Kenneth L. Hardin: Words and phrases that make my ears hurt

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 18, 2022

I have a love-hate relationship with the English language. It’s more accurate to say I have a contentious relationship with people who abuse the King’s English. It has nothing to do with the British monarchy because I detest their familial nonsense as much as I do the Kardashians.

What gets my undergarments bunched up and hanging over the top of my belt loops is those who show no awareness or appreciation for the beauty in the written and spoken word.

I put the blame squarely on Twitter’s shoulders for the degradation of pure written and oral intellectual discourse. Although plans are being made to increase the number to 4,000, how can you offer a well thought out, clearly defined, and easily understood communiqué when you only have 280 characters to do so?

My motivation for this rant is the result of a recent conversation I had with a woman who was born and spent her early formative childhood years raised outside the geographical constraints of this country. She was unfamiliar with some of the American southern vernacular due to the colloquial terms and phrases I used. It motivated me to think deeper about my own weariness with overused terms, those I outright despise and others I see no relevance or value in.

I went old school, handwriting a list of words and phrases I wish people would pull up, fall back and simply stop using all together. I want the good folks at the Oxford English Dictionary to take a break from acting as if they have to be hip and add slang to the 171,476 words already in use in their publication. They’re in danger of jumping the shark worse than Fonzi did in that dreadful Happy Days episode.

Pour yourself a cup of morning blend, snack on a coffee cake and take a linguistic journey inside the chaotic cerebral transport vehicle that sits on top of my shoulders. This vehicle is running dangerously low on tolerance fuel and patience oil for oratorical idiocy that is so widely accepted.

I don’t have to travel far on the cognitive interstate to come up on the first verbal traffic jam impeding rational thought and progression. After my new telephone friend used the term African American, I stopped her in mid-sentence and explained how ridiculous that label is.

The term was first used in print back in 1782 but gained popularity in 1988 when Rev. Jesse Jackson convinced confused and misguided Blacks to adopt the label. The term refers to people who were born in the United States and have African ancestry. My issue is that those same people are African without memory and American without privileges.  If you ask those who revel in the hyphenated label, many can’t tell you what African country or region they hail from. Instead, you’ll get the location of a plantation and the name of the people who owned them.

I like the term “African in America” better and use it to pay homage to my ancestral Cameroonian heritage. I don’t know of any other ethnic group who’s been labeled and re-labeled as much as Black folks. We’ve gone from the N-word, to Colored, Afro-American, Negro, Black and now African American. My feet hurt and I’m exhausted just thinking about all the running from label to label we’ve endured.

While I’m riding this racial horse, let me add that the term “minority” offends my sensibilities. It’s often applied to marginalized groups but to me no one within is minor in character or ability. That’s why I take offense to all the faux glorification and recognition placed on the equally foolish “first and only” designation.  People act like there should be pride and exaltation associated with this recognition. What it actually says is that a system of denial based on an irrelevant physical characteristic still exists, and had you been afforded equal access and opportunity to achieve, you would’ve.

So why are we celebrating hate and discrimination being overcome 157 years after slavery ended and 57 years after the 1965 Civil Rights Act? I read so many articles where people hurl the word “woke” around as if it should be whispered in hushed embarrassment. Just like “patriot,” it’s been weaponized as a divisive word that breeds contempt and fear.

Even clueless GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene stoked fear by referring to an “angry woke mob.” I would much rather for our leaders to wake up and have a level of consciousness so they can lead all people and not just the ones who support their hate inspired agendas.

Before the remaining sand slips out of the hour glass, let me finish this list: Doing my own research, playing devil’s advocate, yeah, like, ummm, race and replacing words with letters.  I have more to add, but like, I’m so literally done.

Kenneth L. “Kenny” Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.