The Sanctification Of Ignorance

Once upon a time an activist invited onto the Oprah Winfrey Show informed the audience that “squaw” was an Algonquin Indian word meaning vagina. If this were true, to use this phoneme as a generic for Native American women would be unconscionable, and much frantic respelling and renaming ensued.

But it’s not true. The serious linguists insist that “squaw” was borrowed as early as 1621 from Proto-Algonquian *eθkwe·wa, in that language meaning simply “young woman”. Although Algonquian linguists and historians have rejected the activist’s etymology, it continues to be repeated by journalists, not least by Oprah Winfrey herself. It would be such a shame to waste a good story.

What do we take away from this? That scholarship and decades of study are utterly useless in the face of an uneducated person with a grievance, who may have her blessedly indignant fantasy, just plucked from the air, canonised by an emotion-cultivating billionaire. Science? Game over. Just wait until she finds some telegenic victim with a beef against Planck’s Constant.

Leave a Reply