Monday, April 12, 2010

Hyphen Nation

This one’s for feeno, whose comment got buried in the mess of my last post.

I think the hyphenation craze is an utter rape of the English language. When I heard French citizen and NBA basketball player Tony Parker described as an “African-American,” I didn’t have to look any further for evidence. If you think about it, there are all kinds of stupid problems of logic involved. Dave Matthews and Charlize Theron are both from South Africa and reside in America... are they African-Americans?

What is it all about, anyway? Black people born in America are more American than African, and why should they have any connection to a land that sold them to white people? It’s not as though Europeans netted black people in Africa and brought them to America; before Europeans showed up, slavery was already alive and well in Africa (and Europe, for that matter, where the Slavic people lend their name to the modern word, “slave”).

If you have to make the distinction, just use black. Since I find race to be largely unimportant, I find myself using this term very, very rarely.

Another one I hate: Native American. First of all, they aren’t native. They immigrated several thousand years before Europeans, but they immigrated nonetheless. Secondly, I doubt they want the association of the term “American,” considering the pain caused by America and the fact that they were only granted American rights within the lifetime of some still living. Finally, they would prefer to be called what they are: Cherokee, Navajo, etc. If you have to lump them together for some purpose (again, something I find myself doing quite rarely), try “First Nations” or just “tribes,” perhaps with some indicator of the region from which they hailed (the Great Plains, the Mojave, etc.).

While I’m on hyphens, I hate hyphenated names, as well. Can you imagine two people with hyphenated names marrying each other? I don’t even want to imagine how many aging hippies would be dancing to Grateful Dead music at that reception. It also negates the “What is your mother’s maiden name?” security question.

Women are not liberated by hyphenated names, just as black people are not being treated any better if they are called African-American in polite company. Awkward wording is not compensation for equality.


  1. I'm with you 100%, if everyone who got maarried added their maiden name generation after generation ... you get the picture! Keep up the good work.

  2. Another one I hate: Native American.

    From your perspective, how common is the use of the term American Indian in the USA?

    You don't have a word made of the two words together right? we use that over here: "Amérindien", but I grew up hearing only "Indien", which I find both weird and amusing now because I know a few people who are really from India!

  3. Geenks,

    Thanks for noticing. Nice post.


  4. I have heard the term "Amerindian," but the problem is "indian" is what is called an exonym. An exonym is a name outsiders apply to a group, and rarely are they terms of endearment embraced by the people for whom they apply.

    In this case, Columbus famously misunderstood the tribal people he encountered as being from the Indies, which later became known as the East Indies (as compared to the American West Indies). Considering it is a description predicated on incorrect facts, Indian is not really a good choice. Frankly, it is for each person to decide how they wish to label themselves, and it is the duty of each of us to completely ignore that and call people whatever we feel is right.

  5. Yep, I remember some people saying that they prefer to be called by their original tribe name, like the Mohawks, the Hurons, etc...


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