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AWADmail Issue 567

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Vigilante Copy Editor
The New York Times

Linguists Identify 15,000-Year-Old 'Ultraconserved Words'
The Washington Post

Words That Last
The Washington Post

From: Dan Haile (danhaile comcast.net)
Subject: Queer street

I believe queer street also has another meaning in boxing when a fighter has received a severe blow (or blows), and is out on his feet so to speak, he is said to be on queer street.

Dan Haile, Nashville, Tennessee

From: Peachey (via Wordsmith Talk discussion forum)
Subject: queer street

Kind of funny... I'm German and when I saw the word "queer street" in the mail today, I associated it directly with the German word Querstraße, that simply means a street going left or right from the main road you're on.

Peachey, Rhede, Germany

From: Richard Mann (rmann54 verizon.net)
Subject: queer street

Funny seeing this the day+ after enjoying the Kentucky Derby, the anthem of which is My Old Kentucky Home. That song's newer lyrics include "tis summer and all folks are gay." They some years ago replaced those that went "tis summer, the darkies are gay."

Either way, with so many gay folks of whatever hue, you'd think that state would be leading the way on marriage equality. If any of their wedding service providers are suffering on queer street, it would surely give them a boost.

Richard Mann, Hampton Roads, Virginia

From: Robert Voitier (mrv1948 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--queer street

With no ill will I ask why you take such pains to buffer the impact of the word "queer" with concern for offending homosexuals without corresponding concern about the many things that gays do and say offend so many straights?

Robert Voitier, Lafayette, Louisiana

Many things that gays do and say that offend so many straights? Indeed. Let's count: Gays telling straights that they are sinners. Gays telling straights that they are going to hell for their sinful heterosexual lifestyles. Gays using slurs to refer to straights. Gays enacting laws that prevent straights from getting married. Gays bullying, beating, and even killing straights for being straight. The list goes on. Here are some more reasons to oppose gays. Also see this.
-Anu Garg

From: Janet Brennan Croft (jbcroft ou.edu)
Subject: Niggler

J.R.R. Tolkien, a champion niggler if there ever was one, wrote a lovely short story called Leaf by Niggle. An allegory about art and death, with the main character a painter niggling over the details of his life's work, it's well worth seeking out.

Janet Brennan Croft, Norman, Oklahoma

From: Mary Boy (mary all-the-boys.de)
Subject: niggler

This word sounds very much like the German word Nörgler for the same thing. A Noergler is a grouch, grumbler, niggler, quibbler, or bellyacher!

Mary Boy, Berlin, Germany

Email of the Week (Brought to you by One Up! - Momster Fun.)

From: Wayne Reske (twentiethman hotmail.com)
Subject: tar baby

All babies are tar babies. Every baby is a tar baby.

Wayne Reske, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

From: Ken Sterling (ksterling windstream.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--tar baby

In case you're too young to have seen it, this is the routine: video, transcript (another video).

It definitely plays to your theme of words that might be taken as offense.

Ken Sterling, Greenbrier, Arkansas

From: Gina Marie Warswick (djg7 aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--tar baby

Tar Baby is a song (audio, lyrics) by Nigerian R&B singer, Sade. This song appeared on her second album, Promise, which was released in 1985. I have included the lyrics of the song which I took from a lyrics website. Even if the term isn't supposed to be harmful, from the lyrics, a negative connotation is clear. "The secret she conceived" and "how could her girl be so naive" seem to be a negative judgement. However, the rest of the song is about the baby being a blessing.

When I purchased this album back in 1985, I was in middle school and had never heard of the phrase tar baby. When I saw my email with the word, I instantly heard Sade's voice in my head.

Gina Marie Warswick, El Paso, Texas

From: Michael Burrows (punkinburr aol.com)
Subject: Tar Baby

There was a boxer around the early 20th century named Sam Langford He lived in Boston, and worked on and off for my grandfather. He was one of the most famous boxers of his time, a black man, and never accepted in his profession, but, he was a very good man, so my Father told me many years ago.

He was called The Boston Tar Baby. But, with respect.

Michael Burrows, West Palm Beach, Florida

From: Brett Beiles (brettb hardyboys.co.za)
Subject: Brer Rabbit

When I was a toddler my mother took me to play in nearby Berea Park. During our first visit there, I ran off from my mother. She shouted after me, "Where do you think you're going?" Mistaking the pronunciation of "Berea", I said, "I'm going to save Brer Rabbit from Brer Fox." My old mum still dines out on that tale.

Brett Beiles, Westville, South Africa

From: Gwynne M Nicholaides (gwynnemn aol.com)
Subject: Tar Heel

The legend here in North Carolina is that the sports teams at UNC are known as The Tar Heels because of a quotation by Robert Lee. Other regiments fled a battle, but the NC regiment continued to fight, causing Lee to say, "Those troops from NC stuck to their guns as if they had had tar on their heels!"

In colonial times, the abundance of pine trees near the coast resulted in a thriving industry, producing tar for the British fleet.

Gwynne M Nicholaides, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

From: Petronella J.C. Elema (pjc.elema planet.nl)
Subject: cockshy

The cockshy, brought to mind that related activity: the coconut shy. Wikipedia describes it as a traditional game frequently found as a sidestall at funfairs and fętes (dating from the late 19th century).

Petronella J.C. Elema, Groningen, The Netherlands

From: John Pearce (john msa.co.nz)
Subject: Cockshy

Now that's a word I've only heard, long ago, in my youth. Not seen written. In those days (early 1950ish) it was used, not as you document; but by the more assertive of my schoolmates to describe young ladies of their acquaintance who held onto their moral scruples in the face of persistent attempts at seduction. More an object of grudging respect than ridicule.

John Pearce, Auckland, New Zealand

From: Doris Thompson (dwt0514 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--niggard

When I taught 10th grade CP (College Preparatory) English, this was one of the words listed in our workbook. It did cause murmurings, but it was a teachable moment. The book also had the word fortitude, and I was eliciting synonyms that the class might be familiar with. A very large football player raised his hand excitedly, happy that he could for once contribute. Imagine my surprise when he blurted out "balls". I miss those days!

Doris Thompson, Beaver, Pennsylvania

From: Janet C. Mandel (jcmandel aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--niggard

In Act IV, scene iii of Macbeth, Macduff is trying to get Ross to tell him how his family is doing in his absence (they've been slaughtered, and Ross knows it), and he says, "But not a niggard of your speech: how goes't?" Before we read the scene aloud in class, I had to deliver a somewhat awkward vocab lesson to my 10th grade mostly African-American students about this word. It was still uncomfortable for them to say it (in any context other than talking to their friends in the hall).

Janet Mandel, West Orange, New Jersey

From: Larry Delano Coleman (lcole81937 aol.com)
Subject: 3/5's of words @ blacks

3/5's of this week's words contain negative connotations to some blacks. They are: niggling, tar baby, and niggard.

The remaining two, queer street and cockshy apply to others. Such tongue-in-cheek irony is not lost upon me. The AWAD editors, doubtless, inwardly grin at their own double-construction, and double-pun, upon blacks, it would appear, because no other sectors of humanity are so similarly "honored!"

Given your linguistic prolixity, I am certain that, if so disposed, you could bestow commensurate double humor upon other discrete groups, like white people, East Indians, Chinese, etc.

Mind you, I am not offended! Neither am I complaining! Instead, I am advocating that there be a diversification of the demeaning vernacular nuances in this week's words to other ethnic groups as well. "Word Power!" is what I urge, as a word-loving black man who reads, and who truly enjoys AWAD's riches every day!

Larry Delano Coleman, Raytown, Missouri

Your observation that three out of five words have negative connotations to blacks may be correct but it was unintentional. Reading my introduction to this week's words, and notes included during the week should dispel the notion that these were presented with an inward grin. I do agree that one can use them in an offensive manner (see the next message) -- that was the whole premise of this week's words.

While you may not be offended, this week's words did offend some enough to prompt them to cancel their subscriptions. Also, many readers missed this week's postings because email filters at their organizations were offended.

I invite you to write back and share words that are not offensive, but may appear to be offensive to other groups as you suggest. Also, I encourage everyone to continue the lively conversation in our online forum Wordsmith Talk.
-Anu Garg

From: blackjack11155 (via Wordsmith Talk discussion forum)
Subject: niggardly

A friend of mine who is black told me of a meeting at work that he attended and someone used the word niggardly which means reluctant to give or spend; stingy; miserly. This being a government meeting and funding always being an issue, the term was in a sense appropriately used. However, when a certain inflection is placed in the voice or eye contact is made with the only black person in the room when it was being said, even this can be inflammatory.

blackjack11155, Washington, DC

From: Marge Simon (msimon6206 aol.com)
Subject: This week's words -- a compliment!

Just wanted to commend you on this week's choice of what some would say are not politically correct words!

Marge Simon, Ocala, Florida

From: Monroe Thomas Clewis (mtc265 yahoo.com)
Subject: This Week's Theme

Appearances being reality, "terms that appear offensive but aren't" is a paradox.

Monroe Thomas Clewis, Kunming, China

Words -- so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. -Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer (1804-1864)

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