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"Bastards" and "Sons-of-a-Bitch"


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I guess it's the hipness of our extremely legitimate, righteous anger at the mind-numbing terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, but there's this interesting trend I've noticed among the talking heads on TV. That is, using the words "bastard" and "son-of-a-bitch" is now considered not only civil, but almost a patriotic act when uttered as a response to the terrorist attacks.

I'm sure I saw it early on among former political-insider talking heads, but I didn't really start taking note until I saw meek, apolitical TV comic personality Ben Stein on (I think) the Conan O'Brien show, on which he described the murderous/suicidal hijackers as "sons-of-bitches." I then remembered that one major newspaper chose as its headline for the day after one single word, in huge type: "Bastards!"

And was it yesterday or this morning that I saw Tom Lantos, elderly Congressman from Northern California in referring to the perpetrators, carefully pronounce, in his endearing Eastern European accent, "bastards."

Except for the obvious content of "hateful person" grafted onto the original meaning of those two words, as far as I know they essentially mean the same thing: a person who was born when (his) parents were not married. Clearly not powerful enough a meaning to match the depths of the condemnation we seek.

To continue along the path I've set up here, I'd try to come up with some clever-sounding neologisms/sniglets that we might use for the terrorists and their ilk... But honestly, I haven't the heart for it. This deed was too monstrous for me even now, more than two weeks later, to find the lightness of spirit needed to produce satire. It took about 9 days before I finally got confirmation that several dear friends, both in New York and in Arlington, VA, had not been killed or seriously physically harmed.

So let's go somewhere else... Words... I remember that in 1980, shortly after the Iranian students took over the American embassy and took 50+ hostages, I was a freshman at Louisiana State University, where there was a significant cohort of students from the middle east. There was some kind of demonstration by a group of Iranian students against the Shah, and words again became weapons. I was introduced to the words "towelhead," "dune-coon" and "sand-{N-word}." Outrageous all for so many reasons. Apart from the unimaginatively racist other two, "towelhead" in particular revealed more about the ignorance of the user than its intended target, apparently referring to the traditional headdress worn by Arabs, but Iranians are not Arabian, but Persian, and they don't wear Arabic headdress.

When I traveled around the world in 1996, I learned several new terms for foreigners: In Thailand, "farang" for 'white foreigner'; in Hong Kong, "gweilo" for the same; in China, "mei-guo ren" for 'American.' Now that I'm finally learning Mandarin in earnest, I can delve a little deeper into Chinese names for various foreign nationalities. I've learned that for the most part they each come from a Chinese word that sounds similar to the foreigner's own pronunciation of what they consider themselves to be, but in courtly, formal Mandarin fashion, they always chose a word with a positive meaning:

Englishman - Yingguórén - "Hero country person"
Frenchman - Faguórén - "Law country person"
German - Déguórén - "Ethical* country person"
American - Meiguórén - "Beautiful country person"

*(this term clearly having been coined long before the 1930s!)

Except for Japan, which even on the Eastern side of the islands, from way back when was known as 'the land of the rising sun'--

Japanese - Rìbenrén - "Sun-origin person"

Have I strayed far enough away from the original topic for comfort? Well, I'm sure this would be a lot more coherent if, if it hadn't been for... those bastards!

— David Saia

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