Sticks And Stones...

By now, most of us have heard about the man who lost his political job after using the word niggardly in a private staff meeting. It appears that one staff member took offense at the word.

Columns From: 3/1/1999 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Chris Koepfer

By now, most of us have heard about the man who lost his political job after using the word niggardly in a private staff meeting. It appears that one staff member took offense at the word. Understand that the word means stingy. The unfortunate fellow used the word correctly in a remark about government spending. Realizing he inadvertently offended one of the three staff members—who didn't know the word's meaning and construed it as a racial slur—he apologized.

Not good enough! In spite of the facts—1) he used a perfectly good word correctly and 2) although it wasn't necessary, he apologized for any offense taken by the staff—his resignation was accepted. It's one thing to use a word with the intention of offending someone. That of course does happen. But it's quite another to use a word correctly and then lose your job because someone else didn't pay attention in English class.

Have we traveled so far down the politically correct highway that even one word's resemblance to a word that offends the sensibilities of some is sufficient to punish the user or banish use of the word? If that's the case, we're quickly going to eliminate the ability to com-municate on any level about anything.

Let's face it folks, sometimes we get our feelings hurt. It's a fact of life and living. All are going to get chinks in their personal armor. To avoid it is to withdraw from participation in virtually any social intercourse. Do we insist Day-Glo paint should be renamed because it may sound bad to Italians or insist on using saltine instead of cracker because of Southern sensitivities? Can thespians still work the stage unmolested?

The case of the guy losing his job over correct use of an appropriate word is hopefully an isolated incident. Nonetheless, it illustrates how seriously things can get misconstrued and out of hand. We each have responsibility to choose our words carefully. But protection from hurt feelings cannot be guaranteed. Nor should it be. I'm not suggesting that derogatory epithets should be given free reign or tolerance. My young mouth tasted soap more than once learning that lesson. On the contrary, words can be very powerful. Their selection and use should be a considered thing.

I do, however, protest the idea of substituting super-sensitivity, under the guise of political correctness, as a cover for ignorance. Yes, ignorance is a strong word that means a lack of knowledge. In this case it's the correct choice. It's the right word.

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