Ebony and Irony

Is every language enthusiast racist?

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 14, 2009

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With all the wild accusations swirling and dirty Illinois politics bubbling up, who'd have thought grammarians would be some of the loudest objectors to Roland Burris' appointment to the U.S. Senate?

"There is certainly no pay-to-play involved, because I don't have no money," Burris said in a news conference last week. And the grammar confirmation militia lost it, basically equating the quotation with a verbal terrorist fist jab.

"I think Roland's loose grammar was an implied shout-out to the long underserved demographic of people who don't give a rat's a-s about speaking English properly," commented "Mike in NYC" on CNN.com. He courteously self-censored his "ass" with that discreet little hyphen.

"Jeez, did [Burris] really say that?" intoned "SpencerCat," a Huffington Post commenter. "Great, a senator who can't speak correctly."

Why is it that when a white person speaks improper English, it's cheeky, but when a black person does it, it's because of that "demographic of people"? Call me naive, but I really don't want to believe that the vast majority of language enthusiasts moonlight as not-so-closeted racists.

In 2004 Dick Cheney said, "Go fuck yourself" to Sen. Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate. Or what about 2007, when Sen. John McCain said, "Fuck you" to Sen. John Cornyn in a meeting on immigration legislation? Would SpencerCat or Mike in NYC call this "speaking English properly"--in the Senate building, no less?

All of these are different means of expression. Some would find profanity just as objectionable as "I don't have no money."

But what matters is understanding and interpretation--and I don't think there's any ambiguity as to the intended meaning of either. The only thing unbefitting a senator here is the bigoted double standard.


I'm always confused about "abstruse" vs. "obtuse." Help!

Forget everything you learned in geometry class. Or just remember that everything you learned in geometry class was dumb, and that's also the meaning of "obtuse." "Abstruse" is a better descriptor for geometry class itself: difficult to understand.

In other words, the reasoning behind racist grammatical double standards is abstruse; those grammatical racists themselves, however, are obtuse.

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