rhyming odds and ends

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Nov 17 01:12:01 UTC 2002

At 7:18 PM -0500 11/16/02, Beverly Flanigan wrote:
>I think Jim meant that 'monkey' and 'honky' are "politically
>incorrect."  But why would either 'monkey' or 'donkey' be considered un-PC?

As discussed recently, Howard Cosell's reference to an
African-American football player with the line "Look at that little
monkey run" or something of the sort landed him in hot water for what
was considered a racist insult.  Other black athletes like Patrick
Ewing have been more intentionally insulted by signs held up by fans
in opposing stadiums or arenas comparing them to gorillas or monkeys.

Donkeys I'm not sure enough.  For linguists and philosophers, there's
the matter of donkey anaphora.  Sentences like

Every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.
If a farmer owns a donkey, he beats it.

are of theoretical interest because of the difficulty in accounting
for the reference of "it", and this was recognized by scholastic
philosophers in the medieval period.  Peter Geach used their example
in his modern version of medieval logic, and such sentences have come
to be known in formal sentences as "donkey sentences".  Un-PC they
clearly are (though better than discussions of "Do you still beat
your father?" or "Do you still beat your wife?" in work on
presupposition).  But the LSA, in its wisdom (I was a member of the
executive committee when this was taken up as part of the language
reform initiated by the Committee on the Status of Women), determined
that authors in _Language_ would be able to continue to use donkey
sentences because of their historical importance, although no new
examples involving gratuitous violence to animals (or people) would
be countenanced.

Still, I'm pretty sure that's not what Jim had in mind.  (Maybe it's
that donkeys are the Democrats' symbol, and we know how un-PC *they*
are after the recent elections. Or that donkeys are jackasses.  Naah.)


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