Itchy runs afoul of an Irishman.
March 19, 2009 4:10 PM   Subscribe

A (non-Italian, non-Irish) friend of mine insists that pronouncing "Italian" as "eye-talian" or calling an Irish man an "Irishman" has racial undertones. Is this true? Are any Italians or Irish offended by those terms?
posted by Ramithorn to Human Relations (73 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
"Undertones" is the key word. For some people, whether they are on the receiving end or not, any ethnic label that is intentionally mispronounced or generally not the accepted terminology is seen as disrespectful.

Context and intent are important, obviously.
posted by wfrgms at 4:12 PM on March 19, 2009


I don't think calling someone an "Irishman" has any negative connotation unless the other words in the sentence are somehow negative. For instance, think about how often you've seen something like this in print:

"Mr. Duffy, an Irishman originally from the town of..."
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:16 PM on March 19, 2009


I have been called eye-italian many times, and I was offended by it only a few times, due mostly to the tone of voice and facial espression. I do not even find dego or whop objectionable, when accompanied by a nice smile.
posted by francesca too at 4:21 PM on March 19, 2009


I was recently told in my speech class that "eye-talian" is considered a racial slur by *some* people. YMMV, but I'd say it's better not to take chances.
posted by sacrifix at 4:37 PM on March 19, 2009


Raised and lived most my life in New England, in New Haven where there's an awful lot of us.
The first time I heard 'Eye-talian' I was in the South. I think it was just curiosity - I have a really unusual last name - but at the time I was kind of shocked. It felt insulting somehow. The older women at the historical society used to use terms like that to the same effect, although less on the eye-talian, more for non-whites.

To use that term was a sign that I wasn't one of them (read: not DAR, no Mayflower relatives), and they were going to label me as such, but they didn't outwardly mean to be insulting. But they used the faux-accent/incorrect pronunciation in order to mark it as other.

Irishman seems to have the effect that instead of 'man' you are emphasizing his ethnicity. An Irish (immigrant) first, a man second.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:38 PM on March 19, 2009


"Irishman" is just the correct word.
posted by yesno at 4:39 PM on March 19, 2009


What if I ordered a salad with eye-talian dressing? Would people assume I have some sort of hatred against Italian people?
posted by Ramithorn at 4:41 PM on March 19, 2009


Italian : Eye-talian :: Barack Hussein Obama : Barack Huuu-saaaayn Obama
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:41 PM on March 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


While those exact words may not be said with racist undertones, that's where they came from, and how they're said. (Eye-talian more than Irishman.)

Anytime someone intentionally mispronounces a word, there is some kind of disrespect behind it. I'd even posit that the act of "classifying" the people we encounter into their "proper" racial/ethnic categories is disrespectful.
posted by gjc at 4:43 PM on March 19, 2009


Eye-talian is indeed perjorative. Witness Archie Bunker's conspicuous use of it, as well as the related perjorative "Itey" (Eye-tee).
posted by rhizome at 4:47 PM on March 19, 2009


I'm Italian, and the times that I have heard "eye-talian" it was a little off-putting. For one thing, I think it would be exceedingly rare for anyone to pronounce it that way if they have ever spent any time among people of Italian heritage, or done any traveling, or even watched the Food Network, for that matter. By pronouncing it that way, you are conveying that 1) Italians are "foreigners" to you and 2) you have no interest in learning anything about them or their culture, right up to how to pronounce "Italian." Also, I think some people do know better but persist in pronouncing it that way because they think it's funny, which can be offensive in some circumstances as well.
posted by HotToddy at 4:54 PM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I agree with the points HotToddy makes about what "eye-talian" conveys. You'd have to be living under a rock to not realize that's not the correct pronunciation, and if you can't hide behind ignorance than you're just making a poor joke with loads of negative historical baggage. (I realize "correct pronunciation" of foreign city and country names is a bit tricky given we often don't pronounce these as the locals do, but that's for another discussion)

"Irishman" I'm less sure about, but to me it sounds like there's some pejorative intent. Perhaps because it echoes "Chinaman?" I would avoid using it.
posted by JenMarie at 5:07 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's not forget Ay-rab.

Busta Rhyme's latest single 'Arab Money' originally had the chorus pronounce it "ay-rab," and it was later changed to "ah-rab" because of this very issue.

Original
"PC" Version
posted by cosmic osmo at 5:12 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seriously. Don't avoid "Irishman." It's the correct word. Look it up.
posted by yesno at 5:12 PM on March 19, 2009


'Eye-talian' sounds to me like you're taking the piss.
Irishman: what yesno said.
posted by pompomtom at 5:15 PM on March 19, 2009


Anytime someone intentionally mispronounces a word, there is some kind of disrespect behind it.

Please. Some people also have vernaculars. My sweet little grandmother, born in the Ozark hills, says "eye-talian" because that's how people around her said it when she was growing up. She also says "Ha-wai-yah" instead of Hawaii, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't hate Hawaiians. (She even has a framed photo of her and Don Ho.) Some folks talk funny.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:17 PM on March 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think your friend is confusing the culture specific "Irishman" which isn't all that offensive with the general "Chinaman" which can be pretty offensive when used as a term of race.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:30 PM on March 19, 2009


"Eye-talian" is just how some people, including relatives of mine, say it. It's generational and regional.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:37 PM on March 19, 2009


Please. Some people also have vernaculars. My sweet little grandmother, born in the Ozark hills, says "eye-talian" because that's how people around her said it when she was growing up.

That's not a good argument. People around her probably also said "nig-ro" for black people but that doesn't mean using that pronunciation now is appropriate.

Eye-talian is similar to nig-ro, a deliberate mispronunciation designed to show disrespect. Note: I am sure your grandmother doesn't realize it is perjorative and doesn't mean anything by it.

Irishman, however, is just fine.
posted by Justinian at 5:48 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm an American of Irish decent and would not be offended by the use of Irishman in casual conversation. However, with the exception of the week leading up to St. Patrick's day I can't think of many occasions that I've heard someone call out the Irish heritage of myself or one of my friends in a way that did not almost immediately result in a bloodied face. I'm certain there is some irony in play there.

Maybe it's different here in larger North Eastern cities where so many people are either of Irish or Italian heritage and the immigrant hurdles of both groups were cleared generations ago, there's little reason to get granular with point of origin unless you have some sort of ill intent. But I remember being at a mountain bike festival about 12 years ago, having met some white guys from up-state NY who were of English decent (claimed Mayflower lines). They were so completely racist(?) towards Germans it was beyond comical to my group from MA. I kept asking how they would know a German if they saw one and the only response they had was 'well they'll be in Germantown, obviously, but you can just tell.'. So yea I guess you could take a perfectly reasonable and appropriate identifier and spin it with malice. It's almost always going to be dependent on the tone in which it's used and in the case of Irishman its proximity to a small dick joke.
posted by paxton at 5:52 PM on March 19, 2009


Incidentally, I've also seen the Ozark use of "eye"talian" and it certainly wasn't intended as a slur. And no, they don't use "ni-gro" for African-Americans.
posted by Atreides at 6:07 PM on March 19, 2009


That's not a good argument. People around her probably also said "nig-ro"

That's not quite right. In my experience, people in the Arkansas/Missouri/Tennessee area say Eye-talian. I can point to people in my family as an example. And I assure you, it's not the same as "nig-ro". It's more of a tomato/tom-ah-to thing, at least in some areas of the States.

Also in that area, Missouri is sometimes "Missour-ah", California is sometimes "Cali-for-nee", and Iran is "Eye-ran". Just regional pronunciation differences.
posted by Houstonian at 6:15 PM on March 19, 2009


Eye-talian doesn't bother me. It's just a regional pronunciation.
posted by Zambrano at 6:16 PM on March 19, 2009


(argh, I meant to italicize that first line, quoting Justinian... italicize, and not Eye-talicize... heh)
posted by Houstonian at 6:17 PM on March 19, 2009


That Busta Rhymes switch is hilarious.

Royce 5'9" mentioned he hung out with a bunch of Chaldeans who "might get mad / if you call 'em an Ay-Rab."
posted by paisley henosis at 6:23 PM on March 19, 2009


I would never have thought it a slur; I heard it growing up in Georgia, and I can't recall ever associating it with the sense of pejorative. I figured the pronunciation had to do with trying to say 'Italian' with a Southern accent, or by simply saying it faux-fancy because it's European. It's the way you would hear Jethro say it on The Beverly Hillbillies.

That's not to say it can't be offensive in other contexts, just that it's a shame if it is.
posted by troybob at 6:24 PM on March 19, 2009


What if I ordered a salad with eye-talian dressing? Would people assume I have some sort of hatred against Italian people?

Probably not, but I would probably assume you're a moron. Why, are you likely to ask for it that way? :-)

Put me in the "generally not offended" category, although don't blame me if I make certain conclusions about the speaker if there is an absence of other evidence...
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 6:24 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm from Ireland and find that bizarre. "Chinaman" was the first thing I thought of too.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:45 PM on March 19, 2009


What if I ordered a salad with eye-talian dressing? Would people assume I have some sort of hatred against Italian people?

Probably not, but I would probably assume you're a moron.


I would assume the same thing. Pronouncing it like that just doesn't make any sense to me.
posted by The Monkey at 6:56 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think that these pronunciations express that the person saying them is racist, rather pronouncing 'Italian' as eye-talian is just plain ignorant. And being part Italian, I wouldn't necessarily take offense by it I'd just be a bit annoyed. If someone was trying to be funny then hell, those references really are kinda comical in the right context.
posted by arizona80 at 7:03 PM on March 19, 2009


As someone who is mostly Irish, I find no offense in "Irishman." Then again, for the last century or so we have been pretty well integrated and are a forgiving people. It is worth noting that Rosalie Maggio's The Bias-Free Word Finder/The Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage: A Guide to Nondiscriminatory Language cautions readers about the name of the van the police use to bring in multiple suspects simultaneously (say, from a riot): this should never be called by the doubly offensive name black maria, she says, but rather she advises us to call it a paddy wagon. It apparently does not occur to her that this might offend the Irish, but then again, it probably hasn't occurred to us either.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:17 PM on March 19, 2009


If you have to ask you should assume it is racist.
posted by RussHy at 7:27 PM on March 19, 2009


I am not Italian or Irish, I am American, but of half Irish and half Italian descent. You're presenting this question from an American perspective, right?

I don't think the pronunciation "eye-talian" or the word "Irishman" are inherently offensive. I think saying "eye-talian" sounds ignorant though (no offense to those who pronounce it that way because of regional colloquialisms, it's a visceral feeling I get--it sounds wrong). I do have friends who say it that way, but usually they are just being silly. For the record, I was born and raised (for the most part)--and currently live--in the Northeastern United States.

Irishman is just...the word for an Irish man, right? ...as yesno pointed out.

Like many words, if imbued with enough offensive intent I'm sure these two could become offensive. But they are not offensive in the way "mick" or "guinea" are offensive (and I don't think those terms even have the weight of epithets like "kike" and most certainly "nigger," but what do I know, I'm not of Jewish or African descent).

On preview, I saw this comment:

If you have to ask you should assume it is racist.

I think that is a dogmatically simplistic statement.
posted by dubitable at 7:37 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


she says, but rather she advises us to call it a paddy wagon. It apparently does not occur to her that this might offend the Irish, but then again, it probably hasn't occurred to us either.

For some reason, I have it fixed in my head that the term "Paddy Wagon" comes not from the implication that it's used (largely) to transport Irishmen, but from the stereotypical very strong Irish representation in (north-eastern) US police forces. Perhaps people find that implication just as insulting, but I see the difference between the name coming from the supposed-driver(s) versus the supposed-passenger(s).

Does that make sense?
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 7:38 PM on March 19, 2009


Oh, and in the interests of full disclosure - I'm an Italian-Irish Englishman.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 7:40 PM on March 19, 2009


Oh, please. Someone saying Eye-talian isn't offensive. It's a little bit ignorant (because the word is simply not pronounced that way), but not offensive. And "Irishman" is just plain correct.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:43 PM on March 19, 2009


I say "Eye-talian", but only when I prefix it with "Or perhaps".

And generally after having said "For he might have been a Roosian, a French, or Turk, or Proosian". But he remains an Englishman!
posted by orthogonality at 7:56 PM on March 19, 2009


From someone raised in the Northwoods of Minnesota, I can tell you that 'Italian' and 'Iran' are both pronounced beginning with 'eye' there. That's the way they are pronounced in my head when I'm reading. Even today, though I know not that it's not correct to say them that way, the right way doesn't sound right and takes a lot of of forethought to not say it incorrectly.

I guess my point is, that if your cultural identity is so weak (or strong?) that you get offended that someone mispronounces it, you may need to back the sensitivity of that one off of 11 (or something).

or, what troybob said.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:08 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The use of "Eye-talian" as a pronunciation of "Italian" in many Southern Dialects is due to the same syllabic emphasis as in words like "insurance" -> pronounced "EENsurance" (sorta...I don't have IPA on here).

This may sound "ignorant" to some people but I bet a lot of southern pronunciations sound ignorant to those people.

For example, my grandfather says "Shihcargo" for "Chicago" (an example of post-syllabic r-insertion) but it doesn't mean he hates that city or thinks they have more "cars" or "cargo" up there. It is the result of a regular phonemic rule (replicated in English dialects around the world...for example, many Australians do sentence final r-insertion).

That said, it seems that "eye-talian" could be used pejoratively, but this seems to be on a case by case basis, dependent on person, intent, and region. It isn't quite as clear cut as many other disparaging monikers like "spic" or "whop."
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:19 PM on March 19, 2009


Eye-talian is similar to nig-ro, a deliberate mispronunciation designed to show disrespect.

Um, cite? Again, some people simply mispronounce things. Also, the (in this case racist) mispronunciation in the Ozarks isn't nig-ro, it's ni-gra.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:25 PM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


For the record, my grandfather was Sicilian and he moved to St. Louis as a teenager. He (at least later in life) said "eye-talian". But he also said a lot of words funny, like ter-lit* and lye-berry**. If he were still alive and I told him about this conversation, he would have a good laugh and then probably say something that was actually racist.

*toilet
**library

posted by Thin Lizzy at 8:35 PM on March 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


That's not a good argument. People around her probably also said "nig-ro" for black people but that doesn't mean using that pronunciation now is appropriate.

What the hell are you talking about? This is a regional variation in pronunciation. I grew up in the Ozarks, and all my relatives love them some eye-talian dressing. It is how they pronounce the word--it can't really be "appropriate" or "inappropriate." Do you get upset when New Englanders pahk their cahs?

Look, people in the Ozarks talk funny. They say "George Warshington," and "Wal-Mart's."

And unless there is a long and documented history of violence against Italian-Americans in the Ozarks (hint: there isn't), you might want to hold up on the rest of the comparison. That is fucked-up part of the country in many ways, with lynching and "sunset laws" only a generation in the past (and with Quantrill's raiders/race terrorists only a couple generations before that). Do you really think that the hillbilly inclination to begin words with long vowels is some sort of equivalent to that? Either you are just trying to be dramatic or you have a seriously perverted understanding of how analogies work.

I guess what I'm saying is that the Ozarks is fucked-up place with lots of racist people, and I don't think that long vowels are really the centerpiece of that problem.

------

I don't think that these pronunciations express that the person saying them is racist, rather pronouncing 'Italian' as eye-talian is just plain ignorant.

Why draw the line there? Isn't it ignorrant to say "Italian" instead of whatever the word is in the Italian language? There isn't a schwa vowel sound in Italy, right? Then aren't 99% of Americans "ignorrant" when they pronounce it "uhtalian"?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:48 PM on March 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


I can tell you that 'Italian' and 'Iran' are both pronounced beginning with 'eye' there.

Wait. Have I been saying Eye-ran wrong my whole life?
posted by niles at 8:51 PM on March 19, 2009


Wait. Have I been saying Eye-ran wrong my whole life?

Yes, and on purpose, with malicious intent. Haven't you been reading the thread?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:56 PM on March 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


I wonder the same about "Jew."

Err on the side of caution.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:05 PM on March 19, 2009


There isn't a schwa vowel sound in Italy, right? Then aren't 99% of Americans "ignorrant" when they pronounce it "uhtalian"?

"uhtalian?" You mean I've been pronouncing it wrong too? I thought it was properly "ih-talian" (with the first syllable spoken like the short "i" sound in "is").

By the way, you, um, spelt "ignorant" wrong.
posted by dubitable at 9:09 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow - you learn something new everyday. I looked it up, and it is in fact Ih-ran, not Eye-ran. I'm going to have to listen for other people's usage now, because I don't know that I've ever heard it the proper way, discounting perhaps radio and TV. Another regional variation, I guess.

weird.
posted by niles at 9:09 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


My relatives live in the Ozarks, and yes, Eye-talian is meant as a slur. Of course it is. They willfully mispronounce all kinds of things, including the names of people; they don't like. I've never heard one of them say Eye-taly. It's a semi-subtle put-down.

It's like saying it's okay to call Ozarkers stupid hillbillies because it's a regional variant. Which it is in many places outside of the Ozarks and the Appalachians. Never mistake common usage for acceptable language.
posted by clarkstonian at 9:10 PM on March 19, 2009


As almost everyone above has already said: "Irishman" is a bit quirky, but not offensive, but "Eye-talian" has always been pejorative in my experience.

With one common exception: Native Spanish speakers from Latin America speaking English are bound to say eye-taly by accident, and so eye-talian by extension. In those cases it's pretty clearly not meant as a slur, but then again Latin Americans don't seem to do much racial slurring to begin with, so maybe I give them more credit there.

(Most Latinos I know think we Norteamericanos are waaay too uptight and crazy about the whole race deal, and will blithely call their friends the equivalent of "whitey" or "little darkie" endearingly.)
posted by rokusan at 9:32 PM on March 19, 2009


By the way, you, um, spelt "ignorant" wrong.

You, um, spelled "spelled" wrong*.

"uhtalian?" You mean I've been pronouncing it wrong too? I thought it was properly "ih-talian" (with the first syllable spoken like the short "i" sound in "is").

Well, is there an "ih" sound in Italian? And as you may have noticed, it's a very common feature of spoken American English (especially in the midwest) to basically pronounce all short vowels as a bit of schwa sound. Now, one can get all upset that they are "wrong," but I want to know if they are all racists.

And of course I wouldn't say you've been pronouncing it "wrong"--that's the damn point! It is hilarious that so many people here think it is so obvious that the arbitrary line of "proper" pronunciation is located just beyond their particular dialect. I strongly urge you to avoid anyone speaking a pidgin, lest you get the vapors.

*Previously I would have attributed that to regional/national variation, but I have learned on this thread that the whole notion is hogwash. Plus, you identify yourself as American upthread, right?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:35 PM on March 19, 2009


"Eye-talian" has always been pejorative in my experience.

This is just incredible to me. I'm not trying to argue with your experience, but I do want to point out that many people have had different experiences.

I seriously didn't know a single person in my parents' generation growing up who pronounced the word any other way than "eye-talian." I also never particularly remember talking about Italian people at all. This was a word exclusively used (in everyday contexts) to describe a kind of salad dressing. Ozarkers are not a people who are perjorative about salad dressing. If they are going to have to eat vegetables, they are damn happy to be soaking them in oil.

I think people are ascribing all kinds of intent that isn't there, and I am genuinely puzzled by the whole thing. It's just a vowel sound.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:41 PM on March 19, 2009


I seriously didn't know a single person in my parents' generation growing up who pronounced the word any other way than "eye-talian."

I believe that. My parents (midwest) also said it that way, and I didn't take it as pejorative then.

But in hindsight, they also cautioned me to stay away from the darkies and be careful not to get ripped off by those jews and other such things that seemed perfectly fine to me at the time. And their entire social circle was white middle class. Races didn't mingle, let alone mix, in that generation, so using casual insulting terms for "outsiders" wasn't seen as harmful.

Also, I'm not saying there aren't perfectly innocent (merely ignorant) reasons to mispronounce it, though I don't know how one could get it so consistently wrong by accident.
posted by rokusan at 9:52 PM on March 19, 2009


In re-reading the thread, Ay-rab for Arab is the most perfect parallel.

(Yeah, my parents said that too. For such educated folks, they sure picked some particular words to pronounce funny.)
posted by rokusan at 9:54 PM on March 19, 2009


...though I don't know how one could get it so consistently wrong by accident.

Look, the point I think that Ignatius is trying to make is that it's not consistently wrong. My Sicilian grandfather, mentioned upthread wasn't a self-loathing Italian-American, he was an Italian man learning English from the people around him who were his friends and neighbors. He wasn't the type to run around correcting everyone in South City insisting that it was really pronounced E-TAL-E-IAH-NO! He didn't watch the Food Network and he wasn't particularly well traveled so he learned the dialect he was immersed in.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 10:06 PM on March 19, 2009


Also, I'm not saying there aren't perfectly innocent (merely ignorant) reasons to mispronounce it, though I don't know how one could get it so consistently wrong by accident.

I think we're just gonna keep going back to the word "wrong." That's just the way people say it. Why isn't "lobstah" or "idear" or, as Mayor Daley would say, "sassage" wrong?

My parents and their friends were all racists as well, but as someone who grew up in the Ozarks I often find it difficult to explain that notions of "white ethnicity" are generally not applicable in many rural areas without (at least a history of) immigrant/ethnic communities.

Believe me, I know that a majority of people in the Ozarks are racist. I know that as well as anyone. But in my experience race there is not as nuanced as it is in other regions or in real metropolitan areas. White people are "white." Black people are "black." Latino people are "Mexican." Asian-American people are "Chinese." (Please recognize that I understand how stupid this all is, but that doesn't make it not the case). The notion of hating on the Irish/Italian/Dutch/Whatever doesn't make much sense because there are no cultural differences. Pine Bluff, Arkansas does not have a little Italy (nor does Flippin, or Booger Hollow).

Ethnic division tends to come from tension between groups. No group, no tension. In the Ozarks, "being" Italian or Irish or whatever generally only manifests itself in what your surname is. But being white/black/etc. is visceral and is tied to a strong and still-present set of differences in people's identities and the region's history. It is not like New York or Cleveland or St. Louis, where there are actual ethnic communities and traditions.

Rokusan, I get what you're saying. My parents entire social circle was white lower-middle-class people, because they preferred to socialize with actual people who lived in their part of the country. Even if they were all total equalityheads, it wouldn't have changed the fact that our town was 100% white.

I think we're talking about correlation here, not causality. 100% of the pickup truck drivers I knew growing up were racists, that doesn't make trucks an inherent expression of racism. Nor tobacco chewing, nor protestantism, nor a love of chicken-fried steak, nor any of the other ubiquitous cultural touchstones of the region.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:32 PM on March 19, 2009


I'm Irish and Italian American. For "Irishman", I think that largely depends on context, although one wonders why an Irish or Irish American male must be described as an "Irishman". Is it necessary to the conversation or discussion? If not, it could be taken that it's being used as shorthand for some of the negative stereotypes associated with Irish people (drunken, stupid, slovenly, etc.)

As for "eye-talian" I can tell you that yes indeed many Italian people find it offensive, if it's a willful mispronunciation. As someone else said, the way some white racist people say Ay-rab instead of Arab is the closest correlation. However, I have come across people who say it that way just because they've always heard it that way or whatever, clearly not meaning anything bad by it. In those cases, I usually gently poke fun at the way they say it, and don't take offense at all. I think it might have been more of an insult in the early to mid twentieth century, because of people having more negative stereotypes about Italians at that time (involved with the Mafia, violent, crazy, etc.)
posted by katyggls at 11:01 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


James Joyce, that quintessential Irishman, used 'eyetallyano' in Ulyssess and meant it as a slur: The signor Brini from Summerhill, the eyetallyano, papal zouave to the Holy Father, has left the quay and gone to Moss street

And when I say 'quintessential Irishman' I am using one of my mother's favorite perjoratives. My family is 100% Sicilian American, and Mama was irrationally biased against the Irish -- though loved Joyce, go figure -- and definitely used the term "Irishman" perjoratively and with relish, adding a dollop of 'quintessential' for good measure. So, there you go.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:13 AM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Willful ignorance = malice. You can't call people "boy" just because that's what Grandpa called some people. Ignorance is a reason, not an excuse.

It's interesting to note that people rarely mispronounce the names of people/places/things they *like*.
posted by gjc at 3:18 AM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really love gyros, and whenever I go for Greek food I order a gyro. When I lived in Chicago, I learned to pronounce it "yeero" rather than "jayro" (as in gyroscope), because this is close to the Greek pronunciation. If you pronounced it "jayro" then you sounded like an ignorant doofus. Then I moved to Long Island. Every time I went to a different Greek restaurant and ordered a "yeero", I would have to do it at least twice, and every time I would eventually have the server repeat it as "jayro". At first I thought, "what kind of sorry excuses for Greek restaurants are these?" Then I went to a Greek festival at the Greek Orthodox Church, and ordered a "yeero" from Greek people who were giving directions to the kitchen in their native language of Greek, and THEY corrected my pronunciation to "jayro".

That's just how you say it in the New York area dialect of English. I can either walk around thinking everyone in this entire region is an idiot for it, or I can adapt my worldview a bit and consider who is pronouncing it and where they are from.
posted by kosmonaut at 3:27 AM on March 20, 2009


In the UK, 'irishman' doesn't - at least in my experience - seem to have any more overtones than 'englishman', 'welshman', 'scotsman' or 'frenchman'. But I almost never hear those terms used by younger people. They're pretty archaic now, used largely by people of my parents' generation, particularly Daily Mail journalists.

To a British ear, I think 'eye-talian' and 'aye-rab' are taken as just one of those quirks of regional American english that so often get discussed here. But I don't think 'eye-talian' comes across as pejorative, just sort of comically mispronounced.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:30 AM on March 20, 2009


I don't think a word can be racist; and I don't think it's possible to divine the motives or intentions of every person that ever has or ever will use a particular word or pronunciation of a word.

George Carlin summed up my feelings best on this:

There's a different group to get pissed off at you in this country for everything you're not supposed to say. Can't say fruit, can't say faggot, can't say queer, can't say nancy boy, can't say pansy. Can't say nigger, boogie, jig, jigaboo, skinhead, jungle bunny, moolie, moolinyon, or schvatzit. Can't say yid, heeb, zeed, kike, mackey, dago, guinea, wop, ginzo, greaser, greaseball, spic, beaner, oye, tiger, P.R., mick, donkey, turkey, limey, frog, squarehead, kraut, jerry, hun, chink, jap, nip, slope, slopehead, zip, zipperhead, gook... There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those words in and of themselves. They're only words. It's the context that counts. It's the user. It's the intention behind the words that makes them good or bad. The words are completely neutral. The words are innocent. I get tired of people talking about bad words and bad language. Bullshit! It's the context that makes them good or bad -- the context that makes them good or bad. For instance, you take the word "nigger." There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word "nigger" in and of itself. It's the racist asshole who's using it that you ought to be concerned about. We don't mind when Richard Pryer or Eddie Murphy say it. Why? Because we know they're not racist -- they're niggers! Context. Context. We don't mind their context because we know they're black. Hey, I know I'm whitey, the blue-eyed devil, paddy-o, fay gray boy, honkey, mother-fucker myself. Don't bother my ass. Their only words. You can't be afraid of words that speak the truth, even if it's an unpleasant truth, like the fact that there's a bigot and a racist in every living room and on every street corner in this country.
posted by koeselitz at 4:44 AM on March 20, 2009


Ignatius-

1- I said willful. Outright malice might be taking it too strongly, but "disregard" is certainly correct.

2- You are talking about things, we are talking about people. And the rhotic / non-rhotic pronunciations are generally accepted styles of pronunciation for the language as a whole. It's a whole 'nother thing to take a proper noun and mangle the pronunciation. It would be like calling you Iggs or Gus whether you liked it or not (my grandpa was also an Ignatius, and went by those names. just an example.). Same thing as the "folksy" people who insist upon giving nicknames. The speaker is deciding their preferences are worth more than the preferences of the person they are referring to. It's a power play, albeit a minor and relatively common one.

-Hi, my name is Rob.
-Bobby, nice to meet you! So listen, Stretch, I'm going to need you to come in this Saturday.

3- Real Chicagoans say "SAUCE-idj" and "shi-CAW-go", not "SAH-sage" and "shi-CAHHH-go". That's how immigrants say it. No fooling- I've done informal research on this, and the longer one's family has been in the area, the more correctly they say it. Families that are one or two generation Chicagoans say it wrong, longer "pedigrees" say it right. And, not for nothing, that's how Daley says it.

4- Yawn? Thanks.
posted by gjc at 7:33 AM on March 20, 2009


You are talking about things, we are talking about people.

No, we're talking about adjectives, at least when it comes to Italian. And as Ignatius points out above, to the people in the Ozarks, 99% of the uses of the word "Eye-talian" are followed by dressing. It's absolutely nothing like calling an African-American "boy." It's more like calling Hawaii "Ha-WAI-ya" or calling the corn chips "tor-till-as." Again, we're talking about a place with no real history of Italian immigrants, and a place with a very real history of lynching African-Americans. To conflate the two is ridiculous.

If you want to argue that the moment that someone doesn't correct a lifetime of usage because they are referring to a person, it's a stand in for "dago," go ahead. We'll just have to disagree.

By the way, I don't deny that when someone who would say "Ih-talian dressing" suddenly whips out an "Eye-tie" (such as Archie Bunker or Sean Connery in The Untouchables), they're being insulting. Igantius and I are making the specific argument that in the Ozarks section of America, they talk funny and it's okay.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:01 AM on March 20, 2009


In my experience, the use of eye-talian is more of a class indicator than an indicator of racism. Most of this thread has read like bashing people based on class in the name of preventing people from being bashed on ethnicity.

It is a very strange thread.
posted by QIbHom at 9:02 AM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


furthermore, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian American, please!
posted by LilBucner at 10:35 AM on March 20, 2009


I'm Irish and don't like Irishman. It seems unnecessary, I can't really imagine a context in which it should be used.

To me, "Brian, an Irish man" is fine, whereas "Brian, an Irishman" is not. Does that make sense? One sounds like a valid description, the other sounds like a stereotype.

I think the use of eye-talian has been covered.
posted by knapah at 11:38 AM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


[few comments removed - this will go much better if you can stick to the question and not slag other posters or make your own "hurfdurf foreigners talk like THIS" jokes]
posted by jessamyn at 12:31 PM on March 20, 2009


I think we're talking about correlation here, not causality.

I'm with you, Ignatius, too. No offense taken.

My point was that (1) yes, when pronounced eye-talian it will often be taken as a racial slur and (2) a lot of us grew up hearing the word that way but not interpreting it that way... but that doesn't mean we should propagate the use now that we know better.

In other words: I can forgive my parents for not really thinking about it, given their background and surroundings. But I have no excuse, myself, unless I am willfully trying to sound racist.

And that's where I think we all are today. You can't put the genie back. The word, in that pronunciation, is poisoned. To use it today, one might as well be talking about all the dirty ay-rabs in eye-rack.

So while there's been a lot of sidetracking around by all parties in the thread (including me), a quick check against the original question asked by Ramithorn: Yes, it is true there are racial undertones to such things. Yes, some people will be offended.
posted by rokusan at 3:18 PM on March 20, 2009


I grew up in Boston with my father telling us he "fought in It-ly" during WWII. My grandfather described himself as an Irishman. I'd say in my neighborhood, "Eye-talian" was more of a transfer of pronunciation of "Eye-rish" to our neighbors rather than anything obviously racial.
posted by turnbill at 3:28 PM on March 23, 2009


In short:

There are a lot of terms that, to modern ears, sound either ignorant or quaint to modern ears because they've either been regional or fallen out of use. Maybe Irishman was a way to refer to someone who was Irish that fell out of favor at some point. To someone who's heard family members mention Eye-talian dressing his whole life, it's not going to sound out of place.

But use of either term in mixed company, in an area where you're actually likely to have met someone Irish or Italian, or to have been exposed to a realistic portrayal in television, theater, or on the internet, will sound odd. Purposefully using an archaic term or pronunciation either means you're out of touch, ignorant, or malicious. I'd assume the first two before the third.
posted by mikeh at 9:36 AM on April 27, 2009


she says, but rather she advises us to call it a paddy wagon. It apparently does not occur to her that this might offend the Irish, but then again, it probably hasn't occurred to us either.

It's called a paddy wagon everywhere in Ireland.
posted by minifigs at 6:16 AM on April 28, 2009


It wasn't called paddy wagon where I grew up. (Co. Down)
posted by knapah at 6:51 AM on April 28, 2009


Maybe it's just the south then.
posted by minifigs at 8:37 AM on April 28, 2009


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