Tuesday, May 11, 2010

So Annie and I were talking...

She has this look when she thinks you’re wrong. She’s too polite to say “you’re wrong, you may be an imbecile.”

I told her I had “Swedish pancakes” at IKEA on Sunday morning. She wasn’t sure what Swedish added to the basic pancake. I said “kind of like crepes,” pronounced with a short “e” as in bed. The look. Me: “I think it’s pronounced that way; but, I’m never happy saying it.” I went online and the consensus is I’m right, if I’m speaking French and wrong if I talking in my native language, then its “crapes.”

She’s a word purist. Pronounce the letters, use the word correctly. And she’s a bit PC for my taste.

Today I was talking and used the word “Orientals” and got the look. “What?”

“Well, if we’re going to go there, how about ‘Asians?’”

“What, Oriental is archaic and you think it’s derogatory?”

She didn’t say anything; but, I knew that’s what it was.

So I went online. Here again, a split of opinion. There are those that feel that Oriental (from the East, as opposed to Occidental, from the West) is perjorative as it lumps people together who shouldn’t necessarily be lumped together. A Japanese person isn’t Chinese and a Korean isn’t….

But, if you use Asian instead of Oriental, aren’t you doing the same thing?

Perhaps my original mistake was in labeling. When you go to law school you take a class that’s labeled something like “Elements of Law” or “Legal Reasoning.” I remember a class that dealt with an opinion written, I think, by Benjamin Cardozo (you can Google him if you have legal wonkish tendencies). The lesson was about relevancy and description. The opinion was about a car accident. In the factual description that always comes before the presentation of the issue, the reasoning and the holding (conclusion for non-lawyers) one of the cars involved in the wreck was described as, again I think, a “blue Buick.” So, the professor asked, why not just call it a car, or perhaps a vehicle? Is blue relevant to the issue presented in the opinion. Is the fact that it’s a Buick? There was much more, only interesting to lawyers.

The lesson as applied to the Oriental/Asian conversation: Be spare in your language, using only those words necessary to make your point. I should have just said “some people.”

1 comment:

Thomas said...

The problem with "Oriental" is that it presumes Europe is the center of the world, and East and West are derived from that starting point.

This bothers the Asians, who think that they should be considered the center of the world.