Back in my elementary and junior high school days (we’re talking about the late 1940s and early 1950s) one of the most vile insults you could hurl without getting your mouth washed out with soap was to call a classmate a Yankee.
It was a predecessor to Political Correctness, which took a molehill-sized taunt and raised it to a mountain-sized slur.
To put things in perspective, the Civil War ended in 1865. My classmates and I were born 75 years later. We hardly had bitter memories of the sacrifices of soldiers on both sides of that American disaster.
“Yankee” was a convenient and mildly insulting sobriquet to be hurled at someone who annoyed us. As an aside, I remember my junior high school shop teacher, Billy B. Brown, telling our class that as a combat soldier in World War II, he proudly acknowledged the term Yankee as synonymous with Americans fighting in that war.
The meaning of words is fluid, and today Yankee is used with affection as a synonym for Snowbirds to describe those New Jersey Americans who have the good sense to move to Florida each year when it starts snowing up Nawth.
For reasons not clear to me, this fluidity of language has led to a penchant for finding nefarious meanings for innocuous words and declaring them to violate the murky doctrine of political correctness.
The most recent target of the PC Police has been the use of terms related to American Indians (who have become Indigenous People in the wake of the embarrassing acknowledgement that Christopher Columbus landed about half a world away from his intended destination).
My alma mater, Florida State University, had the forethought to obtain the approval of Florida’s Seminole tribe before adopting the tribal name for its mascot. By logical extension, FSU’s peerless band became the Marching Chiefs.
The Florida National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry, proudly calls itself the Seminole Battalion. (Its higher headquarters is known as the Gator Brigade.)
Throughout Florida, and much of the rest of the nation that Columbus thought to be India, mascots from Indigenous People’s tribes have been proudly selected by everything from elementary schools to professional sports teams.
They are variously known as Braves, Warriors, Chiefs, and Indians, as well as such college teams as the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Mississippi College Choctaws.
It can be persuasively argued that a few terms, such as Redskins and Savages, carry unintentional insulting connotations, and have outlived their appropriateness.
But they are the exception.
Terms such as Braves and Chiefs, and the names of surviving Native American tribes, are hardly insulting.
In Florida, any number of towns, lakes, and rivers bear Indian names, all without insulting intentions or overtones.
I am not without some personal knowledge of the usurpation of proper names for promotional purposes.
The Frisbee (a corruption of Frisbie, the correct spelling of the name of the bakery whose pie tins gave birth to the popular flying disk) has given my family a bit of uninvited, but not unwelcome, notoriety.
As several friends have pointed out to me, it’s a name that gets thrown around a lot.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. His favorite name story is of two college students driving through Florida on spring break. As they drove past a highway marker telling them that the Central Florida community of Kissimmee was 10 miles ahead, one said that the word was a romantic term, with the emphasis on the first syllable, while the other said it was an Indian American word, with the emphasis on the second syllable. They agreed to stop at the first business in the town to resolve the issue. One asked the cashier, “Pronounce the name of this place for me, very carefully and distinctly.” Giving him a curious look, she replied, “BUR-GER KING.”)