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A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A to Z: U is for Uppity --and words with alternate meanings.

Uppity, as MW online defines it:   "adjective \ˈə-pə-tē\
: acting as if you are more important than you really are, do not have to do what you are told to do, etc."

I live in western Pennsylvania, USA, and to me, the word means pretty much what MW says it means. Imagine my surprise when several years ago, I blundered into a heated exchange in an online forum over the use of the word, "uppity".  It seems that to many people--not in my local area, but in some areas of the country, the word is derogatory to African Americans. And to those people, they are every bit as adamant that the word is a racial slur, as I used to be that it wasn't.

If you visit MW's page where uppity is defined , some of the comments make very clear that in spite of how MW defines it, it is a derogatory word. (Comments often teach more than the post they're left on teaches).

As a writer and a blogger (and as a human being), I don't intentionally insult people. This particular example of how ignorant I can be of alternate (localese, slang, dialectal etc.) word meanings gives me pause when I consider word choice. Still, how does one know?

I don't have the answers. I am curious if anyone else does... 

Visit other  April Blogging from A to Z Challenge by clicking here.


23 comments:

  1. I'll come back to comment.
    THANK YOU for the link

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  2. Replies
    1. The shale wells. They fracture the earth about a mile down, then shoot a sludge of water, sand and chemicals into the fractures, allowing the gas to percolate through the and that's left behind. Problem is, the chemicals are pretty nasty. They're fouling water wells, and have been linked to smaller earthquakes in areas where they fracture the earth. Lots online about them. Have you watched either of the "Gasland" movies?lll

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  3. I love getting into the origin of words--especially when writing historical stuff. The old etymology dictionary and urban slang or idiom finders are my usual resources.

    True Heroes from A to Z

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    1. I have an old Websters. India ink and super-thin paper. A couple thousand pages and it's 110 years old. I saved it from a dumpster about 15 years ago. It is fascinating to read it. Of curse, for anything technology related it's utterly useless, but for anything else, it's the cat's meow. :-) Thanks for visiting, Crystal! :-)

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  4. Local or regional use of a word is what makes language both colorful and dangerous. There's really no way of knowing when a common word has evolved new meanings/uses until you find out, either firsthand or through the accounts of others.

    The Immarcescible Word

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    1. Thanks, T.A. and thanks for visiting! :-)

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  5. I'm a South African, and to my knowledge, the word means exactly what's mentioned above.
    I'm very surprised to hear that in some areas of your country, the word is derogatory to African Americans. But as the commenter before me mentioned, we have to take into account local/regional word usage as well as the evolution of meanings/uses.
    Language is dynamic... it changes all the time.

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    1. True, it is dynamic. As a rule, I like dialects. They're fascinating. This one took me by surprise. :-)

      Thanks for visiting. :-)

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  6. E mail me please - we may be in western PA in May!!

    Guess I’m not with it today - didn’t see the reference on the link. And never heard uppity used as a racial slur. But it’s true, how is one to know the local meanings of words?

    And I agree with Michelle :D

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    1. Email sent! Hope you make it here. Hope we get to meet. :-)

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  7. Lots of words take on "special" connotations based on locale. Uppity could have a negative meaning for African Americans because of its history during slavery when it was a term racists used for black people who "didn't know their place."

    Connotation is such an emotional part of words that it's a good reason to just change them. Our government changed the War Department to Department of Defense. Guess why?

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    1. Words have such power, don't they?

      I'd never given a thought to the War Department changing its title. I learned something new today!

      Thanks for visiting,Lee :-)

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  8. I had NO idea that uppity was a racial slur. I've certainly used it ignorantly, without intending any harm, but I'm going to stop.

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    1. One of those ones that can sneak up on a person. You might use the word 100 times and it's perceived like MW defines it. Then that 101st--someone gets offended. Thanks for visiting, Liz! :-)

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  9. I don't think I've ever used "uppity" in my writing, but if I did, I would use it in the MW sense. Never previously heard of the racial connotations.

    BTW, Teresa, thanks for the comment on cover art. You'll be pleased to know that I did go with #1 in the end, but what was posted was only a set of rough drafts. My blog header currently shows a detail from the finished artwork.

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    1. Hi Ian. Yeah, it was a surprise to me.

      Cool! #1... I went and looked again at the details in your blog header. Fabulous artwork you do, Ian. Have you ever considered hanging your shingle for book covers for other writers? :-)

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  10. I've learned something new today. I cannot understand why "Uppity" would be a racial slur either. But I guess C. Lee McKenzie probably hit it in the ball park at least. :) My parents are from Pittsburgh, so I've heard uppity used quite a few times. But never in a the alternate way. I guess research on "slang" should be included when we write? Not sure if there's a sure fire method to know what's not acceptable and what is when it comes to slang.

    Jamie Dement (LadyJai)
    My A to Z
    Caring for My Veteran

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    1. Thanks, Lady Jai. Pittsburgh is the major city closest to me. We're fans of their sport teams. If we go to see a concert, it's in Pittsburgh. It's about an hour away, so many of the dialectal patterns are the same here and there. Yep. I was pretty surprised. I'd have argued like a fool if I'd not first blundered into that conversation. The comments on MWonline make it pretty clear that MW missed one definition of it. Thanks for visiting!

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  11. I know "uppity" has been used in a derogatory sense against African-Americans, but I never thought the word itself were considered verboten. I've encountered some people who don't like words such as lame and moron, given their past usage, though that seems a bit silly to me.

    It took me a long time to say or write Inuit or Native Alaskan instead of Eskimo. I knew the word Eskimo is widely considered offensive and outdated nowadays, but I was just so used to using the older word. It wasn't deliberately racist or offensive in my experience, just as the word "retarded" was once considered perfectly acceptable to describe certain mental disabilities.

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    1. Language really does evolve, doesn't it? When Is say that to my daughter, she likes to remind that if it didn't, we'd all be speaking like Shakespeare, still. :-)

      There are other words that I recall using,as a child, that have changed so much that I've removed them from my vocabulary. It's just easier.

      I wonder what language will be like a hundred years form now/ I cant imagine. I think it might evolve more quickly now, keeping pace with technology.

      Thanks for visiting. :-)

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  12. In the UK it's certainly not seen as derogatory other than to an arrogant person, if they choose to be insulted by it. But then I don't move in urban circles these days, so who knows what words have taken on new meanings, since everyone seems to insist on being easily offended these days.
    Thanks for visitng my blog :)

    Jemima
    #TeamDamyanti
    Blogging from Alpha to Zulu in April

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