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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Howard Jones Are racist, but traditional, songs OK? (404* d) RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK? 03 Jun 20


What I meant was that the word was seldom, if ever, used in shanties in a way which was demeaning or insulting to black people. Usually it was simply a description. At that time, the word didn't seem to carry the overtones that it undoubtedly does now, at least among sailors. Of course, those were less sensitive times and terms were also used about other races which would probably not be acceptable now, and I also recognise that black sailors were probably in no position to object to its usage - but that assumes they saw anything offensive in the word itself (rather than in the way they might be addressed).

Since then of course the word has become much more loaded and it is difficult to use it without appearing offensive. But context is everything. It is acceptable (or should be) in a discussion such as this, which is about the word itself. My point is that there may be contexts where its use in performance can be justified, just as there may be situations where unbowdlerised versions of shanties could be sung. Of course considerable caution is needed.

Incidentally, why do people get so agitated about the n-word but have no qualms about singing "hog-eye"? Is it because they don't know what it means? Hugill dismisses other collectors' claims it was obscene, saying they had misunderstood (although he doesn't say what he thinks it means). However according to several authorities, by at least the mid-20th century it had become a term for the vagina. Even if it didn't have this meaning for the sailors, shouldn't we now be equally sensitive to the modern meaning as we are with racial words?


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