Unkind Words: Ethnic Labeling from Redskin to WASP

Unkind Words: Ethnic Labeling from Redskin to WASP

Unkind Words: Ethnic Labeling from Redskin to WASP

Unkind Words: Ethnic Labeling from Redskin to WASP

Synopsis

In this extensive study of ethnic labeling in the United States' popular speech and usage, the author explores the major traditional themes behind the development of ethnic slurs. Viewing U.S. slang as a reflection of social diversity, rapid change, and the complexity of U.S. society, Allen gives a special insight into the social workings of U.S. culture, both past and present. The book offers an overview of the major traditional themes used in the making of ethnic slurs as well as the most recent fads of covert and devious slurring with codewords and various kinds of sly word games. Unkind Words delivers its message with unusual clarity, that too often shoddy language shapes our thinking about the politics of ethnicity.

Excerpt

American slang is among the most elaborate, fanciful, and colorful in the world, reflecting the social diversity, rapid change, and complexity of American society. Perhaps the most frequently occurring topic in historical American slang is ethnic slurs. Well over a thousand abusive nicknames aimed at more than one hundred different American ethnic groups have been recorded in dictionaries and other studies of our popular speech. Nearly every ethnic group--majority and minority alike--has slurred nearly every other group in the country. The profusion of these words speaks to one of the most troublesome aspects of our national social history. Yet the terms of abuse themselves can yield a special insight into the social workings of American society and culture, both past and present.

Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Americans have seen an upsurge of popular interest in ethnic origins, ethnic identity, and the workings of the plural society. People of all ethnic groups rediscovered their ethnicities and those of others. Scholars of American society, especially historians and social scientists, began to dredge up the dark side of our national past to help understand why we are the way we are. The history of our popular speech has proved . . .

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