by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/04/15 17:30 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/04/15/576984.aspx
I was reading Benjamin's brief history of 'spaz' on Language Log, and I think it is quite interesting how words that can be quite innocuous in one culture can be quite incendiary in another.
In the particular example with Tiger Woods and the word spaz it is not even between languages since it is English in both cases. Perhaps we could distinguish different dialects in terms of whether there are such "points of passion" in one but not another?
For myself, I know that I should speak about my own problems in a more polite way than I do since other take offense. But it is easier to laugh off the situation with the occasional self-deprecting gimp.
Or to counter my ex-fiance's glib 'girls with glasses don't get passes' with a 'man with stick can't find a chick' or the newer 'man who scoots gets no beauts'.
Or to answer questions like 'what's your height?' with 4"1', or even better 124cm (which is about what my height is when I am sitting in the scooter).
Of course its considered slightly different if you are a member of the group you are perhaps nominally insulting. It doesn't bother me obviously, but sometimes it makes others uncomfortable (especially people who feel I am working against the progress for sensitivity on the issue).
We call it Political Correctness mostly, as if saying that I "have multiple sclerosis" is somehow magically better than saying I "am afflicted with multiple sclerosis". Which in my humble opinion is completely asinine; on a day that I do not leave my house for fear of being able to walk more than 20 feet without falling (it's rare but it has happened) calling it an affliction is probably the most polite way to adequately describe the situation.
On the other hand, I probably might be offended if someone used such a term on a day that I was feeling just fine -- perhaps going so far as to say the only affliction I was suffering from that day was the presence of the person making the statement....
And I have had quite spastic moments before, and could easily keep someone up at night if they had to be around me and my muscle spams (I take Baclofen now, so I generally don't have the problem). Somehow calling myself a spaz in those situations is slightly less frowned upon by most. Even in England.
But, to get back to cultural issues, we hit the real problem -- it really shouldn't be a cultural issue so much as a situational one. It is an issue where we shouldn't use the most extreme form of the problem as the default. Better to save the exteme stuff for when you feel pretty afflicted by it.
How on earth can someone know about every single possible point of offense in every single culture? It is truly impossible, unless you have every word you say pre-screened by native speakers before you say anything. Which is not always going to be possible.
I doubt we can add a LOCALE_SWORDSTHATOFFENDTHECRAPOUTOFPEOPLE flag to GetLocaleInfo to solve the problem programatically, though it would be fun to collect the data!
So, if anything I post here in the blog offends someone in a particular culture, I can promise that it was not intentional (unless I specifically say otherwise!).
Or, at the very least remember that I am sometimes a gimp and/or a spaz....
# Gabe on 16 Apr 2006 2:24 AM:
# Michael S. Kaplan on 16 Apr 2006 3:03 AM:
# Alun Jones on 17 Apr 2006 12:15 PM:
# Dan Glick on 18 Apr 2006 2:53 PM:
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