Chinks, Niggers, and Indians

Transatlantic censorship in popular fiction

By William Wetherall

First posted 5 February 2006
Last updated 5 February 2006

All manner of words are used to express contempt for members of other nationalities and races. Labels that people of East Asian descent find offensive include Chinaman, Chink, Jap, Nip, gook, slope, and slant-eye.

Words cannot themselves be offensive, however. Offense is both a matter of implication and inference. And problems arise when readers or listeners infer offense where it was not implied.

Outside Canada and the United States, where "Jap" is widely associated with experiences of overt racial disparagement and discrimination, the term is also used more like "Yank" and "Brit" as merely an abbreviation of "Japanese". In Japan, too, some Japanese have recently used "Jap" as a mark of pride.

Some critics contend that such words should be used in fiction and film only in contexts where they are clearly negative and insulting. This, however, is to ask that writers ideologically deny the sociolinguistic fact that there are positive and prideful uses.

To be continued.

In the meantime, see the following two longer articles at Steamy East.

James Hadley Chase: Chinks, Chinamen, and dolls

Agatha Christie: Niggers, Indians, and none.