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November 5, 2018 / Congau

Bad Names

No one likes a foreigner. Those strangers, the others are not like us. That’s why they are given a bad name. Whatever they are called, it is pronounced with scorn, with a despicable accent, spit out with disgust. Gypsy! Nigger! Kaffir! Repeated again and again in that tone of voice, the word itself becomes bad; it becomes a word of abuse.

Then if you are a decent and enlightened person you wouldn’t want to take such a word in your mouth. If you are progressive and tolerant you want to combat this bigotry. You want people to respect each other, to change their attitude, to change their behavior. So you want to change the word.

But a word is just a word. It doesn’t have any other meaning than what is put into it. If the thing the word refers to is disliked, it remains so even when the word is changed.

Bad word? No, it’s not only bad. Some people don’t mind strangers and some even like them. They also used the same word when there was no other word to use. They were perfectly capable of pronouncing it without a hint of disgust. A gypsy was just a person belonging to a certain ethnic group and a Negro was the general term for someone of a certain race. There was the phenomenon and there was one word for it. It couldn’t have been clearer or more neutral.

“Gypsy” didn’t mean “bad gypsy” even if there were a few bigots who thought so. But what did the enlightened humanists do? Instead of explaining the real meaning of the word, that “gypsy” signifies an ethnicity, which as such is neither good nor bad, they conceded and let the bigots prevail. “Gypsies are indeed bad,” they affirmed, “but we will change the facts by changing the symbol. A new word was invented. “Roma” aren’t bad.”

Whatever we call those foreigners, the others, that doesn’t matter as long as the word has no other reference than that specific group. (It’s a different matter if the word already has another reference. It could never be acceptable to call a person an ape for example.)

Changing words changes nothing; attitudes must change.

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