Image 01 Image 03

“Brown bag” controversy reveals chink in the armor of language police

“Brown bag” controversy reveals chink in the armor of language police

Saturday Night Card Game

I tend to make light of the language police when it comes to the Saturday Night Card Game, but it’s actually a very serious subject.

The incessant attempt to turn race-neutral phrases into racial testing grounds is part of a larger political war in which race agitators seek to turn everything into a discussion of race all the time in every sphere of life.

Here are some prior examples we have considered: Black List, Baa Baa Black Sheep, RejiggerProvidence PlantationsBlack FridayGobbledygook, Illegal Immigrant, Undocumented Immigrant, Master Bedroom, and even the use of white copy paper.

We also addressed the idiom Chink in the Armor after a sportscaster was suspended and a copywriter (who happened to be married to an Asian woman) was fired for using the phrase in connection with discussing basketball player Jeremy Lin’s on-court weaknesses.  The controversy was contrived, but it drove race into the headlines:

“Chink in the armor” is a non-racial idiom, not a single word, denoting:

A vulnerable area, as in Putting things off to the last minute is the chink in Pat’s armor and is bound to get her in trouble one day . This term relies on chink in the sense of “a crack or gap,” a meaning dating from about 1400 and used figuratively since the mid-1600s.

Now “chink in the armor” is back in the news because a CNBC reporter used the phrase in assessing whether Wendi Deng, the Chinese wife of Rubert Murdoch, could overcome trust agreements as part of their divorce. The phrase was not used to refer to Ms. Deng, but to legal arguments Deng’s lawyer would use to allow her to access the Trusts which contained most of Murdock’s vast fortune.

Here’s the discussion, via Hot Air:

“What do you think the chink in the armor here might be, that’s what [the lawyer] is so good at, is finding a chink in the prenupts and all these trusts.”

This was a perfectly reasonable use of the phrase. But, outrage was swift and certain led by Media Matters, via Hollywood Reporter:

CNBC Reporter Accused of ‘Offensive’ Slur in Report About Wendi Deng (Video)

…. On Tuesday during CNBC’s Power Lunch, Frank was discussing Deng’s hiring of a new lawyer to represent her in her divorce from Murdoch, the CEO of  21st Century Fox and executive chairman of News Corp, when he asked a guest: “What do you think the chink in the armor here might be?”

Hours later, Media Matters fired off an email to journalists nationwide that detailed the exchange and cited the AAJA’s media watch chair Bobby Caina Calvan, who said he has reached out to CNBC to help the business network identify “words that many of us feel are offensive.”

The Media Matters email also says that, while Calvan acknowledged Frank’s question may have been “spoken innocently,” he also called it a “no brainer” that the phrase should never be used when discussing Asian Americans…..

Congratulations Media Matters for further denigrating public discourse by taking a wholly innocent use of a non-racial term and turning it into a racial issue.

But that was not the worst of the week for the language police.  Seattle is considering banning the use of the term Brown Bag when referring to workers bringing food to work because it’s racially insensitive:

City officials urge ban on ‘potentially offensive’ language

An internal memo at Seattle City Hall is causing quite a stir.

It suggests government workers no longer use the terms “citizen,” or “brown bag.”

According to the Office for Civil Rights, the terms are potentially offensive and other words should be used. “Luckily, we’ve got options,” Elliott Bronstein of the Office for Civil Rights wrote in the memo. “For ‘citizens,’ how about ‘residents?'” Bronstein wrote.

The Office of Civil Rights says Seattle serves all residents, whether they’re United States citizens or not. And while city leaders publicize “brown bag” lunch meetings as a way to designate a bring-your-own lunch time event, the term has a sordid history.

“It used to be a way people could judge skin color,” Bronstein said in a phone interview. Does the public find it offensive? Most people agree it’s not.

But the City of Seattle isn’t alone. State lawmakers have voted to remove gender specific words in official records. Freshman are now “first-years,” journeymen are “journey-level,” and penmanship is simply “handwriting.”

To offend or not to offend, turns out to be a very sensitive question. So what is a person supposed to say instead of brown bag? According to the memo, people should try “lunch-and-learn” or “sack lunch.”

The reaction has been widespread ridicule, as reported by NBC News:

A Seattle official who advised that city spokesmen avoid the term “brown bag” as racially offensive has defended his position in the face of national ridicule over what critics called political correctness run amok.

The Seattle official’s explanation is that there was a past practice of using brown bags to judge whether someone’s skin was light enough to gain entrance to events, but as the NBC report details, the brown bag was used by black fraternities and groups, not whites:

For a lot of, particularly, African American community members,” he said, “the phrase ‘brown bag’ does bring up associations with the past when a brown bag was actually used, I understand, to determine if people’s skin color was light enough to allow admission to an event or to come into a party that was being held in a private home.”

Scholarly research and touchstones of African-American popular culture show that Bronstein is right.

In a 2006 book, Audrey Elisa Kerr, a professor of African-American literature at Southern Connecticut State University, documents reports throughout the 20th century of the use of paper bags by African-American fraternities, sororities, churches and social clubs to determine whether a potential member was light-skinned enough to be socially acceptable.

Who knew this?  Who knows this? And if true, what does that have to do with the term brown-bagging as it relates to brining food to work in a, um, brown bag? Is there any evidence that people actually are offended by the phrase?

This is a brown bag used for lunches:

Brown Bag

Equating the race-neutral phrase “brown bag” used in the context of bringing lunch to work with some esoteric past-practice of inter-black skin tone testing is so ludicrous that it may have revealed a chink in the armor of the language police, which can be exploited by the vast majority of Americans of all races and colors who just want to get on with the conversation.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


Is there any evidence that people actually are offended by the phrase?

Of course, there’s always someone offended by about anything.

But, my question is: is there a legal standard of how many people have to be offended before something is done, and who has the authority to do something about it. Does it take more than one person being offended? And, are offenses to some people more egregious than others?

I’m a conservative, old white male. If I’m offended by something, does it count?

    Rick the Curmudgeon in reply to rinardman. | August 4, 2013 at 12:19 am

    I’m a conservative, old white male. If I’m offended by something, does it count?”

    In a word, “no.” But just to balance things out, everything you say WILL offend someone.

    I suffer from the same “conservative, old white male” affliction myself.

You can’t say ‘chink’! lol

Geez, and I thought that word was made up by Marines in Korea back in the 50’s to describe Chan the Man’s brother Link. What about trying to get all your bullets in the black at the target range? Is that racist or just trying to be accurate? Then there is the dreaded X ring.

    BrianMacker in reply to Old0311. | August 4, 2013 at 7:39 am

    Regarding the target. Don’t give them any ideas. This is the stupid persons perfect proof that we teach profiling to tht police. Zoom in on the tiny minority of black and avoid all that white.

This is normal everyday discourse here in Atlanta. Check out “Clayton county sheriff, sniper” to see just how bad it is. North Dakota looking good these days.

    Baker in reply to Weisbrot. | August 3, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    One of my favorite stories is from a law enforcement friend of mine that worked in Clayton County. On a typical Saturday night encounter he and another officer were arresting a known drug dealer and were checking his person and clothes for potential weapons and drugs when the guy cries out before they get to the pants “Hey man – Dese ain’t my pants!! Dese ain’t my pants!!”

      Rick the Curmudgeon in reply to Baker. | August 4, 2013 at 12:22 am

      “Hey man – Dese ain’t my pants!! Dese ain’t my pants!!”

      “Not yours? Okay, you’re under arrest for petty theft.”

Excellent post, Professor! It was mighty white of you to publish it.

Oh. waitaminute. oops. {blush}

I think the civilized way to resolve these issues is to offer to discuss them with the language Nazis over a nice tossed salad.

This is coming in spades now. Uh, let me rephrase …

Freddie Sykes | August 3, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Here is a phase I sometimes give a person a hard time over: “Hocus Pocus”. The term is a corruption of “Hoc est Corpus Meum” or “This is My Body”. Its origin was used as mockery in the satanic mass.

It is fun to turn the tables on self righteous progressives.

They have reneged on previous agreements. They are renegers. They should be more niggardly with their white noise.

Hope no one suggests that they should have any crackers in that sack lunch.

    Fabi in reply to Baker. | August 4, 2013 at 3:31 am

    Well whatever you do, don’t put a sandwich in your brown bag made with white bread.

    Miscegenation and all…

9thDistrictNeighbor | August 3, 2013 at 9:28 pm

I am so sick of the impoverishment of our language. I’d launch into a long-winded diatribe, but I’d offend a member of some tribe or someone with COPD. Niggardly indeed.

currently in discussion over at newsbusters about letting a string of letters have power over you.

funny how people are so scared of a few letters.

There was an era referred to as the Crazy Years —- We are living in the TOTAL INSANITY YEARS. Everyday shows that Liberalism is a mental disorder!!!

************ BREAKING *********** BREAKING ************

Comedian Shows His Disgust With Seattle’s Pathetic Brown Bag Ban.

What we need is a few good men and women to stand their ground; otherwise, we will be clicking and whistling our way to irrelevance.

Well, yeah. It’s good to note that this is an “industry” complex. People who get money for doing this EARN IT BECAUSE THAT’S HOW THEY GET PAID! The few. Not the many.

I’m not so sure “chink in the armor” quite catches it though. Because it’s middle-ages jargon. When men were killing each other by spear thrusts. First, I guess, they went into battle “naked.” But with clothes … they discovered all sorts of protections their bare skin didn’t provide. Plus, you could run through the woods and not get branches stuck up your behind if you wrapped your body in animal skins.

The other thing about language in general is that it gets MORE complicated the fewer people who use it. So, “usage” counts only when lots and lots of people have adopted the words.

Look at medical terminology’s reach, though, for obscure Latin words. With handwriting to match. Ditto, what lawyers do, because they can charge more money when their products sound more complicated.

While in the Middle Ages, when you had lots and lots of servants, you could put interesting buckets on your head. And, “maile” on your body. Maile was the garments made of chain link. And, then your servants had to lift you up to sit on top of your horse. (Mark Twain, in a Connecticut Yankee, had a ball describing this period.)

Now, much to my own surprise, and I just figured this out watching Dee-Dee, I discovered hey, they hate out culture. All the taxpayer dollars spent on educating these types falls on deaf ears. We’re lucky that this is only just a minority part of our population. Because our experiments failed.

As to slang vocabulary, America didn’t invent this. And just as you’ve pointed out, there’s a profitable “grievance” business. If Barnum were alive today this could have made his side show. Because every circus turns a profit if it has a side show. My mother actually said kind things about Barnum. She said he found a way for unfortunate people to make a living.

[…] Jacobson at Legal Insurrection has up a great post today on ““Brown bag” controversy reveals chink in the armor of language […]

This age’s equivalent of victorianism’s repressive prudishness is politically correct speech. For the Victorians any mention of sexuality no matter how vague, was cause for outraged alarm – but now that has morphed into hyper sensitivity for perceived racial or class or gender slights, no matter how innocuous.

The Victorians were temperamentally unable to deal with sex; this generation is unable to call a spade a spade without being warned the jig may be up on the freedom to express oneself in informal colloquial banter.

    Alastor in reply to jayjerome66. | August 4, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    jayjerome66 – that is actually a common misconception about the Victorian period … the reality was that, far from being prudish, in the Victorian era, sexually, pretty much anything was just fine as long as it wasn’t being done in public … essentially, do whatever you want in public; just don’t scare the horses !

    A large part of the current problem is that few folk here in the US call out the folk who *choose* to TAKE offence for what they are doing … there is a reason that the English language includes to the expressions “to give offence” and “to take offence” …

    Rational folk can give gifts and take gifts – and can choose whether or not to take and accept and enjoy (or not) a gift … if they do not want to accept the gift, then they simply choose to refuse it …

    If someone throws you a tennis ball, most of you will try to catch it and will probably succeed in doing so … such are your instincts … if someone throws you a spiny sea urchin, do you have to catch it, sticking yourself with the spines ? Or can you choose to let it fall to the ground, an unaccepted gift, thus suffering no injury, no damage to your hand(s) ?

    An offered insult is no different than that sea urchin … if you *choose* to seize it, that is *your* choice – once you realise that you don’t *have* to take it … ignore the words and they have no power over you …

    In this society, you have the right to take offence, just as you have the right to catch that spiny sea urchin … does an intelligent person do either of those things ?

Midwest Rhino | August 3, 2013 at 11:22 pm

New Orleans was like 65% black and used to have brown bag concerts downtown at lunch. I think the mayor was black too, and they thought it was a great idea.

Obama’s early mentor was a communist, his Chicago church sided with the communists and Sandinistas in Central America in the 80’s, Obama himself sided with Castro and Chavez in Honduras just four years ago … YET … I’m not sure if the language police want me to all him a communist, socialist, progressive, new party member, liberal … or just “Savior”.

I’m going with communist, till they arrest me and reeducate me.

[…] RELIEF: “Brown bag” controversy reveals chink in the armor of language police. These people are illiterate idiots. They should be mocked mercilessly and never taken seriously. […]

The same instinct to police every quantum of racial grievance, spurious or not, is at work when these people take it upon themselves to dictate what we can ingest or wear or buy. I don’t think it would be much more palatable to have a class lording it over us even if its members were wise and erudite, but the fact that so many of the Parasite Class are self-evident retards just adds insult to injury. Pointing and laughing at them is a good first start, but sooner or later they need to suffer real and unpleasant consequences.

I have a friend who works for the city of Seattle and its not uncommon to have the racial Nazis outright say behind closed doors that there is no way in hell they are hiring a white guy for positions.

Could Lex Luthor please shoot that missile into Lake Washington and drop Seattle off into the salty pacific? Biblically speaking- pillar of salt also would suffice.

(yeah I’m sure those statements put me on a no fly list.)

Don’t forget to add to the list the word that ended up costing the DC Comptroller his job a few years ago. The guy wrote an article about the difficulty of enforcing accounting rules without appearing too “niggardly,” and was so criticized he ended up leaving his position.

Apparently that word needs to be tossed into the woodpile.

Oops! I denounce myself.

I take offense at the term “African-American” which is far more racist than “brown bag” or any of the other examples given.

    BannedbytheGuardian in reply to flataffect. | August 4, 2013 at 2:29 am

    Obama is one of the few African Americans. Is somebody was. White African ( for up 5 to 6 generations possibly ) & reproduced with a white American then they would be African American but totally white.

    There was a gymnast othe 1990s US tteam with a Ugandan father & a Romanian mother who got put in as African American also. ( Betty Okino) . The interesting facet here is that she trained under the Karolyis in Texas who , when dissing the girls spoke Romanian . They never suspected she did also & she used to tell all the girls every thing they said -. it gave the girls some devilish fun to hear it . ( they don’t make kids like that anymore) .

Get a motorcycle and enjoy the trip.

as a person with male genitalia, i take offense to the term “sack” lunch.

BannedbytheGuardian | August 4, 2013 at 2:47 am

For some reason I own a Seattle World Fair 1962 badge.

Now that I think about it –

Away in a manger
No time for a crib
The little baby Obama
Lay down his sweet head.

Do left handers get offended by “left behind,” “left out”? Do they take umbrage at “right away,” “right way, or the highway,” “human rights,” etc?

There is just so much potential outrage out there, that I can’t keep up with it.

    BannedbytheGuardian in reply to Diplomad. | August 4, 2013 at 3:01 am

    There used to be a mini bus that came to pick up mentally disadvantaged kids with a big sign ….

    The Canterbury District Association for Retarded and Sub Normal Children.

    When I was a kid Pre PC- I felt sad seeing that but adults thought it was a wonderful thing that they got their own bus & somewhere to go each day.

    Micha Elyi in reply to Diplomad. | August 4, 2013 at 3:36 am

    Dunno ’bout the left-handers but a college paper a bunch of buddies and I produced got into trouble with the a queer campus PC crowd for mentioning Rolaids in print. They fretted that people whose lifestyle made ‘me prone to contracting AIDS might get upset. Yes, that Rolaids – the stuff for upset tummies.

      Alastor in reply to Micha Elyi. | August 4, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      Micha – have you noticed that, in the past 30 years or so, the advertisements that we used to see for “Marital Aids” (for the innocent, these were usually ummmmm ‘prosthetic devices’ which didn’t suffer from problems of ummmm ‘stamina’, most commonly) vhave mysteriously vanished, without anyone needing to pass a law or ban the term ?

      The Free Market (and common sense) quietly and without fuss simply stopped using them …

      Honest folk don’t have to ban words like the n-word … the race-baiters and the internal bigots are the ones who have to ban words lest they, themselves, use the words with the discourteous meanings that they thenselves believe … those innocent of such bigotries can talk about “chink in the armour” because they know that it is not an insult to any ethnic group – the internal bigots only know how they themselves use the word – as an insult …

      So – as others have observed – feel free to use the term “niggardly”, nay, be not niggardly in its use, lest you show yourself to be one of those ignorant and ungenerous bigots …

      (Ironically, “niggardly”,, meaning “in the way or type or practice of the Niggards or Nig” is actually an ethnic slur going back many centuries to before most modern countries were created … the Nigg were a southern Scandinavian tribe who were notorious for their lack of hospitality and lack of generosity – and, back then, hospitality to visitors was a very important cultural behaviour … so, to be a niggard, or to be niggardly, was to be excessively sparing of hospitality or generosity … go figure !)

[…] This piece is a perfect example of people taking offense at everything – especially language. […]

We should start calling everyone and everything “it.”

e.g., I went to the city of It with my bag of it. I met It for lunch. We sat and talked about our common therapist. Her name is It.
Therapist It had just moved here from It because her new lover, named It, lived in It.
It all seemed so safe to be just another It among other Its just like me.

Scientists will now have to stop using the term “black box.” Oh my!

According to the Office for Civil Rights, the terms are potentially offensive and other words should be used. “Luckily, we’ve got options,” Elliott Bronstein of the Office for Civil Rights wrote in the memo. “For ‘citizens,’ how about ‘residents?’” Bronstein wrote.

“Luckily, we’ve got options. For ‘bluefin tuna,’ how about ‘lobster?'”

travis wilde | August 4, 2013 at 7:21 am

One to ban from “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” … “There’s a little nip in the air.”

travis wilde | August 4, 2013 at 7:26 am

Sack Lunch ain’t that far from Tea Bag (as a verb)

I once had the plaintiff in an employment discrimination testify that the expression “brown noser” was racist. His own lawyer laughed out loud at that. I asked the court reporter to make sure plaintiff’s counsel’s guffaw was included in the record.

There are few powers greater than the power to dictate which words are part of permissible vocabulary and which are not.

So while this may be seem humorous on the surface it is really about power and dominion over others, as all things with the political left ultimately are.

NC Mountain Girl | August 4, 2013 at 8:44 am

The last few years I lived in Chicago I began calling the panhandlers that plagued the loop beggars. This shocked the liberals, who often insisted I should not be insulting the unfortunate homeless. I’d have none of it. I noted I didn’t know they were, in fact, homeless. The liberal didn’t know if they were homeless, either. We both, however, could plainly see they were begging.

Isn’t it wonderful when the offender takes offense that someone would be offended by them? It’s like the apology that goes, “I’m sorry you’re hurt by what I said, but it’s your fault that you’re upset!”

I am deeply offended that there are illegal immigrants here. So, if they are offended by a few terms, that is Just. Too. Bad. My goal is to offend them so much that they decide this is just a terrible place to live, and they go back to where them came from.

If you are a legal immigrant, then, “Welcome, I am so glad that you are here, and that you respect this nation enough to abide by its laws. Thank you, God bless you, and have a great life, fellow citizen!”

To me, it is a matter of self-esteem.

Why would a black person take offense when someone describes them as “black”? Are they red? Blue? Orange?
If you are black, you must be black and proud.
The same goes to Asian or Hispanic people. Or Native Americans, Samoans, Eskimos, whatever. Even white people.

You are what you are. Own it!!!!
Be proud of who you are, and make yourself better every day. Bring more pride and honor to yourself, your family and your community in every action and every behavior.
Stop assuming that there is shame in who or what you are!!
Be a proud American, and that’s it.

Why would I take offense when somebody talks about a lunch bag?
I am not a lunch bag!!!!
Is that the way those people see themselves? Are they lunch bags? Do they feel like lunch bags?
Are they so little in their own eyes that they immediately take offense on every word or phrase regardless of context?

“A chink in the armor” is a valid idiom, with a very definite meaning. It has been around forever. Why would someone take ONE word totally out of context and make it offensive? I think it is because they WANT to feel offended. They are looking through a faulty magnifying glass. They are distorting the meaning of other people’s words, and they are doing it on purpose.

And why on earth would someone take offense in the term CITIZEN ?!!!!!!!

From (Please give special attention to #2) :

[sit-uh-zuhn, -suhn]

a native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection (distinguished from alien ).

an inhabitant of a city or town, especially one entitled to its privileges or franchises.

an inhabitant, or denizen: The deer is a citizen of our woods.

a civilian, as distinguished from a soldier, police officer, etc.

Well, I guess from now on I can’t use “flip charts,” put “kraut” on my hot dogs, buy “nips,” especially if i live in Japan, can’t ask to have my hamburger “paddys” (misspelled on purpose to make it obvious) cooked well done, can’t refer to that cute little bandit animal as a “raccoon.” You get the idea. Just ridiculous.

All this controversy is coming from half illiterate morons!

Armor is offensive, too. To people without arms.

We are taking political correctness far too seriously. Words can’t hurt you. If it were up to me I would release the English lexicon in its entirety. Unfortunately, we have carved out certain words, the use of which will excuse physical violence on the part of the offended minority. The inference here is insulting; it implies that the person being offended will not or cannot respond in kind or prevent himself from flying into a fit of rage.

However, if we are going to persist in this carve out of words, I ask for my 14th Amendment right to equal treatment under the law. The next time someone calls me a “Tea Bagger” I will demand the right to pull out a Model 1911 and forthwith ventilate his cranium.

    Mannie in reply to Arch. | August 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I will demand the right to pull out a Model 1911 and forthwith ventilate his cranium.

    You won’t hit anything vital.

The main reason the Russians will not allow Siberians in their tanks.

This reminds me of an apocryphal story of a small town that decided to go gender neutral on all it’s official language. Policemen became police officers. Postmen became postal carriers. The busybodies got stuck when it came to “manholes.” “Person holes” sounded wrong, and “personnel access structures” was too wordy.

A Citizen suggested they solve the dilemma by buying new manhole covers, with the image of a donkey cast in them.

Then everyone would know what to call them, and the people who thought up this whole mess.

As I remember the kerfuffle about the word “niggardly”, the offended party turned out to be a black woman who apparently had a 6th grade education and didn’t know any better. She was embarrassed, I think, by her ignorance. It would be nice to think that the other word police mentioned throughout this article are also embarrassed when they are called out for their own Stoopid.

[…] RELATED: At Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson discusses brown bags, chinks in the armor, and other weapons of control wielded by the Language Police. […]

[…] RELATED: At Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson discusses brown bags, chinks in the armor, and other weapons of control wielded by the Language Police. […]

Is a weatherman allowed to say, “There’s a nip in the air”?

[…] bringing a brown bag lunch to work is racially insensitive.  The folks at Legal Insurrection have all the details here, but the gist of the problem is apparently […]

Some years ago (maybe twenty, but I don’t remember exactly) a Los Angeles city councilman made the comment that “it was time to call a spade a spade” in reference to city budget talks. He was lambasted as a racist. That was the first time I heard this politically correct nonsense and it has only gotten worse since then.