Thursday, February 12, 2009


For my money, James Wolcott is exactly right. While I won't pretend to know Arnold Kling's inner feelings, there's no getting away from the choices Wolcott lays out: "... he's either fatuously clueless--too innocent for this wicked world--or weaselly disingenuous, and a drama queen either way."

Here's a repost of the comment I left on Kling's blog, where he and many of his fans did protest too much:

I think Bob Murphy has said the smartest thing in this entire comment thread. [*] As is so often the case, a little humor can carry a lot of truth.

Look, like it or not, people hear and read a lot of meaning into words. I almost never use niggardly because too many people misunderstand it. It's really not the end of the world for me, and it's not hurting my back to bend a little backwards to show some sensitivity, even if they're wrong and I'm right to use it as a synonym for cheap.

Similarly, it is disingenuous to pretend that no one should hear thug without some people hearing a racist codeword. The fact is, the word has been used for exactly that purpose for at least a couple of decades now. Not by everybody, not always, but not never, either.

I grant that there is some hysteria among Obama supporters, being rabbit-eared for racist speech. But there's an obvious reason why that is so, and why it's entirely understandable, even if it's not always correct.

It really isn't the end of the world to restrict oneself from using thug in connection with Obama. To show this extra bit of sensitivity and awareness does not at all mean that you're forbidden from criticizing him. Be your age, Steve Sailer and others.

I'll tell you one more thing for free: it has been my experience throughout my entire life that those who howl the loudest when being chastised for using a problematic word tend overwhelmingly to be the ones most likely to want to slip in some real racist sentiments with their words. If this does not describe you, then just calm yourself, realize that there are half a million words in the English language alone, and find some other ones to use to express your disagreements with our first black president.

* To save you the tedium of searching through that comment thread, what Bob Murphy said was this:


Just don't say the Republican stimulus package is niggardly.


Righteous Bubba said...

Attempting to be reasonable with Steve Sailer... Worth the effort?

bjkeefe said...

Maybe I'm unconsciously following Obama's lead: even if I don't think it will work directly on Sailer, addressing him reasonably makes him look worse in the eyes of others.

bjkeefe said...

The following is a follow-up comment that I posted on Kling's blog that his spam filter didn't like for some reason. Cross-posting it here to get it out of my scratch pad.



If "thug" is now not acceptable what is an acceptable replacement?

In the context that AK used it, how about thieves, robbers, or crooks?

Or is it the case of "Could the last politically correct word switch off the light".

As I observed earlier, there are something like half a million words in the English language alone. Don't blame others for your own limited vocabulary, especially when thesauruses are available online for free.

@Christopher Witmer:

... I had never equated black people with thugs until I read your post ...

Sorry. I don't find an argument from personal incredulity very compelling. You might think about getting out more, or at least look to broaden your reading habits. This use has been a common codeword since at least the days when hip-hop was called rap and white people were starting to fret about the lyrics. In the meantime, I accept your thanks for increasing your awareness just a little bit.

To repeat what I said before, it's not a question of whether "thug is a racist codeword" is an objectively true statement or not. What matters is that a non-trivial fraction of the population hears thug that way, so it should not be a surprise when the use of that word produces blowback. It's up to you whether you think being sensitive to others is worth anything or not, but to my mind, insisting on one's "right" to say thug is no different from insisting that one means nothing untoward by using lynch, colored, or uppity.

bjkeefe said...

For the record, the original of what appears above has been declared commenta non spama and now appears on Kling's blog.

Anonymous said...

You may like this:

bjkeefe said...

I've seen it before, but thanks.

I don't think there's any reason to stop using the word thug completely, which appears to be what Muller is hysterically wondering about. Just be aware that context matters and choose a synonym when your first choice could be misconstrued. That's really not so much to ask, is it?

Unless you're determined to keep that sometimes-racist tinge alive, I mean.

Anonymous said...

Except that he was using the word "thug" to describe Hank Paulson, not Barack Obama. Indeed, if you read the full transcript he doesn't even mention Obama by name. If you read the full transcript it's abundantly clear that there's nothing racist about what he wrote.