Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Linguistic Oddities of the South

While emailing a friend today, I noticed something odd:  I take it that a honky tonk is a kind of rowdy bar found in the southern U.S. that plays to a mostly working-class clientele.  Is anyone offended by the name "honky tonk"?  Why or why not?  Isn't the word "honky" still a racial slur toward whites?  Clearly "chinky tonks" or "kikey tonks" would be offensive.  What's the difference?


Jason Haeger said...

Context. Just as the N word is not offensive when used within the black community, "honky tonk", when used in context as a whole, is taken as its own meaning, and is not perceived as the same semantic meaning as the extracted racial slur (honky).

But yes.. it is.

Of course, this is just speculation not being one who aligns himself with the "honky tonk" culture, so my answer has no merit other than as a casual armchair philosophical observer.

Christopher Hom said...


Something like that must be right, but it's not *just* the context of the utterance. Clearly not every use of the N-word between African-Americans is non-offensive. As a theorist, one also worries about isolating the exact contextual factors that makes uses of words offensive or not. I think my paper on epithets lays out a good argument against such a contextualist view.

But perhaps you mean to suggest that the *syntactic* context of 'honky' in 'honky tonk' merely references something like the musical sounds (e.g. the honk of a horn) and doesn't actually function as a slur. In the name of x-phi, we might need to take a field trip. Gavagai, y'all!

Jason Haeger said...

Your public lecture(s) on epithets is coming up on October 4th(or thereabouts), IIRC.

Is it at 7pm or 4pm? I've seen each time from two sources.

I'm planning to attend.

Christopher Hom said...

Sorry, that was last year!

Jason Haeger said...

I noticed after I left the comment.

I'm hoping for a fall '08 list soon. This is my last semester.