The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

8 November 2005

Words we can no longer use

Three this month, says Lileks:

"Illegal aliens" is doubleplus ungood; the new term is "undocumented worker" or “undocumented resident." Which slyly suggests that residency is the value that trumps legality. "Gyp" is forbidden, and I understand why; it's derived from "gypsy," and means "to cheat." Fine. But now "codger" is forbidden, as an "offensive term referring to a senior citizen.”

Codger! "Offensive." No word strikes more fear into the heart of modern journalists. "Offensive" could mean meetings and memos and warning notes and angry emails. Some journos love it; so I offend. Fine. It’s in the job description. Others fold up like a card table, horrified — but only if the offended person hails from a designated victim group; they don't lose a lot of sleep if they've offended some nutball right-winger. That is merely a sign you're doing something right.

On the spectrum, I'm presumably closer to nutball right-winger than designated victim; on the other hand, I've always prided myself on being an equal-opportunity offender. (Political correctness? If it's political at all, it ain't correct.)

Still, if anyone happens to be setting up a foundation to lobby for the banning of the phrase "speak[ing] truth to power" from now until two days past eternity, I've got a check right here. Call it the whimsy of an old codger.

Posted at 8:05 AM to Almost Yogurt

TrackBack: 10:14 AM, 9 November 2005
» "There's them that laughs, and knows better. . ." from Classical Values
Just when I was complaining about having to shut up, I discovered that another perfectly good and affectionate word -- "codger" -- is now offensive: now "codger" is forbidden, as an "offensive term referring to a senior citizen.” Codger! "Offensive."......[read more]

If Lileks is saying it, that's your first clue that it's probably, you know, completely and ridiculously wrong.

The first citing I could find of "codger" as offensive was a 1991 (yes, 14 years ago) list put together by Accuracy in Academia, an offshoot of Reed Irvine's ultra-conservative (and factually challenged) "Accuracy in Media."

The list is supposed to be about how colleges are telling students not to use offensive language, and in addition to "gyp," it warns against using "Okie" as "derogatory slang for whites," and lists "peon" as a derogatory slang for Latin-American people. The list is supposed to make you think that colleges are constantly advising students not to use common words because they might, just might, offend someone, a watershed of the right-wing's campaign against accurate terminology they happen not to like.

For example, leave it to Lileks to spend most of his time complaining about refugee for Katrina victims, righteously huffing that "his dictionary" defines it as someone who loses a home due to national disaster, without bothering to name the dictionary or argue that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (arguably the prescriptive dictionary for American English) does, in fact, define refugee as "one that flees to a place of safety; especially : one who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution in his own country or habitual residence because of his race, religion, or political beliefs", or as "one who flees from justice," or even more oddly in the thidr defintion, as definition 2a of "cowboy": "one of a band of loyalist guerillas and irregular cavalry that operated mostly in Westchester county, New York, during the American Revolution."

The only other worthwhile dictionary, the American Hertiage Dictionary (4th Edition), defines refugee as "one who flees in search of refuge, as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution." Again, no mention of natural disaster. Lileks is probably more steamed because, during the Katrina debacle, it came out that in political circles, refugee has a very specific meaning of a person who is outside of his home country and cannot return to it for well-founded fear of persecution. "Refugee" is not a synonym for "homeless," even if the cause for the homelessness is beyond the individual's control.

Lots of international law to protect "refugees" does not apply to hurricane or tsunami or earthquake victims because they're not being persecuted. They could go home if there was a building for them to live in without fear of being killed for their religious beliefs or skin color. Yet Lileks prefers to blame his union's newsletter for pointing this out because he disagrees with it. He blasts others for refusing to use "refugee" because it's "highly offensive" but "accurate," even though international convention as well as the two most comprehensive and most-used dictionaries in America disagree. Why does Lileks hate America? Or the English language?

As for "illegal alien" vs. "undocumented worker," Lileks is perfectly happy to avoid that he's bashing is a journalistic newsletter, where meaning is supposed to matter. Are you writing about people who are in the country illegally? Then use "illegal alien." If you're writing about people holding American jobs without a green card, though, "undocumented worker" is correct. Why would Lileks be in favor of calling people "illegal aliens" if the writer doesn't know they're in the country illegally? Plenty of undocumented workers are legal aliens, though more of them are not.

I'm not up enough on immigration law to know if there are "undocumented residents" that are not "illegal aliens," but like the Founding Fathers, I'm not in favor of publishing that someone is "illegal" without proof beyond the color of their skin. Call me a patriot, I guess. Or a codger.

Why is Lileks so opposed to accuracy that he has to lie about dictionary definitions to make his point?

Posted by: Matt at 12:42 PM on 8 November 2005

Well, now we know Matt is offended. So was Lileks lying about the content of the article? (I'm not really sure why else his statement on this would be "wrong." I mean, if he read his union newspaper and it said "there's nothing wrong with the word 'codger'" then I could understand why you'd be miffed.)

You know, since I, like about (I guess) 99.9% of the population that doesn't read up on these things because we don't really care, didn't know that some conservative guy found "codger" offensive. As for myself, I thought it had fallen out of disuse because it was seen as cutesy and old-fashioned, and has since been replaced by "old fart."

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 5:23 PM on 8 November 2005

PS: so can the Tom Petty song "You Don't Have to Live Like a Refugee" be removed from the airwaves now? After all, it might hurt the feelings of someone from New Orleans or something. Me, it just hurts my ears.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 5:24 PM on 8 November 2005

Best use of "codger" in recent years: this song by Eddie Glenn.

They take a quarter of a paycheck that's s'posed to be yours
Just to keep the old codgers socially secure
It's keepin' 'em comfortable but keepin' us poor
And they wonder why we drive so fast.
Well, the reason we're runnin' you down, you old fart
Is we're trying to get to Hardee's, Taco Bell and Wal-Mart
To work for minimum wage and take part
In supporting your wrinkled old ass.

I've pretty much embraced "codger" and even "old fart," though I still resist "geezer" for some reason. Must be the sheer sound of it, because I can't think of any good explanation.

Incidentally, on the way home today a geezer in a Town Car pulled off an absolutely gorgeous high-speed lane change, which plopped him down in front of me, at which point he decided that 48 mph was quite enough, thank you very much. Apparently he's good for just the one maneuver per trip. (And it wasn't because he wanted off at the left-lane exit; I took it, and he didn't.)

Posted by: CGHill at 5:59 PM on 8 November 2005

Tell me about it. I live in Florida, one of the most geezer-infested states in the union. However, they are rapidly being replaced by the new Incredibly Annoying Driving Idiot, the twenty-something Jennifer Anniston-haired woman in a Mitsubishi Eclipse too busy talking on her cell phone to watch the damn road.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 8:23 PM on 8 November 2005

Matt (see above) reports that he had posted an additional comment here, but that it disappeared. In the absence of any trail, I'm assuming that it disappeared due to my technical bungling. He's posted a followup here, if you'd like to continue with this topic.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:49 PM on 15 November 2005