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Friday, January 16, 2009

Taking the Mick Out of Nicks

British Sunday paper News of the World breaks the story of the Prince Harry scandal

There has been a recent furore in the British news headlines about the Royal family and their attitude towards minorities.

Prince Charles' youngest son Harry has been apologising for using racist language towards an army colleague whose descendants are from Pakistan. The usage of the racist slur by the third in line to the throne while serving in the army has even raised complaints when used by the BBC in the reporting of the event.

For those outside of the UK, the "P-word" might simply be an abbreviation of Pakistani, but because of historical connotations, it is as offensive to Pakistanis as the "N-word" is to Americans with slave descendants. Now imagine President George W Bush using the N-word to jokingly refer to the former American secretary of state Colin Powell, and having this repartee caught on video.

In the imagined scenario, however much Powell might even say that he took it as a term of affection, it is easy to see how it could cause widespread offence.

This is what happened to Prince Harry (the boy who also caused outrage when he decided to wear a Nazi uniform in all its swastika glory to a party a few years ago) and now his father has been caught up in a similar scandal for referring to an Asian polo club member as "Sooty".

Although many are saying it is making much of nothing, it has at least raised the issue of nicknames, and which ones are suitable as terms of endearment.

Not only is it the nature of nicknames that those who they apply to don't get to choose them, they are also used to poke a little fun - so drawing on a person's race or appearance as inspiration for a nickname is likely to cause offence, unless all things are equal.

For it is not only the word itself used, but the people that use them and the relationship/context in which it used, which makes the word offensive.

Consequently, I can't quite imagine had Prince Charles' friend "Sooty" reciprocated by calling Charles "Big Ears" that it would have gone down too well.

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