Tag, You’re It

There wasn’t any dispute that the use of the word “master” as a title for the person who headed a dorm at Yale was not related in any way to slavery, but that wasn’t the point. The word was the same as the word used in regard to slavery, even if it was derived from Oxford. It was the the sound-alike word, the variation on a theme, that in the ears of many deeply sensitive students dredged up the feelings of slavery.

And it was a good enough reason to eradicate the word from campus*. After all, the word was merely a product of tradition from a time when such connections were of no concern to the white majority, for whom no memories of slavery applied. It wasn’t critical to the campus mission. It produced visceral pain. And there was simply no good reason to retain it if it hurt people’s feelings. It was just an arbitrary word.

But for Lorne Grabher, his last name is not just an arbitrary word. It’s his name.

The Nova Scotia Registry of Motor Vehicles  was adamant.  The license plate reading “GRABHER” was deemed “misogynistic and promoting violence against women.”  It was a surprise to Lorne Grabher who simply wanted a license plate with his family’s name.

Notably, Grabher has had the plate for 25 years after getting the plate as a birthday gift,.  The name is German and the plate was used for decades.

It’s likely that the name was taken, or given, for some descriptive reason many years ago, and perhaps someone with a deeper knowledge of German can suggest what his ancestors did to deserve a name that would, in the year of our Lord, 2017, be so offensive. But however he got it, it’s Lorne Grabher’s name.

The desire to pay extra and put words on license plates has never been dear to my heart, but others seem to really care about it. Some people put words and phrases on the tags to tell the world how important they are, how cool they are, how they little they care about squandering money for silly things. No, that’s unfair. That it doesn’t matter to me doesn’t mean it shouldn’t matter to you. You’re allowed.

And so is Lorne Grabher. Except somebody saw his surname on his tag and did what social justice warriors must do.

Then there was a complaint and a former decision that his family’s name was discriminatory and barred by the government from plates. The spokesman from the Department of Transportation, Brian Taylor, said:

“A complaint was received outlining how some individuals interpret [the name] as misogynistic and promoting violence against women. . . . With no way to denote that it is a family name on the plate, the department determined it was in the public’s best interest to remove it from circulation.”

Who complained? Perhaps it was a woman who had been grabbed and held hostage, for whom the phrase “grab her” brought back traumatic memories. Or perhaps it was a person who turned over rocks in search of things to find offensive. It’s unclear, despite the passive explanation offered by Taylor. It is similarly unexplained how one complaint after decades of use translates into “some individuals interpret,” but then, I don’t speak Canadian so it may just be a language thing.

But the problem derives from the nature of communication, from words. The word on the tag was a name. That was the only message Lorne Grabher was sending. Yet, the message received, at least by the complainer, was “misogynistic and promoting violence against women.” And the official response was that “[w]ith no way to denote that it is a family name,” the sensibility of the complainer won “in the public’s best interest.”

Unlike the word “master,” Lorne Grabher’s surname isn’t merely a traditional word that, despite its lack of connection to anything sinister, can be eliminated from the campus lexicon to soothe the trauma of those who suffer its sound. It’s his name.

He could change his name, “in the public’s best interest,” so that the most sensitive driver on the road won’t read into it something that might be offensive. Or, of course, he could simply forego putting it on his license plate. After all, what’s the big deal about not getting to enjoy the vanity plate? Lots of people don’t have vanity plates and manage to survive.

But then, Lorne Grabher liked having his last name on his plates, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if it’s not my thing, it’s his, and he’s allowed to care about things that others like me do not. In the same vein, he’s allowed to like his name, to want to keep his name, and not want to change his name because somebody out there contorts his name into a meaning it doesn’t have. How did this become Lorne Grabher’s problem?

The notion that every word, every name, must pass muster with the most sensitive among us, lest it be twisted from what it is to what they make of it in the quest for offense, is beyond absurd, even for Canada, eh? Put aside that Grabher had the plate on his car for decades. Even if he got it yesterday, so what? It’s his name. No matter what twisted view the unduly sensitive take in their search for outrage, it won’t change his name.

And this is where the eradication of the word “master” on campus presents a problem. No, it really wasn’t a big deal to get rid of the title, but the notion that it is in the public interest to remove words from the lexicon based upon claims of outrage by the most sensitive person on the road opens up the chaos theory of censorship. Draw a connection and, boom, the word is gone! After all, didn’t slave owners wear pantaloons? Or something?

With minimal effort, a great many words, a great many names, can be twisted into a reflection of something racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Canadianphobic, whatever, and why must anyone, anyone at all, suffer the trauma of any word that hurts?

Pantaloons. Loons. So ableist. I’m literally shaking.

*In a related story, this is why masturbation has been replaced with self-pleasuring at Yale.

46 thoughts on “Tag, You’re It

  1. Keith

    A lifetime ago, I would recommend people with such problems see a therapist.

    Today, that word is just as offensive to them.

    So, that only leaves one option

    1. Peter

      You could always see Tobias as well

      Tobias: Okay, Lindsay, are you forgetting that I was a professional twice over— an analyst and a therapist. The world’s first analrapist.
      Lindsay: Yes, and you were almost arrested for those business cards.
      Tobias: Yes.

  2. RICHARD KOPF

    SHG,

    You write: “With minimal effort, a great many words, a great many names, can be twisted into a reflection of something racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Canadianphobic, whatever, and why must anyone, anyone at all, suffer the trauma of any word that hurts?”

    I recently ran into just such a pronoun problem.

    If an offender in a prison for men claims to suffer from untreated gender dysphoria, a woman in spirit if not body, what is the proper pronoun to describe the prisoner? If I use the female pronoun before the matter is decided have I prejudged the case? If I use the male pronoun before the matter is decided have I prejudged the case as well? I assumed using “it” was out of the question. What is an old man to do?

    All the best.

    RGK

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s my understanding that the AP Style Book has approved the use of “they” as a gender neutral singular rather than plural. Based upon this, my conclusion is that it doesn’t matter what pronoun you use, as you will be wrong no matter what. Hope that helps, Judge.

      1. Richard Kopf

        SHG,

        The rest of the story . . .

        We decided to use “she” and “her” since the plaintiff is always the “master” of the complaint.

        Did I just write “master?” Damn.

        All the best.

        RGK

        PS Thanks for the AP stylebook info. I wonder what the Harvard Law Review Blue Book says if anything. You have provided me a research project. Thanks.

  3. B. McLeod

    So, no more master’s degrees at Yale? Of course, Grabher should have known at least two years ago that he needed to change his name.

        1. SHG Post author

          All products of the patriarchy, obviously. We will need to reinvent words from scratch, none of which will have any definition and will mean whatever the most sensitive receiver of information decides they mean. That will fix everything.

    1. SHG Post author

      Wonder if the guy at the border when Grabher’s ancestors arrived was a bad speller with lousy handwriting and his “b” looked like an “h.” It could happen.

        1. SHG Post author

          I would be remiss not to seize the opportunity to include this:

          I hope it doesn’t hurt your feelings.

      1. Dana Rea

        Could have also been a mistake with the German ligature letter “ß”, which is a double “S”. Google says that Graßher translates to Greater.

  4. Billy Bob

    Grabher on the back of the car, and Stabhim on the front bumper. That’s how we solve that problem. But you knew that was coming!?!
    Isn’t our president a self-described grabber? But he’s not Canadian. The Canadians have no sense of humor.

  5. Jim Tyre

    Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of sXXXch, or the right of the people peaceably to XXXemble, and to peXXXion the government for a redress of grievances.

    (Yeah, yeah, Nova Scotia ain’t in America. Still, an old fave.)

    1. Jeff Davidson

      This is what the closed captioning does on some of the TV channels I watch. Regularly in Perry Mason events, people, and vehicles are described as “suxxxious, ” which looks like it should be on the adult PPV channel.

  6. Billy Bob

    We hear thru the grapevine that the license plate on your Austin-Healy there in the garage reads, DR SJ.
    Which is better than one we know in CT which reads: DR BACK. Ouch, that hurts! Is that how it’s supposed to feel?!?
    P.S., The front bumper plate reads–you guessed it–SIMPL JUSTCE.

        1. Frank

          Could be worse. Someone in my neck of the woods actually paid money for LCNS PL8. And I have the picture to prove it.

    1. Earl Wertheimer

      We canadians have humour, not humor.
      Maybe our host will finally see the seriousness when they force him to change the name of his car from Austin-Healey to Austin-Zealey…

  7. LTMG

    Many years ago I had a classmate with the surname Raper. Diaper and Merkin are also surnames. Few people know what Merkin means, but I’d smile if I saw it on a license plate.

      1. LTMG

        Not far from my home there is a street in a toney neighborhood called Midden Lane. Archeologists like middens because they are ancient trash heaps.

  8. Norahc

    “With no way to denote that it is a family name on the plate, the department determined it was in the public’s best interest to remove it from circulation”

    I guess it’s just too difficult to look at the registered owner’s name in the same database to see if it is a family name.

  9. Nigel Declan

    In 2011, Canada’s national broadcast regulator – the CRTC – banned from all radio stations Dire Straits’ 1985 hit “Money For Nothing” because exactly one person complained that the language in the song was offensive, effectively attempting to close the barn door 26 years after the horse had escaped. The CRTC, responding to this, explicitly pointed out that the fact that the song had been played millions of times without incident carried no weight since, gosh darn it, one person complained over 2 decades later (I am paraphrasing slightly).

    Combined with the Grabher incident, this further demonstrates that in the Great White North, our governments believe that the best way to respond to a single case of hurt feelz is to use the power of the state to take bold steps unilaterally and them chastise the other 37 million members of the population for being insufficiently outraged. Because it’s [insert year], I guess.

    P.S. The CRTC removed the ban later that same year, while publicly insisting that their heavy-handed decision was 100% correct the first time and that their relatively rapid reversal of position in no way undermined their original stance.

      1. Nigel Declan

        I think The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star” was MTV’s first ever video. But “Money For Nothing” is perhaps the defining video of MTV in the 80’s.

  10. losingtrader

    The notion that every word, every name, must pass muster with the most sensitive among us, lest it be twisted from what it is to what they make of it in the quest for offense, is beyond absurd, even for Canada, eh?

    Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle , “black ?”

    1. Patrick Maupin

      Shhh! You’e no longer allowed to talk about ‘tarnished’ reputations. That’s unwarranted pot-shaming for perfectly valid lifestyle choices, such as repeatedly getting hot and bothered with no intervening cleaning sessions.

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