Monday, January 8, 2007

2006 Word of the Year Announced

The American Dialect Society came out with the 17th annual list of “words of the year”, as is their want, and you can check it out for yourself including the official press release and details of voting along with runners-up and all at this link.

Not to ruin anyone's boundless enthusiasm but the crown goes to “plutoed”. Which is, you know, a new one on me. According to the Society the meaning is, “to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronimcal Union declared Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet.”

Or, as I like to think of it, “Being scientifically accurate.”

But, then, I don't get the fuss over whether a ball of dirt and ice at the fringes of the solar system is called a planet or not. Either way, better than the second place term “climate cannary”.

What caught my eye, though, was another word on the list of also-rans. “Macaca” I recognized. Although the supplied definition “an American citizen treated as an alien” I didn't.

Because, and I quote this article from the BBC, “Macaca is considered by some to be a racial slur.”

That definition I'd recognize. If of course you changed “some” to read “anyone with an objective perspective”. Because as far as I can tell about the only people who'd think that word meant anything other than a monkey or is used elsewhere the way people in my homeland use the words “nigger” or “chink” are only the most ardent of supports for the George Allen campaign. Of course, those people are probably very familiar with those other terms, too, and some other ones I don't even want to know.

And I don't want to harp on this too much but, at one point, Mr. Allen was considered a strong candidate for the Republican nomination for the upcoming presidential race. So I think continuing to remember that the man is a crass and closeted racist is an important thing. Or, at the very least, he'll pander to such people. Using coded language and obscure phrases that the average person doesn't know, of course. Because that's the only way such hatred and bile manages to survive these days – cloaking itself in secrecy and resentment and well out of the mainstream where it's not welcome. I won't argue that racism is gone from my country or, really, that it will ever be. Just that anyone who displays it is unfit to serve in higher office. Call it a litmus test if you want but I tend to call it common sense.

Because putting aside all the spin and backpeddling done by the Allen campaign in the wake of that fateful video, there's no way calling someone a word that describes a monkey or is used as the vilest of ethnic slurs in a region that Mr. Allen is very familiar with – his mother having come from there, after all – can be mistaken as anything other than an insult. Especially when taken in the context of the rest of his statements. It's not treating someone as an alien. It's treating them as less than human. And it's such twisting of definitions as the American Dialect Society have - hopefully unwittingly – engendered that allow for the cloaked and coded language of modern hatespeak.

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