Thursday, September 23, 2010

Door supervision in the news

Ian Fox, chairman of the UK organization National Doorwatch, has written to the Oxford English Dictionary asking that the “demeaning and inappropriate” word bouncer be replaced by door supervisor. Says Fox, “The term is anachronistic, inappropriate and downright offensive to the new, modern, highly regulated profession of door supervision.” An OED representative replies: “We are not linguistic policemen and our concern is simply the completeness of the historical record. If hardly anyone uses ‘bouncer’ we’ll consider marking it as rare — but that’s not the case at the moment.”

Cf. David Foster Wallace’s 1999 essay “Authority and American Usage” on what Wallace calls the “central fallacy” of “Politically Correct English”: the idea “that a society’s mode of expression is productive of its attitudes rather than a product of those attitudes.”

comments: 7

Other Elaine said...

That 'central fallacy' is interesting to consider in light of the NYT puzzles use (and then defense) of the answer SPAZ in its grid some weeks back.

For the record, I did and do object. Just because it's 'in the language' (and reflective of witless attitudes) does not mean that the NYT needs to cast its imprimatur over the usage.... Just sayin'.

'Bouncer' hardly seems offensive, however. If the function is mere 'door supervision,' how come they keep hiring gigantic bruisers for the job?

Geo-B said...

It's the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that says that the words we have shape our thinking. So, if women in the office of any age are referred to as "girls" ("I'll have my girl get you a coffee"), that's going to limit their advancement. Likewise, with n-word, retard, or paddy wagon.
Some terms start out as jokes, like "shrink" and "bouncer" and it's hard to see how the labeled are hurt. In fact, perhaps it's a prevention of rowdiness to think one might get "bounced."picher

Michael Leddy said...

I don’t like spaz in the crossword either, or as slang.

Michael Leddy said...

George, I didn’t see your comment, only Elaine’s. I think Wallace might have said that “I’ll have my administrative assistant get you a coffee” leaves the possibilities of advancement just as they were. He says in this essay that PCE, as he calls it, involves “substitution of the euphemisms of social equality for social equality itself,” leaving reality unaltered.

Michael Leddy said...

P.S.: None of which involves making a case for abusive, degrading language.

Other Elaine said...

This is interesting to think about, in many directions.

Will Shortz and John Farmer (the constructor) defended the inclusion by stating that 'some dictionaries did not label it offensive.' (Of course, some DID, so they were choosing which to cite in defense of the puzzle.) My point was that by including SPAZ (even in a supposedly benign usage) they were keeping the word alive (and guaranteeing that it would be 'in the language' to be used in less-benign situations. The richness of the English language means that we have myriad choices; there are words we can do without, and allowing them to fall into disuse is devoutly to be wished.
Possibly one IS just substituting nicer words while retaining the prejudice, but don't we have to start somewhere? Further thoughts?

Michael Leddy said...

“Possibly one IS just substituting nicer words while retaining the prejudice, but don't we have to start somewhere?”: Yes, of course. But I think that language begins to change when attitudes change. Look for instance at efforts to remove “That’s so gay” from teenspeak.