Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “terminology”

Racial epithets

There has been an interesting discussion on the English usage newsgroup alt.usage.english recently. It started with someone asking whether African-Americans should be referred to as “Black” or “black” (with or without a capital “b”.

I kept out of it at that stage, because I’m not American and certainly not a fundi on American usage.

But then it broadened, as these things inevitably do, and some people were asking about racial and ethnic terms in South Africa, and one person said he thought that Hindus in South Africa were called “black”. And someone else said that the apartheid terminology was “Indians”.

Well, no. “Indians” was the pre-apartheid terminology, and it was applied to Hindus and Muslims indiscriminately if they or their ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent, which is now divided into India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

One of the first acts of the apartheid government was to pass the Population Registration Act of 1950, which required that everyone have their population group registered, and this was done in the population census of 1951. Everyone was given a race (or population group) classification, which was one of Asiatic, Bantu, Coloured or White (all with capital letters, because they were official). Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis etc were all lumped together under “Asiatic”. In the 1970s the canons of political correctness were changed, and Asiatics became Asians, while Bantu became Blacks.

Then there was this snippet, with my reply:

>Apparently “brown” is now used to some degree to refer to
>Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S.

It is also used as a self-description by some former so-called “Coloureds” who are still so called in official documents in our so called “non-racial” democracy (scare quotes deliberate, indicating two-finger gestures with both hands in viva voce situations).

The Population Registration Act has been repealed, yet the same racial epithets continue to be used, though they are no longer defined. Apartheid may be dead, but it still rules from the grave, and its legacy lingers on.

Pedant’s corner: soldiers and troops

Grammar-cop alert.

This is a soldier:


This is a troop:


Got it? Good.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace.

Actually it’s a little bit more complex than that.

Troops are usually mounted, and a member of a troop is usually called a “trooper”, which is equivalent to a “private” in the infantry and a “gunner” in the artillery.

So it would be more accurate to say that THIS is a troop:

My great grandfather, Richard Wyatt Vause, was a lieutenant in the Natal Native Horse in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, and he had 50 men in his troop. As he wrote in his diary after the Battle of Isandlwana

Fortunately the Zulus were repulsed at Rorke’s Drift and did not get as far as Helpmekaar. I lost 30 men and 10 wounded, so have not many left of my original 50.

Coming up next in the milspeak alerts: deploy.

Will the real maverick please stand up

American political terminology is sometimes lost in translation, and perhaps sometimes lost even in American English.

New York City News Service: Mavericks Lost in Translation:

Both Senator McCain and Governor Palin also routinely describe themselves as mavericks – a term said to have originated from 19th Century Texas statesman Samuel Augustus Maverick, who refused to brand his cattle.

Katz defined maverick as “a quintessentially made-in-America word for someone who often goes his own way.”

But John McCain and Sarah Palin still seem, to most observers, to be branded Republican, unlike Colin Powell, the true maverick, who felt free to follow a different herd. And after being forced to destroy his own reputation by lying publicly for the party cause, who can blame him?

Colin Powell – The Real Republican Maverick : Clips & Comment:

What did Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell do when Dick Cheney and George Tenet fed him bad information and sent him to the United Nations a la Adlai Stevenson? He waited an appropriate amount of time because he’s a gentleman, he packed up Dick Armitage, and left the Administration that stabbed him in the back and left him out there hanging. Now that was Mavericky. Not relying on the broken down Republican Party, Powell took his own counsel this weekend and endorsed Barack Obama for president.

Someone in the alt.usage.english newsgroup remarked that terms like “maverick” and “renegade” seemed to have favourable connotations in the USA, at least among some sections of the population, whereas in other parts of the world they were viewed more negatively, with their implications of disloyalty.

It also casts more doubt on the research findings of Jonathan Haidt, who said that conservatives placed more value on loyalty as a moral value than liberals do (see Notes from underground: The moral high ground — or is it?), because it seems that in the US it is people who like to portray themselves as conservative who have a positive view of terms like “maverick” and “renegade”, where the former means someone with no particular loyalty, and the latter means a turncoat — someone who is positively disloyal.

Post Navigation