A Modest Proposal

September 19, 2006

A Modest Proposal

So, I kid you not, immediately after posting my last entry I took a little trip down the information superhighway to visit a private board for parents who have adopted from Korea and found a post from a woman who was HIGHLY offended because someone at work had used the word “Oriental.”  Apparently this is ok if you are talking about rugs, but not if you are talking about people.  We adopted our son over a year ago and I had never heard this.

I won’t pretend my head has been totally in the sand about the Oriental vs. Asian thing, but I never understood why people were so bothered by the one and not the other.  Though I primarily use the term Asian (for fear of having my head bitten off) the two words have always been synonymous to me.  So, this time, I asked what the problem is.  I’m sure I offended some people on the board, but I really wanted to know why and when Oriental became not only passe, but offensive.   One person responded that she had been taught in elementary school that the term was appropriate to use when referring to things, but not when referring to people, and she understood that a lot of people just don’t know that.  Hmmm . . . maybe they don’t know that because it didn’t used to mean that.  Another responded that she was just happy knowing that such terms are offensive and wouldn’t tolerate them in any situation.  Some others responded that it doesn’t really bother them, but we all have different things that bother us and so live-and-let-live, basically.

The husband asked his Chinese (is that the correct term?) co-worker if she found “Oriental” offensive.  Her response:  “Should I?”

I, unfortunately, do not have a set of the Oxford English Dictionary with which to look up the etymology of the word Oriental, or any other word for that matter; but I did find this website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oriental.  I would encourage you to read it and decide for yourself how you would like to interpret “Oriental,” if you even care.

Now, considering all of this, and in the spirit of Jonathan Swift, I would like to discuss a linguistic matter of grave importance. 

When I went to college way out West I met people from all different areas of the country, and even a few from DIFFERENT countries.  Wow.  What an experience.  One thing I learned is that not all people from our country use the same words to refer to or describe the same things.  Specifically I would like to talk about soda . . . or coke . . . but absolutely, definitely, not about pop.

You see, in some regions of the U.S. people use the word soda when referring to a carbonated beverage.  In others, they use the term coke — even when what they actually want is a Pepsi, or a root beer!  Amazing, interesting, linguistically miraculous stuff.  Anyway, in OTHER regions, and I’m ashamed to say my region is one of them, people nearly universally use the term pop.

Obviously, due to strong and graphic connotations of violence,  this last term needs to be eradicated from our lexicon.  There are myriad examples of the violence inherent in the word “pop.”  Phrases such as “pop him in the kisser” establish a long history of violence association with the word; and songs such as “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” in which a prejudiced and insensitive rabbit habitually “pops” field mice on the head, not only encourage violent acts among the young, but also perpetuate the aggressive nature of the word.  The savagery of the word and the behavior it encourages was irresponsibly thrust upon a generation as it flashed on the television screen against brightly colored backgrounds while comic book heroes Batman and Robin would punch, pummel, and otherwise assault their enemies.

As we teach our children to use the word “pop” in reference to a drink which explosively shoots little bubbles of gas into people’s faces, we are reinforcing and perpetuating the undercurrent of violence in our society.  The end result can only be continued and escalating aggression and mayhem. 

As a culture, we would be better served by using, for the time being, the term “soda.”  There are neither connotations nor denotations of violence inherent in this word.  Additionally, the word reflects a higher level of education because, as every science student who has created a volcano should be able to tell you, it is the baking soda that creates the explosive fizziness that mimics volcanic action.   While carbonated beverages do not necessarily contain baking soda, they do exhibit similar reactions and behaviors, so the term “soda” can be tolerated.  Eventually, once other terms have been eradicated, we can hope to slowly shift our society towards the even more accurate moniker “carbonated beverage.”   This, of course, will do until the political powers that be figure out how to reduce our language to a single word, thereby eradicating the possibility that we could ever inadvertently use an incorrect term that someone might find offensive.

Geesh — don’t you all wish I still had adoption paperwork to talk about?

And George, if you’re out there, Tewt the Newt says hello.

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