Nearly 25 years ago, Mike Royko wrote a sharp-edged column on the first roster of banned words, a list of potentially offensive words issued by a panel from my alma mater, the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
The original list included barracuda, airhead, burly, buxom, dear, dingbat, Eskimo kiss, Dutch treat, fried chicken, gorgeous, gyp, housewife, illegal alien, lazy, jock, john, pert, petite, senior citizen, shiftless, sweetie, ugh, watermelon and a short list of ethnic and racial slurs no civilized person would use.
Since that time, the list of insensitive words has grown exponentially. Police in Seattle recently ordered the words “illegal” and “brown bag” stricken from city documents. The word “illegal” could make illegals feel uncomfortable. And apparently there was once something called the brown bag test in which a brown paper bag was placed against a black person’s skin. If skin color was as light or lighter than the bag, the person was deemed socially acceptable. This “test” was used primarily by black social institutions more than 100 years ago, but nevertheless.
In some circles, penmanship is being changed to handwriting, freshman to first-year student and watchman to security guard. The word bum is out, as is criminal, Founding Fathers, psycho, factory and, of course, Christmas. Oh yes, please add terrorist, jihad and Islam.
We are not merely a softer, gentler, more sensitive people; we have become borderline crazy people. (By the way, crazy is on the list, too.)
Royko would shred each addendum to the list with his bare teeth were he alive today. So much sensitivity, so little sensibility.
At the Air Force Academy, cadets may now opt out of saying “so help me God” when they take the oath. Just curious, when you’re pinned down by enemy fire who else are you going to ask for help? It is doubtful Joe Biden’s wife will be bringing the family shotgun.
Not to be left out, Hallmark has released a tacky Christmas sweater ornament with the words, “Don we now our FUN apparel.”
In the spirit of thin skin and heightened sensitivity everywhere, I’d like to add a few of my own to the list: Twerk: Offensive. Lose the word and maybe I can lose the awful video clip in my mind. OMG: Whether initials or said in full, it is patently offensive, each and every time. Baby Momma: A slur to both the role of motherhood and fatherhood. Ho: Degrading. Acceptable only as a tool used to weed the garden, or when said in rapid succession by Santa.
Now then, once we couple all your sensitivities with all my sensitivities, it should be no time at all before we omit words entirely and communicate strictly by hand gestures.
Until then, I will remain a proud member of the human race, respectful toward my fellow man, a petite woman with lousy penmanship, a party gal who sings about donning gay apparel in December and is married to a man on the verge of becoming a senior citizen, a man who often calls me sweetie and sometimes takes his lunch in a brown paper bag. So help me God.
Lori Borgman is an Indianapolis columnist. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.