I have never studied linguistics, and the fact that Noam Chomsky made it his career before he set out to destroy Western Civilization, pretty much guarantees that I never will study it. But I think I have a sense of language and its effect on people. I pay attention to the evolution of words’ meanings. I like the way words affect the human mind and emotions. I like metaphor and simile and hyperbole–not to be clever, but to actually color a reader’s mood the way tiny drop of dye colors an entire bucket of milk.
For a long time I’ve maintained that any word or term used to describe an undesirable condition will eventually become an offensive term to those with the condition. Word origin is far less important than word association. Thus, handicapped became disabled and has now become challenged. Problems become issues. Complaints become suggestions. Micks become Irish-Americans.. Insane-asylumns become mental hospitals. Retardation becomes congnitive something-or-other. Elderly become senior citizens. Fifty-five year-old turn fifty-six years “young” on their next birthdays.
Recently, from a talk show host on a St. Louis station, I learned that American Indians, who wanted to be Native American for the past decade or so, want to be American Indians again for a very convoluted reason. And, now, the New York Times informs us that African-American is to general and must evolve into things more specific.
“Many argued that the term African-American should refer to the descendents of slaves brought to the United States centuries ago, not to newcomers who have not inherited the legacy of bondage, segregation and legal discrimination,” says the story.
While being black is not a negative or undesirable condition, being labeled as a member of a group some consider oppressed, others consider (even today) inferior, is undesirable. Eventually, any name for a category into which we herd individuals who really want to be simply Mike, Pete, or Tyrone, will become a term the herd detests. Life would be happier and easier if we cared less about what people termed a group to which we belong and more about our reputations as individuals. If Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream was to declassify human beings from skin colors to character containers, he must not have cared too much about the category names.
Personally, you can call me a Mick or a mackeral-snapper or anything else that lumps me in with Irish or Catholic. It’s good, efficient language. Just don’t call me Irish-American. As Democrat Woodrow Wilson once noted, people want to be called hyphanted-Americans because they haven’t come over completely. I am an American through and through. And I’m as Irish in attitude and temprament as my surname implies.
H-E-double N-E-S-S-Y spells Hennessy.