a gay

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 29 17:59:43 UTC 2010

I too have encountered people who felt that "Jew" was offensive, though they
couldn't say why.  One suggested that it was because "Jewish person" was
"correct."  (How's that for rationalizing?)
Back in the '50s Gordon Allport suggested that group designators often seem
subjectively harsher or even disdainful in comparison with adjectival
constructions: "an Italian woman," "a Chinese man," "a black person."

I think the abruptness of a monosyllable has something to do with this, but
that shouldn't affect polysyllables.

About twenty-five years ago the campus paper referred to a student who'd
been bumped by a car and knocked down while jaywalking as "a
twenty-year-old black."  This resulted in at least one angry letter from
another African-American student who was outraged that her friend had been
"reduced to an adjective."  There was even a small march on the
administration building to rally the campus against "this kind of racism."
There was no rally against reckless driving on campus, or to warn students
against jaywalking across a four-lane road, or the like.

On Wed, Dec 29, 2010 at 11:47 AM, Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at uga.edu> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: a gay
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I may have reported on this list some years ago my surprising discovery
> that the monosyllabic singular noun "Jew" is sometimes found to be offensive
> (by Jewish students and others).
> --Charlie
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of
> geoffrey nunberg [nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU]
> I posted on this in the Linguist List back in 1992.
> http://linguistlist.org/issues/3/3-855.html
>  Note that this affects both 'gay' and 'black', both of them group terms
> derived from monosyllabic adjectives. "He was sitting next to a black" is as
> suggestive of a disparaging attitude as "We have a gay living next door" is.
> Also, this isn't a matter of sg/pl but of specificity. "There are two gays
> (blacks) on the commitee" produces the effect, whereas "There are no gays
> (blacks) on the committee" doesn't, nor does the kind-denoting bare plural:
> "Gays (blacks) have been supportive of the policy" -- cf also "some
> gays/blacks," "many gays/blacks" etc.
> The effect seems to be pretty robust when I check with other speakers, but
> I'm at a loss as to why things should fall out this way.
> Geoff
> > From: Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> > Date: December 28, 2010 10:28:49 AM PST
> > Subject: a gay
> >
> >
> > This has been mentioned here before, if I am not mistaken. In fact, I've
> > mentioned it before--in the context of non-native speakers saying "I am
> > [not] a gay," or something to this effect.
> >
> > OED gay C. n. 5. a. has "chiefly in pl." but every single example is
> > "gays" (or "gays and lesbians") and 5. b. has "the gay" as a social
> > class. Here's one now in print (so no more anecdotal stories about
> > Italians):
> >
> > http://goo.gl/HbT6k
> >> "If an open gay does his job, I think he'll be accepted," said retired
> >> Rear Adm. George R. Worthington, a former Navy SEAL.
> >
> > Just wanted to add that Worthington's language is not accidental and
> > falls into a pattern of people apprehensive about "the gay" using the
> > singular version of 5.a.:
> >
> >> "I don't think there is going to be that many of them that want to
> >> sign up for SEALs anyway because of the closeness and the tightness of
> >> the training," Adm. Worthington said.
> >> "My opinion is that they're probably more clerical oriented. Medical
> >> profession. Corpsmen. Stuff like that."
> >
> > and
> >
> >> "Put the word out," said Adm. Worthington. "If you hit on somebody,
> >> you're going to get in a fistfight. You may not like it. I just think
> >> if they maintain their composure, they don't bother anybody.
> >
> > So this seems to fall into the social pattern--I am assuming this has
> > been previously identified, although I don't recall any specific
> > discussion to this effect.
> >
> >    VS-)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list