Our changing language.

This isn’t a lesson you have to be a writer to learn, but just in case you haven’t, let me lay it out for you:

One person’s poetry is another’s profanity. Context is everything. It’s stupid to argue why black people can call one another nigga and white people can’t. The language you use at the bar, at the frat house, at your grandmother’s dinner table, at church, at the office is likely going to vary widely.

So get over whether or not David Shuster got a raw deal from his employer over using the phrase “pimped out” to describe what Chelsea Clinton’s parents may or may not be doing in re: their daughter. He perhaps thought he was being hip and young and with-in and down with the kids, and Hillary Clinton objected. This cannot possibly come as a surprise to anyone with half a brain. You say tomato, I hear to-mah-to. Let’s chalk the whole thing up to experience.

To be sure, popular discourse has become much more, er, popular in the last 20 years. Again, you don’t need me to tell you this. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are situations where, “boy, is that guy a brainless schmuck” is far more eloquent and to-the-point than “Mr. Shuster displays a shocking lack of couth,” but while “schmuck” is a wonderful word, it means “penis” in Yiddish, and if you start throwing it around like confetti, sooner or later you’re going to meet someone who’s offended by it.

As a woman of five decades, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the casual use of the word “pimp,” if only because it’s the first syllable in “pimple,” and the fewer of those in the world, the better. But really, what a repulsive image to aspire to, that of a badly dressed man who sexually exploits women for profit. I’ll accept the word as a synonym for cheap flashiness, as well as a crude synonym for “to aggressively market for money,” but otherwise, it’s just sort of gross. And again: Context is everything. “The Daily Show” can do a story on FLIFs and no one bats an eye, but if you’re supposedly a legitimate cable-news talent, you’d better not go there. Or maybe you can go there in 2009, but not 2008. Or on Tuesday, but not on Monday. I imagine I’ll live to see the day Anderson Cooper can call the president a douchebag on the air, but it hasn’t arrived yet. (Not that Anderson would say such a thing; he’s too well-bred.)

So let’s retire the discussion before it gets tiresome. Oops: Too late.

Final note: Guess who said, in 1998, “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno.” Answer: You’re soaking in it!

OK. I’m writing this on Sunday. At this very moment, I’m supposed to be on Belle Isle, shooting the final scene for our video class project, but we cancelled. The temperature is 7 degrees and the wind is blowing at, no kidding, 45 miles per hour. It seemed cruel to make two nice actors, not to mention everyone else in the class/crew, torture themselves in such conditions, particularly given the compensation everyone’s getting, which is: Nothing, plus a sandwich. So we’re shooting the indoor scenes later in the afternoon and will pick up Belle Isle when nature stops being such a cruel mistress. That’s showbiz.

But this leaves me more than the usual bit of time to scrape up some bloggage for you pimps, and here you are:

If that damn German polar bear gets any cuter, I’m moving there.

Great idea to spice up your social life: Detroit’s Guerilla Queer Bar, a movable feast that, once a month, descends unannounced on a different nightspot. In January, they chose Carl’s Chop House, one of those ol’-skool downtown steakhouses that’s been dying since forever. Earlier in the month, the owner went before city council and asked to take the place topless. From this week’s Metro Times:

The bar area is packed, with the customers laughing and bartenders hopping, filling drink orders and collecting tips. The piano player is in full swing, making the trip from Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” to Matchbox Twenty and back again, with a brief stop at Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen.” Carl’s ambience is so varnished-wood-and-carpet, it’s kitsch. If you haven’t been, it’s worth a trip. Except for the addition of a dance floor in the main dining room, the place hasn’t changed much since the days when Jimmy Hoffa would cut deals in the conference room upstairs.

What a great idea. What will those creative queens think of next? Quick, buy modern furniture.

You know how your mom told you to always wear clean underwear, so the people in the emergency room wouldn’t think you were trashy? She didn’t know the half of it. Bonus giggle: The name of the club.

Groan: Work. And so the week commences.

Posted at 8:28 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' |

37 responses to “Our changing language.”

  1. Kim said on February 11, 2008 at 9:20 am

    “Context is everything”: would that it were true. McCain’s remarks are so mean-spirited it would require me to use the grammar equivalent of exponential notation (absolute superlative? That implies goodness where there’s none). You don’t go after kids. Period. You never call an adolescent ugly. Period. You don’t sit in a room full of peers, laugh uncomfortably and let this pass. Period. Decorum and manners, where have you gone?

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  2. brian stouder said on February 11, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Michelle Obama would make a wonderful (wonderful) FLIF (or is it FLILF?)

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  3. john c said on February 11, 2008 at 9:25 am

    The word-police hunk reminded me of one of my favorite Mike Royko stories. It was late in his career and he was arrested for DUI in one of the North Shore suburbs. He did not go quietly and proceeded to unload on the cops who were hauling him in. Among the things he said were homophobic slurs. Not sure if that was how the papers described it. But it was something like that. Anyway, Royko, as I recall it, offered an apology of sorts, though I don’t think it was what the up-in-arms activists were looking for. It was something along the lines of: “I was drunk and acting like an idiot. Thus I was trying to insult the big burly cops who were running me in. In the neighborhood where I grew up, when you are drunk and acting like an idiot and trying to insult a big burly guy, you call him a faggot.” I later heard that the majority of letters the Tribune got on the matter weren’t offended by the slurs against the cops, but by the fact that Royko lived on the North Shore. (He moved there later in his life.)

    Also, I understand why it’s okay for Chris Rock to use the N-word but not alright for me to use it. But that doesn’t mean I like it. I just don’t like that word. And since white popular culture often copies black popular culture – see “rock and roll,” see also, “jazz”, see also “hip hop” – I think it gives permission for too many white kids to use it. You can argue that it is losing its hurtful meaning, but not for me. I just don’t like it.

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  4. Peter said on February 11, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Oh my gosh that bear is cute.

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  5. brian stouder said on February 11, 2008 at 10:59 am

    This will be a Hallmark movie, at some point


    an excerpt

    Kim Sjostrom wanted a real-life version of the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which played in the background as friends fixed her hair and makeup before her own marriage ceremony.
    But less than an hour after she and Teddy Efkarpides were wed, Sjostrom crumpled in her husband’s arms during a Greek song that means “Love Me.” At 36, Sjostrom was dead from heart disease.

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  6. nancy said on February 11, 2008 at 11:44 am

    At least she didn’t die an old maid.

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  7. Sue said on February 11, 2008 at 11:48 am

    I’m still not comfortable with the words “screw” and “suck” in everyday usage. Whenever I hear some poor oblivious person say something like, “wow, that sucks the big one”, I don’t know whether to just laugh or ask them if they realize what they just said.

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  8. Dwight the Troubled Teen said on February 11, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    So help me out. Who was it that posted a picture of the White House exploding under a caption that said “Wishful Thinking”?

    I forget.

    When you seek to parse who is/is not licensed to use irreverent humor you may one day find yourself staring slackjawed at some OTHER twitchy, easily offended putz who is even a bigger raw nerve than folks with whom you empathize.

    The solution is not to seek public consensus on who has a legitimate right to be offended. The solution is for everybody to thicken their skin and STFU.

    No person is absolved from hearing criticism of themself.

    No ethnic group is absolved from having to hear criticism of itself.

    No culture or political ideology is absolved of hearing criticism of itself.

    Your whole “If you don’t understand the unwritten, invisible rules of who is entitled to outrage and who isn’t, you’re a moron” premise would seem to collapse under the feathered weight of simple reason.

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  9. nancy said on February 11, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I argued none of these things, DtTT. I only said you can’t sling language like that around without offending someone, somewhere, and it’s stupid to act like you didn’t see it coming.

    People are touchy about their children, especially their daughters. Especially when the colorful language is sexual in nature.

    But in the interest of skin-thickening, I’ll say it: That appearance by the Bush twins at the 2004 convention was big pimpin’ times two. And those Romney sons, one through five — those are some tasty rentboys.

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  10. brian stouder said on February 11, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Well, I’m not getting it, DTT.

    If I read Nance’s piece correctly, she would have expected to get slapped down for the ‘wishful thinking’ joke, if she was an MSNBC news correspondant and gratuitously displayed it on their air.

    It strikes me that THAT concept (their air) is the crux of the issue, hence the “get over it” refrain.

    My quibble with msnbc is their arbitrary punishment for offenses against civility on ‘their air’ (was Chris Matthews suspended? Why not?).

    As NN.c says – it’s stupid to try and argue about perceived offenses caused by the language itself; context is everything.

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  11. alex said on February 11, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Context is everything.

    So remember to go to a Republican fund-raiser next time you want to take a cheap shot at somebody’s children.

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  12. 4dbirds said on February 11, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Sorry DtTT, people do have a ‘right’ to be offended and to express it. This is America and we don’t have to STFU and neither do you.

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  13. sue said on February 11, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Dwight, honey, this is a grown-up’s blog. The most we can work up around here is cheerful contempt for each other. I think we would all appreciate a little restraint. But if you want to continue in the vein you started (as 4dbirds said, you do not have to STFU), go for it, because all of us Nancynallers will sit back while Nancy the Master very politely puts you in your place, as she just did. Over and over again.

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  14. john c said on February 11, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Sorry as well, DtTT. When I was sitting at a Notre Dame game with my sweet little 5 year-old Sally on my lap and some drunken Domer behind me was dropping loud F-bombs after every play, I did not consider that “criticism” of myself or anyone else. It was rude and vulgar and I turned around and politely asked him to STFU around my daughter and all the other kids in the section.
    NNC.com and Sally are old Somerset Mall shopping buddies. So I’m sure she would have had my back if things got ugly.

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  15. brian stouder said on February 11, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    OK, OK!! Matthew Yglesias ain’t all bad, afterall!


    an excerpt

    Back in October 2007, Clinton was beating Obama in Maine by a hilarious 47 to 10 margin, but it seems he’s carried the state today, once again by a large margin. My understanding, though, is that this doesn’t really count because it’s a small state, much as Utah doesn’t count because there aren’t many Democrats there, DC doesn’t count because there are too many black people, Washington doesn’t count because it’s a caucus, Illinois doesn’t count because Obama represents it in the Senate even though Hillary was born there, Hawaii won’t count because Obama was born there. I’m not sure why Delaware and Connecticut don’t count, but they definitely don’t.

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  16. Cosmo Panzini said on February 11, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Semantic arguments are, for me, generally kind of boring, so I’ll just say I agree with DtTT. As for Chelsea, it seems that she has the last laugh. Has anyone noticed what a glamourpuss she has become? Or is it just me?

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  17. Jeff said on February 11, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    I just hope we don’t sink to making anti-Semantic comments on this blog. That would be sad.

    Sadder still is when i’m around other 46 year old white guys from surburban areas (by which i mean “with lawns”) who try to say things like “yo, homey” or “word up, man” without irony, usually in sportastic settings.

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  18. del said on February 11, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    What about Karenna (be-still-my-beating-heart) Gore?

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  19. joodyb said on February 11, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Anyone so ignorant and insecure as to make fun of a child and i too emphasize a girl child (lessay under the age of 18 just to put a cap on it) deserves whatever karma he gets. and yeah, chelsea has turned out rather well, so that makes him an even bigger idiot.
    yikes! scaring myself!
    i passionately agree re anti-semantic comments, jeff. but that’s a subjective statement.

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  20. Scout said on February 11, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    I do not believe that anyone needs to “just get over it” when the misogynistic press takes one more uncalled for swipe at a Clinton. After what the purported “liberal media” put that family through from day one, it is about damn time SOMEBODY finally called them on the easy, widely accepted slurs that slide so easily from their lips because they fear no repercussion. Highly paid and supposedly educated newscritters should be able to make a point without resorting to streetisms.

    As for Grandpa Insane McCain… videotape is a bitch. And Chelsea is quite a beautiful young lady.

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  21. joodyb said on February 11, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    just to show i can be serious about this:
    TOTN had a sensible take on the shuster statement today. the buzz this ayem was that the clinton machine was not making a ruckus so much about the pimping out part as the reportage nn alluded to, ie bush twins and romney boys: nobody remarked about the 5 little romneys in any such scrurrilous manner, but it was ok to call out chelsea. have to laugh when you consider mccain’s own mum, highly visible on the stump, told some MSM outlet way back before Super Tues she couldn’t see him getting the nom! i actually heard the sound clip and waited for the the other shoe to fall, and, of course, nothing.

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  22. nancy said on February 11, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Exactly. Adult children campaigning for their parents is so unremarkable as to be…not worth remarking upon.

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  23. del said on February 11, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Anyone know if there’s video of McCain’s Chelsea remarks out there?

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  24. nancy said on February 11, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Here’s the oldest citation for it I can find, which says there was no tape, but it was reported contemporaneously in the AZ Republic and a few other places.

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  25. alex said on February 11, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    I hope it comes back to kick McCain in the teeth, quite honestly. Along with some questions about why he’s married to a Nicole Brown-Simpson impersonator when he’s got “Doctor” Dobson’s endorsement as the perfect family man. Whore-fuckin’ old douchebag needs to answer for it.

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  26. ashley said on February 11, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    Oh good lord. Nance managed to bring Dwight out of his welcome hibernation. He who expressed such traumatic horror at my lack of patriotism by me dressing like a mime and asking Chirac to buy New Orleans back on a Mardi Gras float.

    Anti-semanticism and intolerance must not be tolerated.

    Thanks, Sue, for telling him to be quiet because the grown ups are speaking.

    And right about now, Jeb Bush is so very happy he did not run.

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  27. john c said on February 11, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    Thanks Ashley for that nice little read. Normally I walk away from the troubled youth of multi-generational celebrity families. But as with most things like this, it’s the hypocrisy that gets me, namely that the younger Bushes – by that I mean Jeb and Dubya – succeeded in holding themselves up as some sort of moral antidote to the amoral Mr. Clinton. Don’t get me started, though. I think I need to go to bed.

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  28. Jeff said on February 11, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Alex — i’m unclear on your referent. Would that be McCain, or Dobson as the WFODB? 😉 (Yes, i know you mean Johnny Mac.) Re: Cindy, i believe the purchasing went the other way, but as our blogmistress so often says, all marriages are a great mystery.

    Aside from a willingness to promote any ribaldry that undermines the goofy intensity of ol’ Doc Dobson, and while not expecting anyone in this neighborhood to share my general appreciation for McCain as one uniquely flawed candidate among a shelf-load of damaged goods, there is one element worth appreciating.

    One item on my list of grievances with the current incumbent is that his campaign or their surrogates put out flyers in South Carolina eight years ago to highlight the fact that the McCains have a “black” child, which he angrily confirmed when asked if this was true — they adopted her as a special needs child from Bangladesh. It is interesting to see states like South Carolina go for John McCain in 2008. No one is more likely to shake up the Republican so-called “base” formula than McCain, which is why you see power hungry ODBs like Dobson get so twitchy at his ascendance.

    But the veep choice still lies ahead. If he makes a late pander to the hard right, i could still be enthusiastic for Obama as a leader while not supporting many of his policy stances.

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  29. alex said on February 11, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    What? John McCain, American gigolo?

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  30. Dexter said on February 11, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    Here’s a post by a lady in Nashville , from another blog. Her name is Patsi and she is retired from the music biz…so I wouldn’t doubt her “name” is a play on Patsy Cline. Anyway…this is a very intense post:
    “I think that “they are coming to kill us” is going to be the issue. Romney threw down that gauntlet in his last speech. The Republicans know that there are millions of people who — no matter what they say about Iraq — believe their lives are in constant danger from “Islamo Facists” and will vote accordingly. We will see external threats, real or not, and security alerts close to the election. In the end, that’s what I think it will be about. And I’m just not so sure where the American public really is on this. I think we have become a nation open to mass hypnosis and hysteria.”

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  31. del said on February 11, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    To make the presidential race about muslims whose politics are “fascist” would be clever politically. Perhaps the timing of today’s decision that the feds are seeking the death penalty of the 9/11 “mastermind” is not fortuitous. Maybe I’m too jaded but they’ve had him for some time now, and now it’s on the plate of the next president. Hmmph.
    P.S. Beware of prosecutors’ use of the word “mastermind,” “kingpin,” “druglord,” etc. — sometimes it means that the suspect didn’t really do anything (though I doubt it’s true of this Khaled Sheik Muhammed (ph.) guy). And there’s also the issue of forced confessions but don’t get me started . . .

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  32. mouse said on February 12, 2008 at 1:21 am

    I might be on the wrong blog , at the wrong time,but did anybody see Amy Winehouse perform on the Grammys last nite. WoW—what a great talent— I hope she doesn’t piss it all away, I’d like to hear more from her.

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  33. Dexter said on February 12, 2008 at 1:38 am


    No way they can try and kill those people before Bush leaves…you are right…and I feel they should have had this all wrapped up before Bush leaves, and for that matter, Bush should have had us out of Iraq years ago…well, AT LEAST, because he never should have bombed and invaded Iraq anyway, come on…I mean Osama bin Laden is still out there and Saddam is dead, but Saddam didn’t kill those 3,000 in NYC…old issues, but Bush at least should have cleaned up his mess…I remember how I’d come home from work and mess the kitchen up and leave it for the wife and kids to deal with as they tried to get ready for school and the wife’s dayshift job…that was wrong on my part and I never do it now…Bush never learned; he’s leaving the mess for Mama Clinton.

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  34. Dexter said on February 12, 2008 at 1:43 am

    I have seen Ms. Winehouse singing “Rehab”…I had NO IDEA she was that well-regarded….but I am pretty much stuck in YouTube watching Tom Waits and Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen videos…oh yeah, I like the ladies too…old Blues and jazz , though, Billie Holiday and Diana Krall . Of course my world stops when Carrie Underwood is on TV….

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  35. del said on February 12, 2008 at 7:02 am

    Yeah, Winehouse’ s Rehab song was stuck in my head the morning after the grammys. I found the grammys to be very entertaining, and moving at times. The Beatles stuff, among others, got me.

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  36. MichaelG said on February 12, 2008 at 11:40 am

    The Winehouse song that grabs me is “Love is a Losing Game”. Wow.

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  37. beb said on February 12, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Has everyone else forgotten Rush Limbaugh’s “white house dog” joke about Chelsea. Sure he apologized and claimed it was an accident that Chelsea’s picture was flashed on the TV since that of some dog, but Al Franken reminds us, as a professional humorist, there was no other viable punchline except Chelsea. McCain’s joke pales beside Limbaugh’s.

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