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Quentin Tarantino and the great American language debate

Director Quentin Tarantino speaks at the press conference for
Director Quentin Tarantino speaks at the press conference for "The Hateful Eight."
Bryan Bedder

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Quentin Tarantino made waves this week after he used the word “ghetto” in his Golden Globes acceptance speech.

He used it in the context of its historically correct usage, as an area confined to members of a minority group, but offended people nonetheless.  

“Even when you're a white person who demonstrates some level of appreciation or affinity for black people and black culture — you're still white. You don't get a free pass to play around with the words, phrases and experiences that reinforce the marginalization of black people,” wrote NBC commentator Derrick Clifton. Others have deemed Tarantino the most recent victim of Americans’ shrinking vocabularies.

But should people retire words like “retarded,” “apologist,” “catholic,” and “niggardly” from usage for fear of offending people who assume you’re referring to the word’s popular usage?


Geoffrey Nunberg, Linguist and professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley.  He’s the author of the books “A-word” and “Talking Right"

Jesse Sheidlower, president of the American Dialect Society, editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary and author of “The F-Word”