IF a politician, celebrity or academic decides a word or expression is politically incorrect, it becomes taboo. The words ‘fireman’ and ‘actress’ slot neatly into this category, as they remind us that there were two distinct sexes. We are all firefighters and actors now.
In the past, most offensive words were either swear words, or were blasphemous. Swear words are mostly vulgar and tend to suggest a lack of education on the part of the user. Some, such as ‘bugger’, can be quite amusing if used humorously.
Then we have the c-word and the f-word. For me the former is obscene. I have used the latter when I was younger and angry but, now that it is much more commonly used, I find it repellent.
If said for effect rather than hissed or shouted in anger, its use is unjustified – even for those with a severely limited vocabulary. And there are enough other ****-words to account for most of the alphabet these days. The t-word (‘transgender’), the p-word (‘Pakistani’), the b-word (‘bloody’) etc.
Today the most sensitive dodgy word is known as the n-word. In 1932, Ambrose and his Orchestra recorded a perennial favourite ‘The Sun has got his Hat on’, which contains the line ‘He’s been tanning niggers (out in Timbuctoo)’. The word was then considered socially acceptable, but in 2014 this version was played inadvertently on a local radio station. The presenter was forced to resign! In later interpretations the offensive line has been amended to ‘He’s been roasting peanuts’.
Then there was Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Niggers’ published in 1939. The title had to be amended in 1964 to ‘Ten Little Indians’. By 1986 there were further objections and it now sells under the title ‘And then there were none’.
The n-word is simply a derivation of the Spanish word ‘negro’. What is wrong with having a black skin? Why should it cause offence? The answer is that, after the war, racist white Americans began to use the word ‘nigger’ as a term of abuse. They also addressed their black brothers as ‘boy’. Black Americans responded by addressing each other as ‘man’, an expression now widely adopted by whites. It’s also used as an interjection.
Alex Hales, the cricketer, painted himself brown (not black) at a party in 2009. He has recently been condemned as a racist!
The colour white is associated with the purity of snow. Black has sinister connotations, probably relating to the darkness of night. This has nothing to do with the colour of a person’s skin. And yet the word ‘black’ has to be used with extreme care. To give somebody a black look or a black mark is out of the question. What are we supposed to call a blackbird or a blackberry in future?
By the way, the black colleagues and acquaintances that I know find this overreaction as ridiculous as I do.
David Worboys’s opinions are his own and are not necessarily representative of those of the publishers, advertisers or sponsors.

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David Worboys

Offering a unique insight into everything from politics to food to sport, David is one of the Euro Weekly News´ most popular columnists.