Last week via Twitter, the Drop the I-Word community called on Will Shortz, The New York Times crossword puzzle editor and puzzle master for NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday to retract the following:
54 Across: One Caught By Border Patrol
Thanks to all who took action! Today an apology of sorts was issued through the Wordplay blog after Juan E. Gastelum, Immigration Editor at Univision, contacted the publication for clarification on use of the i-word as a noun. Here is how Shortz responded:
At the time I wrote this clue (and yes, it was my clue), I had no idea that use of the word “illegal” in this sense (as a noun) was controversial. It’s in the dictionary. It’s in widespread use by ordinary people and publications. There is nothing inherently pejorative about it.
Still, language changes, and I understand how the use of “illegal” as a noun has taken on an offensive connotation. I don’t want to offend people in the crossword. So I don’t expect to do this again. Fortunately, there are many other ways to clue the word ILLEGAL.
Shortz’s note points to how the i-word in all forms has become so normalized that even someone who is dedicated daily to the intricacies of language and culture may end up using it without intention to cause harm. This is why our work to inform journalists and people from all walks of life about how the i-word came to be, and how it fails us in so many ways, is so urgent. The i-word mocks our shared values, and the people leading us in this fight don’t want to be described this way and don’t want their fellow community members described this way . It is well-documented that the term has been used by the right to demonize immigrants and distract the public from engaging in reasonable debate on immigration.
And it’s also well documented that in seeking to engage the right and “average voters,” democrats and immigration reform proponents made a huge misstep by using the same language http://politi.co/bxEaxR. To say that the i-word in any form is neutral, is completely false.
We are glad that Shortz has recognized that the i-word is offensive, and that he does not intend on using it again. But we will point out that the i-word is not just offensive. We are operating on the notion that once people have the information about how the i-word is dehumanizing, racially charged and completely incoherent from a legal point of view, that they will drop it. Not just the noun, but in any form. The New York Times still has a way to go on addressing this issue, but we hope that recent stylebook changes and the continued questioning of the term within journalist circles will lead more writers to leave the term behind because they understand it’s racist, harmful and wrong. Until then, we will continue calling people on it. If you have not yet signed the pledge to Drop the I-Word, you can do so now, or share the link at droptheiword.com.