Culture wars rage on a daily basis, but there are some events that invite further examination.
Here’s one. The Entomological Society of America recently advanced the cause of justice by stripping an insect known scientifically as “Lymantria dispar” of its popular name.
Everyone, of course, knows that scientific name by its common name — “gypsy moth.”
The insect got its popular name because, scientists say, it is in the family Erebidae of Eurasian origin and ranges over Europe, Africa and North America.
“Gypsy” has been forbidden for reasons of political sensitivity.
“Gypsy” foes charge the appellation is racist.
Gypsies are variously identified as “a race of Romani people” or “an ethnic group of people called the Roma or the Romani.” There apparently is a dispute about origins. One analyst contends “the Roma are not to be confused with Romanians or with the Romans, both of which are distinct ethnic groups from the Roma.”
Some Romanians contend “gypsy” is a racial pejorative connoting “illegality and irregularity.”
Objections also stem from the moth’s dining habits, a practice Miss Manners would not approve because these moths eat like pigs. With their prodigious appetites, they can defoliate trees.
One scandalized critic charged the public views the eating habits of those with Romanian backgrounds as comparable to those of the moths.
“That’s how they see us. We eat things and destroy things around us,” The New York Times quoted Rutgers University’s Dr. Ethel Brooks as saying.
If Brooks appears to be taking the issue too personally, it’s not so.
She’s the chairwoman of Rutgers’ women’s, gender and sexuality studies program, and grievance studies academics are obligated to be permanently aggrieved.
But how will non-academics know when to be aggrieved?
To help out, the Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center at Brandeis University recently issued its “Oppressive Language List.”
Lists like this prevent people from being exposed to — and “triggered” emotionally by — a forbidden word. At least they once might have been “triggered,” but no more.
The word “triggered” was banned because of its “connections to guns for many people.” Suggested alternatives are “content note” and “drop-in,” although it’s not clear why.
“Triggered” is among dozens of words in five categories that Brandeis branded as unacceptable — “violent language,” “identity-based language, “language that doesn’t say what we mean,” “culturally appropriative language” and “person-first language.”
The phrase “rule of thumb” is banned because an “old British law allegedly allow(ed) men to beat their wives with sticks no wider than a thumb.”
Brandeis acknowledges “no written record of this law exists today” but banned it anyway.
Also violent and banned are phrases like “killing it” and “take a shot at it.”
There’s a surprise on the “person-first list.” In an age when almost everyone is a “victim” or a “survivor,” those words are now prohibited. Brandeis suggests “person who has experienced.” “Prisoner” and “convict” also are verboten — better to say they are or have been incarcerated.
On the identity-based language hit list is the phrase “ladies and gentlemen.” It improperly suggests there are just two sexes — male and female — and “doesn’t include everyone.”
What next? Brandeis warns its lists “will grow and change all the time.” Moral reprobates, get thee to re-education camp.
Brandeis’ list got widespread attention, perhaps because it told people what they can’t say and must say.
In that respect, the entomologists failed. Having struck “gypsy” from moth, the association has no alternative. It’s soliciting suggestions.
Here’s one. Instead of “Gypsy Moth,” how about the “Rose Lee Moth”? Granted, Rose was an exotic dancer, but no one ever complained about the dainty eating habits that helped her maintain popularity.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-393-8251.