The Corner

A Mystery of Vocabulary

Toward the end of today’s Impromptus, I ask, just as kind of an aside, “. . . when did it become evil to say ‘Oriental’? Why?” This is one of those mysteries of vocabulary, and there are many. One day, “Oriental,” as in “Eastern,” was perfectly common, and innocent. The next day, “Asian” was de rigueur — and if you said “Oriental,” you were a Bad Person. I remember a friend of mine — not particularly political; a golfer, actually — screaming at me, for having said “Oriental.” I had not quite made the adjustment. And, look: I was the nicest person I knew!

I’ve always been astonished at the speed with which such things happen. Often, there is no evolution. There’s no grace period, so to speak. One day, a word is okay — and more than okay: normal, standard. The very next day, it is screamingly radioactive — verboten. The language police can be irrational, dizzying, and merciless.

Anyway, in response to today’s column, a reader writes,

Dear Jay,

I first became aware of the phenomenon you describe in 2000 or so. I was working in advertising, doing website development. One of our clients had a commerce site, which, of course, had a “Contact Us” form. The client had a facility in Frisco, Texas. One afternoon, we received a scathing e-mail from a young woman, who apparently thought the name of the Texas town was “Francisco,” and that we were using a diminutive, “Frisco,” which was somehow bad. She concluded her rant by saying, “You’re the kind of racists who call Asians ‘Orientals.’”

We were totally stumped. Who can explain such madness?

Who indeed? I’m stumped too. I’ve said it a thousand times: People are very strange, never more so than in matters of language.

P.S. What’re we gonna do about Occidental College?

P.P.S. There are many, many Americans who don’t give a rat’s behind about China, or its gulag, laogai; who are delighted to fête the gulag-masters in the White House, as Lang Lang plays “patriotic” songs; but who will jump down your throat if you should slip and say “Oriental.” Measures of humaneness in America are absolutely cuckoo.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More
White House

For Democrats, the Party’s Over

If the Democrats are really tempted by impeachment, bring it on. Since the day after the 2016 election they have been threatening this, placing their chips on the Russian-collusion fantasy and then on the phantasmagoric charade of obstruction of justice. The attorney general accurately gave the ingredients of the ... Read More

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. ... Read More