For the past few days, I’ve been noticing that I cringe when I hear certain words used to label people or things in conversation, on social media, or on television. Some of these are words I know bother other people (like “gypsy,” for personal and business names that the Romani/Romanichal folks would not be fond of because the people using the term aren’t referring to actual gypsies, or naming your pets “Dixie” or “Cracker” or other loaded Southern words in today’s climate).*
Others are just me. I realize that, for some reason, I do not like the word “cheap” when applied to things you buy. I think my internal definition in my idiolect has more to do with poor quality than low cost. In my mind when people say they want a cheap thing, they are saying that they pay more attention to the price of a thing than to how well it will work or how long it will serve, a short-term viewpoint. So, I never refer to things I obtain as cheap. They are inexpensive, which doesn’t have the poor quality connotation that’s really a secondary definition of cheapness. To me.
Back to the first group of words I don’t like, most of them appear to be words that apply to cultural, racial, or national groups. I just recently began to cringe when I hear “Latinx,” after hearing someone say no actual Latino or Latina person would use that word, since it isn’t even Spanish. To them it sounds like white people went and made up a word to solve a problem that didn’t really exist. People who speak Spanish don’t take grammatical gender as literally as English speakers do. How about that? Should I use “Hispanic?” That one has its own issues. Maybe I’ll just call people by their names or refer to their country or origin if they aren’t from the US.
I guess I know how much people treasure their cultural identities, so I want to use the words members of a particular culture prefer to use, even if they change as time goes on. It would be a LOT easier if there was universal agreement, though. I actually knew someone who preferred “negro” to “Black” or “African American.” Plus, the AA term really doesn’t apply to actual Africans or people from the Caribbean who have moved here. ARGH.
One thing the current movement toward acknowledging the great variety of gender terminology and preferences has taught me is this: it never hurts to ASK someone how they want to be referred to. So, if you don’t know, ASK if a Cajun wants to be called that. ASK what your “indigenous” friend likes their cultural identity to be called.
Just don’t be cheap about it. Don’t gyp me. Don’t try to jew me down. When did you start to cringe in this extra cringeworthy paragraph? Do you see why I prefer to be careful with labels and their derivations? It’s not just me being a liberal snowflake (by the way, each snowflake is unique and beautiful, so thanks for calling me that, frenemies!).
Suna, she/her, McLeod of the Clan McLeod**
*I have known many dogs named Dixie, and it didn’t use to be controversial. Times change.
**Way too fond of one branch of my Ancestry family tree, perhaps?