Compound semantics

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Tank McNamara for 7/31/2014 explores the protean semantics of English complex nominals:

And a followup strip explores some other possible sensitivities:

Past LLOG posts relevant to the "Redskins" debate:

"Fenimore Cooper, call your office", 10/7/2003
"The conventions for expressive content words", 10/11/2003
"Of limes and racial epithets", 1/18/2004
"Mascot names and etymology", 5/25/2005
"Disparaging trademarks and the lexicography of tools", 7/16/2005
"Adverbial license", 7/17/2005
"The origin of Redskin", 3/26/2006
"When should linguists disclose a conflict?", 12/15/2009
"The Slants v. the USPTO", 10/21/2013
"Redskins ruled disparaging", 6/182014



  1. J. W. Brewer said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 10:42 am

    I'm not sure how common "Redskins," as such, is out there as a team name throughout the country (although obviously the second strip concerns the slippery-slope argument about how the dynamic could extent to other names deemed offensive by some constituency), but I was intrigued to recently learn that out there in the American heartland is a high school football team called, of all things, the Liberal Redskins, who have won five state championships and sent at least two players on to the NFL.

  2. Grunschev said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

    My personal favorite is the Red Mesa High School Redskins. That's the public high school on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona.

  3. Rebecca said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

    I never expected to see my high school mentioned in Language Log, but I can assure you that Liberal, Kansas is not *called that because of the politics of the locals (much to my chagrine). If a team name change is ever entertained, I've thought of recommending "liberal Rednecks". With the oil patch, farming and ranching in the area, more of us have that heritage than have Native American heritage, and it would be a good test of the consistency of people's belief that the derogatory origins of a term don't matter, as long as the contemporary intent is one of respect. Still, I expect my recommendation would get a similar reception to the one in the above cartoon :-)

    *the lore behind the name is that when the town was just a stop on the Santa Fe trail, it was one of the few places where travelers could get water for free. No clue if that's true, but it's what we learned in school.

  4. AntC said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

    bottom of the "offended" barrel

    My local team (Rugby Union) in Canterbury, NZ are the "Crusaders" (and so named within the past 20 years). I suppose they're going for the alliteration, but I remember the furore when George W. let slip the C-word.

    Just for the avoidance of doubt, their pre-match entertainment involves jousting horsemen charging around battlements.

    Can we hope that we're in a sufficiently obscure corner of the world to avoid a fatwah?

  5. tk said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

    I been waiting for someone to call out Notre Dame's 'Fighting Irish.'

  6. Victor Mair said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 4:53 pm

    As a Dartmouth graduate (1965) and athlete (played basketball and football and did a bit of track and field as well), I am quite familiar with the struggles over mascot names like that of the Washington Redskins, since we were the Dartmouth Indians. That was a natural choice for Dartmouth College, inasmuch as the school was founded in 1769 with the express purpose of educating the local indigenes.

    So far as I know, the huge weathervane high atop the Baker Library bell tower still depicts the founder of our College, Eleazar Wheelock, sitting beneath the Old Pine teaching a Native American. The weathervane is 8 feet 9 inches long, 6 feet 8 inches tall, and weighs 600 pounds. Being so large and an integral part of the architecture of the library, I doubt that it will be removed from its position overlooking the College Green anytime soon.

    We were called the Dartmouth Indians until the mid-seventies, after which we styled ourselves the Dartmouth Big Green. Ever since that time, we've been trying to find a suitable mascot, but so far we're still just a Big Green blob. Cornell, which calls itself the Big Red, at least has come up with a bear mascot, so they have something to dance around the field or arena. Penn has its mighty Quaker (what is his yell — peace?), and Dartmouth used to have its proud Indian, who would do "wah-hoo-wah" chants as he ran around the field bare chested, even when it was snowing. Harvard's mascot was John Harvard, but now they seem to favor just their color, Crimson. Yale sticks by its bulldog, Handsome Dan, the nation's first university mascot.

    Does anybody have a good idea for a mascot to match Big Green? Why not the Hulk?

  7. Ray Dillinger said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

    College sports is not pro sports.

    If a college such as Dartmouth, founded for and on a continuing basis devoted to the welfare of native americans (as evidenced by a large endowment for scholarships to that group) uses the name Indians I believe that there's a reasonable basis for considering that legitimate.

    But if a pro team founded for and on a continuing basis devoted to shareholder profits, and having as far as I know no native american shareholders, uses the name 'Redskins' that's something of an unfair appropriation. Especially considering that the term is not, historically speaking, one of respect.

  8. DaveK said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 5:29 pm

    I can't remember the specifics but there was a high school whose teams were called the Warriors, with an emblem showing the profile you'd see on the front of an old nickel. When they got the inevitable complaints, they just changed the emblem to a guy in a crested helmet.

  9. David P said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

    Stanford used to be The Indians until sometime in the early 1970s. The suggested replacement most popular with the students, The Robber Barons, was rejected by the administration, who opted for the very unpopular The Cardinal.

  10. J. W. Brewer said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

    I can't remember if this came up in a prior thread or not (so I apologize if duplicative), but it turns out that in South Africa there is a college rugby team whose name originates in an anti-Semitic slur, but in a good way (i.e. those on the receiving end of what was intended as a slur decided to reconceptualize it as a badge of pride) . . .

  11. Alec Sugar said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

    The best suggestion I've seen is to change the Washington Redskins' logo to a potato.

  12. a George said,

    August 7, 2014 @ 5:44 am

    ouch, Norscä hits again: who the [invective] is Rölf?

  13. richardelguru said,

    August 7, 2014 @ 5:54 am

    a George
    Rölf Röister Döister, of course

  14. Richard Hershberger said,

    August 7, 2014 @ 9:44 am

    UC Santa Barbara's mascot was (and, so far as I know, still is) the "Gauchos": not so much offensive as mystifying, and knowing what a gaucho is doesn't really help solve the mystery. The student paper ran a competition for suggested changes. The best one was "UCSB Unsightly Offshore Oil Derricks."

    As for "Big Green," the small liberal arts college near me is the "Green Terror." This is a deeply unfortunate name, as the football team (NCAA Division III) tends to play to a nearly perfect record. Last season they dodged this by winning a game at the end of the season. Green Terror is bad enough when your team is good, and simply embarrassing when your team is bad. My suggestion is to change it to "Green Terroir," and feature vintages from the local wineries. They too are pretty bad, but at least we could get a buzz on.

    As for mascots, I don't recall seeing one at the football games I have attended. This probably is wise.

  15. maidhc said,

    August 7, 2014 @ 8:42 pm

    Stanford's team name Cardinal (the color, not the bird) was used informally since the founding of the university, since that is the school color. The term Indians arose for some unknown reason in the 1920s and was officially adopted in 1930. When they decided to get rid of the Indians name in the 1970s, there was no agreement on a new mascot, so the president eventually declared they would go back to the old name.

    The similarly controversial Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois also started in the 1920s. There seems to have been a fashion at that time to name sports teams after Indians.

    At UC Santa Cruz the unpopular team name Sea Lions was changed to Banana Slugs after a campaign by students attracted overwhelming support. This is the only example I know of a mascot chosen by students actually being adopted. However UCSC, as a new institution, didn't have any alumni body to be outraged. (I don't know the history of the Evergreen State College Geoducks.)

  16. Thomas Rees said,

    August 8, 2014 @ 12:46 am

    UC Irvine Anteaters? Zot!

  17. Ted McClure said,

    August 11, 2014 @ 11:18 pm

    At Carnegie Mellon (the name changed from Carnegie Institute of Technology a week or two before I arrived), students were certain that the appropriate team name was the Barons. Didn't fly, so the CMU teams remain the Tartans to this day. With a stubborn-looking scottie dog as the mascot.

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