Tag Archives: language

an open letter to The Walrus: on why “chinaman” jokes are not acceptable

posted by jroselkim

Dear Editors of The Walrus,

I was really enjoying reading Noah Richler’s feature “My Dad, the Movie, and Me” until an unexpected racist joke hit me like a ton of bricks towards the end of the piece. Mr. Richler describes a conversation he has with his best friend, who tells what Mr. Richler describes as “his signature punster’s bad jokes.”

“Noah, when does a Chinaman go to the dentist?” he asked.

“I dunno, pal. When?”

“Tooth-hurty.” (p.48)

Mr. Richler states that this “joke” occurred after his father’s death, so I can safely say this happened sometime after 2001. Little did I know that “a Chinaman” was still used as a “funny” term in the 21st century. I was also unaware that we were still okay with making jokes about the hilarious ways that Asian people speak. Because those Asian people, they just can’t speak English correctly, no matter how long they’ve been living here, right? And those silly Chinamen – many of whom worked under terrible conditions to build our railways – they still deserve those awesomely bad puns after all these years, don’t they?

I’m not sure if that qualifier “bad” Mr. Richler uses in the piece sufficiently describes the kind of offensive attitude his friend exhibited. Do we still live in a society where we make bad puns about the “others” and print them without thinking twice? Frankly, I am equally appalled that the editors and the copy editors at The Walrus let this joke pass on to the public (many of whom are – inevitably – of Asian origin). It makes me feel ashamed to be subscribing to a magazine (which prides itself in serious, in-depth journalism) that is in fact so blind to a hurtful racial stereotype.

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angels and chinks

posted by telleou

“Biao mei, has anyone told you that you look like an angel?”

“Hahahaha. Unfortunately, no.  What do you mean, biao jie?”

“You have curly hair! And your eyes are very big! You have very round chinks.”

“Biao jie … What did you say?!”

“Chinks? Is that not correct?”

“No, biao jie! It’s ‘cheeks’!”‘

My cousin is an international student and a graduate of McGill’s biochemistry program. But Engrish is not her first language.

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what’s in YOUR name?

posted by jroselkim

The receptionist at my gym always has a trouble with my name. She’s taken my membership card for more than a week now, but every time I pronounce my name for her – “Jihyun Kim” – she assumes a blank look and asks: “what letter does that name start with?”

In fact, there is no “J” sound in Korea. The phoneticization of the first syllable – 지 – is pronounced somewhere between a “J” and a “Z.” You put your mouth in a more of a straight plane than you would with forming a “J” with your mouth. In fact, speaking English has taught me about all the hidden regions and art of moving one’s lips that Korean simply does not have. However, as time goes by I find myself exaggerating my lips to pronounce my name in an “Americanized” way – to my gym receptionist, for example – and I can’t say I like it.

(On a side note, if you speak another language than English, do you notice that you move your lips a lot more when you’re speaking English? When I was staying in Paris for a brief period, my Italian roommate would be constantly amazed by the amount of lip movements Americans and Canadians would have when they conversed, compared to the British. Apparently North Americans do everything big, from bulk stores to pronunciations.)

Then there’s my other name – Rosel – a name that was supposed to clear up the confusions of Westerners. My very Catholic family baptized me when I was just about a week old. In Korea, the church gives you a (Westernized) baptized name at the ceremony. (My brother’s baptized name, for example, is Francisco) Mine happened to be Roselle, who was supposedly a French saint. Even for a baptized name in Korea it was unusual. Then there was my father dealing with my immigration papers, in which he (mis)spelled my name as “Rosel.” Cue even more confusion. My “Canadian” name has been pronounced just about everything from Rozzle, Russell, and Rosil. One of my professors never bothered to learn the correct pronunciation of “Rosel” (even though I corrected the pronunciation during a private office hour meeting). My host dad in northern Quebec once ventured timidly into the territory of “….Marcelle? The dinner is ready.” (after I had been living in his house for three weeks)

So, between my unpronounceable first name and my equally confusing middle name I lead a pretty fun, confused (and postmodern?) existence. And I’d like to ask you, azns: what kind of a relationship do you have with your name? What’s the story behind your “English” names, if you have one?

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what’s in a name?

posted by missmsian

Why is “black-” the prefix for everything bad? Blacklist, blackball, blackguard, blackmail, blackout … you get the idea.

I did a similar search for “yellow-” and “brown-“.

yellow-bellied: easily frightened
have a yellow streak down one’s back: to be afraid
yellow journalism: irresponsible, sensationalist reporting designed to sell more papers

Yellow-Azn guys struggle with their portrayals in pop culture as either emasculated, passive nice guys (Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles and Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s) or emotionless ninjas/kung fu warriors (um, every Jackie Chan movie ever made, or Jet Li in Romeo Must Die).

Most of the idioms that include the word “yellow” are about cowardice, which can be defined similarly to passivity. The anomaly is “yellow journalism,” which refers to cunning and trickery, characteristics also associated with Azns going back as far as the Yellow Peril (think: stereotypical Azn gambling dens).

be browned off: to be angry or disgusted
brown bagger: term originally referred to a person who packed his/her own alcohol in a brown bag to carry in public spaces; associated with alcoholism
brown study: to be absentminded

Stereotypes of brown-Azn guys range from terrorist to lazy or stupid. Again, the idioms that use “brown” reflect these popular (mis)representations.

Interesting how racism is sometimes built right into our language.

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