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Transmission – Word Choices
March 18, 2007
by Jamie Tyroler

I apologize for not having a column in the last issue of Camp. I do want to state that I am not running for mayor, City Council, Congress, president, or any other elected office. I’m also not the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s young daughter.

Recently, there has been some controversy about Ann Coulter’s use of the word “faggot” when referring to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards at a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). A videotape of Coulter’s speech appeared to show a few audience members gasping and several others laughing. Some people demanded that Coulter apologize.

Initially, there was little media coverage. According to Howard Kurtz’s March 5 Washington Post column, in the first 24 hours, there was no mention on the nightly newscasts, no mention in the New York Times and no Associated Press stories. The only mention in The Washington Post was in a Dana Milbank column (without printing the word). According to Kurtz, only the Los Angeles Times made an issue of the slur and printed it.

Coulter is known for saying things that many people think are outrageous, but there are also quite a few people who buy her books, attend her speaking engagements, and apparently support her views. After some outcry by Democrats and bloggers, some of the Republican presidential candidates denounced Coulter’s use of the word. Sen. John McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney all condemned Coulter’s actions. Presidential candidate and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas has no mention of Coulter’s remarks on his Web site www.brownback.com. Brownback does mention that he came in third in a straw poll at the CPAC gathering. Kansas residents -- feel free to contact Brownback’s Web site or office to voice your displeasure – his not commenting on this is an implicit approval of Coulter’s slur.

I’m not one for censoring people’s speech, but I do feel that people who choose to use certain words need to take responsibility for the reaction that it may cause. When comedian Michael Richards said “the n-word” in an angry tirade, he started apologizing soon afterward. He received a lot of complaints and possibly ruined his career because of his poor choice of words.

One of the problems with trying to ban the use of certain words is that we often try to do more than eliminate the use of one or two words. For example, there are several people who want to ban Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” from schools for the use of the “n-word,” which was common at the time. Abraham Lincoln, early in his political career, also used this word. Yet many people view Twain’s character Jim as a very positive person in the face of the treatment that he received based on his skin color. And most people view Lincoln as one of the greatest Americans because of the Emancipation Proclamation and his actions in trying to save the nation.

One of the things that make these words problematic is that, for example, gay men occasionally refer to themselves or friends using the “f-word” and black men sometimes use the “n-word” with each other. There are some people who, when they hear these words being used, feel that it is OK to also use those words. A straight man using the “f-word” for a gay man usually means something different than when a gay man uses the same word.

The Sundance Channel has a show called “Iconoclasts”, which has a famous person meet someone who they feel has influenced them. One episode has comedian Dave Chappelle meeting Maya Angelou. One of the topics discussed was the use of the “n-word.” Angelou’s comment on the use of this word was basically that Chappelle should consider this word poison and that no matter how pretty the bottle is, it’s still poison.

Should we consider the word “faggot” as poisonous? As I stated earlier, I’m against banning certain words, but when we use these words among ourselves, we shouldn’t be too surprised when others do. When using these slurs we lower ourselves to the level of those people we condemn. When you say these words, you never know how they can come back later.

I realize that I may catch some flak for using the “f-word,” and I am willing to take responsibility for using it. It is not my intent to offend, but to get people to think about how we use certain words and the possible repercussions.

Sometimes, it takes some poison to get rid of poison.
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