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Wilf Popoff

Wasted Words: On the PC Front

Copyright: steveallenuk / 123RF Stock Photo

The Grey Cup eluded the Edmonton Eskimos again this year, but that’s not the worst of the team’s troubles: the political correctness refs want it to lose its name as well.

The club chose its regrettable label in 1949, but it had been widely used by other Edmonton football squads for more than 50 years. No one thought anything of it.

Indispensable to growing up in mid-century was knowing degrading descriptions for every possible minority. Alas, we made full use of this subversive lexicon. But Eskimo was the proper designation for the aboriginals of our North and was not part of it.

This all changed in the ’70s when the word was proclaimed pejorative; it supposedly meant eaters of raw flesh. The people it described were justifiably annoyed and civilized Canadians were sympathetic.

So we switched to the less offensive and presumably more accurate Inuit. The football team stayed the course. However, the whole kerfuffle was the result of sloppy scholarship: turns out that Eskimo really means to net snowshoes.

No matter. The Inuit don’t like Eskimo because it’s not in their language. And no one wants to go back, unless it’s the members of the sign painters’ and stationery printers’ guilds. But I often wonder if things would have gone this far had it not been for the linguistic flub. While Eskimo is no longer used in Canada or Greenland, it endures in Alaska and Siberia.

The early political correctness wardens performed an important service for dignity and equality when they purged from public discourse the obnoxious expressions of my boyhood. But they picked all the low-hanging fruit. Now we face a generation of more determined enforcers, and they’ve brought their ladders! These are people with solutions in search of problems:

This fall the Toronto District School Board expunged chief from some titles, such as chief financial officer, apparently because aboriginal people are sometimes referred to as chief in a derogatory way.

Around the same time a Massey College senior fellow evoked slavery when he asked a black student in the presence of the college’s master: “You know this is your master, eh? Do you feel the lash?” This was clearly racist and the scholar was forced to resign. But Massey College went further and announced that its head will no longer be called master because of the word’s overtone.

We should ban words meant to offend a minority and which, in fact, do just that. However, we cannot altogether prohibit commonly used words that may be offensive in a narrow application.

Certainly chief and master are in this second category. And I would argue that a besieged football team’s innocuous brand also belongs there.

Perhaps it’s time for us to lighten up.

~~~

Previous “Wasted Words” post: Wasted Words: Verbal Abuse.

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About the author

Wilf Popoff

When Wilf Popoff started editing, John Diefenbaker was prime minister, editors used pencils, and IBM mainframe computers were moving from vacuum tubes to transistors. Wilf is a former editor of Active Voice.

38 Comments on “Wasted Words: On the PC Front”

  • Rosemary Shipton

    says:

    I do believe that words wield power, but I also think we North Americans need to lighten up on political correctness in language – and some other matters too. About 20 years ago I was asked to teach a series of editing / writing seminars for Indigenous students at UofT. When the topic of politically correct terminology came up, I asked the group how they would like me to refer to them. One young man, who is now a well-known writer, leaned back in his chair and said, “Rosemary, I don’t care whether you call me Indian or Aboriginal or whatever. We have much more important issues to focus on.” No one else in the room disagreed with him.

  • Wilf and Rosemary: exactly!

    • My point being (as Rosemary’s student was getting at): let’s worry about getting all Canadian citizens clean water (etc.) before worrying about names of teams that even more Canadians can’t afford to watch live. It’s a matter of priorities: life and health before words.

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    See The Culture of Complaint: The fraying of America, Robert Hughes, 2006. I agree with you, Wilf. You and I are of the same generation, so that might be why we see the world through similar lenses.

    I am also bewildered by the concept of “trigger warnings,” particularly in English literature classes. It seems to me that most classic literature is designed to create “triggers.” Describing/depicting our world with all its warts makes for great and inspiring literature.

    • Sarah

      says:

      This might help remove some of that bewilderment for you, Anita.
      http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/university-of-chicago-trigger-warning_us_57bf16d9e4b085c1ff28176d

      “Trigger warnings and safe spaces aren’t a way to avoid disagreement or debate. The clinical version first appeared back in the the early 1900s when psychologists were working to classify “war neurosis,” or the trauma of serving in the military. That led to the more modern discovery of PTSD and what “triggers” those painful memories of war.

      Trigger warnings as we know them today gained steam from blogging platforms that emerged with the digital age, Buzzfeed News reported. They were created as a way to protect users from harmful content that may contribute to pre-existing mental health issues (i.e. sharing photos about an eating disorder that might “trigger” or, worse, “inspire” someone who is currently dealing with anorexia). The debate over using warnings filtered into college classrooms in the past few years.

      Trigger warnings are potentially lifesaving for people who have dealt with traumas like sexual assault, hate crimes or violence. Eliminating these advisories and zones on campus suggests that someone should have to listen to someone who questions their humanity or experience.”

    • Joshua Goldberg

      says:

      Anita I agree that describing and depicting our world makes for great and inspiring literature. Nobody is saying that difficult things shouldn’t be talked about or written about. From historical fiction or current journalism, it’s really important to explore difficult topics. And, we can also be kind and thoughtful by giving a heads up so people can make informed decisions and not be totally overwhelmed or triggered into panic or dissociation by reading something they didn’t know was coming.

      For me this article was helpful in as a starting point in learning about using descriptors to preface writing, and the difference between ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘content notes’: https://www.xojane.com/issues/trigger-warnings-content-notes-and-harm-reduction.

      I also found the article at https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/opposing-trigger-warnings/ really useful in understanding why ‘trigger warnings’ (called ‘content warnings’ in this piece) are important and useful. This excerpt in particular really stood out for me:

      “We label the deep end of a swimming pool, for example, so that folks who can’t swim can make a smart decision about whether or not they should be on that end of the pool. We create ratings for movies so that parents can decide if their children should be watching violent films. We label foods that have allergens so that folks with allergies can decide if they should eat that particular food.

      We would never tell someone who can’t swim that they’re ‘too sensitive’ for asking how deep the water is, tell a child ‘welcome to the real world’ as we turn on a horror film, or tell someone with allergies to just ‘get over it’ and eat some peanut butter.

      Content warnings operate on the same principle. They’re there to prevent danger or distress, so that, like labeling the deep end of a pool, people can make smart choices about where they’re going to swim (or, in this case, what they’re going to read or watch).

      Content warnings make content more accessible by allowing people to make the right choice and avoid threatening situations that can jeopardize our mental health.”

      I hope this is useful in understanding more about why people are suggesting using descriptors like ‘trigger warnings’ or ‘content notes’.

  • Laura

    says:

    I have to disagree. Although you seem to feel that “eskimo” isn’t offensive, that really isn’t your call to make. Our job, as people who do not belong to the culture in question, is to listen to what we are told needs to change, and then change it accordingly. Given that your name is “Wilf”, I imagine at some point you may have decided you didn’t like the name “Wilfred” or something similar, and preferred to be called the name given here. Don’t you think the Inuit should be able to express the same preference for how they are referred to?

    Further, I don’t know that it is the word itself that is the focus of the objection to the “Edmonton Eskimos”, but rather this idea that an entire culture is somehow a costume to be worn, or a mascot for objectification. It’s more about stereotype, caricature, and appropriation from my point of view. I can just imagine the horrid things fans might come up with to use to support/disrespect that particular team.

  • Virginia

    says:

    Thanks for this, Wilf. There is a shift in tone when we replace “raw meat eaters” with “snowshoe netters.” Somehow a reference to skill and invention (netting snowshoes) seems more complimentary than a reference to…perhaps?… lack of technology (originally meaning they lived where there was no fuel for fires to cook meat? or was this simply a culinary distinction?).

    Now I have an image of Edmonton Eskimos football players all lacing up their shoes, snowshoe style if that’s possible, to get ready for the big game. I would rather see them own their history than disown it. Admiration and imitation, not shaming and accusation, is the intention behind choosing a team name to inspire their game.

    On a whole different level, the Inuit people of Canada have also owned their history and claimed their right to name themselves and for all of us to respect their choice.

    • Diane

      says:

      Thanks, Wilf, for a stir-the-pot article.

      Personally, I disagree with the banning of words. My perspective is that we need to spread knowledge and understanding so to expand our world view. Not judge and ban, but discuss and share, learn and appreciate.

      I grew up with the word “Eskimo.” It has no negative connotations for me. In fact, I have only positive feelings about the word and the people it describes. Both “raw meat eaters” and “snowshoe netters” are descriptions, not judgements, whichever is the true original. People may bring their feelings to the words, but that’s a different issue.

      As descriptions, they both have aspects of culture for us to appreciate, but I’ll discuss “raw meat eaters” because I am particularly interested in the relationship between diet and health. Although this description may sound odd or judgemental in our time, there is great wisdom in a culture that survived in a harsh climate — and eating raw meat was key. It took a long time for science to understand the traditional knowledge behind the ability to survive on a mostly meat and fish diet. And more than survive, they thrived on this diet.

      The Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson “adopted an Eskimo-style diet for five years during the two Arctic expeditions he led between 1908 and 1918.” He was so healthy on this diet that it confounded the medical experts in New York — so much that he agreed to a year-long meat-based diet in 1928 so they could study it.

      Discover magazine says, “In fact, all it takes to ward off scurvy is a daily dose of 10 milligrams, says Karen Fediuk, a consulting dietitian and former graduate student of Harriet Kuhnlein’s who did her master’s thesis on vitamin C. … Native foods easily supply those 10 milligrams of scurvy prevention, especially when organ meats—preferably raw—are on the menu. For a study published with Kuhnlein in 2002, Fediuk compared the vitamin C content of 100-gram (3.55-ounce) samples of foods eaten by Inuit women living in the Canadian Arctic: Raw caribou liver supplied almost 24 milligrams, seal brain close to 15 milligrams, and raw kelp more than 28 milligrams. Still higher levels were found in whale skin and muktuk.” http://discovermagazine.com/2004/oct/inuit-paradox

      Nothing to be ashamed about there, in my opinion, and much to be celebrated. And eating raw meat and fish is now done if fancy restaurants and sushi bars.

      Anyone who has watched the Outlander series may have noticed the word “Sassanach” — the Gaelic word for a Saxon, an English person. The expression of the word by the characters who experience harsh treatment at the hands of the Sassanach use the word like a racial slur. It spits from their mouths. But it means “English” and inventing a new word in Gaelic for the English would not erase that history. It was a terrible history. People still argue about whether it qualifies as genocide and ethnic cleansing. Resentment lives on in the hearts of some Gaels. Although Gaels may use Sassanach as an epithet, it still also just means English. A new word wouldn’t change their hearts.

      My position on words is that we should learn their history and we should come to terms with their past, but we should not try to erase. Banning words doesn’t erase history or resentment.

      I grew up in “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” days. Of course the words hurt at the time, but the key skill encouraged was building resilience.

      • Joshua Goldberg

        says:

        Diane I agree with you that banning words doesn’t erase history or resentment. But continuing to use words in particular contexts when people ask you not to is profoundly disrespectful. Communication is not something that happens in a vacuum, it is about relationship, about understanding each other. Whatever the reason behind it, when people do something even after they’ve been asked not to, the implicit message is: “Our relationship doesn’t matter enough to me for me to make a change, I don’t care about the impacts on you”.

        As all of us in the editing world know, words are very powerful and communication can’t be underestimated in shaping how we view the world and each other. We don’t lose anything by communicating in ways that promote relationships based in care, respect, consent. We could be a wonderful powerful force in promoting curiosity about how to be actively engaged, as people who love words, in helping language evolve so that we can be in better relationships with each other.

        Inuit people have said the name “Edmonton Eskimos” matters to them. Here are a few examples.

        Natan Obed, the national leader of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami: “The Edmonton team name – that is drawing even more attention, now that the team is going to the Grey Cup – was not chosen by Inuit. And I reject any arguments that the name is benign and has positive intent to align the Edmonton football team culture with Inuit strength or spirit. The CFL football team does not honour our culture, our history, our present, or our future. The name is an enduring relic of colonial power. That force enabled Indigenous identity to be appropriated and redefined as a branding tool for non-Indigenous entertainment, during a time when our children were taken from us, our lands were being developed without our consent, and we were being moved around as human flagpoles for Canadian Arctic Sovereignty.” (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/attention-edmonton-eskimos-inuit-are-not-mascots/article27512855)

        Inuk scholar and author Norma Dunning: “Because of its prejudiced connotations, Inuit don’t use the term to describe themselves….’It has to do with how archaeologists and anthropologists from hundreds of years ago made use of that word, and their writings of what we were at that time,’ Dunning said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. ‘The renderings of the anthropologists were generally that we were a people with a low intelligence, and very caveman-like. That word and that image that came forward at the time — and still comes into play today — is derogatory and unnecessary.'” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-eskimos-name-change-inuk-critic-1.4401422) And also: “The issue is not only about the use of a word, it is also about the disparity that Inuit Canadians live within on a daily basis. It is about Inuit as the smallest group of Aboriginal Canadians, holding the rank of first place in all the statistics that point to poverty, food scarcity and high attrition rates in high school. Painful and abusive rhetoric has both emotional and financial costs. From where I stand, ‘the Edmonton Eskimos’ have done very well financially off of the word ‘Eskimo.’ However, I do not see where the team or the CFL has given back to Inuit Canadians as a whole.” (http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/65674edmonton_eskimos_is_a_racial_slur_and_its_time_to_stop_using_it)

        Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq: “What a glorious message would be sen[t] to our country if @EdmontonEsks changed their name. It would set a new precedent of respect.” (http://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/paula-simons-time-to-hear-tanya-tagaqs-eskimos-challenge) And as the author of the article also points out, “Eskimo is a name that never properly belonged to Edmonton at all, a borrowed, appropriated name that disrespects not just the Inuit people, but also the other First Nations who actually did call this territory home” [amiskwaciy-wâskahikan, aka Edmonton, is Cree territory].

        That some non-Indigenous people hold so tightly to the name of a sports team says quite a bit about what is valued and felt to be important. I don’t understand the hostility and irritation to a simple change that would say, “We hear you. Thank you. We’re sorry.”

        The tone I get from Wilf’s article and from some of the comments here is that we’ve already made quite enough changes, we’ve already sacrificed by giving up some offensive words and “those people” will never be satisfied. From my perspective the opposite is true. Non-Indigenous settlers have resisted changing our ways at every turn, fighting Indigenous self-determination and taking what has not been freely given in every arena — whether in the literary world where debates still rage about whether cultural appropriation is real, to the courts where Indigenous communities are having to battle for their territories to not be further encroached on.

        When we insist on hanging onto mere words how will we ever move into the much more difficult transformations needed to address stolen land, culture, and children?

        • Thank you for your posts, Joshua! I’m happy Wilf wrote his post, if only so I can enjoy and learn from the articulate discussion that’s resulted.

  • I’m surprised someone who works with words isn’t aware of how loaded the term “politically correct” is (see, for example, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/ward-anderson/political-correctness_b_9617626.html). When you say “perhaps it’s time for us to lighten up,” what you’re really saying is “perhaps it’s time for YOU, whose ideas I find silly, to lighten up.” Times change, and language changes. Once upon a time it would have been “politically correct” to respect the wishes of black people who disliked the term “coloureds” and gay people who didn’t care for “fags”; after all, many people using those words weren’t trying to offend anyone, and how dare anyone tell them what word to use! It’s our job as editors, not to necessarily promote or (futilely) try to stave off such changes, but to keep abreast of them and ensure language in our materials is current and appropriate.

    • Anita Jenkins

      says:

      You make some good points, Dawn, but I can assure you that Wilf is not “silly.”

      • I didn’t call him silly.

        • Anita Jenkins

          says:

          But you find his ideas silly.

          • No, I was suggesting that’s what he’s saying about *other* people (please reread what I wrote). I’ve met Wilf, and of course he is quite the opposite of silly!

  • Shalini Khan

    says:

    The term “coolie” does not have anything literally offensive in its etymology. Neither does the word “nigger”, which comes from the word “black”. This is the danger of going by etymology alone; divorced from the cultural associations that have grown alongside these words we get an incomplete picture of the socio-cultural linguistic space that these terms occupy in our communities. We cannot and should not separate etymology from cultural associations — as editors we all know that’s not the way that lived language works. So while “Eskimo” may now be understood to mean “person who laces a snowshoe”, why are we annoyed that the community to whom this label applies still finds it offensive and prefers that it is called by another name that the community has chosen? Surely, the word, “eskimo” is more than the sum of its etymological parts? Surely the subsequent cultural and historical associations of this word as it came to label a community that has been historically colonised and oppressed are also important in any discussion of this term? And surely these people, the Inuit, have a right to name themselves? The Edmonton sports team (my hometown team) and its fans are also arguing for the right to name themselves. But if we were to weigh these two desires to self-name we would find that they are not equally weighted. On one hand, we have a sports team that has used the name of a culturally distinct group for decades, and on the other, a cultural group that is still struggling against a tide of prejudice and the after-effects of a colonial past, and that is seeking to define for itself who they are, not who other people say they are. This is not a simple issue of politically correctness but one that is far more complex.

    And a short note on native students: I had the privilege of teaching many native students at Capilano University where I was an English professor up until 2016. I also taught Squamish Nation university students off-site at the Capilano Reserve. The stories that these students tell are very different, Rosemary, from the one that you told. None of these students would ever have agreed with your student that a name doesn’t matter, that there are more important issues to deal with. On the contrary, my students still broke down when speaking about Residential Schools, even though none of them had attended one. They spoke at length about what it means to be a young native person in Canada today, and these were not happy stories. And they celebrated when the Squamish language dictionary was published, because words matter. Their words, in their language, matter. Surely, while the right to clean, safe water is important, the right to self-identify is also important. If we are to truly adopt a posture of reconciliation then we need to understand that we don’t get to tell another culture (one with whom we are supposedly trying to reconcile) what they should and should not be offended by. And we certainly don’t get to cherry pick what we think are more important issues that affect them.

    • Well said, Shalini Khan!

  • Rosemary Shipton

    says:

    I totally agree that, with terminology, we should follow the wishes of the particular group – so, “people with disabilities” rather than “the disabled,” Inuit rather than Eskimo, and so on. But I wonder about two of Wilf’s other examples – chief and master. This last Sunday I heard Shawn Atleo speak at an event, and he referred to himself as the former chief of the Assembly of First Nations and the hereditary chief of the Ahousaht First Nation in BC. He doesn’t seem to find “chief” offensive, and it’s a common term for titles in many institutions and companies today. Yet the Toronto District School Board recently banned “chief” among its own officials. The TDSB has many challenges to address, and, unless there is serious opposition to this word among Indigenous people, I wish the board would get on with the decisions it should be making rather than spending time on debates such as that one.

    As for “master” at Massey College, every time I went through the gate until recently, I enjoyed the rich association the plaque “Master’s Lodge” brought to mind with the various colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. Here is a fairly modern four-sided structure designed by Ron Thom in 1960 (or so) and built around a central open square, just like the Oxbridge colleges – which also have “masters” at the head. I’ll miss that reference in future, simply because it’s part of my heritage. But I also understand that someone with slavery or a harsh apprenticeship in their background will bring different associations to the word and be glad to see it go.

    • But, Wilf’s information was inaccurate.

      What the master of Massey College said was that they’d suspend using the term “master” for now while the task force already considering the matter concluded its work, because the issue was becoming a distraction—making it harder for the college to go about its business. *Hanging on* to the term out of stubbornness at this point would be, it seems to me, more like arguing about the term “Indian” instead of focusing on getting clean water for Canadians of Indigenous heritage.

      https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/massey-college-suspends-master-title-in-bow-to-student-demands-apologizes-for-inappropriate-incident/article36436650/

      The current and past masters themselves, understanding completely what the origins of the term are, nevertheless don’t have any great attachment to the title. And Hugh Segal isn’t exactly a flaming PC liberal. The connotations of words change.

      As for “Edmonton Eskimos,” I agree 100% with Laura. The whole concept of using ANY word for a people as a team name, equating them with “Blue Jays” or the imaginary “Mighty Ducks” is the most offensive part, and calling people what they prefer to be called is basic courtesy.

      The context of current English changes; I expect that’s why the changes made in Wilf’s youth seem sensible to him while those advocated today seem silly.

      Similar arguments were made decades ago about many changes that are now completely accepted. In the early days of my career, I often heard “It’s silly to get worked up about using ‘he’ to mean ‘anyone.’ Focus on real advancement for women!”

      It’s silly to call the kind of change we’re talking about “banning” words. Of course we’re not banning them! We’re doing what good editors have always done: thoughtfully encouraging the use of the best term for the context.

  • Sarah

    says:

    There is a Chrome browser extension that replaces the term “political correctness” with “treating people with respect.” I really wish I’d had it installed on my phone while reading this post.

    • Anita Jenkins

      says:

      If only it could be that simple.

      • Sarah

        says:

        It is that simple. Railing against “political correctness” is railing against treating people with respect.

  • Emma

    says:

    I’m surprised (and, as a member, a little disappointed) that an organization filled with people dedicated to working with words would publish a post like this.

    The author completely misses the point by focusing on the etymology of “Eskimo.” That word comes from a specific cultural and historical context, and has been used as a tool of violence and oppression. Wearing it on a sports uniform — like a costume — commercializes and trivializes an entire nation against their will. Dismissing attempts by the Inuit to reclaim their rightful name as a “kerfuffle,” as the author does here, is no better.

    The double standard is staggering: the author gets to be picky about the correct translation of “Eskimo,” but those of us who are picky about the words Indigenous people tell us are offensive are told to “lighten up.”

    The origins of words are important, but so is their current usage. If the author understood this, then perhaps he would have noticed that his own language in this post is deeply problematic, including the dismissive tone, saying the team is “besieged” because of a conversation, and, as someone else mentioned above, the use of the loaded term “political correctness.”

    I have read that opinion is divided on this issue within the Inuit community; those are the people that we should be hearing from, and I hope that Editors Canada will include more Inuit voices in the future.

    • Virginia

      says:

      I’d be disappointed if anyone expected anything less than this from an organization that works with words. A free ranging, uncensored discussion of what words mean and what we can learn from the contexts in which they are used. Disappointed, but not entirely surprised, as this seems to be the preferred solution to topics that have the potential for honest disagreement about what words mean to those who use them (about others as well as about themselves).

      If editors don’t think about these things, who will? And if we don’t have these conversations, how will any of us learn to expand our perspectives about language?

      There are good reasons for citing a word’s etymology. Understanding the history of a word, as well as the history of those who have used it or had it used about them, is also part of the conversation we’re having.

      Like you, I think this conversation—and our profession—would benefit from a greater diversity of voices and experiences.

      • Emma

        says:

        I completely agree, Virginia, that this conversation needs to be had, and that editors are in a perfect position to be part of the conversation.

        My disappointment is not with the topic itself, but with the idea that an article such as this is part of a respectful, serious, and honest dialogue about the issue. It is riddled with coded language and engages in dog-whistle politics — and, as others have noted above, contains factual errors. What surprises me is that the author and the blog editor(s) did not notice this.

        • Virginia

          says:

          In the broader sense, this discussion is about pointing word labels at those who are not like us or who don’t see the world the way we do. The labels “coded language” and “dog whistle politics” are good examples of this kind of label.

          Coded language is coded language for “you must be wrong because I don’t agree with you.” It has lost its perhaps momentary usefulness for pointing out that we all have biases (except one of us always knows more about the other’s biases). Its cover has been blown.

          A dog whistle calls all dogs. It doesn’t discriminate. What’s the word for a word that is an example of itself? I suggest there’s no better example than “dog whistle politics.”

          Both terms preclude discussion by pre-judging certain points of view. Perhaps they are as useful for exposing the writer’s political biases as they are for pointing at the reader’s. But they don’t add content or context to the conversation.

          • Sarah

            says:

            Actually, “coded language” is plain language, synonymous with “veiled” and “not explicit.”
            Emma, Elizabeth, Shalini and Dawn have all provided much content and context to the conversation. Unfortunately, rather than engage with the valid points they’ve made, most of the opposing commentators would rather deal in semantics and pedantry.

          • This is a very useful discussion—on all sides, and by everybody involved. Whatever your views, and however you express them, keep on doing so.

  • I already commented on this, but something on the site messed up and it resulted as a reply to an existing comment rather than as a top-level post to the overall discussion. I’m going to apologize and try this again. (And then stop if it gets “buried” a second time.)

    This is a very useful discussion—on all sides, and by everybody involved. Whatever your views, and however you express them, I’d say keep on doing so.

    I personally agree with almost everything that’s been said here, even with theoretically opposing statements. It’s tricky when specific issues are conflated with overall, philosophical ideas. It’s also difficult when things are approached from different positions on a bit of a a “sliding slope” that would have one person agree at one point but disagree at another.

    I’m not sure if this is the best forum for actual “debate”—but it’s certainly a good forum for expressing ideas. (I can’t really express my own here, because they are not anything I could satisfactorily express in less than several thousand words.)

    I appreciate Wilf’s post. Whether or not I agree with it, it has certainly generated a lot of response. Ultimately, I think, blog posts are not things that require agreement or disagreement. They are “fodder for thought,” and a good vehicle for community involvement. At least in that sense, this one seems to have accomplished that. (To be honest, I haven’t looked at many of these blog posts, but this one seems to have more comments than those I have looked at before. And the nature of the comments very widely.)

  • Matt Carrington

    says:

    I have tried to post a comment a couple times now, days ago, which have not appeared. Maybe this one will appear?

    The more I think about this post the more surprised I am that EAC and such a respected and experienced editor would frame the issue in this way. The entire tone and rhetorical framing undermines a serious and respectful engagement with these issues.

    Why would public denouncements of explicitly racist and sexist language be referred to as “low-hanging fruit”? These were important and hard-fought battles at the time, and they are ongoing (see the recent discussion of the N-word used by white students University of Toronto online this fall, which turned into serious online racialized bullying/harassment).

    The question “Should we lighten up?” is the kind of question that answers itself. Yes! Let’s all just relax! It’s a question that turns an issue back on those who are upset rather than onto the issue of the legacy of racist language: stop being so tense and everything will be fine. What if we ask other questions here, such as should we respect marginalized people when they say that words are offensive? Should we continue to examine the language that comes from Canada’s inarguably racist history? These questions propose very different answers, I think.

    The issue of Eskimo/Inuit is the first example given in the new edition of this association’s style guide, Editing Canadian English, in chapter two, Inclusivity. There’s a reason no editor should be allowing Eskimo to pass through their ms without at least a strong query or that no government document uses this term. Even acknowledging the racist history (not found in the etymology!) of this term and preferring Inuit doesn’t improve matters here much — the Edmonton Inuits is almost as bad, since taking a marginalized people as the mascot for a sports team is simply not appropriate.

    As Elizabeth D’Anjou states so well, no one is banning words, which is part of the problem of the rhetoric of this piece (along with the use of the now-pejorative “political correctness”). We are discussing the changing appropriateness of words and the changing contexts in which they are appropriate. I appreciate a well used swear word and use these terms myself; I don’t use them in my daughter’s daycare room, because that’s not the appropriate context. Can you imagine if I told someone to lighten up when they corrected my use of a word like this around their small child instead of respecting this request and acknowledging the inappropriateness of this word in the context? And this is an example without all the weight of historical oppression that comes with many of these other terms.

    For editors and for many others these issues matter. I agree, of course, that clean water and infrastructure matter more to the quality of life of Canada’s Indigenous people than terminology, but these issues are linked. Not only are they linked, but unless you think I would have somehow spent the time writing this instead raising money for these communities or building homes then that is beside the point, isn’t it? We can use respectful language AND labour towards economic and social justice for all people in Canada. Rather than normalizing respect and working for reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, using terms like these for sports teams continues to dehumanize, to instead normalize the fact that some people in this wealthy nation don’t even have clean water or the basics of life, which is especially evident as we head into another long Canadian winter. How do Canadians accept such a situation, except through a sense that these people are different and less deserving somehow?

    Let’s have respectful discussions of these language issues that don’t further silence the concerns of people whose voices have been marginalized.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      The Editors’ Weekly is the official blog of Editors Canada. However, the views expressed by the authors are not necessarily the views of the association. Editors Canada is proud to share diverse opinions on language and encourage open discussion.

      Anna Williams
      Managing Editor

  • Matt Carrington

    says:

    Editors interested in this post might also be interested to know that Journalists for Human Rights just published a style guide for reporting on Indigenous People.

    Here’s the press release with information: http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/journalists-for-human-rights-launches-indigenous-style-guide-662802233.html

    Here’s the style guide itself: http://www.jhr.ca/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/12/JHR2017-Style-Book-Indigenous-People.pdf

    This style guide has a page on terms related to Inuit (page 5).

    Another great resource that many people already know about and use is the Conscious Style Guide: http://consciousstyleguide.com/ .

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