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by Jeff Costello, February 15, 2012
We no longer see or hear the terms Jewess or Negress, which are insulting in that people are put on a level with animals (tigress, lioness). The suffix in general is old news. (Plus, no one knows Latin anymore, so Shelley Berman’s old “stewardi” joke is doubly obsolete).
Politically correct language is not always what it purports to be. “Retarded” becomes “mentally challenged,” “crippled” becomes “differently abled.” From a purely linguistic viewpoint, this is awkward, as well as disingenuous. One might easily picture some smirking wise guy: “The kid was, uh, mentally challenged. Just sayin’.” My first exposure to political correctness was in Nashville, where a babysitter declared that she preferred the term “small persons” to “children” or “kids.”
Not all dark-skinned people are “African-American,” and how is “person of color” different from “colored person”? Is all this not still just a way for whites to think of themselves as somehow elevated? Or an outward but not entirely convincing attempt to show good intent? Remember the Road to Hell. The well-meaning liberal crowd apparently fails to understand how utterly unconvincing these watered-down euphemisms really are.
My landlady in Sausalito referred to herself as a Jewish Princess. Landlady. Lady? Wouldn’t landwoman be more correct? And as for me, I’d hardly think of a property owner as a lord. That certainly puts us in our place, doesn’t it? Lord of the manor?
The suggestion of royalty — Jewish Princess — while tongue-in-cheek, brings a little vanity into the picture by adding “ish” and “prince” to the equation. But isn’t Jewish Princess really just an extension of “Jewess”? We had a guest for a few nights, one “La Tigresa” who chose the Spanish for “tigress” as her alter ego, or performance name. She made a little noise sometime back, when she protested old-growth logging in California by going topless and reciting her poetry —such as it is — through a bullhorn to men in logging trucks.
The Hawaiian word “ha’ole” (white person) is a contraction meaning, literally, “no (a’ole) breath (ha).” The old Hawaiians saw Englishmen as pale and sick, as though there were no life in them.
The joke, history may well show, is on us.