E-letter: Rocking the boat


Oh, let’s be crazy today and talk about the N word.

You do know what I mean, don’t you? Of course you do. If people didn’t know what “the N word” means, then they need to have it explained to them, or the whole phrase is meaningless, and if there is no meaning, there is no word. “Mooshlik” comes to mind. No meaning; no word.

We are told the meaning of the N word is offensive. It can’t be. Mooshlik is not offensive. Apple is not offensive. Poop is not offensive. N word is not offensive. The offense, if any, is not in the word, but in the mind of the recipient.

Kerry Knudsen
Kerry Knudsen

I was riding with a guy in Turkey years ago, and he asked me about freedom. Since he equated me with the U.S., and the U.S. is positively anal about the F word (freedom, this time), he wanted to know how people can claim to be free when they are governed by little yellow lines on the highway and coloured lights at controlled intersections. “There may not be a cop within miles,” he said, “but if there is a red light and nobody on the road at three in the morning, you stop.”

It was my fault. I had asked in a panicked tone why he was swerving from lane to lane at 160 kph. In Istanbul, traffic rules are optional.

For most of us, though, words mean things. In Latin, the word niger and all its spelling variations, means black. In Guerrero, Mexico, if you want refried beans, you ask for frijoles refritos negro. So shoot me. (But don’t say “shoot me” in Guerrero. They might.) Jump across the Caribbean to Honduras, and there is hardly a black bean to be found. There, the favoured bean is red: frijoles rojos. Their tastes are discriminating.

The fact is, everybody hears another word when you say, “the N word.” If they didn’t, you would have to explain it, so the whole PC idea of what is or is not offensive is BS.

Take “gay marriage,” for example. Marriage, as a word, is quite old and has always had a meaning. Gay marriage is quite new, and does not mean what the other word meant, but PC – may I say “fools?” – now insist that we incorporate their new word into our lexicon or go to jail, right along with the unfortunate Mexicans that order refried black beans in the tonier sections of our cities. Except, of course, Mexicans and blacks are exempt from the mores and folkways nouveau of the PC herd.

Much of my graduate work was done in social and historical linguistics, so if that helps, let it. The fact is, now that the old word “marriage” has been redefined by a social subclass, society at large will necessarily come up with a new word to mean what the old word meant. It’s just the way language works.

My concern is not with “the N word” or gay marriage. However, it is quite concerning to watch great swaths of society run from one side of a social issue to another like passengers on a ferry. Whatever is happening on the port side may be fascinating, but if everybody goes there at once, the world turns upside-down.

What is needed is a bit of common sense. Our own industry is driven by fads and fashion. There is no help for that. It just is. However, just like a ferry, some folks need to stay put to counterbalance the stampede.

How many of us, by now, have NOT had to sit through more than three sessions where we “learn” about just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, Kaizen, Lean or Six Sigma? Or how about Green, Sustainable and LEED? We all can understand that consultants need work, too, and bureaucrats must have regulations to shove at people, but seriously, is there not also a mandate that we make sense?

What if I can give a lecture on JIT, Seven Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, Green, Sustainable and LEED in 18 words? For example: a penny saved is a penny earned, a stitch in time saves nine and waste not, want not. Now, everybody send me $50 and save the travel costs.

Don’t get me wrong. It is necessary to explain some things many ways in order to get the message across to all audiences. Seminars are great, and so is efficiency. On the other hand, it really doesn’t hurt for a few of us to stay on the starboard side for balance.

  • I could read Kerry’s writings all day. He is such an informed and intelligent writer.

    I just wanted to express a genuine appreciation for publishing these great articles.
    Thank you,

    Larry Mckeown