Just a thought… Be careful with words because once they are said they can only be forgiven, not forgotten. [Author Unknown]
Ah, yes, Star Wars Day. “May the Fourth Be With You,” and all of that. I confess to having fallen into that little hammock of wordplay: March 10 is “Mario Day” (MAR10)…July 10th is “Julio Day” and so on. I just like dates and numbers and silliness like that. I always said, too, that March Fourth was the only day of the year to tell you what to do, although, to be fair, March First might well have fit that narrative, too. The point is, I’m a word geek.
So it took me by surprise to learn that something I’ve heard since I was a kid turns out to be, not only corny in a harmless kind of way, but downright offensive. There are a lot of words and terms that fit this bill: for example, “gypped.” How often have you heard someone say that, in the context of having been cheated or swindled? Guess what? It’s racist against the Roma people, or gypsies. I had no idea until someone phoned the studio to tell us that, about two decades ago.
Or to “welsh” on a bet. You guessed it, it’s putting Welsh people (like my Davis, David and Davidson ancestors) in a bad light. Apparently those good folks didn’t pay up? That would certainly be the inference.
Then we have “paddy wagons” which we now recognize as having been coined as a slur against the Irish who were rounded up and taken to jail. It’s not as though the revelation of that term’s origins was instant and painless: we got to the point where we didn’t say that anymore after hearing from listeners who gently corrected us. Of course, some broadcasters would hang up and then say “get a life” (or even do it into the phone before hanging up – I witnessed that, too), but me? I always valued the opportunity to learn something, especially if it meant no longer causing someone upset. What’s the point, really?
And so it was, through the recent suspension of a basketball play-by-play guy, that I learned how offensive another term is that was ubiquitous when we were growing up. How many times did Yosemite Sam use the term “cotton-pickin’?” To put it in context, something like, “I’ll blow your cotton pickin’ head clean off..!” You probably recall it yourself.
Last month, one man with a microphone used the term while calling Oklahoma City Thunder player Russell Westbrook “out of his cotton-pickin’ mind.” Westbrook, it might be important to note, is African American. And who did most of America’s cotton picking? Slaves, of course. That’s the connection between that adjective and Brian Davis’ suspension for one game at the broadcast table. It was deemed offensive and inappropriate.
Ricky Gervais has a saying that, just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right and I usually agree with him. But I’m going to go ahead and say that if members of the African American community find that term offensive, then why would anyone ever say it again? Davis himself – no relative that I know of – was mortified at what he called an unintentional lapse in judgment and expressed great remorse and humility. You can bet your OKC jersey he’ll never ever use that term again.
But it made me wonder: how many other things are we saying that are, not only outdated, but are downright wrongheaded?
I’ve no doubt that some reading this will say, “Oh, this is political correctness run amok!” and I’ve already said here that calling things out as too PC is often just another way of saying, “I don’t care about your feelings and I don’t want to change.” I’m just glad that it was Brian Davis and not Erin Davis who got caught saying something that some consider, well, deplorable.
The way I see it, there are enough words out there that are honed to hurt and designed to denigrate. Why not scratch a few off the list if we know that’s what they do? Have a great weekend and I’ll be back with you here on Monday.