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[info]hsapiens responded to the a comment I made in discussion about my last post, and her comments led me to believe I had not communicated effectively – and in doing so had appeared to take a stand on the controversy. Oops. Sadly, I know I am overly prolix in my writing, so I sometimes try to force myself to be brief. And then I fail to communicate at all.

And then in trying to explain myself, I ran on long and then started generalizing… and found myself intrigued by the Harry Potter connection… and eventually realized I’d better make my response a journal entry (with a cut) rather than a comment reply…

I had commented that miscegenation seemed like an inherently racist word because it used the word root mis-, which means bad or wrong. I was corrected, though. The word roots are actually “Misce” (or miscere), which means to mix, and “genare”, which means kinds. On hearing that, I commented that the word was “merely descriptive” rather than inherently judgmental.

hsapiens replied:

Actually, the word is not “merely descriptive.” It was a racist term invented by pro-slavery political campaigns and it has been the term of choice by openly bigoted types for keeping uppity blacks down and maintaining the purity of the “white race.”

I acknowledge this word’s historical use may have left it irretrievably stained with unacceptable connotations. Since I just learned the word, I really feel unqualified to judge that question. I was trying to explore a different point, which is that there are some words that are implicitly judgmental in their denotation, where others have simply come to have unsavory connotations.

Consider another word that uses the mis- root: Misbegotten. it means (according to

  1. Of, relating to, or being a child or children born to unmarried parents.
  2. Not lawfully obtained: misbegotten wealth.
  3. Having an improper basis or origin; ill-conceived: misbegotten ideas about education.

The word itself contains the mis- word root, so the denotation of the word is that something bad has happened. It doesn’t just describe a child born to unmarried parents; it states that that’s not the proper way to do things.

So anyway, I was musing about the qualitative difference between words that have become bad because of their usage, as opposed to words that started out calling the situation bad. To me, that has some bearing on whether you might choose to continue to use the word.  Others may disagree.

On other fronts, the Harry Potter book have lots of themes about the question of segregation versus inclusion.  There’s purebloods versus muggleborns, wizards versus other magical creatures (giants, elves, goblins, werewolves), magical creatures versus muggles, and so on.  Even the house rivalries present all kinds of issues with respect to stereotyping and prejudice.  The wizarding world in Harry Potter seems to be a society with many levels of deeply entrenched racism.  So, many fanfiction stories tackle the racism issue either implicitly or explicitly, both with respect to romantic pairings and more broadly.  So, is it so bad to have a category for stories in which that’s a central concern?  And if it’s OK to have such a genre, what would be a better, less negative word to use to describe it?

So anyway, that’s some thoughts… hope that my comments re-establish my relative neutrality on the issue and return me to the land of pure musing about word roots…


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