I recently ran across a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer that lays out four racist words and phrases that should be banished from the English language. It begins like this:
Editor’s note: Please be aware offensive terms are repeated here solely for the purpose of identifying and analyzing them honestly. These terms may upset some readers.
Steel yourself, brave reader, here they are:
Eenie meenie miney moe
No can do
The same grammarian who authored the piece had previously confronted the “deeply racist connotation” of the word “thug,” noting that president Donald Trump “wasn’t the least bit bashful” when calling Minneapolis rioters “thugs” in a tweet, despite the word’s obvious bigoted history. In 2015, President Barack Obama referred to Baltimore rioters as “thugs” as well. He likely did so because “thug” — defined as a “violent person, especially a criminal” — is a good way to describe rioters. It’s true that not everyone in a riot engages in wanton violent criminality. Some participants are merely “looters” — defined as “people who steal goods during a riot.” That word is also allegedly imbued with racist conations, according to the executive editor of the Los Angeles Times and others.
Attempting to dictate what words we can use is another way to exert power over how we think. Few people, rightly, would have a problem with referring to the Charlottesville Nazis as “thugs.” Only the “protester” who tears down a Ulysses S. Grant statue or participates in an Antifa riot is spared the indignity of being properly defined.
The recent assaults on the English language have consisted largely of euphemisms and pseudoscientific gibberish meant to obscure objective truths — “cisgender,” “heteronormativity,” and so on. Now we’re at the stage of the revolution where completely inoffensive and serviceable words are branded problematic.