about the evolution of language over on aberwyn
's journal, someone posted a link to this article
, which calls for a complete retirement of the phrase 'chink in [one's] armor' -- indeed, the word 'chink' altogether -- because of the association with its racial slur homonym.
The author, Huan Hsu, discusses a recent controversy over an ESPN headline which used the phrase "A Chink in the Armor" to describe Taiwanese-American rising star basketball player Jeremy Lin. I say "controversy", though I never actually saw any of it (I don't really follow sports news); I'm not sure what controversy there could be. It was obviously offensive, it was pointed out, and ESPN took it down, apologised, and suspended the writer responsible. However, let's take a closer look at exactly why
it was offensive -- and why I'd argue that it is not, as Hsu suggests, anything inherent to the word 'chink' itself. That is, it's offensive because it is using the ordinary meaning of the word 'chink' to deliberately invoke the racial slur.
Headline writers seem to be drawn to puns like bees to nectar (or flies to shit, depending on your level of cynicism). For the most part this is pretty harmless, but the thing about puns is they create a joke, and if you're making a joke you need to be, y'know, self-aware and sensitive enough to not be offensive. You need to bear in mind who or what you're making fun of with your double meaning. Compare, for instance, the flurry of "Santorum Surges from Behind" during the ex-senator's recent presidential bid: in that case, the butt of the joke (heh) is Santorum himself, and the winking double meaning refers to the disgusting redefinition of his name in response to his rampant homophobia. Whereas the winking double meaning in "A Chink in the Armor" is "LOL Asian people amirite?" Besides, much more simply: when you make a pun on a racial slur, you are using a racial slur
That's really all there is to it. There is one good reason to avoid using that phrase, namely that it's clichéd and tiresome. But that 'chink' is a homonym
of a racial slur should not disqualify it from use entirely. Plus it's avoidance is apparently leading to horrendous abuses of both language and logic like "a kink in the armor" -- which just sounds rather, um, painful. Ouch.EDIT
(June): I keep thinking about this post, and am starting to regret writing it a bit. Not the basic point, but the tone of it -- because it makes me wonder if I'm just yet another white person defending a racial slur on questionable grounds. I hope I was absolutely clear in repudiating the ESPN headline as OBVIOUS RACISM. Though I do still think that there's a difference between this and using the word in one of its (few, rather limited) legitimate ways: as a succinct way to describe a small gap or fissure in masonry or armour. Anyway, it's always terribly obvious when someone is using a word that sounds like a racial slur in order to deliberately invoke that racial slur. SO OBVIOUS (as, for instance, in the UK, where it is common to refer to cigarettes as 'fags', nobody has any trouble telling the difference between discussion of cigarettes and people making homophobic slurs).
Besides, there is
a salient difference in both precise semantic reference and connotation between, e.g., 'niggardly' and 'stingy', or between 'chink' and 'small gap' or 'weakness'; the reason I get so het up about all this is sheer ire at racists stealing away the subtle expressive powers of my language by sullying certain words with their garbage.