We all know that the “N” word is a no-no, but did you know the “E” word is equally offensive?
“E” being, Eskimo.
I must admit I didn’t, until I caught a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, where one of Bill’s guests (Sarah Silverman) said Eskimo and instantly regretted her faux pas. Since when did Eskimo become an offensive word.
Since always. Apparently.
By chance, I ran across a story in an 1889 children’s book (Wide Awake Pleasure Book: Gems of Literature and Art by American Authors and Artists) called “A Study of Dolls and Cradles” by Otis T. Mason. The article opens: “‘Innuit’ is considered a better name for themselves by our Arctic people than ‘Eskimo,’ because ‘Innuit’ means, in their language, men, people,as much as to say: ‘We are the people and wisdom will die with us.’ But ‘Eskimo,’ or ‘Esquimaux,’ means ‘raw meat-eaters,’ and is held to be a term of reproach.”
The point is, PC offenses are as much a matter of ignorance as they are unabashed prejudice.
That said, what do we do when we have a character who is an unabashed racist? Do we clean up his language to keep from offending our readers? Or do we allow him to let loose according to his bent, because to do otherwise would not be true to life?
This is a rather slippery slope to get on. In my Dark Brethren series, my character, Kurt Adler, was an SS officer, who had no tender spot for the victims of his regime. His opinion of “inferior” races was evident not only in his words but also in his actions. To disguise that would have been as much a disservice to the victims of Nazi persecution as it would be to my readers, who don’t need (or deserve) a bowdlerized versions of historical events.
That said, I see no reason why we should be overindulgent. Like bad language, offensive words should be used even by bad characters in moderation.
I will demonstrate this simple principal for you:
Dad said, “how many fucking times must I fucking tell you to take out the fucking trash on fucking Monday night?”
Dad said, “how many fucking times must I tell you to take out the trash on Monday night?”
See what I mean? In the sentence above, we assume that Dad is simply a low-bred individual who likes peppering his sentences with F bombs, while with the second sentence, we get the idea that Dad is pissed because we once again fucking failed to take out the trash.by