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September 17, 2012 5:48 AM   Subscribe

I have never used "Jew" as a verb. I no longer "welsh" on debts, and I haven't used "gyp" since I was educated on the racism behind that term. Do I also need to stop using terms like "Mexican standoff", "Chinese firedrill", and "kabuki dance" if I intentionally don't want to create offense to a reasonable person in another cultural group? I grew up in very homogeneous territory and so I'm still learning. Please school me. I love words, I love colorful language and descriptors, but I don't want to be an ass. Words matter.
posted by availablelight to Society & Culture (58 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you care about potentially creating offense I would say yes, you should avoid those terms. Think of it as an opportunity to come up with new and creative ways to get your point across.
posted by ghharr at 5:52 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You'll probably want to add Indian Giver to your list of terms.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:55 AM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


The first line of the wikipedia entry for "Chinese firedrill" states the following "A Chinese fire drill is a slang term that has been used by Westerners for more than a century, and is today considered offensive or racist." There are citations there for further reading. The entry for "Mexican standoff" makes no such claims of racism and by the looks of the entry on "Kabuki dance," the term is still in use.

I wouldn't use any of those terms. The fact that you're asking this question is a pretty good indicator that these sorts of terms are probably best left to the history books. Use your wonderful words to get the point across in another fashion.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:56 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


You'll probably want to add Indian Giver to your list of terms.

Already know that one. The three terms I mentioned are the only ones I've still found myself using on a rare occasion out of past habit (because I've heard them used by educated folks out in the open)--and I'm mindful enough to ask the question.
posted by availablelight at 5:59 AM on September 17, 2012


Kabuki dance is just the name of an actual kind of Japanese dance. How are you using it as a slang term? I've never heard it used in a way that could be considered offensive.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:00 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


A good rule is to avoid naming something after an ethnicity unless it is actually that ethnicity or relies on a stereotypical image.

You might wind up taking one or two not-technically-offensive useful terms off the table, but it seems wiser to me to find another way to refer to an artificially created organizational barrier than to say "Chinese wall" and risk contributing to the marginalization of a particular group (or to say "Chinese wall, which is by the way only a reference to the actual Great Wall of China and its impenetrability rather than to any inscrutable quality that racists might attribute to the Chinese." That seems like it could be distracting.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:01 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kabuki dance is just the name of an actual kind of Japanese dance. How are you using it as a slang term? I've never heard it used in a way that could be considered offensive.

Simile: more literal, like two people doing the back and forth around trying to leave through the same door at the same time; it is also used to describe some diplomatic discussions/behaviors.
posted by availablelight at 6:02 AM on September 17, 2012


Yes, I personally do avoid these words.

It's also worth being mindful that there are also some words with very different meanings between two cultures -- "spaz" is generally considered a mild insult in the US, but that's very much not the case for people from the UK.
posted by pie ninja at 6:03 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Er, I meant "A good rule is to avoid naming something after an ethnicity unless it is actually that ethnicity, and avoid anything that relies on a stereotypical image of a group of people. "

Also worth mentioning the "insider rule" - if you're a member of that group, you've got a lot more leeway, but it doesn't sound like you perceive yourself to be a member of any marginalized groups.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:03 AM on September 17, 2012


As a white person who says stupid stuff accidentally on a fairly regular basis, my maxim is "when in doubt, don't". Very occasionally, this has led me to a little bit of over-correction, but in general it's been a good guide, and when I have ignored my little feeling of "ooh, probably shouldn't say/do/play/wear this" I have almost invariably made a fool of myself.

So yes, I think your instincts are correct. All those phrases are going to strike some people as being - at least - in very poor taste.

Good for you for being open to changing your habits. I certainly know plenty of people who insist on using the dubious phrases of their childhood and blaming others for being "sensitive". I know sometimes we grow up feeling those phrases as neutral (it took me years to realize that "running around like wild indians" had actual racial content, because it was just this sort of phatic thing that my grandmother said when she wanted to get the kids to slow down and be quieter), so it can be tricky, slap-your-hand-over-your-mouth-partway-through stuff the first couple of times you're trying to stop.
posted by Frowner at 6:09 AM on September 17, 2012


I don't think there are any strict rules about this, and a lot will depend on context. "Kabuki dance" and "Chinese wall" refer to real things and serve a useful purpose as metaphors. I have trouble believing anyone could seriously find either of them offensive. Your other examples are based on unfortunate ethnic stereotypes and are best avoided, although I doubt "Mexican standoff" is going to bother anyone from outside the Americas.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:10 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


What about terms based on disabilities? "Retarded" is the one that most thoughtful people have now stopped using (if they ever did), but how about "lame," "dumb," "moron," "spaz/spazzing out," or even "idiot"?

Do you ever, under any circumstances, refer to someone who is not a female canine as a "bitch" or use phrases like "bitch them out" or "bitchslap"?

Do you know what a douche is, and why some people might find it offensive to use as a label? Lily Tomlin thinks it's offensive because it equates a person (usually a guy) with something that women only used because guys told them there was something wrong with the way they smelled and preyed on women's insecurities. Personally, I think it's appropriate: a douchey guy is convinced that women need him, but in reality he is not only unnecessary but potentially harmful ;)
posted by Madamina at 6:11 AM on September 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Do I also need to stop using terms like "Mexican standoff", "Chinese firedrill", and "kabuki dance" if I intentionally don't want to create offense to a reasonable person in another cultural group?

Short answer: yes.

Slightly longer, but still short answer: 'Intentionally' and 'reasonable' are two things that not everyone will agree on, and this is a big part of where conflicts arise.
posted by box at 6:13 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


The kabuki phrase is odd. On one hand, kabuki theater is, historically, colorful and elaborate. On the other hand, the intended audience and most frequent users of this phrase probably don't know much about different kinds of traditional Japanese theater, and are using the phrase to mean "that incomprehensible foreign gobbledygook." And that's rather Eurocentrically dismissive of other countries' art forms. I would avoid the phrase strategically. It's a common and easy cliche, and it's tacky even if it wasn't questionable.
posted by Nomyte at 6:17 AM on September 17, 2012


I guess for me the most practical concern is that if you use dated, racialized language you're going to create the impression among a significant number of people that you're clueless and have no gift for language. And that's going to get in the way in business and in socializing. I've definitely been in situations where someone has seemed all slick and then they've broken out "Oriental" or some other phrase now considered in poor taste and moderately racist and it's really created an awkward climate in the room. And then that person has a strike against them - now, many of those people are perfectly decent people, but it's something where they have something to prove right away which they would not have had if they'd been more astute about language.

Honestly, since "Chinese wall" and "Kabuki dance" seem most likely to be used in a professional context, I myself would drop them as well. Why run the risk of seeming a bit off at work?

I don't think it's smart to use "reasonable person" as your bar - because as a white person you often won't have a good fix on what the "reasonable person" in another racial or cultural group is thinking. And you won't routinely be immersed in that culture and thus won't pick up an organic sense of what's okay.

It's one of those things where the best practice is to err on the side of caution and not get too worked up about it.
posted by Frowner at 6:22 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't see anything inherently offensive in "Mexican standoff." The question I'd ask would be, does a given term associate a negative trait or behavior with a particular ethnicity or demographic group? Welsh, Jew, Gyp, Indian giver, spaz, retard... all of these are clearly problematic. But as Wikipedia puts it, A Mexican standoff is most precisely a confrontation among three opponents. What's the problem there?

My jury is still out on Kabuki. I have negative associations with Kabuki when it's used in reference to American politics, and I know the term has Japanese origins, but none of my negative associations with it extend to the Japanese.
posted by jon1270 at 6:22 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nomyte, I always interpreted 'kabuki dance' to mean 'highly stylized and ritualized' - not 'that incomprehensible foreign gobbledygook' - isn't that how most people take it?
posted by scolbath at 6:22 AM on September 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


Stop using words and terms like that. I love words as well and never use those phrasings. I can never even mention the DC football team by their name because I feel embarrassed if that kind of term came out of my mouth, even if it is the real name of the team. It just makes a person look dumb.
posted by discopolo at 6:24 AM on September 17, 2012


This recent question may be of some help...
posted by 8dot3 at 6:28 AM on September 17, 2012


"Linkee no workee." Or other variations of, "No tickee no laundlee."
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:33 AM on September 17, 2012


[A couple of comments deleted; this will work best if everyone just answers the question to the best of their ability, and doesn't argue other answers or pose their own rhetorical questions. It's okay to try to pin something down if you have more info, but this shouldn't turn into a chat or a lot of people offering their singular personal opinion of whether something is/isn't offensive. As always, citations help.]
posted by taz at 6:35 AM on September 17, 2012


The Wiktionary entry for "Mexican Standoff" is interesting, it arose from a misunderstanding in Australia that the Confederate States were trying to join Mexico, so when a CSN privateer tried to repair and refit in an Australian port, the local police came out to prevent it putting to sea again. This caused the captain to train his cannon on the city... but the cannon at the local fort were in turn trained on it.

It also says it can cause offense to those of Mexican heritage, so don't use it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:35 AM on September 17, 2012


Nomyte, I always interpreted 'kabuki dance' to mean 'highly stylized and ritualized' - not 'that incomprehensible foreign gobbledygook' - isn't that how most people take it?

Same here. I don't use the term, but generally interpret it the same way, except with an emphasis on the theater, bit - highly stylized, ritualistic and ultimately for the sake of appearance only. However, when in doubt, leave it out.

Now, 'open the kimono' is a phrase I've always disliked and probably falls into the distasteful/unnecessary category.
posted by jquinby at 6:38 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I use the term Kabuki to reference either the Japanese art form or to mean, "stylized, ritualized or possibly pre-determined movement for show" if used with another term. I have never associated that term as a racial slur against the Japanese. Now, "Jap" or "Chink", I do find offensive but that is using a term to infantalize or purposely not give enough consideration of proper term usage. Now "Viet" is acceptable in my circles for the short hand of Vietnamese but frankly, older history books use the term, "Viet", as a proper noun.
posted by jadepearl at 6:40 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now, 'open the kimono' is a phrase I've always disliked and probably falls into the distasteful/unnecessary category.

I came in here to mention this. I'm not sure whether I find it offensive because of the cultural overtones or because the people using it are inevitably work colleagues and it feels gross to think about them opening a kimono or really any clothing at all...probably both. But I detest it to the point of it making me physically recoil.
posted by sallybrown at 6:47 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's welch on a debt, FWIW.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 6:51 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Same here. I don't use the term, but generally interpret it the same way, except with an emphasis on the theater, bit - highly stylized, ritualistic and ultimately for the sake of appearance only.

Hi, I already responded to this, but another comment I was responding to was deleted along with my response.

Consider: is "kabuki" ever used in a positive context? I mean, actual kabuki theater is enjoyed by connoisseurs and respected by laypeople. Browsing through Google News, I only see it referring to Congressional wrangling and diplomatic machinations. YMMV.
posted by Nomyte at 6:53 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


yeah, we refer to the painfully slow, ritual-looking style of fighting that our cats do as "kabuki," and I think that is really very descriptive, captures the reality of it (that they're putting on an elaborate display, not having a real fight) better than a long-winded description -- they really raise a paw, reach it forward stiffly, then pull it back without making contact, etc. much like the style of acting that characterizes kabuki. this feels like a useful invocation of a metaphor; if you only used it when referring to, say, negotiation with a Japanese company (and their to-you-incomprehensible social rituals), then it would be offensive. but just knowing about an invoking an analogy to a particular theatrical form doesn't seem inherently offensive to me.

of course, if you feel uncertain in this department, then making a clean break from all such referents could be the best short-term plan, until you better trust your own judgement in these matters.
posted by acm at 6:56 AM on September 17, 2012


Well, it can't hurt to do this! Just try and be as aware as you can. No-one is passing ultimate judgment on you ...
posted by carter at 6:57 AM on September 17, 2012


If you're concerned about giving offense (which you should be, imo), you'll also probably want to avoid the phrase "call a spade a spade." This link explains its non-offensive origins, but indicates that its unfortunate association with a racial slur renders it volatile today.
posted by jph at 6:59 AM on September 17, 2012


It's welch on a debt, FWIW.

Both ‘welsh’ and ‘welch’ have been commonly used, and while the etymology is not 100% percent certain, there is certainly enough perceived connection with Wales to make its usage offensive. See this discussion and refererences therein.
posted by pont at 6:59 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Midget" is very offensive. "Dwarf" or "little person" are acceptable. ("Midget" was coined by P.T. Barnum in 1895 to describe a little person whose proportions were closer to "normal.") This is just one of the ways language has changed; when I was growing up "dwarf" was considered rude and used only by white trash.

White trash was a very specific term referring to people who were dirty, lazy, crude and rude -- anybody could be white trash, including the Japanese family who lived down the street who hung sheets instead of curtains and never mowed their lawn.

Also, at least in our home, "cotton-pickin'" had no racial or economic overtones. It referred to the quick grabbing motions used to pick cotton; if you picked up something belonging to someone else, they'd say "Keep your cotton-pickin' hands off my book" and you'd make comic crab-like grabby motions at them. We were just one generation away from picking cotton, so that may be why my parents saw it so specifically.

Another word that I used to use -- until my adult children insisted I change -- is "Oriental." How is that word any more racist than "Asian"? I've stopped using it, but if anyone has an explanation I'd like to hear it. The Mysterious Orient vs. Asia; I just can't see the fine line between them. If you have an explanation I'd like to hear it.
posted by kestralwing at 7:05 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the key factor is "create offense to a reasonable person in another cultural group" (emphasis added) There is no need to cater to the unreasonable.

In evaluating this issue, I think the factor is if the expression is somehow based upon an inaccurate or unfair stereotype. There is an *actual* wall (series of walls, for you pedants) in China that is of some note, so it is hard to imagine how a reasonable person could object to its use as a metaphor. (one that is used fairly often in the legal profession)

I've attended my fair share of kabuki and do not see what could be offensive about "kabuki dance", although I had frankly never heard of it as an English metaphor until this thread. Based on how it appears the metaphor is used, I think that "Noh" would be the more appropriate term. Again, the dance is what is being described, not an inaccurate stereotype.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:15 AM on September 17, 2012


If your goal is to be as clear as possible without inadvertently sticking your foot in your mouth and/or offending people, then yes you should stop using terms that rely on outdated stereotypes of people from other nationalities. Being resistant to this is normal, but it's also a marker of the inadvertent privilege you have in being able to use these terms without the fear of getting your ass kicked or otherwise creating a situation that is problematic for you in a social setting. The world is full of colorful terms that don't rely on the relative statuses of differing ethnic and cultural groups and finding these terms can be like trying to find good swear-type words to use around eight year olds, a challenge in and of itself.

How is that word any more racist than "Asian"? I've stopped using it, but if anyone has an explanation I'd like to hear it. The Mysterious Orient vs. Asia; I just can't see the fine line between them. If you have an explanation I'd like to hear it.

Not to derail, but this is a very Googleable question. I'd suggest starting here or here if you're interested in the academicky approach (Said's entire book is worth a read if you enjoy that sort of thing)
posted by jessamyn at 7:15 AM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Cheers, Pont. Happy to stand corrected.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 7:15 AM on September 17, 2012


Agreeing with "retarded" and "lame", and adding "crazy", which I am trying hard to remove from my own vocab at the moment.

A nearly-related recommendation that's helped me--knowing about the stereotypes of cultures of folks you're likely to interact with can help you avoid using them accidentally. (As a teen, I caused great offense to a Jewish friend by saying how good he was with money, when I was thinking of his retail experience and knew nothing of the stereotype.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:17 AM on September 17, 2012


If you have to ask whether something is offensive, it probably is (or it probably creates a high enough risk of offending to be worth avoiding).
posted by J. Wilson at 7:57 AM on September 17, 2012


Another word that I used to use -- until my adult children insisted I change -- is "Oriental." How is that word any more racist than "Asian"?

Oriental refers to objects and Asian refers to people. From my understanding this is mostly in the context of America. My Chinese-British friends have a different usage for Asian and Oriental.
posted by cazoo at 8:03 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would love a non-ethnic substitute for Chinese wall other than "procedures to ensure that persons working on the Martin case do not access materials from the Fancy Co. matter."
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:30 AM on September 17, 2012


You probably are already not using ghetto. Please continue not doing so.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:30 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would love a non-ethnic substitute for Chinese wall other than "procedures to ensure that persons working on the Martin case do not access materials from the Fancy Co. matter."

Firewall.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:34 AM on September 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Today on the nytimes.com front page: 'When quotations can be unilaterally taken back, the political Kabuki is all but complete, David Carr writes."
posted by Nomyte at 8:39 AM on September 17, 2012


"Would love a non-ethnic substitute for Chinese wall other than "procedures to ensure that persons working on the Martin case do not access materials from the Fancy Co. matter."

Stonewalling. Role based security. Silos.
posted by RogueTech at 8:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I always have trouble using the term "Reverse Polish Notation" because it just sounds like it should be derogatory, and many audiences will automatically interpret it as such.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:54 AM on September 17, 2012


American of Mexican descent here. I personally don't find the useage of "Mexican Standoff" to be offensive. But then again, I like to call myself a Beaner.
posted by luckynerd at 9:08 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


A reminder: I'm not looking for more ideas on things not to say. I do not need to be told not to use "retard", Indian giver", "spade", etc. Assume some baseline of education and sensitivity. As mentioned upthread:

Already know that one. The three terms I mentioned are the only ones I've still found myself using on a rare occasion out of past habit (because I've heard them used by educated folks out in the open)--and I'm mindful enough to ask the question.

Also: I never said "Chinese Wall"--that was brought up by a respondent. I said, "Chinese fire drill" (which the consensus seems to be is racist, so that one's off the table...thanks--and to show how common this level of ignorance can be, here's an astronomy writer using it.).
posted by availablelight at 9:18 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Being resistant to this is normal, but it's also a marker of the inadvertent privilege you have in being able to use these terms without the fear of getting your ass kicked or otherwise creating a situation that is problematic for you in a social setting.

Jesus Christ--I'm not resistant. I've lived--intentionally--in diverse communities where I've been willing to be schooled on these kinds of issues since I was 16. That's why I'm asking this (and the last time I used any of these was probably 2010, but if people want to make me a strawperson for the clueless whitey who is more clueless than their own white self, go for it--this is the internet).

I stopped using "Oriental" after I read Edward Said in high school, so again, let's go forward in good faith assuming I'm not one of your own stereotypes.
posted by availablelight at 9:28 AM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Chinese firedrill - Definitely racist. Don't use this.

Mexican standoff - The hivemind seems to be suggesting that it isn't racist, but I think this is a "when in doubt" situation. I'd avoid it. (And, honestly, how often does it come up in normal conversation anyway?)

Kabuki dance - Not necessarily racist, but not exactly culturally sensitive. I'd avoid this. "Hallway dance" or something like that would probably be a reasonable substitute.

Essentially, all of these phrases can be replaced with something else and should be avoided. "Chinese firedrill" is definitely the worst, so I'd drop that one immediately and work on dropping the others as quickly as possible, too.
posted by asnider at 9:28 AM on September 17, 2012


[Folks, OP has clarified what they are and are not looking for here, please don't start side arguments about other words they are not asking about, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2012


I'm not exactly understanding what you use Kabuki as a metaphor for currently, so this might be off, but as an editor I always blue-pencil "Kabuki" when "theater" would do exactly as well. David Carr's article is a perfect example of this.

You say "Kabuki dance" in your example, so maybe another form of highly stylized dance, like ballet or minuet or even square dance might be an equally good metaphor?
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:50 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jesus Christ--I'm not resistant.

Using "Jesus Christ!" as an exclamation in a non-religious context is considered offensive in the south (and perhaps in other Christian-centric regions).
posted by Wordwoman at 9:50 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do I also need to stop using terms like "Mexican standoff", "Chinese firedrill", and "kabuki dance" if I intentionally don't want to create offense to a reasonable person in another cultural group?

It's hard to tell exactly what "terms like" these three would consist of, since the third is quite a bit different from the first two. So that might be why people are bringing up ones that you don't find relevant.

I don't see a reason to go through this on a case by case basis so much. If you are using a saying that involves a term of ethnicity or nationality ("Mexican" or Chinese") to describe something, do you know precisely what that saying means? Then you can use other language. (You will also likely have some idea if it might be derogatory.) If you are using words without knowing what they mean, then you are indeed apt to get in trouble. I suspect most people using the term "Chinese fire drill" have not stopped to think about what it means and that is a pretty big tipoff to not say it.

As for "kabuki"--are there a lot of terms people use the way people in the US use this one? Personally I find this kind of a tired usage anyway and another place where you might as well say what you really mean.
posted by BibiRose at 10:26 AM on September 17, 2012


I'm not entirely sure now what the remit is here. Original question was:
Do I also need to stop using terms like "Mexican standoff", "Chinese firedrill", and "kabuki dance"...
which I parsed as "these specific terms, and other similar ones". Then someone mentioned "Chinese wall" (to my mind, quite similar to and less offensive than "Chinese fire drill"), and OP protested that
I never said "Chinese Wall"--that was brought up by a respondent
So, was the question specifically about those three phrases only? In that case, I think they've been covered adequately and we're done here. If not, it would be good to have a more concrete definition of exactly what we're looking for.

(Aside: whether or not it's actually within the scope of the question, I'd agree with Wordwoman that "Jesus Christ!" as exclamation, and variants thereof, are probably going to offend a lot of people.)
posted by pont at 10:39 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, if the question is only about those specific three terms, then:

For "Chinese firedrill" use either "chaos" or "pointless exercise," depending on what you're currently using "Chinese firedrill" for.

For "Kabuki dance" use either "theater" or "ballet", depending on what you're currently using "Kabuki dance" for.

For "Mexican standoff" use either "stalemate" or "mutually assured destruction," depending on what you're currently using "Mexican standoff" for.

Note that all of these are somewhat ambiguous metaphors in the first place, so even apart from the not wanting to be rude bit, you're probably better advised not to use them if you want to be clear.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:21 PM on September 17, 2012


Oddly, I've somehow associated Kabuki Dance (alternatively, Kabuki Theatre) with an elaborate event/contest with a pre-determined outcome. So, those terrible birth control hearing in Congress, for example. Mexican standoff... yeah, definitely doesn't sound flattering though I recall it originating in (or at the very least featuring heavily in) The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

I have to say, 'Gyp' to me was always 'gip'. Just some funny word that meant you felt let down or taken advantage of, I'm rather horrified to have finally learned its actual spelling/root.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:15 PM on September 17, 2012


I live in a predominantly Latino region of the USA and I have never heard the phrase "Mexican standoff" before in my life. Clearly people down here are avoiding it. So don't use it because those of us born and bred in e.g. southern California are not exposed to it at all and will think you're a. saying total nonsense and b. probably racist.

I've never actually heard anyone use "Chinese firedrill" either, but I have heard "Well, that was quite the fucking firedrill." Ultimately most fire drills are chaotic and ridiculous wastes of time without bringing China into it.
posted by town of cats at 2:56 PM on September 17, 2012


Would you say "Mexican standoff" or "kabuki dance" if any of the participants were actually Mexican or Japanese, respectively? If no, then don't use them at all, because even if you're intending to be sensitive, it's not great to have a baseline expectation that there will be no Mexican or Japanese people involved in your conversations.

In terms of "Asian" vs. "Oriental": the problem is that "Oriental" means "to the East," which establishes Europe as the frame of reference in the language, while Asia is actually the name of the continent. People from Asia aren't from "East of here," they're from HERE, where "here" is Asia.
posted by KathrynT at 4:25 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


In terms of "Asian" vs. "Oriental": the problem is that "Oriental" means "to the East," which establishes Europe as the frame of reference in the language, while Asia is actually the name of the continent. People from Asia aren't from "East of here," they're from HERE, where "here" is Asia.

It is little surprise that Europe is the frame of reference for a European language. Chinese refer to themselves as living in the "central country/state" (中国) while Japanese proclaim their nation as the "source of the sun" (日本) based upon the islands' eastern location. I do not see any problem with Asia being the frame of reference for Asian languages or Europe being the frame of reference for European languages.

I can only imagine how Eurocentric the maps you use are. Heaven forfend.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:47 AM on September 18, 2012


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