## "No homo"

In a sign of the times, "Hibbert's Remarks Result in a Fine", NYT 6/2/2013:

14. ### J.W. Brewer said,

June 3, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

Does AmEng currently lack a non-derogatory alternative set form of words that can be employed by sports stars, hip-hop artists or just ordinary civilians as a "a coda to a statement that could be construed as having a homosexual double entendre" (i.e. one signalling the hearer that the non-sexual reading of the words just uttered is the intended one)? One can imagine contexts in which one might want to provide that sort of clarification/disambiguation for non-derogatory reasons, although I'm not certain in the case at hand how much of Mr. Hibbert's audience would have picked up on the double entendre he seems to have thought he had made if he had ignored it and just kept on going.

15. ### Per said,

June 3, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

@Robert Coren: Huh. I do find it weird that the NBA's problem with "no homo" is that "homo" is a "slur." I suppose you're right I don't often see "homo" used in non-derogatory contexts, but I don't often see "homosexual" used in non-derogatory contexts either — and that doesn't make it a slur, just kind of a dog-whistle word. (I'm not sure what makes me so confident that "homosexual" isn't a slur, but I think almost no one would describe it as a slur even though it's almost never used in queer-positive discussion.)

To the broader point, though, about the way the NBA criticized him: it seems obvious to me that I'd have the same problem with "he was stretching me out so much — whoops, that sounds gay. I'm not gay." Right? What's troublesome isn't the word choice — it's the need to take every unintended pun as an opportunity to distance yourself from homosexuality.

16. ### Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

June 3, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

@JMB:

17. ### Nic Subtirelu said,

June 3, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

Fining the NBA for racism in this case is more absurd than fining Hibbert for homophobia because the NBA is not being racist whereas Hibbert is being homophobic.

Whether or not the best way to deal with discrimination is to impose financial penalties is another question of course, but I don't think it's really that ridiculous and it certainly isn't inconsistent with the NBA's (and other professional sports leagues') decisions.

18. ### Sven said,

June 3, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

@Eorrfu: "Homo" in "homosexual" is not from the Latin homo ("human"), but from the Greek homos ("same").

19. ### J.W. Brewer said,

June 3, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

Per: the NYT story here itself uses "homosexual" in a fashion that seems to assume it remains (at least in some contexts) a neutral non-pejorative word. I'm more struck on second reading by the article's use of a column-inch or two to explain the supposed hip-hop culture background of the deprecated phrase (which may be perfectly accurate, but was news to me). If they felt that angle was newsworthy, it's perhaps a bit harder to say there's no racialized subtext to the story.

20. ### Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

June 3, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

I don't think it's self-evident Hibbert was being homophobic: his intention was to prevent anyone inferring from his remarks that he was homosexual. Of course, this is a ridiculous hang-up, but it's not the same as saying "I hate gays".

But as JMB hinted earlier on, this hang-up about being perceived as gay is peculiarly associated with hip-hop culture. Hip-hop culture is, in turn, closely associated with African-American culture, so I think you can see the steps whereby you can come to the conclusion that picking on a black athlete for using hip-hop slang is a subtle kind of racism. As JMB put it, the use of the phrase "no homo" is part of Hibberts "idiolect". You might even say it's part of AAVE. From there you can argue that it should be protected from discrimination.

My main point is that this is all a bit ridiculous. People should get over themselves and their hyper-sensitivity.

21. ### Nic Subtirelu said,

June 3, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

I think it's very self-evident that the need to distance oneself from homosexuality shows one does not like it. We can argue over whether that constitutes "hating" it, but it is clearly part of an ideology that says homosexuality = bad.

The hang up about being perceived as gay is not unique to hip hop culture even if it is prominent there. It is a fairly standard aspect of modern day performances of hetero-masculinity (regardless of race, see Deborah Cameron's essay "Performing gender identity: Young men's talk and the construction of heterosexual masculinity"), so the connection between hip hop and distancing from homosexuality is not a unique identifier of hip hop nor would every hip hop artist point to it as an identifying feature. It's not at all the same thing as saying homosexuality = bad or black = bad. It's saying homophobia = bad. Frankly I think many African Americans would be offended to have homophobia associated with their race.

I think your final statement gets right down to the point, but I couldn't agree less. Thinking about the discourse we use is incredibly important. It's about creating a world in which people can feel valued and by extension have their dignity, talents, and physical safety respected by others.

22. ### Svafa said,

June 3, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

I have to wonder if as big a deal would have been made had he said "that's what she said" instead of "no homo". Arguably the two perform the same function and equally suited to follow the former line (which may be not at all). Additionally, both are derogatory in the same manner, but targeted at different audiences.

23. ### J.W. Brewer said,

June 3, 2013 @ 4:50 pm

I actually have no idea whether this "hang-up" is "peculiarly" associated with hip-hop culture and did not mean to so hint. I do have a sense that, at a minimum, (some) hip-hop performers do not observe certain modern linguistic taboos as strictly as has become common in the Stuff-White-People-Like segments of American society. This is apparently an occasional source of embarrassment or agita for a certain sort of white liberal who thinks that liking hip-hop ought itself to be a signifier of progressive attitudes. But hip-hop performers are hardly the only ones over the last half-century or so who have perhaps figured out that it can be good for business to have lyrics that transgress various polite-society taboos, although fashions as to what transgressions are and are not acceptable even in self-consciously radical/boho/alternative circles will vary over time. And the correlation between actual social outlook, on the one hand, and willingness to obey certain linguistic taboos (and/or quickness to condemn others who violate them), on the other, is likely to be an imperfect one.

24. ### Lazar said,

June 3, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

@Per: I think the fact that "homosexual" is such a transparently descriptive scientific word, and the root of the term "homosexuality" which no one has a problem with, protects it from falling into "slur" territory. I think it would speak very poorly of our society if we allowed that word to be gobbled up by the euphemism treadmill.

25. ### GeorgeW said,

June 3, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

Some speakers might say, "pen-pin, no homo."

26. ### 3D said,

June 3, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

"That's what she said" does not imply that an entire demographic of people are engaging in unsavory activity. It doesn't degrade all women. It's just a crude joke about an imaginary girl the speaker supposedly had sex with.

"No homo" is equivalent to saying "that last thing I just said there might make it sound like something a homo would say, but I'm really not one, myself." The very act of clarifying this is homophobic, but so is using the word homo itself. It's offensive in a way that "that's what she said" isn't, even though both jokes rely on the same setup and punchline.

27. ### Susie said,

June 3, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

I have heard the phrase "no homo" from people I know who are very much not homophobic. I can see how trying to distance yourself from homosexual thoughts could be seen that way, but I don't generally see the comment from that direction. It's more of a wink at the fact that the statement could be taken in a sexual way, and that it wasn't really meant that way.

28. ### Nic Subtirelu said,

June 3, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

Susie, most of the time there's nothing about the content of what was said that has to imply homosexuality. It could just as easily be taken as sexual innuendo for any type of sex with someone of the same gender or otherwise. The fact that we never say "no hetero" is a clear indication that this is specifically about homosexuality and the need to distance oneself from it rather than sexuality in general. Furthermore, even if this weren't about homosexuality specifically, the term "homo" is an insult meant to imply that the target is not masculine enough. These aspects of the phrase clearly point to the fact that at its heart the practice of saying "no homo" is meant to reinforce the idea that homosexuality is inappropriate. Hence, when someone says "no homo" they are participating in the discourse of homophobia whether the person believes they are a homophobe or not.

29. ### Ruben said,

June 4, 2013 @ 12:22 am

His intention was to make a silly joke based on a well known meme. It's about as homophobic as "that's what she said" is sexist, that is, it's an ironic play on homophobia, not per se homophobic. I'm queer and I don't find it offensive at all. I could have said that. As for the "motherfuckers", I take that to mean "we're all Oedipal".

30. ### Jason said,

June 4, 2013 @ 3:49 am

@Per

The semantics of slurs are of course extremely complex and sometimes arbitrary. "Homosexual" is not a slur, exactly, but it is not exactly a friendly word, more formal, distant. Conservative christians use "homosexual" in preference to "gay", which they claim makes homosexuality sound too friendly (sometimes they even object to the co-option of the previous meaning of "gay", jolly, festive.)

There's a general consensus that clippings are slurs. Thus "jap" and "nip" are slurs, "lezzo", "abo" and "leb" in Australian English are slurs for lesbians, aboriginal and lebanese people respectively, but there are complexities: "Aussie" isn't a slur.

In general I would wager if there is an existing negative stereotype of a group, the clipped form of a descriptive word for that group is always a slur, and occupies the semantic space for that slur, blocking it from being occupied by the descriptive word itself. Thus "homosexual" is unlikely to get caught on the euphemism treadmill so long as the slur semantic space is taken up with "homo"; but at the same time, I think "homosexual" is used by many people who wish they could openly use "homo." If "homo" was entirely eliminated from discourse you'd see "homosexual" starting to attract more and more of a negative connotation, especially since it can polarize against "gay."

31. ### GeorgeW said,

June 4, 2013 @ 5:13 am

@Jason: "There's a general consensus that clippings are slurs."

I have wondered about 'Brit' (I'm an American). I haven't felt like it was a slur, but a little disrespectful. Maybe, this sense is based on the general rule that you mentioned.

I have also felt this mildly about 'Jew' vs. 'Jewish' even though 'Jew' is not a clip in English.

32. ### ColinW said,

June 4, 2013 @ 5:34 am

I don't believe that this is explicitly homophobic at all. Sure he's laughing about a hypothetical homosexual encounter, but if he had made a "that's what she said" type of joke, would he be accused of being heterophobic? Joking about sex is funny, but especially about somebody you wouldn't have sex with. It's outside of reality. That's why the joke works.

It's a little bit absurd that giggling about an accidental double entendre automatically equals bigotry. "Clarifying that you're not a homosexual" isn't homophobic, and that's not what he's doing anyway. If he hadn't have uttered "no homo" then, not a single person listening would have wondered, "gee, did he mean that he and LeBron were having sex!?" They might have giggled, if they caught the double entendre, but there wouldn't be actual questioning of his sexuality. This isn't Hibbert getting hit on by a gay guy and responding angrily, and it's not Hibbert calling somebody "a homo". In the vein of J.W.Brewer's comment, the meme phrase is "no homo" and there is no other way in AmEng to make that joke.

[(myl) Well, there's the older and more obscure "Pause."]

33. ### Lazar said,

June 4, 2013 @ 5:35 am

@GeorgeW: Yeah, some people have the impression that "Jew" is a slur and studiously use "Jewish person" instead. "Yid", like "polak" and "russki", is unambiguously offensive in English – oddly it only seems to be Eastern European peoples who have received this autonym-as-slur treatment.

34. ### ColinW said,

June 4, 2013 @ 5:41 am

@GeorgeW:

My instinct is that "Brit" is perfectly fine, but "Jew" can be a bit touchy for a gentile to utter, perhaps because other anti-Jewish slurs aren't very widely used — the only one I can even think of immediately is "kike" — so the name most uttered by a raging antisemite is the J-word.

35. ### Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

June 4, 2013 @ 9:18 am

"To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize". (Unknown, attributed to Voltaire since 2012)

Any interesting articles about the relationship between taboo and power? They might be relevant to this discussion.

36. ### J.W. Brewer said,

June 4, 2013 @ 9:52 am

Voltaire is uttering new quotes within the last year? He must be facebook friends with Franz Boas or something. (And the point is inaccurate or at least imprecise insofar as e.g. elaborate and strictly-enforced taboos against impolite/vulgar/overfamiliar language use by men speaking to women are not inconsistent with a society where the overall social/political position of women leaves something to be desired.)

I was entirely unfamiliar with the "pause" usage that myl referenced, but I suppose that just means I'm so old and out of it I don't even know when I should be taking offense at things. There is also the Seinfeldian "not that there's anything wrong with that" (unless that's fallen out of active use as a cliche/allusion, at least with the younger set?). Perhaps Mr. Hibbert would have stayed out of trouble if he'd gone with that alternative.

37. ### J.W. Brewer said,

June 4, 2013 @ 10:30 am

A possible counterexample to the general point made above (which I would not disagree with as a general tendency) re clipped forms often being slurs might be BrEng "sod" (as in e.g. "I'm a lazy sod" in the Sex Pistols lyric from which I may have first learned the word many decades ago), which I think may well at present be *less* offensive than the unclipped "sodomite." But that may be because it has over time become unmoored from its etymology, and its use as a term of mild abuse and/or affection (depending on context) no longer connotes anything about sexual orientation.

38. ### Vanya said,

June 4, 2013 @ 10:59 am

@ Lazar,

Good points on "yid" and "polak" but you are stretching things to claim that "Russky" is unambiguously offensive in English. In most contexts "Russky" is just humorously disrespectful, like "Brit".

For an ethnic term to become truly offensive, there has to be some history of hatred and persecution behind it. "Brit" and "Russky" don't meet that definition. I don't even find "Mick" very offensive, and I'm part Irish-American. But it is hard to feel "oppressed" as an Irish-American in Boston when your people control half the local government. Has there ever been a time and place in the English speaking world where a large group of ethnic Russians constituted a distinct persecuted or disliked group?

39. ### Nathan said,

June 4, 2013 @ 11:04 am

A very large group of ethnic Russians was certainly disliked in the English speaking world during the Cold War.

40. ### J.W. Brewer said,

June 4, 2013 @ 11:31 am

Vanya, just as confirmation of the ubiquity of bigotry in human affairs (and/or the possible professional upside for academics of finding ever-more-obscure bigotries to investigate), there's apparently a scholarly book out there titled "Russophobia in New Zealand, 1838-1908." Whether there were any actual ethnic-Russians on the ground, or the phobia was instead directed solely toward hypothesized ships of the Czarist navy that could not be proven not to be hovering just over the horizon, is not clear to me.

41. ### Alex Blaze said,

June 4, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

I can see why "homo" might be taken as a slur, but I think "homosexual" is definitely more offensive, just because of the way it gets used today (the homosexual agenda to molest your children, etc).

No homo is just a dumb joke, although here it was pretty clever. I looked at the previous sentence and it makes for a pretty explicit image when taken sexually, more than the average "no homo" that's something like "I like that guy a lot, no homo."

But if the NBA wants to get rid of this word, more power to them. I can imagine children and people who watch these interviews might not take it as a harmless joke about getting banged by someone with a girthy penis.

42. ### Dave said,

June 4, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

If only he'd gone for "as it were"…

43. ### Kate Y. said,

June 4, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

"His intention was to make a silly joke based on a well known meme."

Let's say it was. His ACTION, however, was to utter a slur.

The fact that it is a commonplace locution doesn't make it non-toxic—just demonstrates that unthinking low-dose bigotry is commonplace.

44. ### Why “no homo” is homophobic (in case you somehow missed it) | linguistic pulse said,

June 4, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

[…] can use Hibbert's use of the phrase as an example to illustrate how it is used. Mark Liberman at Language Log has provided a helpful transcription as well as video of the comment and its surrounding […]

45. ### Vanya said,

June 5, 2013 @ 1:53 am

"A very large group of ethnic Russians was certainly disliked in the English speaking world during the Cold War."

I grew up during the Cold War in the US, and that was not my experience at all. I recall people hating and fearing "Communists". Ethnic Russians living in the US were usually treated like any other "Northern European" type, especially if they were descended from White Russian emigres.

46. ### zythophile said,

June 5, 2013 @ 4:12 am

Kate Y – is saying "as the bishop said to the actress" expressing "unthinking low-dose bigotry" against Episcopalians?

47. ### Meesher said,

June 5, 2013 @ 5:42 am

It seems to me pragmatically identical to Seinfeld's "not that there's anything wrong with that," meaning "I'm distancing myself from any gayness associated with my previous statement."

48. ### Jason Eisner said,

June 5, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

Other commentary:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/music_box/2009/08/does_this_purple_mink_make_me_look_gay.html

49. ### Lazar said,

June 5, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

@Meesher: I disagree; in Seinfeld's statement, the intent is to distance oneself from homophobia after having already distanced oneself from gayness.

50. ### J.W. Brewer said,

June 5, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

The Slate piece is interesting, although it perhaps has an aura of trying-too-hard handwaving about it. And its comment thread links to http://hakeemmuhammad.com/2013/06/03/no-homo-yessir-massa/ , which is a rather less nuanced statement of a racialized point of view on the issue (e.g. "Despite the White man’s attempt to police our language, Black men will continue to come together- no homo of course.").

51. ### Gou Tongzhi said,

June 5, 2013 @ 11:29 pm

Lazar is correct; Meesher has completely misunderstood the joke in Seinfeld.

52. ### Meesher said,

June 7, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

@Lazar: I understand that that is the precise semantic meaning of the phrase, but I think there's a more going on with how it's used in Seinfeld that makes it more similar to "no homo." Essentially, it's used close to a mention of gayness, and conveys the information: "I'm not gay; it has nothing to do with me," and "I'm not homophobic (or so I'm trying hard to appear)." I think at least the first part was what Hibbert was doing with his joke – dissociating himself from verbal proximity to gayness, albeit in a less backhanded way.

@Gou Tongzhi: That's a bit harsh – maybe I should have you explain jokes for me?

53. ### Chandra said,

June 7, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

@ColinW: "Clarifying that you're not a homosexual" isn't homophobic.
If we lived in a society where sexual orientation truly was a total non-issue, I might accept this statement. That is not the case. In the society we do live in, the only time that clarifying you're not gay might not be construed as homophobic is if a person of the same sex is asking you out on a date. Otherwise there is no conceivable reason to do so, apart from believing that there is something wrong with being gay.

@Lazar: There's that thing, and also the question of whether "gay" (in any of its forms) includes lesbians. I've found usage to be pretty inconsistent in this regard.
There are women who prefer to self-identify as gay, there are some who prefer "lesbian", there are some who are fine with both, and there are yet others who prefer no label. When used in a construction like "gay and lesbian" it generally is assumed to refer specifically to gay men.

54. ### Lazar said,

June 8, 2013 @ 1:02 am

@Meesher:

Essentially, it's used close to a mention of gayness, and conveys the information: "I'm not gay; it has nothing to do with me," and "I'm not homophobic (or so I'm trying hard to appear)."

No, it only conveys the second of those two pieces of information, not the first. It has to be preceded by a separate denial of being gay (or if not a denial, then a potentially disparaging remark about homosexuality which makes such a denial implicit), otherwise it doesn't make sense in context.

55. ### arcseconds said,

June 10, 2013 @ 12:55 am

@Lazar:
maybe because the Western european countries already have more colourful slurs? frog, kraut, wop, etc.

perhaps anglophones have typically not known enough about eastern european countries to come up with more involved stereotyypes…

(silly me, posting this to the US dialect post instead of here…)