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October 25, 2019 / Congau

Name Calling and Name Using

We shouldn’t call people just anything. They like being addressed by their name and so do we. It’s a matter of basic respect.

But from this elementary starting point, people often development a hypersensitivity that has very little to do with the fear of name calling.

Most of the time names are not used to address people, but to refer to them, just as we need names to refer to objects. Then it shouldn’t matter what we call them as long as there is a common understanding who the names refer to.

Words that denote race are the most notorious examples. A group of people used to be referred to as negros, then it changed to blacks, then African (American). Others were dubbed yellows, then Orientals, then Asians. The first item of each list is now considered insulting without there being any internal logic to it. (The color yellow is insulting but not the color black.)

Supposedly, if you don’t belong to one of these groups, you are not allowed to question it; it’s their feelings, not yours. Sure, we don’t have the right to doubt anyone’s feelings, but sometimes we must be allowed to point out the irrelevance of a feeling. If someone feels insulted because of something that was said, it may be appropriate to suggest that they were not actually being talked to.

Addressing someone in racial terms is usually insulting because it reduces their character to membership of another race. I for one don’t think I would like hearing “Hey, white guy!” being shouted at me.

Name calling is always derogatory, but name referring is usually neutral. Herein lies the misunderstanding. When a word has been used for name calling it seems to lose its neutrality, and one thinks it can’t be used for referring to anything again. It is as if the word has been contaminated which is obviously a rather irrational sentiments since no superstitious power can be attached to a mere word.

Be very careful when you address people, but it shouldn’t matter much how you refer to them.

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