July 21, 2007

Homophonic slurs

Noted at Slacktivist: according to a story by Mike Bruno at Entertainment Weekly ("Washington Doing Five Episodes of 'Bionic Woman'", 5/16/2007),

Former Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington will appear on five episodes of the new NBC series Bionic Woman, which debuts this fall. Ben Silverman, Co-Chairman, NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, made the announcement on Monday (July 16) at the network's presentation at the Television Critics Association summer tour. The actor will play a member of the organization that created the bionics that turn Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan) into the ''Bionic Woman.'' The character appears to have a hidden agenda as he helps Jaime handle her new abilities. Washington was not asked to return to Grey's Anatomy next season after a turbulent year in which he was accused of calling co-star T.R. Knight a homophonic slur, which he then said publicly back stage at the Golden Globes in January.

That would be, like, calling Knight trilingual?

(Not really; it would be more like speculating that he might become hoary in his later years. Though that's pretty weak.)

According to my internal norms of English usage, you can call someone a name, but you can't call them a slur. I wonder why not?

[Hat tip to Chris Laning]

[Mark Reed wrote in to make one of those points that's obvious in retrospect. You might think that Mike Bruno and/or his editor committed a malapropism, or a typographical error (since 'n' is right next to 'b') -- that's how I interpreted it -- but perhaps this was just a clever reference to the fact that Washington referred to Knight as a faggot (of wood). (No, I don't really believe that, and Mark doesn't, either, but it's a clever idea.) Mark also notes that EW's circumlocution confirms that faggot has joined nigger as a slur that it's taboo to print.

Mark raised another question as well: in the same passage, was "Jaime" for "Jamie" a slip of the fingers, a misspelling, or an error of memory? There seems to be some internal evidence here for careless typing and slipshod proofreading, both faults that I'm prone to myself.]

[But Marc Naimark writes from Paris to set us straight:

The character's name in the original series was Jaime Sommers. Drove me crazy... Jaime isn't normally pronounced like Jamie and is usually a man's name. Ugh. This was particularly annoying since it was coupled with her being from Ojai, California, which is pronounced in the Spanish fashion, o-high. How did the producers get the "jai" in Ojai right, and the Jai in Jaime wrong?!


[Though it somewhat spoils the joke, I do need to point out that while homophonous commonly means "having the same sound", homophonic is a different word, used in music to mean "in unison" (as opposed to antiphonic). However, a connection with linguistic homophony exists through the term homophonic substitution (cipher).]

[And Arnold Zwicky writes to point out that homophonic for homophobic happens a lot, sometimes clearly as a slip of the fingers, and sometimes apparently as a malapropism:

An earlier occurrence at http://www.overthrow.com/lsn/news.asp?articleID=6773 (hard to piece out just what was happening back in 2004).

I could swear that i've seen other reports of "homophonic" for "homophobic" or the reverse, but I don't find it on my computer, in the ADS-L archives, on michael quinion's site, or on the ecdb site.

But here are some from the first 40 hits for {homophobic homophonic}:

Because we are all products of our society, most of us are homophobic, regardless of our sexual orientation. Assume that you are homophonic.

I also challenge the word "homophobic" as fear of hobosexuals. I'm not homophobic--I have no fear of your type, only contempt. And now you have homophobia to wave around just like the jews have anti-semenic. So lets get rid of the word homophobia: How about "Homo-Blyiccch" (gag, choke, vomit)? Sure, you can call me homophonic if you like but I know what's right and what's wrong. When all you perverts are in hell it will be a much better place.

Girl #1: What's the word for when there's just a voice and a harmony?
Girl #2: I think that's called "homophobic."
Girl #1: Really, homophobic?
Girl #3: Actually it's "homophonic."
Girl #2: Oh.
Girl #1: Then what does homophobic mean?

ase note - I am not condoning discrimination here - just saying that people need to lighten up. What if I'm a straight guy who likes my yellow polo shirt and dogs - if I have a small dog collection that I walk with am I gay?

And I'm not homophonic, or uptight... kind of ironic that you're calling everyone else uptight.

Police investigating allegations of racist and homophobic offences have ... But the announcer stumbled over one of the words and said "homophonic offense". ...

The most common categories of homophonic incidents witnessed by ..... Successful strategies to increase the inclination to report homophobic abuse should ...

as for who's homophonic, I think that the current turkish government is certainly homophobic because they referred to Belgium's publication of the fact that ...


[And last of all, Mickey Blake was taken aback by the reference (in Arnold Zwicky's list of citations) to "'homophobic' as fear of hobosexuals". She asked "Would that be the fear of people whose sexual orientation is towards hygeine-deficient unemployed migrants?"

My own guess is that it's someone who was so stirred up by the topic as to type with the left index finger rather than the right, while preserving as many other phonological features as possible (i.e. typing 'b' for 'm'). But hobophobic, hobophonic, etc., would be good words for a game of Extended Fictionary, in which you have to make up fake etyomologies involving allegedly real source words. In this case, that would be Greek ὑβός "humpback" -- or is it ὡβός "mercenary soldier"? ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 21, 2007 08:35 AM