Tuesday Pedantry

[ Posted Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 – 16:39 UTC ]

As you can tell from that title, today's column is going to be nothing short of nit-pickery. But then my original plan (due to lots of offline stuff that needed doing today) was just to re-run an old column, so at least this way you get to read something new, even if it is nothing more than an extended tangential semantic complaint. But I feel the complaint is a valid one, or to put it another way, I feel this nit needs picking.

There is an argument -- one that has been getting a lot more attention these days -- surrounding the Washington football team. Before I go any further, I already wrote about the main issue a long while ago, and I still think my wife's idea is a brilliant one: form a corporation ("Native Americans, Inc.") which would then lease names and logos to professional sports teams. The more offensive the name or logo, the higher the yearly price to use it -- a price to be determined by the Native Americans. Use the money as a giant education fund to better the lives of Native Americans. I still think this is a very workable idea, because it hits the teams squarely in the pocketbook. So, on the main argument, my position hasn't really changed.

But this is a side argument, a tangential point that needs making. I read an interesting article today which talks about a new legal front in this battle -- attempting to convince the F.C.C. to bar radio and television stations from using the term. It's an interesting argument, but I doubt it'll get very far. In any case, my beef is not with the new reporting but with a sloppy mistake I've seen more than one media organization make (I'm just using this example as the most recent I personally noticed, but I've seen the same mistake all over the place, I should mention). The headline of the article was: "FCC Considering Move To Ban Washington Redskins Nickname."

This headline was obviously added to the text by an editor, because in the story (from Reuters) the only words used to describe the offensive word are "name," "team name," "moniker," and "team's name." The word "nickname" does not appear. As it properly shouldn't.

"Redskins" is indeed the team's name. It is most decidedly not a nickname. This sounds like petty carping, but it is an important distinction. Because while anyone can make the attempt to create a nickname, the team and the team alone is responsible for the team's actual name.

Sports nicknames abound, of course. They are quite common, and it is rare for any team not to have at least a few nicknames. Most often, the nickname is nothing more than an abbreviated version of the full name. The 49ers become the "Niners," the Patriots the "Pats," and so on. Sometimes a team name is reduced to a single letter, as when the Orioles become the "O's." Throughout history, some teams have even adopted the nickname as the team's official name (sometimes keeping the old name around, sometimes not), as when the Devil Rays became just the "Rays," or the Oakland Athletics became just the "A's." In other words, sometimes the nicknames evolve to gain official status, whether they completely replace the original name or just sort of supplement it as an alternate.

But these nicknames are usually created by sportswriters or the fans themselves. The teams usually see the marketing possibilities and start selling official team gear with the nicknames, to cash in on the trend. You can buy a San Francisco Gigantes shirt at the ballpark, which caters to the Latino fan base, for instance.

But "Redskins" does not fall into the nickname category, and using the word "nickname" to describe it cheapens the main argument of its opponents. This is not some fan-created term, this is what the team officially calls itself. This is a difference with a distinction, because it is the team (more precisely: its owner) who must be convinced to change the name, not just the fans. By calling it a nickname, editors and news media are aiding the owner's case that it is an insignificant argument.

The Washington football team has a few nicknames of their own already. The best-known is probably "the Skins" (or, if you want to be totally pedantic, "the 'Skins"). This is a true nickname, of the commonest type: a mere shortening of the full name. One portion of the team (and one portion of their fan base) used to have their own nickname as well: "the hogs." That was quite some time ago, but it is relevant to the argument, I think.

The Washington football team has an obvious choice for a name change, in my opinion. The name "Warriors" has been suggested, mostly because they could then keep their logo and fight song. But a much better idea would be to rename them the "Pigskins." Pigskin, after all, is already a nickname for the football itself. The "pigs" would harken back to the era (much beloved by the fan base) of "the hogs." The fans could continue to call the team "the Skins," as well. But they'd have to change the logo.

The team owner has dug in his heels, and refuses to even consider changing the name. We'll see whether the league decides to pressure him to change his mind, as the protest grows in the sports universe. But as media outlets cover the growing debate, please don't cheapen it. The offensive term is the team's name, not merely its nickname. That's an important (if nit-picky) distinction to make, in order to frame the scope of the argument correctly.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


11 Comments on “Tuesday Pedantry”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Penn State had to give up JoePa. Washington fans could give up that name and live to tell about it.

  2. [2] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    Instead of the usual ignorance, why don't we instead pick out some new team names.

    I vote for the legislators, their new motto can be, "we get things done!"


  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Use the money as a giant education fund to better the lives of Native Americans.

    Well, isn't that just a tad paternalistic?

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    By that I mean, the giant education fund needs to be directed toward the non-Native Americans. Ahem.

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I wonder what the nickname is for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ... the lost? Heh.

  6. [6] 
    akadjian wrote:


    If an older woman chasing a younger guy is called a cougar, what do you call an older guy chasing a young boy?

    A Nittany Lion.

    (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    If any of you are Native American, then you have a right to complain..

    If yer not, then ya don't...

    Every poll ever done says Native Americans are fine with the Washington Redskins...

    Quit searching for shit to be offended by...


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    Every poll ever done says Native Americans are fine with the Washington Redskins...

    By that I mean, every LEGITIMATE poll.. Which excludes contrived polls designed to further a ridiculous Politically Correct agenda..

    Politically Correct..

    One of the worst concepts that has ever happened to this country...


  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    If an older woman chasing a younger guy is called a cougar, what do you call an older guy chasing a young boy?

    A Nittany Lion.

    (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

    "Hay Ham, Look!!! I'm Picasso!!!"
    "Uhhhhh I don't get it.."

    -Toy Story



  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    If the Redskins have to change their name, then the NAACP also has to change their name..

    Because black people are completely offended by the term "Colored" as it harkens back to the Democrats use of the term when designating drinking fountains and bathroom facility..

    Change the name, NAACP!!! It's OFFENSIVE!!!

    See how ridiculous ya'alls beef against the Redskins sound??


  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    So, we're agreed...

    If ya'all are for the Washington Redskins changing their name, then you have to be for the NAACP changing THEIR name as well..

    Anything less is hypocrisy... :D


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