Wind', violence perpetrated by winners against losers self-righteously, a set of facts that are inconvenient to the American aristocracy? Or does it merely represent an attempt by some people to dominate others? In 2023 when the groups that control the most powerful nation in the world are trying to control thoughts by outlawing symbols and words that convey ideas that they disapprove of, those who insist on thinking outlawed thoughts need symbols. Perhaps the last chapter in this symbol's history has yet to be written?

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For what it's worth, in 2005 I was on an Age of Empires II forum. The game has the Japanese as a playable civilization. Everyone called them "the Japs".

Do cascades work in reverse? Like, sometimes words un-taboo themselves, right?

In the Middle Ages, swearing often took the form of blasphemy, like "God's bones!" and "by the blood of Christ!". Few would find those expressions offensive now. I wonder when the shift happened?

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Probably it was used in the initially expurgated form "G- D-!" in old Victorian novels, then slowly become more appropriate to say in full, uncensored form, then become cool or radical and then become so commonplace even grandma was using it, at which point it became uncool and useless as a swear. The F-word is following a similar trajectory, I think. Google N-gram viewer shows a very weird distribution, (https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=God+damn%2C&year_start=1700&year_end=2019&case_insensitive=on&corpus=en-2019&smoothing=3), with odd peaks every 50 years or so, but a general upward trend.

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I doubt that any synonym for swive will ever become not emotionally charged....until it drops in frequency enough that most people don't recognize it without effort. Even Chimpanzees swear by "shit" (at least in the lab).

Some things really aren't neutral. Cultural has a broad sweep, but it's not all-encompassing, even WRT language use.

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There's no way that distribution is "real", is there? I mean, it's got to be some kind of artifact of data collection or something. I refuse to believe it's real!

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> In the Middle Ages, swearing often took the form of blasphemy, like "God's bones!" and "by the blood of Christ!". Few would find those expressions offensive now. I wonder when the shift happened?

I think it's as simple as people becoming less religious until we hit a point where the non- or less-religious stopped feeling like they had a duty to accommodate the sensibilities of the more religious. (This doesn't need to look like a rise in actual atheism, so long as people stop meaningfully believing that you could go to Hell for taking the Lord's name in vain and other melodramatic beliefs.) It's noteworthy that America is more religious than the UK, and, famously, American English still treats "Hell" and "damn" as significantly stronger swears than British English.

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The obvious counterpoint to that is that such phrases are only swears because they are offensive to religious people; if the norm was to be non- or less- religious and not care what religious people think, then it's doubtful that "by the blood of Christ!"->"bloody" or whatever would have gained any traction as something to shout when you're angry in the first place.

I imagine if the world had formed that way from the beginning, we'd have needed to fall back onto taboo racist words or something just to have something to say when you hit your thumb with a hammer, since I'm pretty sure even stuff like the F-word only got a foothold due to its impact on pearl-clutching churchy folk.

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Counterpoint to your counterpoint: in Quebec minced versions of obscure Catholic terms (ciborium, tabernacle, chalice, etc) are used as strong profanity, and this arose specifically out of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s when Quebecois society at large very rapidly secularized at a rate hardly ever seen in history.

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Oh yeah, so true. I grew up in Northern Quebec (Rouyn-Noranda), and I remember “Baptiste!” “Tabernac!” flying around.

Early 60s.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

Yeah, "counter" point wasn't really a wisely chosen phrase, just what rolled off the tongue. It pretty much lined up an interesting aside to your comment, with which this aligns perfectly. Of course what I would paraphrase as "one of the top, if not the, strongest cultural backlash against religiosity in history" would be expected to produce even more terms specifically meant to offend the religious than a quiet steady rate. What would be surprising, and actually counter to our thread, would be evidence of religiously motivated swear words arising from an already highly or completely secular society, in the absence of any particular need to offend those with an upper hand in the status quo.

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> since I'm pretty sure even stuff like the F-word only got a foothold due to its impact on pearl-clutching churchy folk.

I dunno. I don't think there's a particularly religious bent to "shit". It'd be interesting to check whether cultures whose formative religions don't say much on sexual mores also have rude words that refer to sex/genitalia.

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> I don't think there's a particularly religious bent to "shit".

I agree. The scatological pre-dated religion for sure. Chimps throw their shit at each other (or so I’ve heard).

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When I briefly studied Cree, I was told that the word for "penis" can be used as a personal insult (similar in meaning to "dick"), but that it isn't rude at all if you actually mean penis.

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I feel like there are plenty of terms in English which are insulting if used towards a person as an insult, but fine when used literally. It sounds almost tautologically true when I put it like that.

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"Bloody" has had a bad rep ever since the Reformation in the 1540s, because it was short for "by my lady" (i.e. the Virgin Mary) and swearing by her was frowned on by protestants as a throwback to Catholicism!

Apparently William the Conqueror's favourite swearing oath was "By the Splendour of Christ!", although that doesn't seem to have caught on much! :-)

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Heh, I think there's been a lot of retrospective tabooing in the last 20 years due to various heightened sensitivities. That's a good example.

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Quebec is the MVP at keeping the French religious swearing tradition going strong! Ask a Canadien what “tabarnak” means. You also have baptism, chalice, host, sacrament, saint, virgin, Christ, simony, damn.

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John McWhorter wrote a book about the history of profanity in English called "Nine Nasty Words" that goes into this. I don't recall his exact argument, but your comment reminded me of one of his examples - a self-censored piece of marginalia in an old manuscript that reads "Oh d--- fucking Abbot" (or something along those lines). Modern sensibilities would expect the self-censorship to be "Oh damned f--ing Abbot." This vaguely suggests that the subject of what, exactly, is considered taboo changes over time and thus influences what's considered a "strong" curse word and what's not.

Interesting read and one of the only books about linguistics I've read that made me genuinely laugh out loud at times.

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"bloody" is short for "By our lady (Maria)". In the game: Sure neither the Japs nor the Krauts are people in that game, and as playable civs quite impressive, historically. Plus the setting is in a time where "the Japs" was not yet on that slur-cascade. Was there even a Japanese among the players?

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

Is that really true, re 'bloody'? It sounds a little like a folk etymology to me, and Etymonline doesn't mention it: https://www.etymonline.com/word/bloody#etymonline_v_13621

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Wikipedia says it's unverified:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody

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An English Teacher (of English and German) in London told me, in 1994. Actually, Etymonline does mention it, just not favorably quoting Rawson: "Theories that derive it from such oaths as "By our Lady" or "God's blood" seem far fetched, however." Seemingly, my colleague might have been wrong. And so I retreat humbled. ;)

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I also thought about this exact example while reading this article. I think the boring answer in this case is that gaming forums in the 2000s were fairly strongly dominated by white men who didn't care ver much about political correctness. That's not to say the term was used in malice, just that a lot of the people there were aware that it was considered generally offensive and just didn't care. Some people seem to have started using it in innocence this way - a prominent modern-day Age2 youtuber called Spirit of the Law used to say "Go Japs!" in videos to cheer for his favourite civilisation, in a clearly benign way, but was nonetheless compelled to stop after someone pointed out to him that it was considered a slur in a broader context.

I guess this does show that groups with different social incentives to mainstream discourse do provide a *theoretical* vector for reintroducing taboo words back into that discourse, but they'd have to be *much* larger than 'Age2 forum' to have a hope of dislodging even a weak pro-taboo consensus.

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Outstanding!

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“I’m not going to refer to the Japanese as “Japs” out of some kind of never-joining-hyperstitious-slur-cascade principle.”

I don’t blame you for this because of the personal consequences, but I think this would be the right thing to do. I personally refuse to say “n-word”, and if I want to refer to the word, I say/write “nigger”, the only exception being if I’m in a situation where I would say “f-word”. Also, if I’m singing along with certain artists (rarely), I don’t substitute “ninja”.

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There's an interesting use/mention distinction here. The threshold for "too taboo to use" differs from the threshold for "too taboo to mention"; many slurs are (fair enough) too taboo to use, but only a handful are too taboo to even mention.

Making words too taboo to even mention, in an appropriate context, is ridiculous. Imagine being a kid growing up nowadays, knowing that you're not allowed to say "The N Word" but not knowing what that word actually is.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually saying “N-word” becomes taboo and we have to come up with something dumber.

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Given that you can be suspended from your job for saying a word which SOUNDS like "nigger" but predates it by centuries, I think we're pretty much there already, or as close to it as makes no difference.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-54107329

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Yup, there's even an entire wiki on controversies surrounding this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controversies_about_the_word_niggardly

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The word which shall not be named?

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Rotated Z word

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Zis letter is tejken, sorry.

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In Judaism God is (often) written as יהוה. It would be disrespectful to pronounce, so we play it safe with 'Adonai' (tl: Our master/lord). However, that is used in prayers so if you aren't praying/reading scripture it would be disrespectful, so we play it safe again and pronounce יהוה as Hashem (tl: the name).

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"If they could have, they would have demanded that “HaShem” be replaced with something else too, except that “HaShem” literally just meant “the Name” and so was already maximally vague."

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I think this is a very important thing, and runs deeper than words drifting in and out of fashion. To name something is to put a fence around it. The acknowledgment of that runs a lot deeper than mere convention.

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It's incredible to me that I was a practicing, relatively religious jew for 20 years without ever realizing that Jehovah was god's name. I'd heard of Jehovah's Witnesses, but that just sounded like random gibberish, I had no idea why they were called that. Then one day out of curiosity I sounded out yud-hay-vav-hay and was blown away.

When I was learning Hebrew, I was taught that yud-hay-vav-hay was pronounced "Adonai" the same way you might be taught how to pronounce "th" in English.

The fact that he has a name is also super weird. Apparently it predates monotheism. Jehovah was originally part of a pantheon of Mesopotamian gods, but at some point the others were de-emphasized and then forgotten. Meanwhile Jehovah, once a minor god, is now worshipped by 55% of the world population, and most of them don't know his name because it's so long been considered forbidden knowledge.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

In some primitive societies there was a tradition that each person would have a public name, which anyone could use, and a closely guarded never-spoken secret name, so somewhat analogous to public key cryptography!

Anyone revealing their secret name would risk having their soul stolen, or some similar undesirable outcome. I guess the fairy tale about Rumpelstiltskin may be a folk memory harking back to a distant former time when secret names really were a thing.

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Although why someone would choose to be called Wrinkled Foreskin is something of a mystery.

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Because yud-hay-vav-hay was tabooed to actually say before vowel pointings were introduced into Hebrew, no-one is entirely certain what the correct pronunciation is.

When it's written with vowel pointings, those are the vowel pointings for Adonai, as an aide-memoire. It was Christians, not understanding that, who tried to pronounce it and got "Jehovah", using the consonants of yud-hay-vav-hay and the vowels of Adonai.

There are a few words that retain the vowels (e.g. Hallelujah ends yud-hay but has the original vowel, so it's "yah") from which linguists have reconstructed a probable "Yahweh" - ie יַהְוֶה‎ rather than יְהֹוָה‎

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I think Jehovah or the local adaptation of the name is fairly common knowledge among Christians. He is usually just referred to as "God" though but there is no taboo with regards to using the actual name.

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I also say "nigger" (which is not often to begin with to be fair) except where self-preservation requires that I say "n-word" to avoid losing jobs, or having 50 people physically stomping on my head. That and singing along with songs that say "nigger" can actually result in criminal penalties in my country (the UK so no first amendment). I don't want people to stand over me as a separate class who are allowed to use certain words that I am not. I understand why calling a black person "a nigger" is bad, as that is a direct insult, but talking about the word itself by using "n-word" is a really strange part of Western post-civil rights culture (Louis CK has a good bit on this).

Though like I'm said, I'm not standing in front of the firing squad, because saying "nigger" rather than the "n-word" in most real life contexts is far too socially, and sometimes physically or legally dangerous. Also fortunately, it's not a word that needs to be said very often. I wonder what the most tabooed word that needs to be said most often is.

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> singing along with songs that say "nigger" can actually result in criminal penalties in my country (the UK so no first amendment).

Have people actually been convicted for this, or anything sufficiently similar to suggest it would be treated as criminal?

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There is a German song "Das Lied vom (the song of) Nigger Jim", sung by Hans Albers. Thankfully it is anti-racist. Well, I shall be careful not to perform it in a pub in the UK.

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No idea, but this is the same country where the cops go after people for "liking" wrongthink tweets and where a dude got arrested for teaching his dog to do a Nazi salute as a joke.

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Yes, someone has been convicted of this specific offense. Chelsea Russell, 2017, quoted the lyrics of a rap song containing the word in a tribute to a dead friend: eight week curfew with ankle tag, ordered to pay $500 with an £85 victim surcharge. She challenged it in 2019 and managed to have the charges overturned on the basis that the usage of the word was sufficiently widespread in hip hop music for the conviction to be absurd.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

What on earth does that achieve? What does it cost you to just use a euphemism, if it avoids upsetting others?

Sure, it's irrational that there are certain slurs we're not allowed even to explicitly mention. So what? Human cultures have irrational customs. Your stubborn absolutism and pointless, petulant self-sabotage hardly seem more rational.

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Hey, if you’re going to address me in the comments, I’d really prefer you call me “Sexy Master Who is Greater Than All”. It makes me feel good, and I get upset when not affirmed. I’m sure you won’t mind since it doesn’t really harm you.

Now, you can argue you’re not beholden to comply because you don’t believe I really mean it, but once you even start down that path you’ve undercut your position that one should just accept little indignities if it keeps a fake whiner from getting fake upset.

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I think we need to change the names of cardinal directions. South is way too contaminated with the connotations of the confederacy and racism. North and west and irredeemably jaundiced with a sickly sheen of oily colonialism, and east is orientalist.

Drop all those words form you language or be insensitive to people’s feelings!

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I mean, in a world where 'South' was a totally taboo word, to the point where saying it would cause people to become genuinely horrified and disgusted at me... yeah, I would say something else.

I don't think your counter-example stands, because you're imagining a world where these words have not yet become a slur. You're being USC, in Scott's above example. In the case of the N-word, the cascade has already happened, all the way down, and no-one can change that.

The only choice you have to make is whether to violate the taboo or not. And in normal society, violating a taboo like this doesn't make anyone assume you're a brilliant unconstrained free-thinker; it makes 99% of people assume you're a terrible person.

Sure, it's irrational. But enormous swathes of human behaviour are totally irrational. There's also a taboo on talking about body functions in polite society. And it's totally irrational -- after all, everybody poops. But try being at a nice dinner and mentioning that you need to defecate -- people will be horrified.

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I think you're conceding too much here. It actually *is* rational to judge someone for using a slur. That's the whole point of the hyperstitious cascade.

If you try to fight battles against the most taboo slurs, you'll spend all of your social capital accomplishing nothing. Spend your capital lambasting USC and their ilk for trying to create new slurs. An ounce of prevention

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I might have been unclear. The taboos themselves are somewhat irrational (for a given meaning of 'irrational', which is complicated in itself). But once they exist, then you're right, it is 100% rational to judge someone for violating them.

Like, everyone knows the N-word is massively tabooed. Even the people further up this thread who claim to say it.

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Good points.

> Sure, it's irrational.

I thing we should taboo word "irrational" here, as what we are talking about doesn't actually have anything to do with systematical ways of (not) finding the truth.

It's a bit annoying. It's somewhat arbitrary. It's socially constructed and context restricted. It can be silly or poorly justified, or at least look this way to us. All this descriptors seems better fitting the case.

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Apr 22, 2023·edited Apr 22, 2023

I'm not convinced that the taboo on talking about bodily functions is "totally irrational". In the case of the dinner party you've described, mentioning defection is going to tend to cause people to conjure up the act and substance and smell of defecation; this is going to taint the enjoyment of the food (if you've ever eaten supper with someone who badly overshares you'll know what I mean). This seems like a rational justification for not doing that.

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It's as if you haven't written the post you are commenting below.

You need to first solve a coordination problem so that enough people were invested in everyone calling you “Sexy Master Who is Greater Than All” to create a cascade and let it pass the required threshold of acceptance. Till then your case isn't nearly as valid.

There is also a matter of a cooperation in a prisoner dilemma. If you were the kind of person who would respect other people wishes regarding what words are used towards them, there would be at least one reson to likewise respect your wish, even in the beginning of the cascade. But as you've explicitly stated that you are the opposite of that - no Sexy Mastery and Greatness for you.

And of course the position you are arguing against isn't "accept little indignities if it keeps a fake whiner from getting fake upset". It's "accept little indignities if it keeps real people from being really upset, even if reasons for that are socially constructed". Every position can be made ridiculous if separated from truth predicate.

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People do seem to get genuinely upset about mention of the word nigger, so Porcupine calling them fake whiners seems odd. I will shore up his argument by proposing that they are stupid whiners and I don't feel beholden to their stupid preferences.

For instance, when I say "the world is not run by lizard people", the offends my schizophrenic neighbor who thinks the world is run by lizard people and I must be one of their agents to deny such obvious truths. This is stupid and I don't care, I'm not going to let his literal insanity constrain my speech. If I was being that stupid I would prefer people tell me so rather than play along.

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Stupid is a leaky word here. A lot of stuff that seems stupid to us may be very much not stupid in reality. Maybe if we just put some effort and figured out the reasons why people are upset we wouldn't think that their preferences are stupid.

But in the end when you have done your best effort and the situation seems stupid as with your schizophrenic neighboor example? Then you can still execute some niceness just on the merits of outside view and general tolerance but essentially, yes then it's much more fine to disregard their preferences.

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Why should we (the anti-hyperstitions people) be expected to put effort ? Why won't the people who want to mute our speech and track our every little utterance put a little effort into understanding our reasons ?

>Then you can still execute some niceness just on the merits of outside view and general tolerance

Oh, sure, Niceness, a privilege that I voluntarily give. Not an entitlement that somebody have the right to demand, let alone inflict or threaten to inflict material consequences ranging from banning me to firing me from a job.

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I'm sure you felt like the cleverest boy in school when you wrote this, but "don't use a slur" is a blanket rule, whereas wanting to be called something different from your handle is asking for special treatment.

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The exact thing we are discussing is when people use the “don’t use a slur” rule to crate new slurs and offenses…

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Yes. People, as a group, wield the mandate to create blanket rules. Porcupine/SexyMaster is an individual.

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How many persons make a "group" ?

I'm joining SexyMaster in his/her/xer demands, that makes a two of us. How many more do we need before you listen to us that P*****ne is a slur ?

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You know, I don't like your name because every time people say "hi Jack!", it reminds me of the people who flew planes into buildings on 9/11. Can you please change your name? What does it cost you to use a pseudonym to avoid upsetting others?

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

I don't think your counter-example stands, because you're imagining a world where "Jack" has not yet become a slur. You're being USC, in Scott's above example. In the case of the N-word, the cascade has already happened, all the way down, and no-one can change that.

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*No one* can change it? Queer used to be a slur.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

You're asking me to change what I refer to myself as. Surely you can see that is much more difficult and inconvenient than changing what I refer to someone else as? And surely you can see that the benefit in changing my name is much less, since I will likely never interact with you again? In other words, your reductio ad absurdum doesn't work because it's not equivalent. Both the costs and benefits involved are vastly different.

But if we could come up with a situation that was more equivalent- say, if people in general tended to be upset by the name Jack, or someone I was close to and spent a lot of time with was upset by it- then yes I would. Because even the cost of changing ones own name is fairly minor compared to upsetting other people. So actually, I rather think your hypothetical supports my position, given a bit of thought.

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What you're saying is obviously true. I think one potential justification with the N-word is that the level of taboo-ness is actually more up-for-debate than it seems.

Calling someone the N-word is obviously, 100% considered wrong. That's done with. But using the word in reference was actually okay to do just a decade or two ago, and I don't think it's actually a socially dangerous thing to do most of the time even today. That one may really be in a state where refusing to play along can make a real difference, and so is worth doing for the reasons explained in the article.

Moreover, the state of existence where society works really hard to get songs full of racial slurs stuck in your head with omnipresent incredibly catchy tunes, and then singing along to those songs is a socially criminal act, is so diabolically dystopian it may be worth risking real harm to ensure we don't become trapped in it. I'm not sure how to save us from that world, but I wish more people were working harder on it.

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Yet another reason not to abide by this particular taboo: it’s utterly racist. Yes, I know people will push back, but I’ve yet to hear a remotely convincing argument that it’s ok to divide taboos by skin color.

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I solve this by being old and knowing zero hip-hop.

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>What on earth does that achieve?

Your dignity. It achieves the following : Cry bullies now know a fact about you, you can't be cry bullied.

It's Pascal's Wagger all the way down, why won't you believe in Islam ? It's so utterly cost less, you just have to say a single sentence : There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is the prophet of Allah. That's it, you don't have to pray 5 times a day (the Quran says you have but plenty of Muslims don't, the most they get is an occasional "conversation" from their more devout bretherns), and you can just disappear in Ramadan and eat quietly in your home. Certainly no one will actually trace your money to make sure you're paying Zakat (2.5% of your money that needs to be paid for the poor).

Why don't you do this ? Muslims are generally extremly upset by the fact that lots of people are not Muslims, why don't you make them a little more happier and pretend to be a Muslim ? What does it cost you ?

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Being Muslim would cost me quite a lot. It's clearly nowhere near equivalent to using certain words that I would have almost no occasion to use anyway.

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My grandad called black people colored until he died in 2007 and he didn’t have a racist bone in his body.

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What do you mean by "racist"?

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Feeling of hostility or superiority toward black people.

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Same for my grandparents (probably until they died in like 2016). Calling someone colored was simple descriptive.

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That was simply considered the polite and respectful term for a while. My next door neighbor still uses it to refer to the black couple across the street. I don’t think he’s a racist, he just not up to date.

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