Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bye bye burly

The functional purpose of George Orwell's newspeak is to limit freedom of thought by eliminating from our collective lexicon words that describe concepts potentially threatening to the Party. It is through an Orwellian lens, then, that one might naturally view the risible 'controversy' over the New York Times use of the adjective "burly" to describe the black captain of the Missouri Highway Patrol and also to describe the petty thug on his way to becoming a criminal at the center of the Ferguson conflagration:
Readers wrote to say that “burly” has long been a racial stereotype; the word hasn’t appeared in this context in The Times since the readers’ notes.

So here is the tale of a troublesome word with a fraught history and how The Times came to reconsider its use. Burly means stout, heavy or muscular.
Apparently that revelation was as novel to the NYT editors as it was to me, which is why the initial article containing the word was run by the newspaper. It was only after members of the especially vigilante volunteer auxiliary Thought Police brought the Racist! history of the word to the attention of NYT editors that the apology/correction was issued.

In the comments section of Steve Sailer's first treatment of the subject, Ben Tillman dug up an article in a North Carolinian newspaper from 1898 suggesting an association between "burly" and "black" (or "Negro", less anachronistically). Such an association, to the extent that it existed in the past, has long faded away in the popular mind, as the first page of returns for a Google Images search on "burly man" clearly illustrates:

Forty images, a total of three (if the cartoon at the top left is counted) of them containing black men. If anything, "burly" is a Racist! adjective because it is disproportionately associated with white, rather than with black, men. The NYT should still feel ashamed for using it, though, because any word that is primarily used to describe white men is inherently tainted by its association with the evil incarnate that is white America, and to use an ugly word like that to describe black men is beyond the pale!

... Uh oh, pale probably wasn't the most prudent noun choice given the civilization = light, barbarity = darkness baggage it carries with it.

In a desperate attempt to avoid the ire of the Thought Vols who resurrected the putatively Racist! connotation of a word that had lost all such traces of the alleged connotations in the public consciousness decades--if not generations--ago, allow me to offer the Cathedral three cheers for expunging from our collective vocabulary a word that we naively assumed to be innocuous as recently as a week ago!


Anonymous said...

We really are a fundamentally unserious people.

Audacious Epigone said...

Yes, it's almost beyond parody.

It gets more and more difficult each day to distinguish what belongs in The Onion and what belongs in the NYT by only looking at the content of a news article.