Another offensive term never to be used again

MIKE ROYKO

March 12, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

What I need is a word processor that is programmed to emit a loud whistle when I type a word that is offensive to some ethnic, racial, sexual, fraternal or other special-interest or minority group.

Yes, I did it again. As hard as I try to become sensitive and politically correct, it is difficult to overcome a lifetime habit of being crude and indifferent to the feelings of others.

My latest gaffe happened when I was writing about President Clinton's plans for national service for the young.

And I mentioned the possibility that some young people, after getting funding for their education, might try to duck their commitment to national service.

As I put it: "But what if some of them welsh on the deal?"

The ink had hardly dried on the paper when the fax machine was humming with a response from Reese Lloyd, head of the Welsh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

He wrote: "I received a call today from a Welshman who told me that he had read in his newspaper the dreaded slur, 'welsher,' the ancient racial epithet invented by the Anglo, Saxon and Norman invaders of Wales in order to degrade the native Celtic peoples who resisted the rape, pillage and plunder of their homeland and were therefore called 'welshers.' (Much as the Native Americans who resisted the rape, pillage and plunder of their homelands were later slurred as 'Indian givers.')"

He went on at length about what fine, hard-working and proud people the Welsh are, and how they came to this country as pioneers and later to work in the mills and the mines, as they had in their native Wales.

"I would ask you to consider whether this word 'welsher' really needs to be continued to be used. It has been abandoned in England, the place of its invention, as it is recognized as the racial slur and fighting word that it is.

"So should 'welsher' slide into oblivion in journalism in our country, along with . . ." all of the other ethnic slurs.

Attorney Lloyd, who lives in Los Angeles, feels so strongly about the use of the words welsh, welch, welsher or welcher to describe someone who is a cheat, a swindler or a deadbeat that he recently filed a lawsuit against several major news organizations asking that they be barred from using these terms.

In his suit against the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, NBC and a slew of others, he said that the use of these words inflicts "harm, humiliation, embarrassment or anger" people of Welsh ancestry.

And they aren't the only ones who suffer degradation. He said the words also insult "their Welsh-American ancestors, who have contributed so much to America, including but not limited to Thomas Jefferson, the genius author of the Declaration of Independence and a Welsh-American, and Abraham Lincoln, revered martyred president and a Welsh-American."

In his suit, he went on to list many other famous Americans whose ancestors were from Wales. And it is an impressive list, including eight other presidents, in addition to Jefferson and Lincoln.

And he threw in a long list of other distinguished people: scholars, industrialists and such familiar names as Bob Hope, Richard Burton and Daniel Boone.

But like many lawyers, he just didn't know when to stop. As my eyes ran down the roster of outstanding Welsh achievers, there it was: Richard Milhous Nixon.

Nixon, of "your president is not a crook" fame? With Lincoln and Jefferson to brag about, he should have left well enough alone.

Of course, his lawsuit will be tossed out of court because newspapers, magazines and other publications have the constitutional right to be offensive, even disgusting. As evidence of that, just watch this space regularly.

But he has a valid point. We shouldn't use the words welsh, welch, welsher or welcher to describe a cheat, deadbeat or sneak (with the possible exception of Nixon). Especially since there is no evidence that the Welsh are any more dishonest than the rest of us.

In fact, the only criticism of the Welsh I could make is for their having created something called pasties. No, not the little pasties that strippers put on their breasts. These are large dough balls filled with meat, potatoes and onions, which no stripper would put on her breasts. At least, none that I've ever seen.

Welsh workers put them in their pockets to eat for lunch. And I discovered them while driving through the upper peninsula of Michigan, where many Welsh live. Always eager for new culinary experiences, I ate two.

How can I describe them?

I will put it this way. If astronauts ate two pasties before a launch, the rocket would never get off the ground.

Anyway, I will now purge my vocabulary of the words welsh, welch, welsher and welcher as used in a derogatory way.

Mr. Lloyd has my word on that. And I'm not the kind of guy to welsh on a promise.

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