slurs (was: Re: camel-toe)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Nov 5 15:53:36 UTC 2009

At 11:15 PM -0500 11/4/09, Wilson Gray wrote:
>BTW, according to tonight's South Park, lexicographers have agreed to
>redefine "fag(got)" as meaning, roughly, an annoying, noise-making,
>Harley-riding, loser asshole dying for attention, among other things.
>There's no longer any necessary correction between faggotry and gayness.

Speaking of redefinitions:  as part of our look at the semantics of
ethnic slurs, our seminar was reading a paper on "Pejoratives" by the
philosopher Christopher Hom, whose stock example is "chink" (vs.
"Chinese"), presumably because for the same reason that I switched to
"kike" for our class discussion.  One of the students who was
unfamiliar with the term opened her computer and looked up "chink" in
the OED [2d ed., 1989] and discovered that the relevant entry, for
"Chink", n. 5, reads in its entirety:

Chink.  slang. A Chinaman (also attrib.).  (Derogatory.)

"Chinaman" gets two definitions:
1. a dealer in porcelain
2. a native of China

Nothing about "derogatory" here. (AHD3/4 actually gives virtually the
same entry for Chink and Chinaman, with one subtle (and I think
correct) distinction:

Offensive slang. Used as a disparaging term for a Chinese person.

Offensive. Used as a disparaging term for a Chinese person.

But how long has it really been since "Chinaman" could be used neutrally?


The American Dialect Society -

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