I turned on the TV the other Sunday to a cornhole tournament, a game I didn’t know existed until a couple summers ago. When I watched someone play it the first time you would have never convinced me there was enough strategy involved to warrant a televised tournament on the Sunday sports lineup. But there it was!
Which is not the point here. When I was an older teenager, “cornhole” was the punch line of a dirty joke. Not only a dirty joke but to me an offensive one, both misogynistic and racist (all the buzzwords!!). So when I was asked to watch a game of cornhole, I was not only dismayed, I was more than a little put off. Kids today do not know the connotation, I suppose. If they do, I am surprised some of the pink-hatted young ladies from a few years ago have not taken to the streets to protest and demand a name change. Or better yet, a boycott. I realize it is not as traumatic as having to walk by a statue of Robert E. Lee every day, or go to a school named for Lincoln, but we all have our triggers.
Another of today’s popular expressions, “Your turn in the barrel” is also off-color to me and a lot of other people who are older than dirt, I expect.
And “butt load”, used as an expression of being overloaded, or full to the brim, has taken on a vulgar connotation. It was in the past a legitimate measure. (A Butt is 120+ gallons and was used as a measure for things sold in barrels.)
These examples only serve to point out that being ignorant of the past context can lead to miscommunication at best, serious offense at worst, but is no reason to ban words or phrases (or statues) from the vocabulary of “other thinking” people (or whatever we are calling the “us” in Them or Us) or “cancelling” someone for using them.
Our language has changed since I learned to talk. Or rather, society’s acceptance and tolerance (or not) of certain words and phrases has changed. For instance, the words “gay” and “queer”: two quite acceptable and descriptive words when I was an early reader. Tolkien used them often to describe life in Middle Earth with Hobbits, Elves and Fairies (another much maligned word). Today they elicit giggles if used in their legitimate context. No one wants to be described as having queer friends, or as having a gay time.
I have mentioned in past columns that I grew up in the time when women did not swear. That’s not to say the ladies didn’t know the words, they just did not use them. (It is much more satisfying to say “You are not living up to the intellectual ability I know you are capable of” than “You’re a f&*ing Idiot!”) Radio and TV had stricter standards back then, too. No Booze ads until after 9 p.m. and you would never have seen a Depends ad on the network stations. Even comedians had limits, which you don’t see or hear today. Legends abound about bloopers by Red Skelton and Bob Hope that came out slightly off-color perhaps planned as a way to get around the censors. And we older groupies remember the Smothers Brothers when their program was censored and canceled because of controversial material during the Vietnam War.
But some of the best comedies of that day would be “canceled” today: “The Carol Burnett Show”, “All in the Family”, “That was the Week that Was”, “Beverly Hillbillies”, “Sanford and Son”, among others, because no one understands humor or satire. They would rather be offended than change the channel.
Just recently, a TV pundit said he was “P.O.ed” but used the entire phrase. He didn’t bat an eye, or say “oops! Pardon me” when he said it, and the interviewer didn’t even stutter. Cable TV is rife with colorful language during sports events. Four-letter “F” words abound, but you don’t dare say you don’t agree with the prevailing political agenda, or you will be canceled. What was not acceptable even five years ago is OK now and vice-versa. Ask Dr. Seuss!
The trend these days is to eliminate anything offensive to anyone, however trivial. I’m not sure how we raised a generation of people who expect to function in this world and not meet with differing opinions, some of which they will not agree with or even like. And they expect to cancel the ideas which “offend” them and dictate to me what I can say, read, watch, and even play. (Mr. Potato Head?? )
I promise I will not lobby to change the name of the first mentioned game or to eliminate it. I just won’t watch it. But you can!
Virginia can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.