Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 21, No. 6, 2022
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Howard Richler is a Montreal-area word nerd and author of these seven books on a variety of language themes: Dead Sea Scroll Palindromes, Take My Words, A Bawdy Language, Global Mother Tongue, Can I Have a Word With You?, Strange Bedfellows and his most recent book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit ( May 2016, Ronsdale Press, Vancouver).

There is no chink or crevice
in which the power is not lodged.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Power in Conduct of Life (1860).

My titled question has become a pressing issue even in word games. For example, the New York Times features a daily puzzle called Spelling Bee and one day in September2022 it featured this puzzle format:

Spelling Bee Answers

In this puzzle you have to thinks of words of four letters or more that contain the center letter which in this case was N. The problematic issue occurred because the word ‘chink’ (that has meant a fissure or rift) for over 700 years was not accepted undoubtedly because it is also a racial slur.

I was curious as to what people felt about this word’s exclusion and posted this question on Facebook. Not surprisingly opinions varied dramatically. Many people felt that the word is virulently racist and even though it also has another meaning, that it was proper for the puzzle’s creator to have it excluded. On the other hand, many people felt that is was wrong not to include a genuine word and pointed out that it there are several words that could offend people such as ‘faggot’ (meaning a bundle of sticks), ‘frog’ (a derogatory word for someone French), ‘spade’ (a derogatory word for blacks) and ‘cracker’ (a racist epithet aimed at poor rural Whites. Should all these words be nixed? What about the word ‘oreo’? It often appears as the answer in crossword puzzles but it is also a term used mockingly to refer to black people who have adopted white middle class values. Should oreo therefore be expunged, notwithstanding that this cookie is beloved to many people?

A Chinese-American stated that he had been slandered by the epithet in the past and found it highly offensive but someone else countered that when it is clearly being used in its original sense that no offense should be taken.

Another person averred that by pretending that a word that goes back to the Middle Ages doesn’t exist amounts to pandering to racists and granting them power they don’t deserve to wield.

This is not the first time that what is sometimes called politically-correct language has caused a furor in word games. In the 2019 New York Times crossword puzzle of Jan 1st, the clue for 2 Down “Pitch to the head” (6 letters) the correct answer was ‘beaner.’ The word ‘beaner,’ albeit more commonly called ‘beanball’ refers to a pitch where the intention of the pitcher it to hit the head (known colloquially as ‘bean’) of the hitter. However, the term ‘beaner’ is used more often as a derogatory term for Mexicans or those of Mexican descent (supposedly because of their propensity for eating beans). As a result crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz received many complaints that he had allowed a racist term to appear. Due to this kerfuffle, Shortz quickly issued this apology on the newspaper’s website: “I’m very sorry for the distraction about BEANER (2D) in today’s fine puzzle by Gary Cee.” He added that neither he nor digital puzzle editor Joel Fagliano had ever heard the slur before. Shortz lives in New York and I believe that the slur is used more often in the southwest of the USA near the Mexican border.

Let me be clear. I am in favour of being sensitive when we communicate or play word games. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that words like ‘cretin’ and even ‘moron’ were used in polite society without problems. Given a choice I’d rather be oversensitive than not sensitive enough. Increasingly, ethnic verbs such as ‘to welsh’ (to avoid payment); ‘to gyp’ (to cheat) and ‘to jew’ (to bargain) are also avoided and rightfully so. I also think it proper that by and large in Canada we use the term ‘First Nations’ as opposed to ‘Indians’ to reference our indigenous populations. And in the aforementioned word ‘chink,’ the word is used much more often in its pejorative sense as opposed to its meaning as a fissure. However, I’d like to believe that people who are playing word games are aware that it also has the latter sense.

And where does it end? I would never use the word niggardly even though it means miserly and bears no etymological connection to the N-word. There are several other synonyms I could employ. However, if I disagree vehemently with someone’s opinion, should I avoid stating that I find their argument ‘fatuous,’ if they happen to be even moderately overweight?

The mind boggles.



Comedy Podcast with Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini
Bahamas Relief Fund
Film Ratings at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
fashion,brenda by Liz Hodson
Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal(514) 844-2172
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
Photo by David Lieber:
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis