S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter and we’re gonna do a weird show this time. This is gonna be the kind of episode that I get the feeling a lot of people wish I would do more often, and I get it. But, you know, I have to be me and me is what one writer a few years ago nailed as a magpie. I think I am a magpie. I want to grab stuff and and show it to you. And where I’m usually doing this, grabbing around isn’t the latest headlines at Ha! What I am is a nerdy, armchair academic, boring kind of person. But, you know, these are special times for reasons I do not need to explain. And, you know, in my other life, I had to read the news and for this episode, partly upon the request of others, and partly because I really feel it as a duty. I think I’ll share with you some of my feelings about real things. So this time, no Estonian etc. has done Hynix quite real, but we need to do things that are less fun. I want to share with you my opinions about some language related issues that I think a lot of us are thinking about these days. So let’s start with defund, defund the police. A lot of protests are saying these days and a lot of people don’t like the way that word is being used, because you would think that defund means that you’re supposed to take all money away from the police. And so there isn’t supposed to be a police force. You just deprive the police force of money and then we have to take some other pathway defund. Now, if that’s not what most people mean when they say defund the police and it isn’t. Most people when they say that mean that the police should get less money, the police forces should be shrunken, that the police should be responsible for fewer things within a society. So less money, not no money at all. If that’s what people mean, then isn’t it imprecise to, say, defund the police? Isn’t it a problem that you’re using language in a way that impedes efficient communication rather than fostering it? Shouldn’t we be using words according to what they really mean? Well, in this case, I think we need to be a little more subtle about the matter. The truth is that prefix D is not always absolute. It can also be what a linguist might call scalar. And so, for example, if you dethrone somebody, then you are pulling their butt off of the throne. Doubt they go to the ground. And so that’s it. To dethrone means to leave the person not on the throne. It’s either A or B desegregate. The idea is not to leave a bit of segregation. Desegregation is supposed to be about mixing everybody together. No more segregation. But there are other uses of Daeso, for example, to de-escalate. If you think about it, when you say de-escalate, what you imagine is pulling the thermometer, reading down somewhat. Maybe a lot. You’re pulling it down. But when you say de-escalate, you don’t necessarily mean that you’re extinguishing the whole business. You don’t necessarily mean that the thermometer is going to go to zero. You probably don’t expect it. It’s a matter of degree pulling something closer down to the middle or if you decompress. Does that mean that you are going to wind up maximally uncompressed? Probably not. Decompress means. And then somewhere in the middle, it’s scalar. It’s a continuum. And so defund can mean that, too, as in. It’s not hard to imagine it, meaning that to defund could be taken to me not to completely deprive somebody or something of funds, but to give less funds to it. To the extent that that may not have been what most of us were thinking last week, the truth is that we use language creatively all the time. And that is. Yes. Me in another way, saying language is always changing. And so, for example, defund and wrapping our heads around maybe kind of definition to sense of what it means. Think about relatable. You talk about someone or something being relatable. Nobody was using relatable that way before about 1965. The first time we see relatable use that way is in education school speak, where there’s some article that says that girls find teachers more relatable. But nobody was using the word that way before. Herbert Hoover. I don’t know why I’m thinking of him, but let’s use a Herbert Hoover would not have used relatable in that way. He would have found it peculiar. And then it’s really in the 80s that this relatable term jumps in to people on TV. Television hosts start using it this way. And frankly, I think that’s when a lot of us would remember it being you 65 feels early. I’m getting this from my friend and. Colleague Ben Zimmer, he actually did a piece on relatable. And he did this piece, which you can look up in 2010. And it’s interesting because that is when I first heard Relatable a student and one of my classes at Columbia used it that way. And I knew from context what he meant. But I thought I never heard relatable used that way. And it does seem to have taken off in a special way then. But the point is, John F. Kennedy probably wouldn’t have said that somebody is relatable. We do say that a person is relatable. That’s a creative use of the verb to relate well. Defund can move in the same way. And let’s face it, it is not to mention that you have to think about the difference between a slogan and a scientific paper. So defund the police. It at least makes you imagine there being no police and there is some use in that. Now, I think most of us, upon imagining there being no police at all, kind of cringe. That seems too extreme. There are people who would like it that way, but it’s an extreme viewpoint. Nevertheless, to imagine it and then bounce back into some middle ground is not the worst thing in the world. And once again, it’s about slogan versus scientific communication anyway. So, for example, Black Lives Matter. It’s common for some people to say no. All lives matter. They’re missing the point. Black lives matter. Doesn’t mean black lives matter more. It means black lives matter to black lives matter as well. However, the slogan assumes that you know that and assumes that you know that because what kind of slogan would Black Lives Matter as well be B or even Black Lives Matter to the two kind of hangs. It’s not a slogan. It’s a piece of communication. And the two things overlap considerably, but not completely. Black Lives Matter. Three parts. And it’s assumed that everyone knows that nobody would be so crazy or self-centered as to say that black lives matter more. Why would anybody mean that? Of course, it’s black lives matter too. But you don’t say it matters in the acronym. You know, BLM has one thing B LMT. Sounds like it’s a sandwich. It just doesn’t work in in the same way. Imagine now saying instead of defund the police, less money for the cops. That’s a slogan that really doesn’t work very well at all. There are times when, to be perfectly precise, is to only talk to yourself. Sometimes you have to punch it up. And I think that that’s what’s going on with defund. It’s a different kind of meaning. The language is always changing. And here it’s changing, not in a kind of random way that nobody cares about, such as the word relatable coming to be used. But it’s, you know, in a heated context. Nevertheless, this is how language always changes the linguistics research center. What world is that? Talk cuts. Logan’s the Linguistics Research Center is a wonderful outfit at the University of Texas at Austin that studies ancient languages and puts information about them online. Inaccessible fashion. If you want to hear old English spoken and not me and this thing that I. But old English actually spoken. More or less the way it was to the closest that we can approximate. You can hear that on the Linguistics Research Center site. There are all sorts of things on the site such that 30000 people use it every month from one hundred and thirty six countries. And wouldn’t you know that the suits down there are trying to take away its funding? They’re trying to defund it completely. And that would mean that there’s no linguistics research center. Now, the last time I did a pitch for this on this show, I was pleased to find that it actually did earn the LRC two thousand dollars. So. So I just want to say again, please, if you have some extra money and, you know, maybe you don’t, but if you have some extra money after you’ve finished signing up for Slate plus here gives the money to the Linguistics Research Center. And yes, it is about money. I’m openly saying, please give them some money because the suit’s down there. Don’t want to do it. And in the meantime, there’s so much on the site, like, for example, Hittite, Hittites, this ancient language. Why do you care about Hittite? Well, for one thing, nobody knew anything about it until about 25 minutes ago, actually. A hundred years ago when tablets were dug up in what is now Turkey. And suddenly there was this whole new Indo-European language, Hittite. All of a sudden, people knew about it. Old Irish. Who cares? You care because it’s one of the most magnificently irregular languages ever recorded. Can’t believe anybody spoke at Tok Carrion. What the hell is that? Well, there are mummies of people, six foot six and white as butter in what is now China. And we can pretty much figure out they spoke a now dead Indo-European language called Toke. Harian, you want to know more? Go to the L. R. C. And give them your money. Go to Facebook, you t LRC and police pitchin. The Associated Press and now The New York Times have decided to capitalize black when referring to people. What do I think of that? People have been asking, you know what? I like it. I have frankly spent my life teaching myself not to capitalize black. It feels perfectly right to me because the people we refer to as black certainly are not black in the sense of the color. Just think about how absurd that looks when you try to color in a black person that color with crayons, or you imagine how black people are often drawn in the past. And we’re not black, we’re brown. And so if we’re gonna keep that term and language is about conventions, you can’t make language make perfect sense. Just like with defund. And so the term is going to stick around. If so, then if we’re talking about black people, then it should be treated as a proper noun. It should be treated as describing a phenomenon, quote unquote, a thing. And therefore, there should be the capital B. It means that black is not the color. That’s with A lowercase B. But black refers to a set of people who are thought of as a set for reasons other than what the word actually means in its core definition. You can also say that it refers to a set of historical experiences, not to mention present day experiences, depending on your preferences with these things. And so, yeah, black should be capitalized. I think it will free me up to do something I’ve always felt would be natural. I have spent my life with a patch in my mental functioning where when I’m writing black, I think lowercase B, although I feel like I’m lower casing people, you know, lower casing myself, it should be upper case. Now, doesn’t that mean that White should be capitalized as well? And yes, it does because. All right. Some of you are already angry. Hold on. Hear me out. It does because white is just as arbitrary as black. When we talk about these things, try talking about it with your kids, as I am now, the white people. Nobody’s white. Or if they are, there’s something terribly wrong. They’re more like pink. And it’s not that with Creola, you gradually learn that color a white person and the closest thing you might get to it is peach. And then what is a white person? Hispanic people are way it. Israelis are white. What is it? You know what? What is white? It’s a rather arbitrary concept. Let’s not even get into why whites are called Caucasian and you’ve got these caucuses, mountains. And so white is a thing. It is a historical set of experiences, a historical set of actions. It is a modern set of experiences. And so it should be capitalized as well. In an ideal world, we would now be capitalizing be for black and W for white. But we can unfortunately we can’t because real life has intervened. The white nationalists have gotten a handle on white and they already capitalized white. And so it’s capital w h i t e the idea being to enshrine whiteness as something separate and in their sense, something preferable to a great many other things, including black. Now I think most of us who are not white nationalists find that usage rather unsavory. I think that a critical mass of us would rather not do what they do. I hope that’s not too politicized for me to say. And so since they use it that way. No, I don’t think we can do that. It’s inconvenient because, you know, they are an arbitrary happenstance of history, just as everything is. And they’ve started to do something. And so now the rest of us can’t do it because they happen to get there first. But it would make me uncomfortable to start capitalizing white. You know, there’s a little there’s a little smell of the Confederate flag about it. So for that reason, I would say no, although deep in my bones, I would like it to be tidy. And if, you know, the white nationalists cease to exist and 50 years went by, then I. Because I don’t intend to die like the rest of you seem to think you’re going to. I’m going to be here. And I would be saying, okay, it’s time to capitalize White to make everything tidy. I like tidy, but we can’t have tidy now. But, you know, one thing I like about this focus on the term black and capitalizing it with a B is that I hope this will make people use black more. Because here’s something. If this is going to be a very special episode where everything is not happy in the Valley. I don’t like African-American. I’ve never liked it. It doesn’t offend me. But I use black and black American imprint. I have never liked that. I remember when it came in 1989, 1990, and I thought that. So that’s clever. I get it, but it never felt right to me. And it’s for reasons that, you know, opinions will differ on Africa was too long ago, as far as I’m concerned. It was there. I’m quite aware of it. Mine studies of Creole languages, et cetera. But to me, say you’re Italian. American grandpa speaks Italian. African-American. When we’re talking about slavery ending in the mid 19th century and near the end of the 20th century, the beginning of the 21st, for me, it’s just it’s too far away. I don’t feel like I am a person who is both African and American in any significant way. And some people might say, well, I’m just so y and so peculiar that we’re not really talking about me. But even if we’re going to talk about what many people would refer to and you all know what I mean as real black people, still Africa, not really. Black people are certainly not white, but black people are to me, fundamentally American. And this is not me striking some corny note that we all have to be the same. We are not the same. But the African heritage, to me has always seemed to be too far away to lend itself gracefully to the term African American. And then, especially since about 1990, a great many immigrants from actual Africa have come here. And so you have a person who was raised by Ghanaian parents who speak Htwe in the house. That’s an African-American, just like they’re Italian Americans and Polish Americans. And to me, the idea that that’s an African-American and then also the native born black American person from Cleveland is the same thing. It just doesn’t feel natural to me. And then it gets really confusing when you have white South Africans who sincerely think of themselves as African American or their children, and they’re told that the term doesn’t apply to them. It just it all just gets too messy. And, you know, I like Tidey just as much as anyone else. It’s a matter of where you draw the line. And, you know, actually, something else about African American is that I always feel like to say that makes it seem as if my relatives here and what they did say in the late 19th century and on wasn’t as interesting. Somehow I have to signal that my roots traced to Senegal, which apparently based on the cheek swab, they do great. But what about the people who were here? My great aunt t’ai I remember at 92 years old, we were at the late, great North Philadelphia train station and had a big staircase and she was about to miss her train. She ran up that staircase almost faster than I could have when I was 13. She didn’t know anything about Senegal. She was a great lady. I still have pictures of her. That, to me is my history. So in a way, I’m George Jefferson. You know, I hate to admit this, but one thing I’ve been doing during covered is, well, I. I’ve been reading War and Peace, so I’ve been doing something kind of sophisticated. But I’ve also been re watching all of The Jeffersons. This is from one episode of The Jeffersons. And this is something George says about his African heritage.
S2: Fascinating. Kavi, always the ball figure in Africa is supposed to be a God in spirit. Magnificent. An important part of the black heritage. Don’t you find that interesting, Mr. Jepson? No, I don’t. I’m interested to know Heritage do not pass on 2016.
S1: Now, of course, that’s a little brash, but there’s a little of me in that I’m more interested in Art T’ai than in what went on before. That’s just me. Of course, you know something about The Jeffersons. Isabel Sanford was over 20 years older than Sherman Hemsley. This is something that you would never quite guess because black don’t crack in between that and a lot of makeup. She looked like she was in her mid 40s on the show. And Hemsley was balding. And so he looked older than he was. But he was 30 something. She was pushing 60. And yet they looked so much like a couple. I’ve always found that really weird. He probably, when he met her, probably called her Miss Sanford. They were not even of the same generation. And yet they played that couple so convincingly for eleven seasons. In any case, it’s time for a song. And now it’s not going to be the Jeffersons theme song because, you know, most of us of a certain age can play that in our heads in such detail that I don’t need to play it. But listen to this theme song from the same era. This is the Good Times theme song. And, you know, this is by the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. And the music is Dave Grusin. These are not black people. They wrote various lovely, corny songs that most of us remember from the 80s and 90s. They also wrote the theme song to Goodtimes. So listen to it. And then we could talk about something.
S3: Not bad. No way.
S4: Oh, good.
S1: You ever notice that you don’t understand a lot of the words I saw every episode of Good Times and there things I never understood as a subtitled version online now. So, for example, Mike, could you please play anytime you meet a friend? For my whole childhood, I thought that was any time you feel in, free in, and I thought, OK, so people are feeling free and then this might play the hangin in and jivin and. I always thought and. I called this up for this episode. I always thought it was handing in a charter, hanging in and jiving handed in a charter. And I thought, well, OK, so that’s political activism. You’re handing in a charter that’s, I think, something that actually doesn’t make any sense who ends in a charter. But I always thought that that’s what the words were. People keep asking me about this one by Park B. I p O.S. That has really jumped out, especially over the past just few months. It’s nice that I’m making the mistake, Mike. Keep it in. They’ll understand why I just said that. Black, indigenous and people of color BIPAC. That’s a new acronym for people who are white. It’s probably with us to stay at least for a while. You know, I don’t like it, frankly. I understand that we need acronyms for that concept. But that one, if you ask me and you know, my judgment is not going to change anything. I don’t particularly like it. I like that it uses black. So it is an African-American, indigenous and people of color, which would be I Boeke or something like that. But BIPAC, there are problems with it. One is indigenous is a useful gesture, but there are indigenous Native American people who don’t like being lumped together under that one term. Now, I’m not sure what you do about it, but it really is a very broad brush to just have this. I like there’s a new book I highly recommend when I’m not suffering through war. I’m when I’m not enjoying warm peace. The other book that I’m reading right now is called God’s Shadow. It’s by Alan Mikail. And it’s about how the Ottoman Empire really determined early, modern and modern history in a way that we tend to miss because our histories are focused on the Roman Empire in the business, teens, et cetera. Fascinating book. I can’t put it down. It is the literary equivalent of potato chips. This book deserves to be a bestseller. One nice thing that it does, though, is it has a map of the world at a certain time. And it’s the only book like this where I’ve seen this done where Native Americans are in North and South America. He has various groups noted. It doesn’t just say indigenous, it doesn’t just say Native American, doesn’t say Indian. But the major groups like Cree, Navajo, 2P, all of those are put on the map. The idea being that these people didn’t see themselves as the same. So indigenous isn’t an insult or anything like that. But to me, it it’s not ideal. And then in a PRC, people of color, that’s an awful lot of people. That’s an awful lot of experiences. So posse’s are Latinos and Asians. And then what’s a Latino and what’s an Asian? And all of them are posse’s and apparently posse’s or something different from the BS. So now black people are people of color. Just it just stirs up so much. And as I say, language is never precise. But to me, BIPAC somehow goes too far on the other side of the line. I won’t be using it. Therefore, many other people will. That’s great. But I just can’t quite wrap my head around it. And then in pronunciation, as you already saw, it sounds like it’s referring to bisexuals, which it isn’t. Here’s the problem. And so I, you know, opened up this segment saying, BIPAC, bisexual people have got that’s what it always seems like it’s referring to. Now, you might want to have an acronym for people of color who happen to be bisexual, but you probably wouldn’t. The mistake seems to always be hovering. People are always going to ask, you know, bisexual what? And then they have to be corrected. Well, defund is a little messy. And I say, that’s OK. But BIPAC just seems to be extremely messy in that way. And this is totally arbitrary. This is like somebody having a fondness for peach jello over the other flavors. I don’t know who that would be, but to me, a BIPAC. It sounds like something from finance. It sounds like one of those collateralized debt obligations that got us in trouble back in 2008. It’s just now they’re not doing collateralized debt obligations. Now they’re going by POCs. I don’t know. All of this is just me, but that is a term which I would not have as a pet in my home. I don’t know why I put it that way, but it’s just it doesn’t quite work for me. In any case, because I’m throwing everything but the kitchen sink into this episode, let’s have a back shift because I always enjoy these. Let’s say you’re watching that man. The that man. You’re watching Batman. Well, here people in 1966, 67, 68, 69, speaking American English now and then somebody says something that’s a little weird. Often it’s because of the bat shift. It’s the bat shift. Keep it, Mike. It’s because of the of the bat shift. And so, for example, in one. It’s the one where Cliff Robertson plays a cowboy name, Shame. For some reason, the comedian, old time comedian Jack Carter makes this unbuild appearance as a disc jockey. But listen to how he says D.J..
S5: Hey, there is one other cat. And it was more about where the automotive action is than the top rated deejay and in car. Who is that? Mr. Harry laughing Leo that he was car and truck magnet over on Surf Avenue and 20th Street. Thank you. Hey, punch it, fella.
S1: It’s a deejay. He’s not mispronouncing. It’s because that word was not quite as established yet. He was oldish. And so it’s a deejay. Very interesting. Yeah, it’s time. But this is important. The virus has hit the media hard. Slate is the media and there’s no danger. But we have some problems. And it really we could use some money, just like the Linguistics Research Center could. Slate could use some in the form of you all signing up if you haven’t already. For Slate plus for a nominal fee, what you get with Slate, plus talk about old sitcoms like The Jeffersons is you get a tag, you get that little bit before the ending credits. Except this would be after my ending credits where I just give you three, four or five minutes of extra stuff. Sometimes it has to do with what the episode was about, just as often as just something that happened to be on my mind at the time. But you get extra stuff. Sometimes there is more music and you don’t have to listen to commercials. If you have Slate, plus you get more show and no ads. And it’s not only for my show, but for all of Slate’s podcasts, we could really use a little bit of extra help. And so, for example, this time the Slate plus episode is going to be all about butts. It’s for some reason it is more often than you might think all about butts and grammar, and you’ve got to pay that nominal fee to find out what that means. And frankly, the Slate plus this week is funny and there is a very, very funny song, but you can’t know what it is unless you sign up for Slate. Plus today, Karen, this Karen thing, this archetype, it’s this middle aged woman of whiteness who keeps calling for the manager and she has a certain haircut. I don’t know why, but for me, Karen is in the Hamptons. I guess that’s just my geography. But Karen, is this certain kind of person? Overlap somewhat with Karen Walker of Will and Grace. I can’t help thinking that has something to do with the name. But Karen is this person who’s now being referred to as somebody who not only has a silly haircut but just doesn’t get it. People are asking me, how do you feel about the Karen term? And I’m not sure how I feel about it cause there are a whole lot of other things I’ve been thinking about. But it is an equivalent of another archetype that’s gotten around for much longer, which is Becky. Many black people talk about a certain character, Becky, and that refers to a white woman, probably upper middle class or above, who just doesn’t understand the race thing, doesn’t understand what we now refer to as her white privilege and is always saying these rather clueless things. Becky is not supposed to be a racist, per say, but she just doesn’t get it. She’s in her own little white frame of mind. That’s Becky. And people have been referring to Becky for a while. Becky is usually pretty young, though, I imagine, Becky, as being 20 or 25. Karan is kind of an older Becky. So the idea is there’s this sort of ingroup defense, Becky, is generally referred to with a kind of knowing smile. But what’s interesting is that Cameron is now referred to with a knowing smile. Katherine is reviled. You know, we really don’t like Karan. And that’s partly because of the current mood in the country, because of protests over the murder of George Floyd and the huge reckoning that we’ve been having on race and all the controversies that surround it. So Cameron is not aware of her white privilege, and it’s not funny these days. We don’t think of that as a quirk. We don’t think of that as an idiosyncrasy. It’s a problem. And so Karen is a sort of older and despised Becky. And you might say, I think some people who are asking me about Karen are waiting for me to say that it’s dehumanizing to refer to these women as Karen. And yeah, it is. I had a roommate when I was in college. I’m going to call him Paul. And when I was in college, there was one year. This was Simon’s rock. You know, God bless Simon’s Rock of Bard. There was one year, though, way, way back early in the Reagan administration where they admitted more relatively wealthy kids than they usually would because they were cash strapped. And so the class. That second year that I was there had what we then called a premier stripe than any Simon’s rock class had ever had before. That didn’t continue, but it was particularly that year. Paul was anything but a preppy. And he thought all of these preppy freshmen were kind of ridiculous. One of them happened to be named Chris Romano. Another one happened to be named Charlie Durr. Well, Paul decided that he was going to refer to all of the men of the new class as Charlie Romano, and he did. It just became this in-joke among all of us that that all of these new guys were named Charlie Romano. Paul talked about how he had been at the soda machine and that somebody walked up to one of these new guys and want to know if he had an extra quarter. And Paul said, Sorry, Charlie, I’m fresh out. And the person didn’t say anything because apparently the person really was named Charlie. That was dehumanizing. Those guys did not deserve that. I actually still know Charlie does. He was nothing like this archetype that Paul had come up with. And so, yeah, these things can be cruel on that episode of The Jeffersons that we heard a clip from. At another point in it, George and his mother talk about how one of their ancestors was a Pullman porter here.
S2: Judge went so shy he could tell about some very distinguished people in our family. Now, Mama like his great uncle Daniel. Oh, he would dig in railroading mama. He was a Pullman porter. He was they had put out, you know, more about this Ancef than family pride. Pride is what you are feeling now. Who cares about what’s dead and gone?
S1: Now, what’s interesting is what that Pullman Porter would have endured in terms of not only how he was spoken of, but spoken to. It was an ordinary thing for ordinary white people, not just bigots, but just everybody to call Pullman porters to their face. George not knowing their name, you would say George. All of them were George. And this was not, you know, during the Tyler administration with their trains. Yes. It’s now during the Tyler administration. This is like ten minutes ago. This is an episode of what is actually my favorite old radio show, the Great Gildersleeve, on one very early episode in 1941. Listen to sweet teenaged girl Judy Garland, dish Marjorie and how she is depicted casually calling a Pullman porter.
S6: You better ask the porter. Marjorie. Oh, John. Marjorie. Never call a part of George. That’s the sign of an inexperienced traveler. Watch me, Porter. What’s your name? Porter. It’s George. How is your. George, how soon do we arrive?
S1: Now notice even in 1941, it’s falling out of usage. And so the show calls Marjorie on it. But still, you can see that that was a perfectly ordinary thing to do. So, yeah, these these terms are dehumanizing. But, you know, to tell you the truth, given the history of race in this country, I can’t say that I mind, Karen, at this point. We’re talking about a pendulum swing. And, you know, one day I think we can say that Karen is too mean, but I’m not sure that that’s exactly this day. I think that given all that has gone on at this point, I think we could call Karen a gentle slur. That is a matter of getting back at what has been centuries of abuse. Now, of course, one does not wish to take things like this too far. There’s a difference between punching down and punching up. Karen is punching up. Punching up doesn’t mean that physical abuse is tolerable. Punching up does not mean that anything that a black person says or does must simply be accepted upon the pain of their being called a racist. I don’t mean that at all. But to refer to this entitled middle aged white woman with the strange haircut as Karen is not the most harmful thing. Given that, let’s face it, white people do have more of the chips in our society than black people do. And, you know, there are those who say, I’m going to address this just this one time on this very special episode. There are those who say I get this feedback occasionally that I suddenly play to the left on this show. And it’s true. I do a little. There are people out there who think of me as a conservative Republican fire breathing right winger. I guess I’m playing to the left and even using that adjective fire breathing. But no, I am, as I’ve often said, a cranky liberal. But, you know, you should know in the next year and a half, you’re going to see two books from me. Those of you who think that I play to the left. One of them is about cursing and that’s going to be the funny one. But the other book that I’m writing will make anybody left of center’s toes curl. So for those conservatives among you who listen to this show, you will see that I understand all sides of the political spectrum. That said, Karen is just a game and I think it’s an okay one. In our times, there has to be room for settling scores to an extent. As long as somebody at some point allows that the scores have been settled, that can be a problem, definitely. But I can say that with Karen, we’re not there yet. That is what I think. For whatever it’s worth of the Karen business. Well, you know, this sure has been a fun show. And so to play it out, let’s use some music that I think of as just fun. This is Horace Silver. This is some of my favorite jazz. This is one of his later albums. He did two or three in the early 90s that are kind of weird and wonderful. This is from pencil pack and paper. And this is red beans and rice. The words are kind of lame and in a good way. I don’t know why, but this song has always been an earworm. I recommend listening to the whole thing. You know, once it goes from the head into the improvisation, there’s a lot of fun. It’s very written, but it’s also just very good music. This is red beans and rice.
S7: When Sam went to die on a chicken and why his name was on red red beans and rice, they’re very nice. He’d order some collard greens.
S1: You can reach us at Lexicon Valley at Slate dot com. That’s Lexicon Valley at Slate dot com. To listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to Slate dot com slash Lexicon Valley. My daughters and I, we’ve been lining up cans of different flavors of bubbly brands. Seltzer. Now that brand bubbly be UBL y bubbly seltzer on the mantelpiece. Yes, I have a mantlepiece. Some of the most beautiful cans I’ve ever seen were were lining them up. I recommend that if you want to get yourself out of the Kofod mood lineup, bubbly seltzer cans on your mantelpiece. We’ll talk about that next time. Anyway, Mike Volo is as always, the editor and I am John McWhorter rise as lead author.
S8: You ever think about how if you’re going to talk about something is really new. You can say, well, it’s very new, but that doesn’t quite sound right. It’s brand new. Well, what’s brand about it? And you look it up and it’s about a brand coming off of the fire. But most of us aren’t involved much in branding these days. And really, you just learn that when something is really new. You have this arbitrary thing you have to know, which is that you say that it’s brand new. Okay. Also with hot. If something’s really hot, you can say my. This is very hot. OK, but then you’re you’re boring. If you want to put a little kick in it, then you say it’s piping hot. Well, what does that even mean? But you know that that’s what you’re supposed to do. So certain adjectives have these qualifiers that are very specific. It’s part of really speaking the language to know that you talk about things being brand new, piping hot, or what do you use for naked? Well, you could say naked as a jaybird, but you don’t say that. You say somebody is, for example, butt naked. Well, where does that come from? Well, the butt is is kind of easy in itself, but actually it starts as buck naked. And you still do hear that said sometimes y buck. So is the idea that the animal, the buck is especially naked? No. Because, you know, all animals are naked. So why is it a buck? Well, buck naked was because unfortunately, Buck was often used to refer to a slave, an African or African descended slave and slaves, often, especially in the South, with the kind of backbreaking labor that was required. We’re often not wearing very many clothes. And so there was this, you know, careless expression of being naked as a buck that referred to a slave. It also seems to have referred to Native Americans. A Native American could be a buck. And depending on the climate, many Native Americans wore less clothing than Europeans. So the idea was that you were naked as a buck, you were naked as an African slave. You were naked as some Native Americans kind of were. And so buck naked. But after a while, slavery starts to recede in history. And quite unfortunately, Native Americans are less and less likely to be part of the immediate experience of the people who have come to America since. When that happens, buck naked no longer makes sense because people aren’t referring to Bux in that sense. And so there was a mistake. Language procedes often through just mistakes. The idea was that it must be butt naked because if you’re naked, presumably your rear end is showing. So butt naked starts as a mistake and then it starts floating around. And so, for example, if you can be butt naked, if that means that you are very naked. The extreme of naked. Well, by analogy, you might say something like your butt cold. Notice people say that. But cold. Well, why are they talking about their butt? Well, partly because you would be especially cold if your rear end were exposed to the elements, partly because actually, for some anatomical reason, the butt is a little cooler than the rest of the body. Go feel one. If you doubt me, it’s always kind of cool down there. And so next thing you know, your butt cold because your butt is out because you’re naked. So there’s that connection. But if you’re butt cold and it means that you’re really cold, it’s like 15 degrees. Pretty soon you’re going to be. But other things were but means very of all thing. Something that starts as the gluteal muscles ends up meaning quite a bit. Language is wonderful that way. So for example, people will say, I am but tired now. It makes a tiny bit of sense in that maybe you’re tired because you were really working and part of that physical labor involved clutching your butt. It doesn’t quite work. It’s really just that if you’re butt naked. If you can be butt cold, then you can be butt tired. So there is your language change lesson for today. And we have to illustrate this with something from one of Eddie Murphy’s early comedy albums. This is a whole song called In Your Butt, and it speaks for itself. Goodbye, Bobby. Goodbye. Bye. But the same thing, but say, can you give us a man? But wait a minute. Right. But they put me in the button.