2002.11.13 A few styles of the times

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

What a coincidence. Three days after my wife tripped around the proper way to describe the parents of a grade school friend (they were what’s commonly known as deaf and dumb), I receive an Internet link to the National Center on Disability & Journalism. The group provides a style guide for writers.

Let’s move directly to the D’s. Colleen knew that deaf and dumb was not likely the preferred phrase, and she was right. Neither is deaf-mute.

Mute is a derogatory term referring to a person who physically cannot speak. It implies that people who do not use speech are unable to express themselves, but they could use another method such as American Sign Language.

Dumb is said to imply that a person cannot express him or herself, but they can usually use some method.

Deaf is OK, but the style guide suggests asking the person about their preference. It might be “hard of hearing” or “hearing impaired” or “hearing loss.”

Seeing Eye dog is a registered trademark. You might want to go with service animal or assistance animal. Service animals are usually dogs, but not always. They generally assist people with vision problems, but they can also fetch objects for someone in a wheelchair.

This might come as a surprise, but loony bin and nuts are not acceptable terms. Nor is it proper to refer to a non-responsive person as a vegetable.

Another style book is called “A Guide to Covering Indian Country.” We’re asked to avoid words such as brave, buck, half-breed, injun and squaw, but Indian can be all right.

If you’re talking about a person from India, use Indian. If you’re talking about a person from India who now lives in America, use Indian American.

If you’re talking about the indigenous people of the United States, then it’s American Indian, although some people prefer Native American. It’s best to ask for a preference. Most of us—those born in this country but not American Indians—should be referred to as native born.

Then there’s the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. There’s a medley of phrases and acronyms that probably haven’t yet entered your vocabulary.

There are DLs and MSMs, FTMs and LGBTs. Pink triangle, transgender, intersex—these are appearing in the Observer for the first time. FTM, for example, is Female to Male.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists explains that Spanglish is the hybrid of terms using both Spanish and English: “I’m going to visit la familia for dinner.”

A journalist’s guide to Arabs explains that Islam is the religion, Muslim is a follower of the religion, and it’s Muslim, not Moslem. Arab is a noun for a person; Arabic is the name of a language; Arabian is an adjective that refers to Saudi Arabia.

 The South Asian Journalists Association provides the most interesting style book of all. There’s a lot of dictionary to the guide, as well as usage suggestions.

Bandana, bungalow, calico, cashmere, dungaree, grieve, jungle, pajamas and pepper are a few of many words that derive from Asian languages.

Naranga to auranja to narang to orange. Sirsaker and shir-o-shakar to seersucker. Chaamp and chaampnaa to shampoo. Sakara and sukkar to sugar.

Desi (pronounced THEY-see) is the name for people who trace their ancestry to South Asia. It comes from a Hindi word meaning “from my country.” Desi has been described as the Hindi version of the word “homeboy.”

ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) is a slightly derogatory trip through the alphabet (from A to Z) about the first-generation South Asians born in the U.S. who are somewhat “confused” about their Asian roots.”

“American Born Confused Desi, Emigrated From Gujarat, Housed In Jersey, Keeping Lotsa Motels, Named Omkarnath Patel, Quickly Reached Success Through Underhanded Vicious Ways, Xenophobic Yet Zestful.”

I think we once stayed in one of Omkarnath’s motels outside of Youngstown. He’s the one who gave us the unrequested wake-up call at 4:30 a.m. Such a zest for life.

     – Nov. 13, 2002
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