COLE: Stop saying that which offends me

August 2, 2011

Outrage over the expression “tar baby,” said last week by U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, provides the opportunity to publish a list of terms I find egregiously offensive. Persons employing the following terms in my presence (especially progressives) should expect an indignant tongue-lashing about their insensitivity and ignorance.

Term: Moon. Example: “Shall we moon some highly educated progressives tonight?” Analysis: The verb “moon” is racially hurtful. Only Caucasians are capable of “mooning,” i.e., lowering the back of their pants to reveal an object that is both round and dazzlingly white. “Mooning” is therefore an inherently exclusionary pastime, every bit as offensive to modern sensibilities as golf courses and social clubs that discriminate on the basis of race and gender.

Term: Jewel. Example: “Hey, look at that Israeli gangster selling jewels out of the back of his El Camino.” Analysis: After superficial and cursory research, I have concluded that the word “jewel” contains a reference to a particularly painful chapter in the history of Jacob’s people. Once upon a time, when European Jews were forbidden from owning land, their only chance to earn a decent living was in banking and merchandise. It’s sad to realize that Jews were vilified as “moneylenders” by the very cultures that deprived them of other options. Anyway, sometime after 1300, the Anglo-French jeul morphed into the English “jewel.” Now, who would deny the possibility that English spelling was affected by the stereotype that Jews handled jewels? Because of this embedded allusion, “jewel” is categorically verboten in my presence. Say “gem” or be prepared to defend your anti-Semitism.

Term: Candidate. Example: “Can and did that candidate really eat eight corn dogs at the Iowa State Fair?” Analysis: Leftwing blowhards and other faithful fans of President Barack Obama should be horrified to learn that, speaking in strict, etymological terms, the word “candidate” means “the whitened one.” Yes, pedants will argue that candidatus originally described the spotless togas Romans wore to proclaim their eligibility for office. All I know is that, in 2008, repeated references to Senator Barack Obama, Democratic “whitened one” for President, proved too much for my dainty ears.

Terms: Moron, Idiot. Example: “If you don’t realize that reporters and columnists use outrage to sell newspapers, then you must be a moron or an idiot.” Analysis: The word “retarded” should never be used to disparage. The same is true of “idiot” and “moron,” and for exactly the same reason. In 1910, Dr. Henry H. Goddard proposed a system of classification of mental retardation, whereby “morons” were defined as persons with IQs of 51-70, and “idiots” were defined as those possessing IQs of below 25. This terminology found favor within the psychological community, and for decades thereafter, “moron” and “idiot” were technical terms for particular people with “retardation.” Since rules that apply to categories also apply to their subcategories, it is only a matter of time before the world realizes just how upsetting the words “moron” and “idiot” really are.

Term: Water Buffalo. Example: “Shut up, you water buffalo!” Analysis: One night in 1993, Penn undergraduate Eden Jacobowitz made national waves when he opened his dorm window and shouted to a group of rowdies below, “Shut up, you water buffalo!” It turns out that the rowdies were black sorority sisters; some of them took offense. The university, which heard in “water buffalo” a creative slur, charged Jacobowitz with violating its racial harassment policy. For my part, I find the term terribly offensive, not, of course, because it’s supposedly derogatory toward blacks, but because “water buffalo” was Jacobowitz’s translation of the Yiddish behema. According to “Forward,” a New York weekly, behema is a word “that means ‘livestock’ or ‘buffalo’ but whose slang meaning is ‘idiot.’”

Daniel Cole is a professional language translator who resides in Colorado Springs.
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