Making a Point, Obama Invokes a Painful Slur, read Marquel, TPVs NYTimes Unutterable Utterances Section correspondent, while reading new words in the OED.
Obama said “Nigger” and the Urban league jumped on him, calling the word “Unutterable.” That kind of shocked Marquel because whatever words are for, the one thing they are supposed to do is be uttered. The concept of a word that is unutterable challenges the very nature and function of words.
Now Marquel is not an innocent.
- He knows the (unutterable?) acts of violence,
- hatred, and
- brutality that have accompanied this word historically and today.
But unutterable? Does it go in the dictionary with some sort of icon that means unutterable? How many words are unutterable besides nigger? Why do they exist? You leaf through the dictionary and hit upon a word. It looks interesting, enlightening, informative, maybe even perfect. Uh oh. You see the icon. Unutterable. Damn!
It’s almost as if we’re being teased. Here’s a word…But you can’t utter it! Even the president can’t utter it. This is a word more powerful than the presidency. Hard to believe.
But president Obama did utter it. Is that historic? Years from now will he be known as “the President Who Uttered the Unutterable?”
And we all know it only applies to African Americans. Why? Sure they have suffered inhumanly. But so have Armenians. Jews. Gypsies. Gays. Tutus. Hutus.
Well no matter. It is what it is. It actually reminds me of those tenses in romance languages, like the passé simple in French or the passato remoto in Italian, which are generally used only in writing and not conversation. But that’s because they are more important, not less, and certainly not unutterable (in Sicily they use the tense as normal conversation. Who knew?).
So Marquel is really troubled by a word called unutterable. Especially because, as we all know, black people seem to say “nigger” with abandon and even affection. Except for the President, who has been criticized for saying the word seriously, thoughtfully, and presidentially.
But the notion of an unutterable word is still opaque, even if the president violated the rule. If the dictionary doesn’t make up the rule, who does? Who said nigger is unutterable? The Urban League, blacks who have made it and earn six figure salaries. They can even tell the president what to say.
So I wonder what comfort they take in issuing this rule. Does it improve race relations? Not that anybody can see, especially with every other black in the street calling each other nigger, as I say with affection. Does it improve average annual income or the minimum wage? Of course not. We all know that not uttering this word does nobody any good.
What would the world be like if it were utterable?
- Most of us wouldn’t use it because it is rude and offensive so we don’t need the rule.
- The president, though, could say it, as could editorialists, academics, and assorted critics to make the point that the president was making yesterday.
- And ordinary people who used it in its worst sense would identify themselves as insensitive and ignorant. It would be nice to identify themselves so we’d know instantly whom we are talking to and maybe give us the opportunity to explain to them how this country is supposed to work.
But instead of this national conversation the word offers us, the Urban League Police want to shut that down. What does that remind you of?
To me it’s like repressed fearful families who won’t let words like vagina or penis be articulated for fear that the children will start thinking of...vaginas and penises!
Of course, the Urban League Thought Police have added several other mundane normal words to the list, like hate, stupid, whatever. What happens to kids forbidden to say vagina and penises at home? They seek them out outside the home! Not the words, the real things. And who doesn’t.
So, unutterable words generally? I think a sign of dysfunction. And now it’s poor Barack who’s dysfunctional. Just because the Urban League issued their edict.
i don’t know about you, but I’m waiting for the new dictionary.
By MARQUEL: The Unutterable Thoughtfulness of Obama