Today the Washington Redskins are visiting the Seattle Seahawks for an NFL playoff game. The contest has been attended with the usual hype, but the sportswriters covering the game for the Seattle Times have faced a peculiar challenge – the paper has decided not to allow them to use the name “Redskins” more than once in their stories. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that the only other obvious token by which to refer to the team is the name of their hometown, Washington, which happens also to be the the home state of the home team.
I do understand the wish not to offend, but let’s face it, the team has a name, and expecting humble scriveners who are merely trying to report the news not to use it seems awfully weak to me. It’s not as if people don’t know what the team’s name is, after all, especially if it has been leaked exactly once per story.
This is “euphemism creep”: a social-engineering effort to ameliorate perceived instances of societal stigmatization simply by replacing old, freighted terms with new, officially-approved ones. “Crippled” becomes “disabled”, then “differently abled”. “Niggers” became “Negroes”, then “colored persons”, then “Blacks”, then “African-Americans”, then “persons of color”. Think about that – you can in perfectly P.C. good taste refer to someone as a “person of color”, but to say “colored person” these days would cost you your tenure.
I mention all of this not to belittle the sufferings of those who are unjustly discriminated against, but to point out that this does very little, if anything at all, to solve their problem, as is indicated by the very fact that the euphemisms have to be replaced every so often with new ones. As long as the underlying attitudes remain, each new term simply acquires the same social baggage the previous one had. Metaphorically it reminds me of the geology of the Hawaiian Island chain; the row of islands was formed one after the other as the Earth’s crust moved over a stationary volcanic “hot spot”.
My point is that until the underlying attitude changes, all we are doing is kidding ourselves. This is such a sensitive issue, though, that even to mention it in a humble blog post is to ask for trouble.