Yellow Journalism

Last week ESPN used the long-familiar phrase ‘a chink in the armor’ in reference to the apparent invincibility of NBA sensation Jeremy Lin. Predictably, a ruction ensued, and as is usual in such cases, the network groveled, and two new heads-on-pikestaffs were mounted on the battlements outside the Ministry of Speech.

We now have a new word-for-a-word to keep in mind: a casual survey of recent usage indicates that ‘chink’ has now become, or is about to become, ‘the C-word’. As such, it joins what is still a very exclusive club: as far as I know, the only other members to date are ‘the F-word’ and ‘the N-word’.

Although I’m sure we’re all better off, and the world a far safer place, with ‘chink’ admitted to the Hall of Shame, my far-seeing eye detects trouble up ahead: how much longer can it be before a new word requires admission that begins with the same letter as one of the current members?

This whole euphemism-creep business is a pity all round, say I; I’m still mourning ‘niggardly’ and ‘black hole’, and now we have to kiss ‘chink’ goodbye, too. So much for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I guess.


  1. the one eyed man says

    I think the C-word is already taken.

    When I was living in Hong Kong, the most popular brand of toothpaste was Colgate’s Darkie Toothpaste, with a smiling you-know-what on the packaging. It didn’t bother anyone in Hong Kong a bit. As noted by the South China Morning Post, nobody in Africa would mind if Colgate sold Chink Toothpaste.

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Oh sure, Darkie Toothpaste. As it happens I had a tube lying around.

    Here’s a picture:

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    Did I give that to you? Makes a great stocking stuffer.

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink
  4. Yes, I’m pretty sure the so-called “c-word” has long been reserved for the (until very recently) the one unmentionable word, even in x-rated films.

    I guess we’ll have to mask “chink” with a “ch-word” or similar code.

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Indeed you did, Pete. Long ago.

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    What I’m waiting for is for euphemism creep, taking its normal course, to reach the point where ‘N-word’ has become so offensive (because, after all, we all know what it stands for) that we need a euphemism for it. Should be about another two or three years.

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink
  7. Kevin Kim says

    Zach Galifianakis, in a comedy routine some years back (“Live at the Purple Onion,” 2007-ish), mentioned being so wasted that he “almost African-Americaned out.”

    Of course, he did go on to say “I hate the Right with a passion.” So don’t let un-PC-ness be your barometer for a person’s political leanings.

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Don’t see any inconsistency there, Kevin…

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink
  9. I am reminded of the s-word, “spook”, which was the source of the protagonist’s problem in Roth’s “The Human Stain”. So, given that the “c”-, “f”-, “n”-, and possibly “s-word” have all been spoken for, so to speak, perhaps we should consider the likely candidates for the as yet unclaimed 22 “letter”-words.

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink
  10. Speaking of euphemisms for “letter”-words themselves, the f-word has one: “eff”, as in, “He is an effen liberal!”

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink
  11. the one eyed man says

    Great book, The Human Stain. If I remember correctly – never a sure bet – it was the word “niggardly” that got him fired.

    My Dad went to Weequahic High and was in Philip Roth’s boy scout troop. He thought Portnoy’s Complaint was riotously funny, because he grew up with the people in the book.

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink
  12. I’m pretty sure it was the word “spook” that got him fired. The protagonist used it as a reference to a “ghostly” absence from class attendance for a student who, unfortunately, turned out to be an African-American.

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink
  13. the one eyed man says

    A few minutes on the Internets reveals that Henry is indeed correct that it was the word “spooks” which got the professor fired, but Roth purportedly based his book on an incident where a government official was fired for correctly using the word “niggardly.”

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink
  14. BTW, Roth is a favorite novelist of mine. My first Roth novel was, indeed, “Portnoy’s Complaint”. Roth is about 8 years older than me, so I guess I am just a bit younger than your dad, Peter. Keep that in mind the next time you are tempted to be disrespectful to me!


    Posted February 20, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  15. the one eyed man says

    Disrespecful? Moi?

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink
  16. Of course not! But, just in case our political differences become a tad heated, as they have been known to get in the past, remember: one of the 10 big ones is, “Honor thy father and they mother”, or words to that effect …

    Posted February 20, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink
  17. Kevin Kim says

    Apologies, Malcolm — I wasn’t admonishing you. Was only making a general observation about comedic styles and political leanings. I thought Galifianakis’s line was pretty funny. There’s a whole discussion to be had about transgressive, un-PC humor and its tendency to pop up on the left side of the spectrum.

    Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    Right you are Kevin. That’s due to the fact that P.C., like all totalitarianism, is utterly humorless.

    Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Henry, is there something you’ve been keeping from Peter for a long time now?

    Posted February 21, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  20. Malcolm,

    I have only seen the first “Star Wars” movie, with my younger son, David, who was 5 at the time (and I was half my present age). But I am not unfamiliar with the special relationship, revealed in a later episode, between the principal protagonist and the principal antagonist in this movie series. So, I think I catch your drift.

    But if you are insinuating what I think you are, I must remind you who is the good guy here.


    Posted February 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  21. Dom says

    True story. Some time ago, a student at U of P was awakened by co-eds shouting outside his window. He said something like “Keep it down, you water buffalos.” The co-eds were black, they believed (wrongly) that buffalos were African … and you can imagine what happened next.

    Posted February 22, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    “Ah yes, I remember it well.”

    More on that one here, and here.

    It’s of a piece with the Dharun Ravi case getting underway just now: a trivial act becomes an example of thoughtcrime, and a vehicle for totalitarian re-education.

    Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  23. Av says

    It was used by a late night online news editor and one of their anchors on one of their sports news broadcasts, not on one of their “primetime” broadcasts or news articles.

    They were probably just trying to amuse themselves and their staff. If you’ve ever worked in journalism you know this kind of thing isn’t rare, journos try to slip in funny references and headlines for fun among their staff, to be provocative, see what they can get away with, etc.

    They probably thought it’d go relatively unnoticed because it was on a less “primetime” broadcast and article, but this whole Jeremy Lin story has been so big that any and all coverage has probably been heavily watched.

    If it was used for, say, Yao Ming during the middle of his career when he wasn’t really a big story it would probably have gone relatively unnoticed.

    Posted February 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  24. JK says

    That last comment from Av – does this post of your’s Malcolm mean that I’m no longer allowed to write, “a chink in his armor” because to do so I’d be insulting both Mr. Lin and Mr. Ravi’s supposed jumper-guys?

    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  25. JK,

    I think it’s still OK to write “a chick in his armoire”, if that’s where she’s hiding.

    Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  26. JK says

    Thanks TBH – one problem. The story relates to an Asian-American driving an M1-A1 tank. But I’d ask, how the heck did you know there’s a female-American hiding in my furniture?

    Posted February 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  27. I figured it’s not likely to be an Asian-American male.


    Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

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