Let’s Cut the Rebop

Must the sensibilities of the fragile transform American English into an insipid language?

Our plummet through political correctness threatens rendering how we speak into mamby-pamby.

Several weeks ago, a very conscientious article ran decrying colloquialisms whose origins the author deemed racially-charged. Why, yes. Some were. What of them?

If the writing behind the subject had been any more earnest, the page would’ve wept. Since publication date sat so close to April 1st, I made sure the piece wasn’t a seasonal gag, a la some Borowitz satire.

Were that it was. Such would’ve elevated the article into clever entertainment rather than leave it low at honest persuasion. But since it was so doggone sincere, the views expressed so achingly put, that made this righteous tripe ripe for scorn.

The point the article intended was that over time a number of common phrases and words have assumed sinister connotations. If these have, they’ve only done so because our era prefers haze to clarity; gentle meandering to the short and sharp.

While I must commend the author for uncovering the geneses behind what currently “offends,” equal castigation is due for so blithely dismissing the history of what violates current fashion. Our language reflects our heritage. To deny that whites out significant portions from whence we’ve progressed. Insisting otherwise may as well allow the false claim of our own self-invention.

Naturally the piece’s writer is a Millennial. The first generation of Americans who’d have wiser heads believe theirs is the one without any antecedents. Let them tell it and they’ll swear they’re self-created.
We’ve all risen thanks only to climbing on others’ shoulders. Guess that basic lesson isn’t taught in schools any more.

Mind, the contention doesn’t consist of recognized slurs. Instead, what demands caution, no, self-editing, are American English’s more innocuous locutions. If any have become noxious, as the author suggests, they’ve only become so from facile comprehension of an unchallenged generation.

Owing to who knows, emojis, texted messages rife with abbreviations, video games, Millennials threaten to be the first Americans whose linguistic skills have deteriorated. That includes the initial waves of Colonials. Roughly hewn as those Europeans were, a generally solid grounding in Scripture and its interpretations exercised their intellect and flexed their tongues.

Until recently, Americans spoke and honed our English as a means to advance, not just get by. We not only lent English urgency, but pungency as well. Our brevity often included sizzle.

Among the phrases proposed for quarantine are “long time, no see,” “shuck and jive,” and “no can do.” How the hell did “no tickee, no shirtee” avoid censure?

“Shuck and jive” raised outrage after a failed politician and middling ideologue directed it at President Obama. What ought have raised ire was her misuse.

In the matter she intended ridiculing, the president gave a cogent response. Unfortunately, his critic misunderstood him, his eloquence. She misheard him and must’ve thought Amos or Andy or the Kingfish stood at the lectern. Somehow to her ear Barack Obama had become the Second Coming of Dr. Jive. That was her problem. One she compounded. But American focus having lapsed, her ignorance got a pass while her usage sucked up all the noise.

By the way, “shuck and jive” derives from our slavery era. The reverse of the same coin that gave black spirituals deep resonance, that the slaves’ harsh toil would be rewarded in blissful afterlife, the action referenced eased backbreaking labor by limning it with humor.

Don’t the oppressed of every culture resort to the same tactic in order to somewhat lighten their earthly burden? Only we’ve derided a method of relief.

Upon reading that “long time, no see” and “no can do” reached the proscribed list, I wondered how had this edict been in effect during the Depression and World War II what Warner Brothers movies might’ve sounded like. These movies expressed big city pace and attitudes.

Unlike films which championed rural values (whatever the hell those are) and thought nothing of chewing the fat over the most trivial matters, Warner Brothers presented characters who might’ve sounded rude. They weren’t. They were just in a hurry. Discourse and disquisition were curt. The two succinct should-be prohibited phrases aptly present this.

Naturally both harken back to the New World’s downtrodden: Native Americans and Chinese immigrants. The latter comes from coolie laborers pidgin English, the former the distilled utterance of a no-doubt noble redskin.

Perhaps the people being rescued from such linguistic perfidies might’ve been consulted beforehand.

Otherwise the two examples encompass good speech. They’re concise. While life presents plenty of opportunities for florid oration, greeting a familiar who’s been notably absent and flat-out stating a task can’t be performed don’t require soaring into Shakespearean heights.

Why bend ears unnecessarily?

Across the course of the last several electoral cycles “thug” has emerged as the “socially acceptable” way of saying nigger. Or so it’s been agreed and reported. Hearing what passes as rap these days, and listening to the young aping those lyrics while applying them to themselves, it sounds like blurting nigger is quite acceptable on many social levels.

Amazing how what was once so corrosive has become a casual term of endearment. Without a doubt Dr. King and Malcolm X would be astounded at our society’s progress.

Actually thinking about it wouldn’t “hood” substitute more accurately for thug? Thug, short for thuggee, may be too refined for those superpredatory menaces besieging their own communities.

The original thugs belonged to what we’d probably regard as an Indian thrill-kill cult; in India, an association of professional assassins. Thuggee abominations had specific purposes and religious overtones higher than those of the dead-enders we’ve tagged their modern-day successors.

So “hood,” shortened from hoodlum, may suit better. After all, hood works on two levels. First, it reflects the malcontents’ and miscreants’ tastes for mayhem. Second, the sartorial plain. Hoods wear hoodies, right?

Naturally given American English’s elasticity, the author cited numerous other examples that over time now disparage this group or that historical period. Had the writer his way, gyp would join queer or retard in the never-pass-through-our-lips pile. And while it’s still okay to be sent up the river, no one will ever again be sold down that same river.

About the previous sentence’s second clause, slavery gave it birth. However, in the modern age we know it means being double-crossed. So in that sense shouldn’t this be retained for our use? Few, if any, today hear “sold down the river” and think a chattel family has been sundered.

This post’s title owes itself to The Wild One, a 1953 movie. Although celebrated for portraying aimless rebellion as cool (Q: “What are you rebelling against?” A: “Whadda you got?”), the Marlon Brando starrer also contributed a jazzy riposte to inane nicety and spineless going along to get along conformity.

The same flaccid strictures today’s linguistically too attuned seek to impose on us all.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Cut the Rebop”

  1. Hi Rex,
    I’m not on social media, so I went to this site to email a quick note about your comment on the article about the Sykes-Picot agreement. Rex Merritt : “This agreement wasn’t a secret. It was taught in colleges before our institutes of higher learning became Balkanized by trigger words and make ’em feel comfy revisionism.”

    There is a great book out now which discusses this agreement called Lawrence in Arabia, by Scott Anderson. Sykes-Picot was indeed very secret until it came to be known in 1916 by many French and British diplomats and officials. Some of the agreement was used in later agreements dividing up Arabia between France and GB, to allow their “influence” to be felt in those regions.
    I’m no scholar by any means, but am interested in history. I hope you don’t mind me sending this to you. Thanks, and good luck!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Leonard. About the divvying up of the Levant and Arabia I meant we were taught it in school. Keep reading. And again thanks.

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