I don't mind if something that I write offends some readers — if I know that it will be offensive, and I know that the subject matter and the viewpoint require such bluntness. But when I don't know beforehand that what I write will offend a person, that’s on me. I ought to know the language and our readers better than that.
I unintentionally offended a few readers recently. Before we get to the specific instance, let's provide context.
Nobody likes to be told, "You are wrong," but sometimes we are wrong. Others and I were wrong to have been gulled by the Bush-Cheney administration into agreeing that the United States should have invaded Iraq.
On Feb. 5, 2003, I watched a televised United Nations speech by Colin Powell, then the Secretary of State and a man whose judgment I had admired during the earlier Persian Gulf War. Powell said in effect, "These photos show weapons of mass destruction being hidden within Iraq."
"If Powell says so, it's good enough for me," was the basis for my somber support of an invasion that would kill or cripple millions, including 4,400 Americans killed and about 32,000 Americans maimed.
I later wrote, "We were wrong." I expected to offend some people. I did offend some, but I needed to write that I had been wrong, which also meant that other Americans had been wrong. Most dissenters were civil, even courteous. That stands in sharp contrast to when I wrote that I detested cats (I have since changed my mind).
About the Iraq war, people were solemn and serious. About cats, some were vicious in their blistering criticisms of my judgment, my manhood and my sanity.
That reinforces my conviction that the less important an issue is in the cosmos, the more excited about it people will get.
Here is where I went wrong. In recent months, I used "welsher" several times to describe one of the character flaws of President Donald Trump.
I got solemn, serious critiques.
"Solemn and serious" means that those readers were genuinely and deeply upset with what I wrote, that t I had hurt them —unintentionally. Unintentionally hurting readers is a no-no for me.
Those readers claim that the noun "welsher" and its derivatives are an insult about the character of people from Wales, a country that is part of today's United Kingdom along with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
That criticism stings me. As a child in the 1940s, I grew up with ethnic slurs applied to me because my grandparents immigrated from Italy. It was not until I made the jump from a small neighborhood school to a 1,000-student junior high school that I came to realize, "Hey, those words hurt those people."
In my turn, I became either hurt or angered when pejorative words were used to describe my family, my friends, or me even though the speakers might not have intended the hurt.
Eventually, more and more of us changed our language. During the 1960s, we made a seismic shift, abandoning slurs against blacks because those words have slavery-era connotations of contempt, condescension or cruelty.
I got it, mostly.
Old habits die hard. Through the decades I slipped now and then. But I even grew accustomed to gender-neutral words as an antidote to sexism, e.g., "police officer" instead of "policeman" — though I still refuse to call a female a piece of furniture, a "chair." To me, she is a "presiding officer," as are men in the same situations.
I did feel chastised by the objectors to "welsher."
I looked up "welsher." Lo and behold, this usage note is found in dictionary.com. Similar notes are in other dictionaries: "Use of this verb is sometimes perceived as insulting to or by the Welsh, the people of Wales. However, its actual origin may have nothing to do with Wales or its people; in fact, the verb is also spelled 'welch'."
So "welsher" is not specifically an anti-Welsh word. How about that?
Ah, but ... using the word makes some people uncomfortable. Other words work just as well.
So I plan to drop "welsher" and use "swindler" or "cheater."
I do not apologize per se, because I think apologies are in order when conduct is deliberate. I do regret having given unintended offense. I have no problem expressing that regret here.
I don't do this for political correctness. I detest political correctness and the holier-than-thou people who claim divine right to become language police.
I do express regret simply because I do not like to unintentionally hurt people, and, whether reality or just perception, "welsher" did do that.
So I hope this sets the record aright.
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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com