Concurrences and dissents to verdicts on words by Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune

Concurrences and dissents to verdicts on words by Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune

(Note: I read Eric Zorn’s excellent column in the Chicago Tribune and enjoy his writing, even when I don’t agree with his opinions. On June 11, his column “Break up the ‘Southside’ and other verdicts on words” was particularly enjoyable. In the spirit of his court verdicts, I offer the following concurrences and dissents. Terms in bold are the headings — the case names, if you will — used in the original column.)

Southside v. South Side — I concur with Zorn, and, as he puts it, “the Associated Press, the Tribune, the Sun-Times, the Daily Herald and South Side Weekly.” South Side should be two words, not one (as it is on the White Sox’s new “uniform variant”). I grew up in the south suburbs, not the southsuburbs, so I concur with Zorn’s verdict — “‘Southside’ looks like someone forgot to hit the space bar.”

Innocent until proven guilty v. Innocent unless proven guilty — I dissent from Zorn’s explanation that “until” implies an inevitable finding of guilt. I don’t see the inevitability, and I didn’t feel it (or see it from others) when I served on a jury. I refer the court to a possible compromise I’ve read — more often in fiction, but it could be handy in real life: “unless and until.” Someone is innocent “unless and until” proven guilty in a court of law.

‘Guys’ as a gender-inclusive term — I concur with Zorn’s decree that “‘guys’ is a word not worth arguing over.” However, I see the argument going on around us regardless of decrees. For instance, I don’t share Zorn’s comfort with words he recommends, such as folks, everybody, or y’all. In the case of the latter, I’ve heard people from southern U.S. states (note: not the Southside of the country!) ask me if “y’all” wanted something when I was alone in a room, which has put me off the word. “Guys” has developed into a neutral word without doin’ it for some doll. (Zorn notes that “Guys and Dolls” is from 1955.) By the way, note the beautiful, correct position of “not” above — guys IS a word, it’s the worth that is being negated.

Gratuitous grandmas — I concur with Zorn’s dislike of this term, by which he means “any seemingly benign descriptive terms deployed in news stories for the sole purpose of evoking stereotypes.” Instead of a restraining order, which Zorn issues, I prefer to refer users of such cliches to more polished writers, such as Zorn himself.

Latinx — I concur: Why are we being forced to use a term that those who are said to qualify for it do not use? Like Zorn, I remain “open to revisiting the issue as usage trends change.” For two things, I would be more open to using the term, first of all, not only when asked to do so by the Latinos and Latinas who qualify for it, but secondly, when I’m taught how to pronounce it.

Woke — I dissent slightly, while appreciating the court’s explanation that the term originated, as Zorn puts it, “in Black playwright Barry Beckham’s 1971 work ‘Garvey Lives!’ about Black activist Marcus Garvey.” A character says that “Now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon’ stay woke.” As Zorn notes, the word “gained currency with the rise of Black Lives Matter,” and “Stay Woke” was a 2016 film about the movement. But as Zorn notes, NPR’s Sam Sanders’ 2018 commentary titled “It’s Time To Put ‘Woke’ To Sleep” looked at how the term was “quickly highjacked,” in Zorn’s words, by the political right and became a slur or what Sanders calls a “linguistic eye-roll.” Zorn’s court states, “‘Woke’ is hereby sentenced to oblivion.” I respectfully suggest that those wanting to express alertness or awakening to the troubles of minority groups, whichever minority groups, might use “alerted” or “awakened,” both of which are more grammatically adjustable than the over-used “woke.”

Court is adjourned, because that was Zorn’s final verdict in his June 11 column. I recommend his excellent writing to your attention, whether you agree with his views or not.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.


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  • What a wonderful post! Thank you, Margaret Serious, and Eric Zorn.

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Thank you. I'm glad to join in here.

  • Grundoon, specially concurring:

    I would use "South side" vice "South Side" "Southside" should be split and the cardinal points of the compass capitalized, but the word following? No. As evidence I refer you to the fact that "SouthSide" is never used.

    Latinx. I absolutely agree and point out that messing with the very structure of a language is never undertaken lightly. I am compelled to note, however, that part of the opposition to"latinx" is the "x" look and sound. I am told that "latine" is being substituted for "latinx."

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    Thank you for such a detailed opinion. As I understand it, the initial capital in "Side" is referring to the area or group of neighborhoods (choose your term). Thank you for "latine," which I will look out for, but Zorn points out that "Hispanic" is the term more often used by those who belong to it.

  • You mention the "latinx" controversy. There is a similar one concerning the first occupants of America. To call them "American Indians" seems to perpetuate a geography mistake. On the other hand, to call them "indigenous peoples" is to categorize them, not identify them. "Native peoples" is not much better. Many use "Native American" but some claim anyone born in American is a native American. Many of the affected people don't much care, since they identify with their tribes, not their racial group. But many prefer the old term, "American Indian" since it is the one most commonly used in the treaties and congressional laws that protect whatever independent rights these people still possess.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Thanks, jnorto. Common usage seems to be effective here for those of us outside the groups.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    As I noted here previously, those on Channel 20 and in Canada prefer to be called "First Nations."

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Here is an article using both, depending on the side of the border.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you for the extra evidence.

  • Guilty: Reminds me of the Mark Slackmeyer comment in Doonsbury that John Mitchell was "GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY." A more recent example is that while anyone with any knowledge who watched the Chauvin trial knew that the verdict was inevitable, it wasn't until the jury returned.

    Latinx: Seems a consequence of most Romance languages using a suffix to indicate gender, and even German has different articles based on the noun's gender. Then you have the General Assembly changing alderman to alderperson, when the correct term is aldercreature. Chicago should quit using a German term, anyway.

    Woke: Zorn better tell his good friend, the right wing copyist in the right pane (at this moment), that.

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