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 Post subject: When is PC too PC?
PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 1:02 pm 
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I'm curious about this. At what stage does political correctness get ridiculous? I'm thinking of the political aide who got fired for using the word "niggardly". Here's a guy who used a perfectly valid english word with no racial connotations who got fired cause it sounded like it might be racist. To my mind, this is PC gone mad. But there are cases that are more borderline.

An Irish politician just got into trouble for praising her campaign workers by saying "They've worked like blacks for the last few months". Now I accept that this is technically racist, but it refers to the fact that Black people in England in the sixties were known for their hard work. It's a compliment to say someone "worked like a Black". It's holding them up to the highest standard of dedication. Also, it's worth noting that "Black" is no longer considered a derogatory term in England or Ireland. On top of that Irish and Blacks were very friendly in England in the sixties as they suffered the same ostracisation. The famous signs "No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs" on boarding houses were a uniting factor. On building sites in particular, Irish and Blacks worked side by side and hence the saying "worked like a black".

So, is it Racist? Is it insensitive? Or is it simply PC gone mad?


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 3:28 pm 
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Alatar,

I find it amusing that I had been thinking of starting a thread about political correctness as well.

I am troubled by all stereotypes that generalize based on race, whether or not they do it positively or negatively.

What on earth does "worked like blacks" mean? Are all black people hard workers? Are black people harder workers than non-black people? Do most black people work harder than non-black people? Did they in the 1960s in Ireland?

What if it was white people who had worked so hard during the 1960s? What if, then, it was black people who were praised by being told they "worked like white people"? More or less acceptable? I say neither is.

If I work really hard, I am not "working like a black person" - I am working really hard. If a black person works really hard, she is not "working like a black person" - she is working really hard. And if a black person does NOT work really hard, he is not failing to "work like a black person," but rather is failing to work really hard.

I object to the idea that a standard of dedication could be set based on race (or gender, or other attribute):

(1) It is unnecessary. The politician could easily have said, "My campaign staff worked really hard" or "My campaign staff worked harder than I've seen any campaign staff worked before" or "My campaign staff worked to the utmost of their potential" or any number of other things that don't involve generalizing the performance of a race of people, then comparing other people to that generalized performance.

(2) If you positively generalize the performance of one group of people, you may be negatively generalizing the performance of other groups. If you define hard work by the performance of one race, then what does that say about the performance of other races? Presumably, they are less capable. If I work really hard, then why according to the politician am I "working like blacks" rather than "working like whites" or "working like Asians" or "working like people from Swaziland" or "working like Mexicans" or "working like Jews"?

(3) It furthers the thinking that people are members of groups rather than individuals. Certain groups are most hard-working. Certain groups are most intelligent. Certain groups are most capable.

(4) It hurts members of the group being "praised" if they do not conform to the stereotype. 'Round here, there's a stereotype that Asians are amazing at math. Those of us who were pretty darn good at math have all heard at least once, "Oh, but that's no big deal, because you're Asian." Ok, that's stupid, no big deal. But what about my high school friend who is Asian, who struggles with math, and has been told by more than one teacher that there's no excuse for her difficulties, given her ethnicity. (?!?!)

I could go on. I find that people use the term "political correctness" when they do not want to display sensitivity (often to members of minority groups) and "sensitivity" when they are willing to display sensitivity.

[obviously I speak from my perspective as a racial minority in 21st century America. You know at least some of our country's long and troubled history with race. Perhaps things are very different in Ireland, and I appreciate your providing context - like explaining that Irish people and black people have a shared history of discrimination at times.]

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 4:06 pm 
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Niggardly is a wonderful, precise word which I no longer use for the reason Alatar has pointed out.

Even in print people confuse it with a racial epithet, proving that we don't even know how to spell our bad words much less our good ones.

Rather than blaming PC, though, I tend to blame the racial epithet itself for making useless all words that are remotely similar in sound or appearance. It is the bad language that makes the good language impossible, because no one who would avoid racial epithets wants to be mistaken for having spoken one.

I was at a poetry workshop once where one of the participants pleaded with me to remove the word "grass" from a poem because it has "ass" inside of it and when the poem is read aloud one hears this 'unacceptable' sound. That was going too far, I thought!


And of course it is wrong to fire a person for using a perfectly acceptable word. But I bet the White House Aide knew even as that word came out of his mouth that is was going to cause a problem for him.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 5:31 pm 
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tp, very good points. I agree that generalizing on the basis of race is problematic.

Yet, aren't there really characteristics that are associated with certain ethnic groups? I've had a German friend who referred to her family's German stubborness, and in my partly Croatian family the Croatian temper and temperament is legendary, along with the Hungarian, whereas my German/Swiss mother is much more reserved. There are real ethnic characteristics, aren't there? Or is it just cultural?


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 5:57 pm 
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cerin, I think these stereotypes are largely cultural.

I dislike generalizations such as "worked like a black". There is no real reason to generalize that way. Anyone who is tempted to use such a term should simply stop and think. But we were speaking of a politician, right......?

My Dad used to say "worked like a regular little Trojan". Someone once asked him not to say it because Trojan is a well-known brand of condom! Who knew what awful thoughts Dad's careless use of such a word might cause! Jeez. Dad had a good laugh over it, and I don't recall that he stopped using the phrase, either.

As for the silliness of asking someone not to use the word "grass" because "grass" has "ass" in it, well, what can you say? That rings of a kind of fevered, prurient-minded false purity that reveals an awful lot! A host of bad puns leap to the forefront of my mind, but I'll keep them from leaping to the keyboard.

"Niggardly" is doomed, I guess. A shame, since it's a fine old word with a nifty precise meaning. Remember when Aragorn said to Éomer, "No niggard are you, Éomer, to give thus to Gondor the fairest thing in your realm!" I can't for the life of me think of a word as suitable.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 7:42 pm 
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Once I heard a newsman report that such-and-such a political activist had just returned from a news junket.

The activist was deeply insulted, and responded: "What do you mean? Are you suggesting that my work is junk?"


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 7:47 pm 
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But what is the difference between "worked like a black" and "worked like a Trojan"? They are in essence the same, except that one refers to a long dead race while the other refers to much more recent history.

For example, if somebody makes a botch job of a repair, it's referred to as "Jerry-rigged". My fathers explanation for this was that German Prisoners of War were often put to work repairing damaged buildings and as a form of protest would do the worst job they could in the hope that it might fall down later and hopefully kill someone. Such dangerous repairs were "Jerry-rigged". I believe nowadays people say "jury-rigged" but if I'm correct "Jerry-rigged" is the original. This is a perfect example of a racial stereotype that can't really be said in any other way. And really, should it? The phrase itself has a history and tells a story. It would be a shame to lose these expressions because they are not PC. They have value in and of themselves.

Disclaimer: I have no way of verifying that explanation, but it's the one I was told growing up, which is part of the etymology of words also. Many of the phrases we use daily are based on forgotten or mistaken origins.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 8:12 pm 
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Alatar wrote:
Disclaimer: I have no way of verifying that explanation...


I do. :P

ju·ry-rig (jr-rg)
tr.v. ju·ry-·rigged, ju·ry-·rig·ging, ju·ry-·rigs To rig or assemble for temporary emergency use; improvise: The survivors of the wreck jury-rigged some fishing gear.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[From jury-rig, jury-rigging, improvised rigging on a ship, modeled on jury-mast, temporary mast, perhaps ultimately from Old French ajurie, help, from aider, to help. See aid.]


Thing is, Alatar, such innocuous phrases have some real impact on real people. "Oh, we had Indian/Russian/Asian/Irish employees before, they are wonderful workers." What if they had one who was NOT a wonderful worker? Would the next Indian/Russian/Asian/Irish applicant be denied employment? Certainly nobody would ever said of a member of a majority group "We've had WASP* employees before, they are great workers."

The problem, ironically, is one that you yourself expressed in MTBI thread. That is, viewing individuals as sharing characteristics of the group to which they are thought to belong, rather than stand-alone human beings.

Cerin wrote:
Yet, aren't there really characteristics that are associated with certain ethnic groups? I've had a German friend who referred to her family's German stubborness, and in my partly Croatian family the Croatian temper and temperament is legendary, along with the Hungarian, whereas my German/Swiss mother is much more reserved. There are real ethnic characteristics, aren't there? Or is it just cultural?


Does a German raised by the Croatian act more like a Croatian or a German? And is he/she happy acting this way?

At most, there's a greater probability of finding certain characteristics in every group. But an individual can fall anywhere on a very broad scale.

Complaining about the word grass is asinine.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 9:12 pm 
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Frelga, Interesting! I had not seen that derivation, but seeing it now it seems more likely that 'jerry-rigged' was coined from 'jury-rigged' and not the other way around. My father also used this expression - jerry-rigged - for any temporary solution to an engineering problem; and oddly, because my family was half composed of people of German descent, I always thought it meant 'clever.' :) But I believe that Alatar is correct that it was not meant to be a compliment, not originally at least.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 9:38 pm 
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Complaining about the word grass is asinine.


:D

that word choice was intentional, wasn't it?

From Wikipedia: (an excerpt)

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Political correctness (also politically correct, P.C. or PC) is a term used in various countries to describe real or perceived attempts to impose limits on the acceptable language, terms, and viewpoints in public discussion. While it usually refers to a linguistic phenomenon, it is sometimes extended to cover political ideology or public behavior.

In several English-speaking nations, the term often has a pejorative or ironic meaning—typically connoting an excessive attempt by social or political liberals to alter language and culture. It is also sometimes used to describe attempts to respect marginalized groups (e.g., the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (Oxford University Press Canada 2001) defines political correctness as "the avoidance of forms of expression or action that exclude, marginalize, or insult certain racial or cultural groups" ).

According to predominantly conservative critics of what they call the "political correctness movement," PC involves censorship and social engineering, and has influenced popular culture, such as music, film, literature, arts and advertising.

Liberal and progressive commentators, however, argue that the term "political correctness" was hijacked by United States conservatives around 1980 and redefined as a way to reframe the debates over diversity and unequal distribution of power and privilege in the United States. They say that there never was a "Political Correctness movement" in the United States, and that many who use the term are attempting to distract attention from substantive debates over discrimination and unequal treatment based on race, class, and gender (Messer-Davidow 1993, 1994; Schultz 1993; Lauter 1995; Scatamburlo 1998).

Usage (perspective)
The term PC is often used to mock either the idea that carefully chosen language can encourage, promote, or establish certain social outcomes and relationships, or the belief that the resulting changes benefit society. This mocking usage often targets certain forms of identity politics, including gay rights, feminism, multiculturalism and the disability rights movement. For example, the use of "gender-neutral" job titles ("firefighter" instead of "fireman," "chairperson" or "chair" instead of "chairman," etc.), the use of the expression "differently abled" rather than "disabled", or the systematic use of "Native American" rather than "Indian", are all sometimes referred to as "politically correct" to characterise proponents as overly sensitive or even coercive.

The term PC is frequently used in a manner that implies, first, that there are a significant number of people who make conscious political choice of the words they employ in their speech and writing, with the intention of influencing broader usage and, through that, social outcomes; second, that this group is roughly equivalent to the political left, or some large sector of the left; third, that these conscious political choices of words constitute a single phenomenon, designated as "political correctness"; and fourth, that these usages are enforced in a manner that is repressive to freedom of speech.

Some people whose language choices and/or politics are so characterised argue, in turn, that the term "political correctness" is part of larger attack on social equality or policial progressivism (Messer-Davidow 1993, 1994). They argue that expressing an opinion about, or making a public argument about, the use of language cannot in itself constitute intolerance or censorship.


As I see it, PC has become a (bad) substitute for tact and good manners; there is a world of difference between being deliberately offensive and
contorting thought/ language into Orwellian 'newspeak' in order to avoid giving even a hint of offense to any one individual or group. This does not address tp's dismay at generalized stereotypes ... and yet, allow me to suggest that there is often a modicum of truth in those generalizations ... here's an example: I didn't learn to drive until well into my 40's. I had no perceived generalizations of any group or subset of drivers in California.
I was told, by peoples of all ethnicity, that I would notice one particular group to be very bad drivers. I didn't believe it. Until I saw, time and time and time again that this group could indeed be classified as 'bad' ... on average, they drive below the speed limit, fail to signal and change lanes without warning .... members of other groups do this too, it is true, but 9 times out of 10, as I finally manage to pass the offending vehicle and look at the driver ... it is a member of the one specific group I was warned about. Is every single member of this group of people (you notice I don't identify them) a bad driver? Probably not. However, in my 15 years of driving experience most of them are ... hence the generalization.

Sometimes an apple is just an apple as well as being an edible fruit of the round variety.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 9:58 pm 
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I would be very surprised indeed if jerry-built, the form I know in my country, had anything to do with Germans. No more than we think cowboy builders are American. I think the term is older than the 1940's and PoW's were used for agricultural, not building work. Moreover, even in the period of greatest strain between us (now there's British understatement ;) ) we wouldn't have considered Germans to be bad builders, we have always had more than enough of our own. My dictionary gives origin uncertain.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 9:58 pm 
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I had a law teacher who referred to disabled people as being ‘differently abled’. After every subject finishes, we need to fill out a questionnaire asking how the course was, and it includes about 5 questions under the general subject of ‘equity’. They include a question asking how well the course catered to ‘equity target groups’. I’m still trying to work out how you’re meant to teach Corporations Law in such a way to ‘cater to equity target groups’. I’ve had teachers that went on huge tangents on feminism and ethnocentricity, but who made derisive comments or jokes at the expense of Caucasians or Christians.

I recall seeing a current affairs programa while back that focused on the dilemma of the ‘Men’s Shed’. The Men’s Shed was started b a group of, well, men – it was a place where they would teach teenage boys to use tools, build and repair stuff, ect. Some Government Department wouldn’t let them call it the Men’s Shed, though – it had to be the ‘People’s Shed’ (sounds vaguely Communist). I haven’t heard how the thing’s got sorted out.

I definitely think that there are PC issues in western society.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 10:16 pm 
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The etymology given for "jury-rigged" is absolutely correct. "Jerry-rigged" is simply mistaken, but it fit neatly into a supposed slot.

It is so simple to NOT use racial or national stereotypes. So why do it?

As for the term "differently-abled", well, that's going off into lala land as far as I'm concerned. But I don't have to use it, so I can ignore it. It is an unsatisfactory word, being a too-long compound and I am sure it will fade away to be replaced by something better.

When it comes to the use of the word "man" or "men" I am always reminded of this story: when a great museum was being built in Ottawa, Canada's capital, it was to be called "The Museum of Man". Some women protested and were told, "but....."Man" means ALL people!" So the women said, "fine, then name it the Museum of Woman" and let "woman" stand for all people!"

It was eventually named "The Museum of Civilization".

My grandpa always used the "n" word when he talked about black people. It was the only word he knew, and he meant nothing in particular, it was just the word he used. When I was a kid the Japanese were called "Japs" and the Chinese were called "Chinks" and those were just the words we used, we meant nothing by it at all. Polish people were Polacks and most other non-British Europeans were D. P.'s. We all learned better. Still, the changes are not over yet.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 10:40 pm 
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I am often frustrated by substitutions of new circumlocutions for "charged" old words—it seems to be hapopening much faster now. "Handicapped" was considered a polite term in the United States for decades (replacing the unacceptable "crippled"); then it became "disabled," then "differently abled," then "exceptional," and now I've lost track.

But I also know from the inside that changes in wording make a difference. In our church for decades we have tried to avoid using "he" to refer to God (though not, of course, to Jesus). We also don't say "man" to refer to all humanity. A few times in the past few years I've heard some of the old liturgy or visited less "PC" churches and have been surprised by how sidelined the old phrasing makes me feel, as a woman. It's as if part of the service isn't about me or addressed to me at all. I don't think that is a good thing.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2006 12:01 am 
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I reckon we live in a pretty strange sort of world, when there are so many bad things going on and folk seem to get excised over words - why is that.

A news Item last week was that the Police were investigating a prominent Muslim Sir Iqbal Socrani ( apologies if a I got his name wrong) over a remark he had made that Islam regarded homosexuality as wrong.

No whilst I might disagree with him on this and many other points he has a right to his opinion, he voiced it in a calm and measured manner - but such are the forces of political correctness that this was regarded as homophobic.

We also have the incidence of a group of heamophiliacs who have requested that practising homosexuals do not donate blood, because of the increased possibility that they carry the aids virus - again they have been criticised as being homophobic - forgetting the fact that a higher percentage of homosexual men have aids, in the same way that a higher proportion of those who are intravenous drug's users have aids

So where is this taking us - to my mind it is clouding bigger issues, it is taken attention away from real racism and real cruelty, the "instigators" of PC crimes are usually pretty easy to identify and prosecute, whilst the harbringers of gross human suffering hide away.

The other thing which I have problems with in this regard is the multi-cultural agenda - if you look at the way cultures work when they come across each other is that they assimilate - how and why they do, I don't think that there are any rules, but one thing is certain, if newcomers enter a society and try to impose values which are at variance to that society then problems occur.

One example of this is the arranged marriages which are a feature of South Asian culture, in the UK young people are educated (hopefully ) with the values of a society which says it's up to the individual to choose a life partner, and this will clash with the parents view, who believe that they know best.

We as a nation are at last having the gumption to support the youngsters and say that parents must not force their children into marriage, but there has been a great wringing of hands in the PC brigade about this


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2006 2:16 pm 
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I have a friend who stood for a campus election and when she was outlining a (really good,I though) plan to make things easier for the disabled students on campus her suggestions were ignored because people were so busy acting horrified at her use of the word 'disabled' instead of 'differently-abled'. I thought that was rather ridiculous, myself.

However, the basic goal of political correctness is to avoid hurting people's feelings, isn't it? I think that's rather a good thing to work towards.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2006 2:20 pm 
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As I see it, PC has become a (bad) substitute for tact and good manners;

That's very well said, Sassy! :)

One problem I have with PC language is keeping up with the changes.
You replace a word with negative connotations by a supposedly neutral word, but after a while, people's opinion on a subject not having changed at all, this one time neutral word becomes negative, too, and you have to replace it again by yet another (so far) neutral word.

I think this is what happened with the transition from negro to black to Afro-American. There is nothing disrespectful about the word "negro" as such - it becomes disrespectful if the people who use it have no respect for the people it describes.
So, IIRC, for a while "black" was ok - it's actually the same as "negro", but it was new and unused and therefore neutral. But that didn't solve the problem of racial discrimination so it wasn't long before that word was "bad", too, and a new one was needed.
Also, in the attempt to be vague (you can only avoid hurting people by being indirect, I guess), PC words have to be very general, and hence increasingly meaningless - or even just wrong.
I think Afro-American is a problem for all people of black skin-colour who are not American.
Personally, I would be quite offended if anyone called me Caucasian. I have no relations with anybody in the Caucasus, thanks very much! The Caucasus, over here, is considered a backward, uncivilised region.

vison, I think you raise a good point in that people use apparently derogatory terms quite harmlessly, because that's the term they know!
I think a good example for this is "gypsy". I never thought that gypsy was a bad word, because I never thought badly of gypsies - it was the name that I knew for this people. But some day I heard that it was a bad word, and you had to say "Roma" or "Sinti" (more usually the first) - now, it seems to me that these are two different ethnicities and, like with the examples above, I wonder if it's not just as offensive for a Sinti to be called a Roma, and the other way round, as using the old generic word gypsy.

All in all, I think political correctness mostly goes too far and is a method of mind-control.
On the other hand, I agree that it's rude to connect negative statements to groups of people, and even with positive statements it sounds odd.
"Work like blacks" is clearly meant as praise, but outside Ireland it would probably be understood differently. I would not have known it goes back to the sixties and some very particular situation in England. I would have thought it referred to the fact that black people used to be slaves and hence forced to work hard. At first reading I thought it was an alternative way of saying "work like slaves", which (at least here) is used as an amusing way to praise hard, dedicated work.
However, everybody can be slaves, so it did strike me as tasteless to substitute "black" for it (before I read the explanation for the origin of the expression).

I thought it was very interesting how jury-rigged becomes jerry-rigged.
Apparently, the real meaning wasn't understood by some people, and they made as much sense of it as they could, turning it into a really offensive stereotype.

The damage done to good, harmless words by uneducated PC-activists is visible in what you said about the word "niggard" - I had never before heard that you can't use the word anymore.
Only a matter of time then, I guess, until the word "history" really becomes un-PC... :roll:

(As to Man/man - you guys should import "Mensch"! :P :D )

(Sorry about the rambling - this post is an example of what Whistler said in another thread - not having the time to keep it short! ;) :) )

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2006 3:33 pm 
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"Mensch" is already over here, Hobby, but it's a Yiddish word meaning a good person (it's used by people who don't speak Yiddish, too).

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2006 3:46 pm 
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I'd just like to clarify my (apparently incorrect anyway) "German Prisoners of War". In the explanation as my Father told me, the POWs were British Soldiers working for their German Captors, not the other way round. So it would basically mean "British Soldiers in forced Labour for the JERRIES would RIG their work to fail".

I can see how many of you took "German Prisoners of War" to mean "Germans who were Prisoners of War" as opposed to "German held Prisoners of War".

Is it less offensive if the Jerry-Rigging was done by Brits?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2006 3:57 pm 
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Primula_Baggins wrote:
"Mensch" is already over here, Hobby, but it's a Yiddish word meaning a good person (it's used by people who don't speak Yiddish, too).

Wow, that's interesting, Prim - I had no idea!

And, yes, I'd definitely agree that it's not so much a biological term (German for a human) as an epithet that conveys some merit, a philosophical concept - maybe this way of thinking is connected to what I said in the "suffering" thread, that, to me, someone can't really be a torturer and a human, i.e. a "Mensch", at the same time.

We also say "sei ein Mensch!" (be a human/Mensch), meaning: be compassionate, understanding, lenient, when someone is showing signs of failing in this respect.

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Eine Blume der Asche meines Herzens


but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.


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