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Monday, September 02, 2002
We have yet another incident in which someone's ignorance combines with ridiculous racial politics and results in complete idiocy.

Stuart Buck links to an article in the Wilmington Star in which it is reported that one Akwana Walker is offended by the word "niggardly". Akwana Walker is black. Her daughter attends fourth grade in a public school. The daughter's class was going over a story in which a boy was described as "stingy". As part of a vocabulary building exercise, the teacher, who is reported to be white, asked her students for other words meaning stingy. The children's dictionary provided "self-centered", which, of course, is not a particularly good synonym for stingy, since it could also mean a lot of other things. So the teacher kept looking and came up with "niggard". She added the "ly" suffix to make the word an adverb (which the class was studying).

nig·gard·ly Pronunciation Key (ngrd-l)
Grudging and petty in giving or spending.
Meanly small; scanty or meager: left the waiter a niggardly tip.
niggard·li·ness n.
niggard·ly adv.

I seem to have missed the racial component of the word. Oh, you mean there is no racial connotation?

But Akwana Walker doesn't care what the word means. She cares what the word sounds like. She has so little faith in her daughter's ability to learn the very subject that the class is studying that she thinks her daughter is incapable of telling the difference between niggardly and the word she finds so offensive that no one should be allowed to use words with similar sounds. So she complained to the administration.

Now, I don't think there was a problem here. "Niggardly" is not offensive, has no racial connotations at all, and is perfectly acceptable, even in polite company. But when bureaucrats are confronted with an angry mother, they have a problem, and they tried to solve it. They transferred Ms. Walker's daughter to another class. The teacher wrote a note of apology and agreed never to use the offending word in her class again. The newpaper doesn't report whether the teacher was ordered to apologize and promise not to use the word.

Way to go bureaucrats! That's a sure fire way to endear yourselves to the teachers you want to attract and retain: Dump on them in order to get an angry mother off your back, when the mother has absolutely no cause for complaint. And what about the other students in the class? Why are they being denied the opportunity to learn about word which has been a part of the English language for centuries just because one parent doesn't like what it sounds like?

The situation never should have progressed as far as it did. But there's more: the transfer and the apology are not enough for the vocabulary challenged Ms. Walker. She wants the teacher fired.

Where does this stop? Think of George Carlin's list of the seven words you can never use on TV. "There are some people that aren't into all the words. There are some people who would have you not use certain words. Yeah, there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them that you can't say on television... And words, you know the seven don't you? Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits."

OK, class, let's think of words that sound like those seven, so as to be able to instruct whatever teacher is lucky enough to have Ms. Walker's daughter in her class what not to say.

Shit: Mit, Lit, Kit, Sit, Bit, Fit, Hit, Pit, Rit(alin), Tit (oh, sorry, that one's already covered elsewhere), Wit.

Piss: Abyss, Apes (might be mispronounced), Diss, Discover, Disdain, Dismount, Discord (alright, that's enough disses, we can't go on all day), Disk, Fist, Gist, Hissed, List, Miss, Mist, Psst (not really a word, but ...), Quist, Wrist, Risk, Fisk, Tsk (again, not a word), Whisk.

Fuck: Buck, Cluck, Duck, Huckster, Luck, Muck, Puck, Pucker, Ruckus, Suck, Succubus, Tuck, Yuck.

Cunt: Bunt, Shunt, Font (close enough to offend? I don't know, but le'ts be good little bureaucrats and be safe), Gun, Bun, Dun, Fun, Hun (Attilla the WHAT!!!!!!!!!! How dare you!), Lunge, Nun, Pun, Run (there goes Dick and Jane, but then Dick's name was always a little, you know, edgy), Runt, Sun (I guess astronomy is out as a fourth grade subject), Ton, Won (well, the "can't allow our children to lose their self esteem" crowd doesn't want that word used anyway), Yum.

Cocksucker: This one's a little harder because of the complexity of the word. The only one I can come up with is Muckraker. Oh, all right, Lockpicker. Back to Carlin: There are double-meaning words. Remember the ones your giggled at in sixth grade? 'And the cock crowed three times.''Hey, the cock the cock crowed three times. It's in the bible.' No giggling allowed in whatever class Akwana Walker's daughter is in.

Motherfucker: Another tough one. How about Mother? That requires the repeal of Mother's day for fear of offending the Wilmington Word Police. Do you think Hallmark might object?

Tits: This is too easy. Bits, Flits, Flips, Glitz, Hits, Lit (the singular form of Lits), Mits, Pits, Sits, Wits, Zits.

Note to young Ms. Walker's new teacher: Use any of the foregoing words at your own risk.
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