WHAT did you just call me??
By Kelley Cunningham
“Mom, they’re not called starfish anymore. They are SEA STARS. Teacher said.”
“That’s what she said.”
Hmm. I must have missed this. Who knew echinoderms would be the next minority to get political?
I double-checked with the science editor at the publishing firm that hasn’t downsized me yet, despite the fact that I have been unknowingly insulting starfish all this time. “Yes, they’re called sea stars,” he said, giving me that “have you been living under a rock?” look. Coincidently, the same place sea stars live when they’re not out protesting.
This can start to get very confusing. I mean, I understand the power of words, and names really can hurt you. But what was wrong with starfish? Does someone sit around and think of things that don’t need to change, and then change them? Or did the starfish union hire an image consultant and a lawyer?
Who’s next? I started thinking about the lowly seahorse. They don’t seem likely to rise up anytime soon and demand they be called horsefishes or swimponies, but given what happened with the starfish you never know. Then, regular horses will demand they be called landhorses. Or maybe Equus Terra Firma if they’re social-climbing thoroughbreds.
“Hello, I’m Phil-Phyll.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Seymour-Fanny.”
Yeah, Labradoodles are gonna turn mean. It’s just a matter of time before they opt for the more dignified Poobrador.
Things get even murkier with tuna. They’ve been so traumatized by being called chicken of the sea all these years they don’t know whether they belong at the sushi bar or in a McNugget. I hear, among the scratchings at the henhouse, that some chicken now want to be known as tuna of the farmyard.
It’s enough to make a normal person feel paranoid. I’m starting to become convinced there is a confab of thousands of Really Smart People that meets every few months and changes the names of things, or their pronunciations, and then tells everyone. Except me.
I became suspicious when Halley’s Comet came around the last time. I learned to pronounce it “HAY-lee’s Comet” in school, from textbooks, from listening to whoever happened to be discussing it. Not like it came up every day, but still. So then, when it was due to come around again, everyone from network news anchors to preschoolers were suddenly pronouncing it “HAH-lee’s Comet.”
Lest you think I haven’t a life, I didn’t give this too much thought at the time, although I remember thinking, “Huh? When was that changed?” But over the years a lot of these incidents have added up. Leading me to the starfish/sea star faux pas and an unsettling feeling that everyone’s in on the joke but me.
It doesn’t end with animals and gaseous space phenomenon. Even people who pour you a cup of coffee are no longer waiters and waitresses. They are baristas who get annoyed if I ask for a large instead of a venti.
Last weekend I drove my pre-owned (don’t call it used) car to visit some friends. While there, I commented on a lovely piece of Native American art they were displaying.
“Haven’t you heard that some Native Americans prefer to be called 'first people' now?” they asked me.
I wonder what that makes me. I think I want to be known as the eleventh person. My father’s family has been in this country roughly that many generations. On second thought, my mother’s side has been here only a few generations. So should I just subtract and call myself the sixth person? Or are fractions involved here? Or maybe it’s just that they are the first people, and every other group is second. What if you’re 1/32 Cherokee, like me? My brain hurts just thinking about it what I should call myself now.
I also have no color. None at all. I guess that’s what it means if I am not a person of color, right? I always thought I was sort of a beige-y pink, but I guess not. However, the term “person of no color” is offensive to me. From now on, I want to be known as a color-free person.
Women, of course, have been getting political about what they should call themselves for a long time, and rightfully so! Um, you GO, sistahs! But I never understood the whole womyn thing. Having the word “man” within the word “woman” is demeaning? That’s just too dumb to worry about. Instead of a silly non-word like womyn, maybe we should go with an acronym like Thotswrcas…which stands for The Half Of The Species Who Really Cares About Shoes.
And since this is supposedly a column about motherhood, I should mention the on-going battle between working moms and stay-at-homes and what they call themselves. But I’d better not. I’ve offended enough species for one day.
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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