1. Dcoin
    Offline

    Dcoin Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2008
    Messages:
    279
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    NYC

    Using time-period common yet now-derogatory names in your writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dcoin, Feb 24, 2009.

    I have been editing a novel I recently finished and found I had been using a derogatory name throughout the book. The word “Injun” was commonly used by settlers in stead of the more common “Indian”. I thought it added a certain authenticity to the time piece, but…?

    What is the consensus regarding names that are now taboo, but used in mainstream language back in the day? It seems classic works use these names all the time, shouldn’t modern writers?

    What say you?
     
  2. Gannon
    Offline

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2007
    Messages:
    3,977
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Manchester, England
    The key to this debate I imagine will be sensitivity and respect. Anachronisms place a period in a time well, and should be considered if not used. Language which is puposefully offensive is not likely to be well received however. An author should of course therefore only attribute pejoratives to appropriate speakers and in appropriate contexts. Like most device, it may be most effective is used sparingly.
     
  3. Ghosts in Latin
    Offline

    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2009
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    2
    I agree with you. I think things like that bring to the piece an authentic feel. Conversly, I agree with Gannon in offensive language not being well recieved. I think this is a choice between authenticity and popularity.

    Also, not at all related, I had a Korean friend whose name was Injun. :)
     
  4. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    It's a very touchy subject. If you can get by without using the derogatory term, by all means do so. The appearance of authenticity is more important than a word-for-word fidelity.

    Whan I was in high school, every copy of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn you could buy was cleansed of a certain word for blacks, a word which I refuse to use even for illustrative purposes. Many argued tat the original wording sjould have been retained, depite the racist nature of the word.

    I didn't need to see the word plastered on every page to know tat it had been used in the original manuscript, nor was the use at the time intended to strike a nerve. I would be happy to never see such a word, ever.

    My take on it is to retain the spirit, rather than the literal wording. Just as it's not necessary to drop every F-bomb to indicate a character's lack of imagination, neither is it essential to use racially demeaning terms from less respectful times, particularly if the attitude iss notr what the dialogue is intended to highlight.
     
  5. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    A teacher I had in high school said there is no such thing as a bad word, only a bad time to use it. Historical accuracy is an okay time to use it. As a writer, you CANNOT be afraid of words. You have to know when to use them. Should we get rid of swearing in our writing because certain people can't deal with the fact there are those out there who swear a lot? Should we get rid of racist and sexist behaviour in historical stories because people can't deal with it?

    I came pretty close to intentionally spilling pasta all over a (much bigger) guy because he kept using a racist word for Koreans, but it doesn't phase me when I watch shows like MASH because I know that it was how it was. I would be horribly offended if I ever got called what people used to call Jewish people, but it doesn't bother me when I read because I know that it happened. If you really are concerned, but want to be real, put a little note saying that you used those words because it was real, but in no way reflects your own values. It's been done before, no reason you can't.
     
  6. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    I had a friend in high school whose name sounded like the f word. Needless to say, he adopted an English name.
     
  7. tehuti88
    Offline

    tehuti88 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2008
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Michigan
    Which is more important to you, historical authenticity or offending readers? If that's how people talked back then, then I would use it, IF it's in character for the people saying it.

    Keep this in mind. Just because you have a character using certain language doesn't mean you the WRITER are endorsing it. It just means you're staying true to that character. I consider that more important than the possibility of offending somebody--if somebody is offended by something my fictional character says or does, then that's their problem, not mine, because I'm not my fictional character! I don't go out of my way to use pejoratives, because I don't agree with them, but if my story calls for them then there they are. E. g., in my current serial there's a character who despises Indians. He regularly calls them savages and redskins. Doesn't mean I agree with him--it's just who HE is, not me. It's a sad fact that some people are like this, and that some times in the past (and present) are like this.

    You can always include a disclaimer stating that the views/language expressed in the story are those of your characters and selected time period and don't reflect your personal views, but honestly, why should you have to? If a reader can't pick that up for themselves then they need to get out more, or stop reading fiction.

    It's right up there with readers being offended because you have a character who murders people, or a racist character who uses racist terms. Are you going to not write a depraved or obnoxious character because it might be offensive? Or are you going to tell the story the way it has to be told, screw what some people, who can't tell the difference between fact and fiction, think? No matter what you write, chances are SOMEBODY is going to be offended/irritated by it anyway. ("These characters don't talk nearly authentically enough for the time period!" ) May as well tell the story the way it needs to be told, to make it authentic, rather than worry about that.

    When's the last time you saw a realistic Vietnam War movie, for example, where the characters all use squeaky-clean language and never once refer to the natives disparagingly...? I rest my case.

    That's my two cents, take it or leave it.
     
  8. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Some of the stories put up for review here have disturbingly sick and violent content, particularly in the horror section. And often they are put up by very young writers. So sad.

    So why should a 'racist' term, used ONLY in historical context or dialogue (said by an obnoxious character, for example) be considered worse than that in terms of damaging the way people relate in our society today?

    I think it depends on how necessary the word is--how it relates to the story, and the main message that is being put out. Obviously, pointless and gratuitous references can never have a place. Usually the word doesn't really contribute anything, so leaving it out is no loss. But it is sometimes white people that can't come to terms with certain facts who try and wipe out any references, even historical.
     
  9. Dcoin
    Offline

    Dcoin Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2008
    Messages:
    279
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    NYC
    Thank you for all the replies.

    Just to give some more personal context. The character is White and married to an Indian wife. When he uses the word Injun he does not mean anything negative by it. From my research, the word only came to have negative connotations much later on.

    The novel has a target readership of 10-13 year olds. I’m not sure if this makes a difference to any further comments?
     
  10. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Ah. Now, that changes things a bit. You'd have to be very careful there, then. An adult will understand the message, but young teenagers are less likely to.
     
  11. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    NEVER underestimate children. Kids understand more than we know. Besides, people always expect ONE book to influence them more than everything else we've taught them. As long as we teach them what is and is not acceptable and good values, what they read will not change that.
     
  12. TwoToTango
    Offline

    TwoToTango Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2009
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    0
    Well, first ask yourself. Do I want this for the story or to be controversial?

    If the answer is the first mentioned. Then of course you should include whatever words you want if you feel they'll make it a better read. And if you decide not to include it anyway, then for god's sake do it because you don't want to, not because you're bullied into not writing what you want to because it's considered offensive. Not saying that that this is what was going on here. But it happens way to often in all sorts of media. Censorship that is.

    Because frankly, there is something wrong with the world when you can't write what you want to because some guy somewhere could be offended.

    And umm...sorry if this got all preachy. :cool: Touchy subject of mine.
     
  13. Atari
    Offline

    Atari Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2009
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    Louisiana

    To this, I would say that a young person, 10-13, would be MUCH less offended than, say, someone who is eighteen.

    I didn't know that the term 'injun' has negative connotations until about thirty seconds ago, when I read the first post. I always thought it was a cowboy's poor pronunciation. (Which, incidentally, is the reason I never used it.)
     
  14. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    I think it started that way. But anyway, even saying Indian to refer to someone who isn't from the country India can be offensive. I always use the actual cultural name like Mohawk, or "First Nations" if I'm being general. As the same time, I can accept that some people will use that word. In the real world, I would try to encourage use of words that the people they are talking about like, but in books why be bothered by it?
     
  15. lordofhats
    Offline

    lordofhats Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    2,023
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    The Hat Cave
    It is indeed touchy. People still boycott Tom Sawyer because of the n-word where I'm from. Personally I would find it odd if you wrote a book dated in 1840, had black characters, but no n-word. That would just come off to me as horribly unrealistic. I'd probably still read the book but it loses it's period feel when it defies things well known about the period.

    Use whatever derogative term is necessary if the situation calls for it. People will complain one way or another about any book so write it how you want and let them complain. It's their time to waste.
     
  16. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    When Samuel Clements wrote those books, he did not anticipate that the use of that word would be seen as offensive. That does not correspond to a modern writer who knows the word is offensive, and uses it anyway.

    My point in citing those books was that people can find it unacceptable even if the author had no reason to know that, so why dive in and risk offending when you know in advance that the word is problematic.

    Huckleberry Finn survived despite the heavy use of that word, not least because of its overall message condemning slavery.
     
  17. Every
    Offline

    Every Member

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2009
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Sussex, UK
    I've read through all the replies, and it seems like most people think it would be ok for you to use the word. And I have to say I agree,

    It keeps authenticity, it might be slightly shocking, but what is a good story without a bit of controversy, and it gives you a good start to either a fore- or afterword in which you explain some of your language use, and some important things about the historic context.

    I think the word ''injun'' isn't as touchy a subject as the ''n-word'', BUT I haven't lived in the USA for yeaaaars, so I don't know what it is like now.

    As for what cogito said: ''My point in citing those books was that people can find it unacceptable even if the author had no reason to know that, so why dive in and risk offending when you know in advance that the word is problematic.''

    Artists, writers and performers have to take risks, controversy means media attention, and as we all know there is no such thing as bad publicity. If writers didn't take risks then a lot of masterpieces wouldn't have been written!
     
  18. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    The question still remains: What kind of writer are you if you are afraid of a few words, no matter what they mean or because it might offend people who are so sensitive that they can't see that it makes sense in context?
     
  19. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    My response: What kind of writer are you if you think there is only one way to express something?

    It doesn't mean you are afraid of the words. It means you aren't a slave to them. Use your imagination!
     
  20. Dcoin
    Offline

    Dcoin Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2008
    Messages:
    279
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    NYC
    Once again, thank you for all the good discussion.

    To answer a few posts...

    Twototango: I'm not looking to make a splash or toe the imaginary Avant-gardeian line of taste. I just want to write a good, authentic story for kids to read.

    Rei: I’m going to walk the fence a little with regard to your question. Sure I have literary pride and like using any word I see fit, but I also want this story to go somewhere. Lets face it, risking flat out rejection because of one word would be like hitting the bulls eye only to see your dart fall out.

    Every: Along the same lines as Rei, I’m not sure if risk is right for every story.
     
  21. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I missed that the piece is targeted to children. All the more reason to avoid racially insensitive words.
     
  22. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    The thing is, kids miss subtleties that adults can grasp. They also lack the emotional maturity to follow certain arguments. And they might latch on to some expressions without fully understanding them, like Atari, who said he didn't know that there were negative connotations to the word 'injun'.
     
  23. ManicParroT
    Offline

    ManicParroT Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2008
    Messages:
    204
    Likes Received:
    2
    When I read Jock of the Bushveld and run across the word "kaffir", I don't take it personally, because I know that's a function of when the book was written. Similarly, if I read a modern book set in 19th century South Africa, and "kaffir" cropped up in someone's dialogue, I wouldn't get offended because I'd understand that it's a realistic depiction of the way people spoke back then. If I read a book set in the past I'd expect the dialogue to be authentic. Sacrificing authenticity in favour of political correctness is absurd. Of course, if it's going to damage sales or hamper publication of the book, it might be necessary, but it remains an absurdity, none the less.
     
  24. Atari
    Offline

    Atari Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2009
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    Louisiana
    So the true worry, now, is whether children will begin saying the word aloud without comprehending the sensitive nature of it.

    Hmh. It's a shame, a horrible shame, that we live in a world where even words that are old and out dated - though never before carried a negative connotation - suddenly sprout a negative meaning.

    I don't think people are sensitive about it, necessarily. I think that the media and such meticulously cause words like these to become offensive to the viewer's minds.

    Honestly, can you imagine WHICH single person decided that the word is offensive? I mean, who decides these things?
    And writing may be forever decreased by such trivial qualms of the masses. (IF it truly is the masses)

    Bah.
     
  25. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Children don't spring into the world with the skill of critical thinking. At a younger age, they mimic what they see and heawr as part of thier learning. As they become older, their capacity to understand what is and is not appropriate to emulate also develops. But the younger te child, the more important it is to provide positive examples.

    It's naivete, or worse, to think that words are simply words. Any person who claims to be a writer should know that a word reflects ideas, and can unleash the power behind those ideas. If the idea behind a word is bigotry, then it is irresponsible to present it to a child, particularly with the connotation that it is harmless.

    Do you routinely speak in gutter language in front of your young children? If so, I am disgusted.
     

Share This Page