Is it ever all right to use an ethnic slur in your writing? Well, of course it is. I don’t like it, though, and I wouldn’t use that kind of language even if my character might. There is a thing called freedom of speech just as there is freedom to turn off the TV, close the book, and walk away.
As I was gasping at someone’s harsh dialogue on a certain TV show I got to thinking about the evolution of language. We all know the stories behind certain phrases, you know, the ones that you weren’t allowed to say when you were a kid (um, maybe I mean when your mom or grandma were kids). For example, I got shushed if I said “crap”. I didn’t allow my kids to say “screw” and they were definitely in trouble if I heard “that sucks”. These phrases have gone from unacceptable to everyday normal.
On the other hand, some words and phrases have reversed directions (and connotations). When I was a kid we chanted, “eeny, meeny, miny, mo, catch a n….r by the toe”. Holy smokes, I can’t believe I typed that. In fact, I went back and dotted it out because it is just such an objectionable racial slur. (And way back, before I was born, my dad had a black dog by that name.) Once upon a time gay meant happy, queer was something odd and ridiculous was, well, ridiculous. Ever notice how it’s fashionable to use the opposite word to praise someone’s performance? (“That was so sick!”)
Here are a few ethnic slurs that have totally lost their bite: Indian summer. Doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? Dutch treat. Think about it. Were the Dutch a little stingy maybe? Mulligan. Are you a golfer; do you take a mulligan when you flub a shot? Guess which ethnicity this “freebie” slams?
One last one: Jock. It’s a reference to the Scottish elite. Not so bad. I guess there are some acceptable ethnic slurs.
copyright 2011 by Debra Chapoton