I really cannot stand diversity theater. For various reasons, too long, and too distracting to go into here, people who keep trying waaayyy to hard to be sensitive and lecture others on sensitivity rub me the wrong way.
For example, take a look at these Diversity Archways that started popping up randomly on Cornell's campus in 2005. How fast can you say WT* hundred times back-to-back?
I happened to hear about the State Department's list of potentially offensive phrases on TV this morning.
Chief Diversity Officer John Robinson penned a column in the department's latest edition of "State Magazine" advising readers on some rather obscure Ps and Qs.
I am glad the State Department has a Chief Diversity Officer. I don't know how someone like this could otherwise make a living without producing anything at all of value.
The reason I made a mental note to check the claims in his "Diversity Notes" is because the news anchor mentioned that "Rule of Thumb" was an offensive phrase because:
Many women's rights activists claim this term refers to an antiquated law, whereby the width of a husband's thumb was the legal size of a switch or rod allowed to beat his wife. If her bruises were not larger than the width of his thumb, the husband could not be brought to court to answer for his behavior because he had not violated the "rule of thumb."
I call that BS unless someone can actually produce this so-called law. Today was the first time I heard this crazy claim. Wikipedia agrees with me:
The exact origin of the phrase is uncertain. The earliest citation comes from J. Durham’s Heaven upon Earth, 1685, ii. 217: "Many profest Christians are like to foolish builders, who build by guess, and by rule of thumb." The phrase also exists in other languages, for example Swedish tumregel, Norwegian and Danish tommelfingerregel, sometimes in the variant "rule of fist", for example Finnish nyrkkisääntö, German Faustregel or Dutch vuistregel, as well as in Persian "قاعده سرانگشتی," which is translated as finger's tip rule. This suggests that it has some antiquity, and does not originate in specifically English-language culture.
Mr. Robinson also claims:
There is no absolute verification as to the historical roots of the word “handicap.” However, many disability advocates believe this term is rooted in a correlation between a disabled individual and a beggar, who had to beg with a cap in his or her hand because of the inability to maintain employment.
Ouch! You know you're in serious urban legend territory when I can find a clear and concise refutation on Snopes:
The evolution of handicap to include its 'physical disability' meaning took place over a number of centuries, and it is necessary to delve into the rules of 'hand-in-cap' (a lottery game from the 1600s) to gain an understanding of the original meaning of the word and how from those early beginnings it progressed to emcompass the myriad meanings we now assign to it.
How about telling someone to
hold down the fort? Well, clearly, that's offensive, too:
To “hold down the fort” originally meant to watch and protect against the vicious Native American intruders. In the territories of the West, Army soldiers or settlers saw the “fort” as their refuge from their perceived “enemy,” the stereotypical “savage” Native American tribes.
I like the informative reaction I found on phrases.org.uk:
The correct phrase is "hold the fort" - there's no "down". Since the Middle Ages "hold" in a military context has meant, "to keep forcibly against an adversary; defend; occupy". If the commander of a fort decided to take some of his forces to make a foray against the enemy, he would always have to leave some of his men in charge of a reliable officer to hold the fort against any possible attack while they were away.
In fact, there is a union song from the American Civil War whose chorus goes:
Hold the fort for we are coming. Union men, be strong! Side by side we battle onward; Victory will come.
which, at the very least, debunks the claim that there is a specific association with Native Americans and the phrase.
Are Dutch people offended by the phrase "going Dutch"? I don't know. I never had a chance to ask. However, when I was headed to Denmark for a year as an exchange student in 1986, I received a few pages of hints regarding acceptable social behavior. The list included a note that "Danish women are comfortable going Dutch on a date." Go figure.
It is bad enough that our tax dollars pay for official diversity theater. It is worse that Mr. Robinson probably had some kid in high school write his column.