Monday, March 24, 2008

The Plausibility Trap

Words intrigue me. I love learning about language, and it seems I'm not alone - websites and mailing list about words abound.

Unfortunately, so does a lot of rubbish about the origins of certain words and phrases.

An enquiry to the World Wide Words website asked about the word denigrate:
“A recent film, The Great Debaters, suggests that denigrate is an offensive term for African-Americans because it means “to make black”. The Denzel Washington character says that the word has racist undertones because of this. What do you think?”
Thankfully, World Wide Word's Michael Quinion pours cold water on the notion, but the plausibility of the idea worries me. It appears in a highly acclaimed movie - how long before someone claims to be offended by someone else using the term 'denigrate', simply because they've seen the movie and picked up on this faulty idea?

It's not quite up to the level of the feminist who objected to the term "mandate", but it's not that far from it.