Thursday, January 19, 2017

The "Slants"

An NPR story yesterday morning was about an Asian rock band called the "Slants" that could not get their trademark issued.  Apparently there is legislation that prohibits issuance of trademarks when those proposed trademarks seem derogatory to ethnic groups, like Asians.

The Slants have taken their case to court in a continued effort to get the trademark they want.  Part of the argument used by the group is that when the term "slant" is associated with their band, the term will become less derogatory and more positive...perhaps even complementary.

We must wait for the outcome of this law suit.  However, I am reminded of my freshman English class at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. [That was quite a few years ago when I was enrolled in the Electrical Engineering program.]  Our assignments in that class included a weekly essay with the topic assigned by our instructor.  The particular week I recall we were assigned to write about "cliches".

This was an era before Google, so I looked up the term in one of those old, printed dictionaries.  For example,
Cliche, also spelled cliché, is a 19th century borrowed word from the French which refers to a saying or expression that has been so overused that it has become boring and unoriginal.
The thought that I came up with for my essay that week was as follows: 
If we could give a new definition to a word that had become a cliche, that word could be brought back into circulation as a valuable part of our vocabulary.
My instructor gave me a big fat F.  Also, because he liked me and thought that I had great potential, he gave me an additional assignment to read a book by the semanticist, S.I. Hayakawa.
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The Moral:  These many years later I may have been vindicated.  If the Slants can take a derogatory term and make it positive, why can't we give a new definition to a cliche and make it useful again.

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