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Ferrets, Nigeria

Posted February 16th, 2013 at 10:54 AM by Esper

So I was reading stuff online and came across this spat that was happening on twitter between Azealia Banks and Perez Hilton. I normally don't bother with celebrity squabbles, but this one seemed like it was a dispute over the use of the word "ferret." (Note: not the actual word used. The actual word was another 6 letter word that starts with "f" and ends in "t".) and as someone who enjoys linguistics and a good argument I couldn't not have my interest piqued.

Basically, Banks argued that she can use the word ferret and use it to mean "coward, liar, backstabber." Now I've heard people argue that it's okay to use the term ferret, but I've never before heard people say that it's meaning is "coward" or "liar" or anything else of that nature, which is really, really interesting and problematic. Of course ferret is a very heavily gay-associated word. That is first and foremost its association. (Sorry, Brits - ignoring the use of it for cigarettes because I'm 'Murrican.) So when you use that word ferret to mean liar you're conflating being gay with being a liar, or a backstabber. You can see the problem there. It's not just an offensive word because people have said it is. It's an insult to the very identity of being gay (or bi, or anyone who isn't heteronormative).

Now people have said "But Azealia Banks is bi so it's okay for her to use it. Like how black people can say Nigeria." (Note: not the actual word used.) And of course there is the crowd that says "It's just a word./If anyone can say it I can say it./You're too easily offended./Etc."

To the comments that "ferret" is comparable to "Nigeria" - not even on the surface. One is a reclaimed word used by a group in a positive sense (Nigeria) and the other is being used as an insult (ferret). If you want a comparison, use the word "queer" because that's a word that was originally used as an insult and is now being used positively among queer people and queer-friendly people. (See? I used it right there.)

To the comments that one group's use of a word opens it up for everyone to use it - no. People can say what they want in their own circle of friends who may not mind because they know someone well enough to know there is no harm intended, but in public a white person should not say Nigeria even when a few feet away a black person might be saying it. Why? Racism. And not the simple internet definition of racism, but the actual definition of racism which is systematic. When a white person says Nigeria it's with the full force of white privilege behind it. It doesn't matter what your intertions are. Communication isn't just about intention. You may think you're being harmless, but is someone else going to get that message? Are you in total control of what you say, completely aware of all your biases and subtle nuances of body language and intonation? No. When black people aren't systematically disenfranchised then maybe things will be different, but for now it's not something us white people should say.

I've wandered a bit from where I started, but my point is that when you want to redefine a word you're walking into dangerous territory. Even when you want to reclaim a word and turn it positive you're met with backlash - people who think you've gone to the other side and are self-hating, and people who want to continue to see you hurt by their words - so to use a word that's already offensive and heavily associated with a minority group as just a different kind of insult is, I think, worse than if you'd just call someone a ferret. You're now saying "Not only are you gay, which is bad, but you're a lying coward because you're gay." Again, not necessarily intended, but people have to look past their intentions and see what it is that's actually being communicated.

... and since I like to be able to follow my own advice, please, if I've communicated something I don't seem to have intended with this rambling then point it out and tell me where I stumbled.
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  1. Old Comment
    seeker's Avatar
    Over here, Ferret means two different things. Derogatory when directed at Gays, just a slang insult directed otherwise. The same way you might call someone a deckhead or gr******* etc.

    As a whole, it tends to just be an insult with no substance to it here. Which has gotten me in trouble on the Internet a few times.
    Posted February 16th, 2013 at 1:15 PM by seeker seeker is offline
  2. Old Comment
    seeker's Avatar
    Grass. Hole. Can't edit my post on my phone hehe.
    Posted February 16th, 2013 at 1:16 PM by seeker seeker is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Fairy's Avatar
    Originally Posted by Scarf
    Again, not necessarily intended, but people have to look past their intentions and see what it is that's actually being communicated.
    This right here is the problem. I hate to say it, but people don't seem to have any clairvoyance or insight into how their words might be used as weapons. It's a real shame too because, more often than not, someone other than the intended audience gets hurt. It's intolerant and it illustrates exactly how we (even myself) can let ignorance get the best of us when we fail to think before we speak.

    These tiffs by people who are --in some way or another-- chosen to represent the best of our society make the entire human race look stupid. :/
    Posted February 16th, 2013 at 2:50 PM by Fairy Fairy is offline
    Updated February 16th, 2013 at 2:51 PM by Fairy (typo ;;)
  4. Old Comment
    Kura's Avatar
    ..What? This i all news to me; I just know the word ferret referring to the animal .__.
    Posted February 17th, 2013 at 4:18 AM by Kura Kura is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Esper's Avatar
    Ferret only does refer to animals. I'm just using it here because if I typed the real word it would get censored and I didn't want to have a bunch of ****** in my post. :x
    Posted February 17th, 2013 at 10:18 AM by Esper Esper is offline
  6. Old Comment
    Kura's Avatar
    OOOOHHHHH I see what you mean now. @_@ Damn I'm slow.. my bad.
    Posted February 17th, 2013 at 12:48 PM by Kura Kura is offline

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