May 17, 2006

Public Speaking

Tony Snow used the phrase "tar baby" in his first press conference, but let's face it, with all the crap the Administration's been waist deep in this isn't going to become a thing. For those not immediately familiar with the term, my immediate connection was Disney's "Song of the South", the animated feature that Disney won't even release because of its depictions of black people. Certainly, "tar baby" can be defined as an intractable situation, and it certainly was that for Brer Rabbit, but it is also a racial slur for black people, which is certainly apparant in some of its depictions. (Note: the Brer Rabbit and Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah portions of the movie are the only ones Disney will release, presumably because they're the least racist)

This made me think of the "niggardly" episode involving an aid to the Washington DC mayor. Niggardly means, essentially, cheap or thrifty, and has no connection to the slur which it closely resembles. Still, just its use was enough to get its user fired, though he was later rehired it seems. I've heard many people, including some friends, complain about this reaction, but though firing is arguably too much, I'm not sure that people were wrong to be offended, even if the word only sounds similar.

Back to Snow, what do you guys thing? Is it worse because, unlike niggardly, tar baby actually has roots as a racial slur, or is it still fine because it has a legitimate definition? Are people like Snow and Howard racially insensitive or just stupid, about word choice at least? Should we avoid using words with a racially charged history, or are people too sensitive?

5 comments:

Colleen said...

Yes, people are wrong to be offended when words that are not offensive sound like words that are or are words that have been used nastily. That makes about as much sense as a Chinese American getting upset when someone uses the saying "a chink in his armor", or a French person getting upset when I remark that one of my cats hates frogs.

Words like tarbaby fall into a different category. I don't think it is wrong to use them, since they do have a legitimate meaning that isn't meant to be offensive but I would be sensitive to the audience I am addressing in order not to give needless offense.

Drew said...

As always, it's about context. You have to know your audience. Tony Snow is a public figure speaking in a public forum... a room full of journalists. His audience was the public. You don't use a term like "tar baby" in that situation. And he should know that. What an asshole.

Noumena said...

You can find anything >on the internet. If you have access to a well-stocked university library, you might also check there for a 100% definitely legal version.

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tar baby?? it is hillarious man.. :-)

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