Historical Euphemism Discussion

Historical Euphemism Discussion May 1996


Query From Carolyn Gage carolyn@monitor.net 03 May 1996

I read a recent posting on references about southern women, and it brought to mind something I read - I believe by bell hooks - about the terminology around slavery. Using words like "slaves" and "slaveowners/holders" erases agency and reinforces the sense of caste attached to those who were captives. The writer suggested that the words "enslaved people" or "captives" and "enslavers" be substituted. I follow this practice in my writing, and I have found that it substantially alters readings of texts.



>From Janice Liedel jliedl@nickel.laurentian.ca 03 May 1996

Regarding terminologies:

(With reference to Carolyn Gage post)

Keeping in mind that most southern women were neither property owners no effective agents of enslavement, would these words really work for southern women? (A somewhat ignorant question from a European historian.) I wonder if anyone has written/studied the question of terminologies around women/slaves/property/power in this context?

>From Marty Harris martyn@hiscompany.com 06 May 1996

First, I have no teaching certificate, only an interest in the list/topic and now have a question...

If we are talking about historic issues(and a place/time in the past) shouldn't we use the specific terms of the period with reference to how we approach the issue today, i.e. slaves vs. enslaved peoples. On the point of pre-Civil War ownership of women, men, children-they were a separate caste-one slave equaled 5/8ths (3/5ths?) of a white man (more equal than a white woman of the times, yes?) I'd be interested in reaction to Carolyn's POV about substituting words:

>I have found it substantially alters readings of the texts.>

To what extent does substituting alter the *meaning* of the text? Just curious.

>From Vikki Bynum vb03@swt.edu 07 May 1996

I would like an important correction in regard to Martyn Harris's statement about the 3/5 clause of the U.S. Constitution. Harris wrote:

>one slave equaled 5/8ths (3/5ths?) of a white man (more equal than a white woman of the times, yes?)>

In fact, the 3/5 clause decreed that all slaves (men, women, and children) be counted for purposes of political representation and taxes on land and polls at 3/5 their total number. All free people (including men, women and children) were counted at their full number. So no, a slave was not "more equal than a white woman of the times," because this clause did not address the rights of citizenship per se; rather, it provided for the assessing of free and slave populations at different ratios. White women were free citizens(and thus assessed at their full number), despite their gender-specific disabilities of citizenship.

>From Clifton Hawkins cchawkins@ucdavis.edu 08 May 1996

I too am tired of hearing that the 3/5ths clause implied that enslaved blacks were 3/5ths of a person. The clause gave additional political representation to the slaveowners, not to the slaves(obviously). The 3/5ths clause helped perpetuate slavery; it gave slave property owners representation based on their property, which northern property owners did not get. It was much worse than reducing slaves to 3/5ths of a person.