Is the word "slavishly" offensive to African-Americans?

Here’s a CNN article on the hoohah

Steny Hoyer, a Demcratic Representative from Maryland characterized Michael Steele (an African American Republican candidate for Senate in MD) as having had “a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party”.

He has since apologized for the remark. Though Hoyer is old school, and I woudn’t put racial insensitivity past him, this doesn’t seem quite right to me. I could be wrong, though. Is using the word slavishly in this context offensive or insensitive?

(I’m putting this in GD because I have a notion it might go that way)

I agree with Steele’s charascterization that it was “insensitive and pretty stupid” (in the sense that it was so obviously something that could be grabbed and distorted), but “slavish” has a widespread use as “following without consideration” and is not actually linked to racism in the U.S. (unless there is some tiny group of Black Panther successors of which I am unaware that use it).

I’m sure Hoyer meant nothing by it, but it is probably best to avoid it in that type of context. I see how it could come across as a bit insensitive.

I suppose he could have said ‘a career of sycophantically supporting the Republican party.’ which would have conveyed the same meaning, but not giving people the chance to misinterpret the statement as racist.

Hm. Well, I can’t imagine anybody actually misinterpreting the statement as racist to begin with, but I guess there was that uproar over use of the word “niggardly” a while back, so the ability of ignorant people to take offense at nothing shouldn’t surprise me.

I totally agree with you. It’s a shame that we are expected to not use certain words correctly simply because people don’t know their actual meaning.

I don’t think anyone thinks Hoyer was being racist, just insensitive. And while I think it’s fine to use the word, I can see how it may be a tad bit insensitive to call a black politician “slavish,” especially after Hoyer labeled him a “token” a couple years ago.

Since “slavish” comes from the word “slave” and “niggardly” has nothing to do with “nigger,” I don’t think this comparison is completely fair.

Again, I’m sure Hoyer meant nothing by it, but it was stupid of him if he didn’t realize that it would cause an uproar.

As if African-Americans are the only people ever to be enslaved.

And won’t somebody think of the Slavs?

I’m tired of this langauge parsing nonsense, and I will say whatever I want to whenever I want to without regard to peoples’ whiny, oversensitive, knee-jerking sensibilities.

You know what? It might be easier if the langauge police would put out a book that includes all acceptable words. It would be cheap to print, seeing as how it would be somewhere between one and two pages long in 72-point type. Hey, why don’t we all just start speaking Marklar?

Complaints about the uproar that supposedly exists over the word “niggardly” strike me as being much like the War on Christmas.

And yet, you’d think anybody who knew the etymology would be smart enough to figure out it wasn’t being used in any kind of racist sense.

Eh, you know, the more I think about it, the more I start to think that the comment was on the insensitive side. I don’t mean insidiously racist, but just plain unthinking. But of course, it’s an election year, and you can bet some hay is to be made over it. I feel weird about posting the OP now. I do regret that perfectly innocent words can be misconstrued, but I also regret that perfectly innocent words can be malevolent, given the tone in which they’re uttered. I also regret that offense can be taken at the slightest pretext, that people have to be that on-guard… I think there’s a certain lack of openness, of forthright communication, that keeps this happening. That’s what’s more unfortunate than a poor choice of words, IMHO.

How so? There was an uproar over the use of the word niggardly a while back.

From the Wasington Post:

Mayor Wilson’s comment:

How is that merely a “supposed” uproar?

The word “slavishly” has no connotations connected with slavery in America.

The use of said word is appropriate in practically all contexts. I would probably avoid using it when speaking about someone who had him or herself experienced slavery.

It reminds me of some song or play or poem or something that someone wrote or was brought into school in around the 5th grade. It was about how we use the word black to connote bad things (black cat, black sheep), and how that was somehow tied to racism.

This is like insisting that the word “human” is ant-woman and sexist.

Try calling someone pedantic sometime.

A couple of schools in a couple of podunk states encountered a stink about some Christmas-associated paraphenalia. Do these instances of hypersensitivity A) constitute a “war against Christmas” and B) represent phenomena signficant enough that we should be constantly be reminded of them in conversations about the separation of church and state? I say no.

One person made one stink about “niggardly” one day and now whenever there is a thread about the latest reported outrage over a miscommunication (like this one), we have to hear about how unfairly persecuted this word is, as if the whole world intends to ban “niggardly” and as if just because “niggardly” shouldn’t have been offensive, nothing else should be either, context be damned.

It just would be nice if people would stop turning molehills into mountains just because there’s a story about some fool in the newspaper, is all. Perspective. We need more it.

Really? You won’t make any effort to think about how your words might affect someone else?

It’s one thing when the words have clear intent to insult. Being a slave to political correctness is quite something else.

Humph! How dare you! I have never molested a child in my life!!

(yes, I know what it really means) :wink:

I don’t get this: it seems to me that “connotations”, i.e., inadvertent and indirect mental/emotional associations, with slavery in America are exactly what the word does have. Especially when it’s used in relation to a black American.

Now, I completely agree that the word “slavishly” has no specific connection to slavery in America. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t inadvertently trigger thoughts of American slavery in the minds of Americans who hear it. Especially if it’s applied by a white person to a black person accused of toadying a party that is overwhelmingly white and used to have a reputation for opposing racial equality. Like it or not, a phrase like “My (black) opponent slavishly supports the Republicans” to many hearers carries faint echoes of “My (black) opponent is the slave of his white bosses”.

Smart public speakers try hard to avoid suggesting any such offensive echoes in the minds of their audience, unless they want to risk having it assumed that they did so deliberately.

Again, that’s a case where a word’s connotations can be a lot more subtle and invidious than its explicit meaning. I wouldn’t use negative expressions like “blackhearted”, “a black day”, “things are looking pretty black”, etc., in most situations. Even though the word “black” has no racial meaning in these usages, it can still have inadvertent racial connotations.

Well, that’s your right. And if others interpret such statements as meaning “I’m too lazy to consider whether or not my unthinking comments might offend other people, and when they do I’ll just blame the other people for being oversensitive and whiny”, well, that’s their right.

Getting outraged about the necessity to “parse” one’s language for subtle nuances of meaning is a forlorn hope, I’m afraid. Language has immense capability for expressing many subtle nuances, and recognizing and analyzing them is just part of what the human mind does.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for people who are affronted or indignant about the simple fact that if they don’t watch their words carefully, they may be interpreted as saying something offensive when they didn’t mean to. It’s especially hard to feel sympathy for politicians who ignore this simple fact when they’re giving prepared speeches at campaign events, for Pete’s sake, and then get miffed that they were misinterpreted.