Lost In Translation

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wasmewasntit

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In recent times more sectors of the human population have become too easy to be offended...there is no denying that many of us have ushered a deep sigh when yet another historically and often complimentary term or nickname is misunderstood and labelled as offending someone or something

A good example of this was on TV last night.


Coolie......and yes, it is often seen in fishkeeping as an alternative spelling to Kuhli (loach)

The history and meaning of the word is frequently misconstrued, mailigned and misunderstood.

The word was actually two words : Coo Li

It was first used in Asia in the 1890's, most specifically in parts of China, Singapore and Malaysia, for men on lowest income. These men would work on the docks, loading and unloading the ships. Back then the ships were all loaded and unloaded by hand, the goods often carried on or slightly above the head.

The word actually meant, using direct translation : Brute Strength

This was accepted as a compliment by those who earned the nickname. A Coo Li was seen as an important person, a person not only working hard for their living but for their respective company, family and country.

However the nickname quickly became a derogatory term and an offensive nickname once it had started being used outside of Asia. US slavery, WW1, WW2 all had the word used widely but not always in a complimentary role. The term was soon used in an occasionally extreme way - as a weapon towards those who seemed below normal living standards either by financial and/or educational levels. But by the same token, it was more widely used as a compliment

During WW2 the nickname was adopted in both directions.....in India, Burma regions Coolies again would be the poorer villagers who would fetch and carry goods and equipment for the Allies, they also fought beside the Allies as guides through the rainforest areas. They were treated well, paid well (compared to what they could earn at home and the treatment from others at home, the Allies certainly did treat them very well). These people worked hard, earned the appreciation and huge respect of the Allied forces. Those who were the Coolies wore that nickname with pride cos it meant something good....just as it did for the men working hard in the dockyards all those years beforehand.

On the other hand the enemy would punish their Allied POW's whilst in camps and they would use the nickname in a derogatory way towards native people in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines when they invaded and took over, expecting their "Coolies" to work for them for nothing, be beaten and underfed.

So now you have both sides of a word, lost in translation and frequently seen as derogatory...but with a little bit of research and the removal of the automatic offended reaction...its true meaning can be discovered and can often surprise.

To be called a Coo li is not offensive in every aspect of life, it is not always derogatory. It can be a nickname to be proud of.

Brute Strength.

Nothing remotely derogatory about that.


So bearing in mind the age group here on TFF........and please be nice....what other nicknames, phrases or words have you come across that have been taken in totally the wrong way or twisted so badly that what was something complimentary has been turned into something bad....cos to hear other people's experiences and to maybe help to correct them is a good way to break down barriers where words are so often lost in translation
 

GaryE

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The problem comes in usage - to me, that's a racist term I would never use. The history, or etymology of the word is interesting, but ultimately meaningless. The list of words in English that would get me banned from this as a family friendly site is loaded with once common and not at all offensive terms, back when. Everything evolves, including language, and there's no going back to original meanings once a word has been "politicized" (as your example was here, to refer to cheap expendable hard working Chinese labourers).

Kuhli loaches are a case of different words with the same pronunciation. If I see them misspelled in a pet store, I see ignorance. The problem is that I have seen that, and a person who sees it probably thinks it's okay, if they don't bother to look their fish up. There are a few other fish where the names are straight up racist terms, but luckly, the fish aren't popular.

I don't think of these terms as nicknames. I had a nickname with family and friends, and a "nickname' used by neighbourhood bullies who keyed on me because I was extremely ill as a kid. One was a nickname, one was a put down. I find empires or bullies are very accepting of the put down names they have for their targets - it has always been so. The targets don't like them, for some reason.

The mods will probably want to kill this one. I find the political talking point of 'cancel culture' rearing its ugly head here a lot, and we're not ever going to be able to talk about it openly and calmly without the rants coming in. Language can be political as it endlessly changes.
 

Oblio

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In engineering there is a push to rename the relationship between the controlling subsystem and the subsystem that is controlled. Examples are in electronics communication busses, and automobile braking systems. A similar usage for the main residential bedroom has also come under attack.

The shorthand term for diagonal cutters was also on the chopping block at my company many years ago.

I find both of these linguistic attacks absurd.
 

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@wasmewasntit You are correct. People today are too easily offended. Much of the problem lies with the social media because it is difficult to express thoughts in words that express the writers intent. The subtlety of tone in voice and facial expressions is absent in these written posts. I suspect that censors / moderators are looking for certain words to jump on and banish for no other reason than to be seen as doing their job. But don't take my word for it. I'm just a dumb peckerwood from the sticks.
 

GaryE

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I'll respectfully disagree with @Back in the fold . The older generation of my world threw around racist terms like they were going out of style. It was casual, normal and accepted. And maybe it has simply gone out of style. I hope it runs deeper.
But it represented an attitude that was fairly evil. We would get really mad if someone put us down for being working class, but we were really quick to put down other racial groups, women, LGBTQ people, etc. I used to watch my gay Uncle, who I didn't realize was gay, when all the usual insults were flying around and everyone else was laughing. He said nothing, but looked uncomfortable. Later, when I got to know him and his partner better (they had Oscars and 7 aquariums!) I was really ashamed that I'd participated in those 'just one of the guys' joke sessions.

I recall jokes that referenced burning people to death, lynching, murdering, raping and torturing. All, apparently, in good fun. So if someone who was targeted bristles at an insult, I listen. I know enough history to know that in my lifetime, those things have been done to people. I'm a straight male, but I was once gay-bashed for walking with a gay friend. It was a weird little shoving and punching match for me but not for him. He's already been hospitalized by name chanting boys like the ones we'd met. I think that'd make you sensitive.

So we change some language because we want social dynamics to change. Well darn, shoot and fudge, that's never been done before!

This thread isn't in response to anyone using a racist term. That's funny. It was a soapbox posting from someone who has consistently been concerned about supposed 'cancel culture". It's just politics appearing on the forum.
 

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@GaryE OK. I missed something. You are right. Like you , I have seen these out of control joke sessions that hurt people and the callousness of the participants. And , as you correctly said , we were mad when we were the targets but weren't a bit bashful when it came to vilifying others. I like your example of walking with your gay friend and experiencing what he had to put up with. Maybe if we all walked in the other persons shoes we would all be better people.
 

Rocky998

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I do believe people get very easily offended about nothing sometimes... Use of derogatory words is NOT acceptable even if they used to be good. Because as soon as they are used in a bad way its bad forever now... Which is sad. The OK sign has been used for a long time and I used it a lot. But some random dude HAD to make it a white supremacist sign... I've had to stop myself multiple times from using it cause it was just natural for me. It was just like: "ok"... That's what it always meant for me and what it still means to me but I can't use it now which I think is ridiculous. 🙄 people ruin everything.
 

GaryE

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I do believe people get very easily offended about nothing sometimes... Use of derogatory words is NOT acceptable even if they used to be good. Because as soon as they are used in a bad way its bad forever now... Which is sad. The OK sign has been used for a long time and I used it a lot. But some random dude HAD to make it a white supremacist sign... I've had to stop myself multiple times from using it cause it was just natural for me. It was just like: "ok"... That's what it always meant for me and what it still means to me but I can't use it now which I think is ridiculous. 🙄 people ruin everything.
I stopped using the "okay" hand signal when I used it with an Eastern European student, and discovered to her it meant a part of our body where the sun doesn't shine. .. Ooops.

But things change. If I met 14 year old me now, it would be a conversation, for sure.

30 years ago when none of this outrage was on the radar, I was in a conversation about how the meaning of a word had changed. I pointed out the original meaning (nothing offensive) and the current meaning (nothing offensive), but then had an official complaint lodged with the University by some fundamentalist students because I had described it as the "evolution" of the word. Apparently, the "e-word" was offensive to them. None of this is new - it's just part of life.
 

Rocky998

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I stopped using the "okay" hand signal when I used it with an Eastern European student, and discovered to her it meant a part of our body where the sun doesn't shine. .. Ooops.

But things change. If I met 14 year old me now, it would be a conversation, for sure.

30 years ago when none of this outrage was on the radar, I was in a conversation about how the meaning of a word had changed. I pointed out the original meaning (nothing offensive) and the current meaning (nothing offensive), but then had an official complaint lodged with the University by some fundamentalist students because I had described it as the "evolution" of the word. Apparently, the "e-word" was offensive to them. None of this is new - it's just part of life.
Lol... Yah when you go to a different country it's always good to know what is and isn't offensive 😅

That is a bit messed up. I don't believe in evolution but the word evolution is a word used for many different things. I don't understand why it wouldn't be an ok word lol... There is nothing bad about it
 

Rocky998

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A wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he saw the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard. Let's all be like that wise old bird.
The less you speak the more distant you get though... I think speech is a wonderful thing. You just have to be wise enough to use it
 
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