Whose Word?


In the midst of debate surrounding the Washington Redskins’s trademark cancellation, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg reminds us that a word is never completely free of its etymology. Rooted in a tradition of spectacle and minstrelsy, the use of a racial slur to market a football team not only perpetuates harmful, dated stereotypes but also denies Native Americans the right to reclaim their history through language:

Of all the things that defenders the name have said, there’s nothing to touch the effrontery of Raskopf’s assertion “This is our word”—as if the team had the power to pluck the word out of history, both theirs and its own, and oblige everyone, Indians included, to honor their meaning of the word.

Roxie Pell is a student at Wesleyan University, where she writes for Wesleying and The Argus and tweets hilarious nuggets of pure wisdom @jonathnfranzen. More from this author →