NPR informs us of the latest forbidden word
What would we do without NPR to monitor our use of language? There are so many groups that can be offended, we need a federally-funded organization to keep us up to date on what words we’ve used our entire life, with no malice whatsoever, to discard. Rebecca Hersher explains:
Confused about the word Eskimo?
It's a commonly used term referring to the native peoples of Alaska and other Arctic regions, including Siberia, Canada and Greenland. It comes from a Central Algonquian language called Ojibwe, which people still speak around the Great Lakes region on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. But the word has a controversial history. (Editor's note: And that's why it's not used in the stories on Greenland that NPR has posted this week.)
Hmm, origin with Native Americans (or, as they say north of the border, “First Canadians”). Doesn’t that make it holy? But wait!
People in many parts of the Arctic consider Eskimo a derogatory term because it was widely used by racist, non-native colonizers. Many people also thought it meant eater of raw meat, which connoted barbarism and violence. Although the word's exact etymology is unclear, mid-century anthropologists suggested that the word came from the Latin word excommunicati, meaning the excommunicated ones, because the native people of the Canadian Arctic were not Christian.
But now there's a new theory. According to the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, linguists believe the word Eskimo actually came from the French word esquimaux, meaning one who nets snowshoes. Netting snowshoes is the highly-precise way that Arctic peoples built winter footwear by tightly weaving, or netting, sinew from caribou or other animals across a wooden frame.
So the fact that white people (“colonizers,” unlike the native peoples who also moved in and conquered territory from other groups) used a word makes it bad. And some linguist theorizes that it may come from French! That is certainly enough to make it derogatory.
Except, where does that leave the Central Algonquin people who formerly got credit (because you can’t blame nonwhite people for anything) for the word.
Wait, isn’t there some cultural appropriation going on here? But who is appropriating whom? Were the French appropriating the Central Algonquin people? I don’t know, but if they did, I am sure it is bad.
On the other hand, what if the Central Algonquin people, who probably met the French
explorers colonists first, approipriated the French word? Would that be bad? After all, native Americans/First Canadians are allowed to use pharmaceuticals, televisions and pickup trucks, so obviously they cannot be accused of cultural appropriation of anything. So, would that make the word Eskimo OK?
My head hurts. I am so confused. NPR, please explain it better so I can be a good person….
Hat tip: Open Blogger at Ace of Spades