Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Keith Olberman's Great Fall

“It all depends on which is to be  the master, you or the word.” Humpty Dumpty in Louis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass


I was momentarily stunned last night when former sports reporter turned pundit, Keith Olberman opined that if Hillary Clinton was to gain the nomination now, the supporters of Senator Obama would feel “gypped”. I had understood for many years that the term “to gyp” or “was gypped” was no longer considered acceptable language. Despite the fact that the word was used either by me or in my presence every day of my childhood, I have managed to consign it to the dim recesses of my memory  with other once common words which are now unusable in polite society ( crippled, retarded, oriental ). To be gypped is to be taken advantage of and it comes directly from the belief that Gypsies cheated or took advantage of people. Gypsies, like Jews and to a lesser extent others, were rounded up by the Third Reich in an attempt to exterminate them. Like Jews they have had a long and tragic history of wandering and facing discrimination. Somewhere along the way, the Gypsy movement was able to raise the consciousness of the average English speaker to begin to eradicate the word from general usage. At least I thought so until last night. I checked Google this morning and there are no stories lambasting Mr. Olbermann for use of a pejorative term, so maybe I am wrong (or maybe no one watches Keith Olberman).


What I did find in my Google search is that the word “gypped” is used constantly. I did find one apology from the Houston Chronicle swearing to never use the word again. They had quoted someone using the term and got blasted for it. Now that I consider it, perhaps that is the reason no newsperson (formerly “newsman”) is writing about it. It may have become the “G word” over the last few years and I did not notice it. Perhaps I should have searched g_ _ _ _ _.I suppose that I have stated before that while I believe that we do have a duty not to use hurtful words, we also have a duty not to be fearful of mere words. Like Humpty Dumpty, I believe that the human is the master of the word. He/she (formerly “he”) has a right to use any word in conversation or written form, assuming that he/she is not using the word in a hurtful way. Actually, you have the right to use the word in a hurtful way, you just need to be prepared to suffer the well deserved consequences of doing so.Olberamnn should not have said “gypped”. I, however, should not have to cower in fear of using the word when condemning Olbermann for using it. See the difference ?


Whatever the difference, my research this morning shows me that the term gypped has certainly not gone the way of many words which we have vanquished from polite usage. I found hundreds of references to it being used in the form in which  I used it ,daily, on the play ground when recess ended too early, “ What a gyp”. I assume that the term oriental is still used with a good deal of frequency, despite the fact that we more enlightened folk now understand that it to be  as harmful as the once common, now banned, “Chinaman”w which unlike “Englishman” is considered hurtful. The reason being that it was the “Englishman” who was using the term “Chinaman” in a mocking or sarcastic way. In those days the Englishman  should have used “oriental”. Now that is out and the term “east Asian” is often substituted.  With words, so much derives from the intent. When I was a child I never used the word “Jew” because I understood it to be pejorative.  If I needed to, I described someone as a “Jewish person”. I was dumbfounded when I entered  a high school which was more than 50% Jewish to find that the “Jewish persons” I befriended used the term “Jew” constantly.


While watching the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” on the Kentucky Derby a couple of weeks ago, a couple of blonde (soon to be pejorative) belles looked at each other and giggled during the second line of the song. I knew what they were giggling at, one had used the original Stephen Foster lyric “darky” and the other had responded with the mock disdaining look that people often give one another when they are “being bad”. It was too bad for them that a close up was being done of them at the time, but perhaps not many noticed. I bet my 18 year old daughter has never heard the term “darky” in her life. I am 55 and have never heard it used in a serious sentence. The term “Whitey” I used to hear all the time, but I’m pleased to say that I have not heard it in years. Maybe we are getting better as a species, or maybe I just don’t get around like I used to. Apparently Olberman does not either.


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