Recently, I was listening to someone talk and she used the word, Jew, as a verb meaning to argue someone down. It took my breath away. I gently suggested that maybe she didn’t want to use that word as a verb. She immediately agreed.
I hate being the PC Police of course. But I do think about words. I think our vocab is built into our subconscious. I continue to examine the way I speak to see if I am saying things I really want to say.
Take the word “gyp.” The online American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “to defraud or rob by some sharp practice: swindle; cheat” when it’s a verb and “a swindle or fraud” when it’s a noun. It suggests the etymology is a “back formation from Gypsy.”
I’m not sure what a “back formation” is exactly. Probably a usage that reminds people of a word or something.
Under the word, Gypsy, they suggest that the 16th century origin was a corrupted form of Egyptian in the mistaken belief that the Roma people originated in Egypt.
Anyway, I can occasionally overhear myself thinking about something “being a gyp.” Then I remember that the word is related to the word Gypsy and has a bigoted slur implied in it.
I believe all people have unreasonable and stupid assumptions built into their head (and their language – not just the obvious perjoratives by the way…. When I was in my twenties and the Magazine MS. had just come out, I got it into my head to write a freelance article on the origin of sex words. Of course, I didn’t have the writing chops to actually get an article published, but I did have the audacity to think I did. Anyway, the article bogged down in the research when I discovered that “woman” comes from “wife” of “man,” and that “fuck” has a strong history that connects it to “strike” as in “hit someone.” Yikes, I remember thinking as I tucked my 3 by 5 research cards away.)
But the implications of our involuntary thoughts and unconcious expressions of hate do not absolve us from the responsibility of monitoring if we are indeed saying what we mean.