RoberII wrote:Also, sam_i_am, do you think words have very little meaning? Then why don't you try going to the nearest crowded bar and start shouting that word which you are so adamant about not being offensive at all, because since you say that word 'naked', (which I take to mean in isolation), it has 'very little meaning", and if you only say that particular word, there is no possible way anyone at all could be offended. Let us know how it goes!
Would he get beat up because he said 'nigger' or because he said something related black people in a culture where one assumes anything related to black people must be negative? An easy way to examine this is to picture the following scenario: He goes to the nearest crowded bar and starts shouting "african american" over and over without offering any context. How would people react? Positive? Negative? Indifferent?
Of course, shouting anything without context is bound to cause some mildly negative reactions. This because the lack of context makes it strange behavior, which is generally seen as negative. However, I believe that he'd get beat up for shouting "african american" repeatedly, whilst people would probably just try and avoid him if he shouted "milk carton" repeatedly.
I'm not a huge fan of RoberII's original example, for that reason. But imagine the statements "I'm quite glad we finally elected an African American as president" and "I'm quite glad we finally elected a nigger as president". One of those is a positive statement, the other... superficially is. If you ignored the connotation behind the word, it is a positive statement. The history and connotation behind the word vastly change the reading though. That second statement can really only be read as sarcasm. A straight reading is nonsensical.
You are of course right that communication will always rely on cultural context. That doesn't mean the cultural context is always right/a good thing. The more ...Hold on, I think I swallowed a gerbil. Okay. What was I saying? you try to make the language, the more difficult communication becomes. While sam_i_am seems to be missing the point that all words carry meaning on their own (and that meaning can be loaded, positively or negatively*), I am generally more inclined towards his stance, as it appeals to my logical nature. From a practical standpoint though, I'd say both sides are on the impractical extremes.
Why, actually? There's a slight inconvenience to ...Hold on, I think I swallowed a gerbil. Okay. What was I saying? language. I admit I don't really know how to refer to some individuals who don't fit the gender binary, for example. Transexual? Trans? Trans*? That being said, that slight inconveince to me is well outweighed by the fact that the language would allow me to communicate with someone on terms they prefer. As a personal example, if someone wanted to talk to me about sexual promiscuity, I'd be totally for that. But if they started using the term "slut," I'd be immediately turned off the conversation and communication would get harder between us.
Cultural background that might be of interest: I'm from Norway, so I guess i regard this debate as an outsider. AAAHHHH THUMPY WOOBLE HARRRRRPINK!! is no where near the same levels here as in the states, from what I've observed.
Have many black people in Norway? You don't have the history of racial tension and terms and such that the US does. We're in quite a unique position, being a developed nation with racial problems of its own creation. Our racial problems were the cause of our civil war, and have, bar only the American Revolution and the drafting of the Constitution, been the center of our biggest political change and movement. To say America's history is one of racial tension and resolution isn't an exaggeration.
*English is my second laguage, so I'm not sure I'm using the right words here. By loaded, I mean that words can be seen as good, bad or neutral (to varying degrees). For instance, the word 'success' is generally seen as good; the word 'failure' is generally seen as bad and the word 'stone' doesn't really carry any positive or negative vibes. The word 'nigger' has generally been attached to a negative vibe, i.e. it's been understood that being a nigger was a bad thing. One could argue that the word is still loaded as such. Then again, the whole point of using it in other contexts is to remove such a load - to give the word a neutral vibe. This is, however, usually not related to who is using the word so much as how it is used. To assume that one doesn't need to offset an already negative load when using the word seems silly though.
Loaded is fine. The technical terms are connotation and denotation. Denotation is the clinical definition of the word, connotation is the opinion implied by the word. Slender and scrawny mean roughly the same thing, but slender is a compliment, scrawny an insult.
As to how to remove a negative vibe from a word, how
as opposed to who
sounds good in theory, but it's clearly not born out by evidence. Clearly, the user of the word means something, since people view it to mean something.
Language is not math. Math exists as true or false, universal, and independent of context. A mathmetician can confidently state that the square root of -1 is i
, because this is true by definition, it's axiomatic. Language has no axioms that must be accepted as true. I could try as hard as I wanted, I could never make the square root of -1 equal 7. If I wanted to make "pelican" refer to a popular tuber, and "potato" refer to a large billed bird, I would just have to convince enough people to agree to my new scheme. You can't say an absolute in language. If people aren't comfortable with a certain use of a word, no matter how arbitrary and illogical their objection seems to you, it's totally valid. You're trying to apply set-in-stone rules to something that does not, and cannot have permanent rules.