Apr 19, 2008

"Never call a native speaker a 'skinhead.'"

Last week I did two lessons on personal appearance, one about simply vocabulary and the other about tact (i.e, a "larger man," as opposed to "fat dude.") Today I answered questions about the homework for that lesson, and I had to explain for the ninety ninth time to a student that if someone has no hair, calling them a "skinhead" is not okay. In fact, very not okay. Simply referring to someone as either "bald," or having a "shaved head" is vastly preferable.

I'm suspecting that "skinhead," may be a katakana word (I know that "niga" is), as many students are genuinely surprised when I tell him that the term refers to violent white supremacists. (Blah, blah, blah, I know what S.H.A.R.P.s have to say about hijacking of the subculture. By now it's irrelevant.) There might also be pronunciation issues- the word "bald," packs a sort of double whammy for Japanese speakers. It's got a consonant cluster at the end, something almost entirely absent from Japanese, with its liberally dispersed vowels, and one of those consonants happens to be "l." I often sounds something like "barud," or the like. "Skinhead" is an easier pronunciation task, so I'm not surprised that students have tended to favor it.

Anyway, informing them of the connotations of the word is a nasty little culture lesson. But, I weirdly like it. I like it that it gives me a moment where I can let a little bit of politics into the classroom. Most students find the phenomenon really strange. I'm always tempted to mention that there are plenty of people here who are still frighteningly right wing, but I hold my tongue.

It's strange, though, hearing such a term bandied about, denuded of its history, ugliness, and violence. It's as if it had been emptied out and stuffed, and was now simply a bit of furniture rather than a beast.

3 comments:

Joseph said...

Man, you're a better person than I am. I think I would go out of my way to teach my students all sorts of inappropriate things to call people.

Sydney said...

I did a week homestay with a French family in Brittany when I was 16. The Dad (Jean-Jacques) was a French teacher and the Mom (Martine) was an English teacher, so it seemed perfect. The thing was, Jean-Jacques thought it was hilarious to teach me semi-naughty words as though they were totally appropriate. Martine would always interject with things like, "Jean-Jacques, leave her alone!" or "Jean-Jacques, be nice!" But I did not need those cues to know that he was not doing me any favors. He tried to tell me that "terrible" was like "bad" in English and sometimes it could mean "good." While this may be true, I'm pretty sure that saying, "C'est terrible!" about Martine's cooking would not be interpreted as a compliment. The other ones he tried to teach me were "dégoûtant" (disgusting, revolting, disgusting person) and "dégoulasse" (disgusting, nasty). Again, in response to his wife's cooking, which really wasn't bad. I can't find "dégoulasse" in my dictionaries but I can find it on-line, which means that it's probably the worse of the two. To this day, I have no idea if either is any worse than "gross." But my impression was that they were closer to "That's crap." This is kind of in response to what Joseph said, but I have a cold and have felt like I've had a brain tumor for the last two days, so I'm not really able to make these ramblings more coherent then that right now. This story made total sense and had a purpose when I started telling it, so I'm just going to post this and hope that I was on to something.

Adrian said...

"a larger man"? LOL Is that English?