"dog whistles"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Apr 3 14:26:24 UTC 2014

A related distraction.

Within the past couple of years (I can't be more precise), I've heard news
commentators use the phrase "code for" in a closely related sense.

E.g., at

"This is about the pretext of being able to stop young African American
males. Hoodie is code for thug in many places and I think businesses
shouldn't be in the business of telling people what to wear."

In a nutshell, for about ten years an Indiana mall has posted a sign
saying, "For the Safety and Well-Being of All, Please Lower Your Hoodie."
The sign is accompanied by a stylized black hoodie outlining a white face
(or no face at all, depending on your perceptions).

The mall, apparently patronized by persons of all ethnic origins, does not
forbid or discourage the wearing of hoodies: it merely requests that
wearers lower their hoods within the building. (Cf. "No Shoes, No Service,"
which openly tells barefoot people to stay out.)

According to CNN story, the business owners claim that the policy enhances
security. Local police agree. Irrespective of any other consideration, this
seems plausible: a hood can obscure anyone's face from a  camera.

A CNN analyst objects strongly to the mall's policy and the sign as racist
- presumably by intent rather than by accident.

This, by the way, is the first I've heard that the word "thug" applies only
to black people. I've worn a hoodie on chilly days since long before
"hoodie" was an everyday word. Indoors, I lower the hood. In fact, I'm
wearing one now.

Many will recall the claim that Trayvon Martin was killed "merely for
wearing a hoodie."

So the specific linguistic question is whether (and if so when) "hoodie" is
"code for" (i.e., refers solely to, in dog-whistle fashion) "thug" or
"young African-American male." More generally, do dictionary definitions
cover this sense of "code"?

As for "dog-whistle" coming to mean "euphemism," just remember that in
Medialand, "allegory" usually means "metaphor"; "misnomer" means
"misconception"; and "euphemism" means "synonym."


On Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 8:08 AM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at stanford.edu> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "dog whistles"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Apr 2, 2014, at 10:49 PM, Geoffrey Nunberg <
> nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU> wrote:
> > ... I like the description the philosopher John Holbo at Crooked Timber
> has used, "impolite fictions," but that doesn't get at the semantic process
> here, which it seems to me to involve referring to X via one of its
> stereotypical properties (as, e.g, "inner city," "food stamp users") with
> the intention of evoking but not actually denoting it. (Or maybe I should
> make that, "referring to X by naming something to which X stereotypcially
> applies -- e.g., food stamp users are stereotypically black.) But what
> should it be called?
> i'd call them "obliquities", or "deniable obliquities" for more detail.
> but no name can serve as a definition.
> arnold
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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