Short Take: The New Rules of Thumb

Trigger Warning: You can’t say trigger warning anymore.

Wesley Yang has thoughtfully noted that Brandeis University, that bastion of liberal thought and expression, has provided a list of words and phrases that must not be uttered.

Does “rule of thumb” really come from an old British law about men beating their wives?

But does it matter if people believe that’s what rule of thumb is all about? Maybe it should be the subject of a discussion at a picnic?

According to Dr David Pilgrim, author of several books on the history and cultural symbols of the Jim Crow era, the word picnic derives from the 17th century French word “pique-nique,” a term used to describe a social gathering in which attendees each contributed with a portion of food or another useful item ( here ).

Pilgrim writes that a 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Francoise de Menage includes the word pique-nique. Since the derivate word, picnic, did not appear in the English language until around 1800, this suggests it did not originate in the U.S.

But to be fair, they have a point when it comes to trigger warnings.

The word “trigger” has connections to guns for many people; we can give the same head’s up using language less connected to violence.

The proposed words, content note or drop in, are certainly less evocative, bordering on the tepid, even if “drop in” could retraumatize those who have experienced falls that resulted in skinned knees. But if it makes someone else feel better, why not give it a stab?

29 thoughts on “Short Take: The New Rules of Thumb

  1. Elpey P.

    If they have a problem with how the word “picnic” has been used in the past, wait until they discover the history of the Democratic Party. #NeverForget

    We need their take on the ACLU’s new rapey t-shirt.

  2. Dan

    I might have hoped that an official publication of a respected university could at least punctuate correctly. I would apparently have been mistaken. And what on earth does “Drop-in” mean, anyway?

  3. Jeff L

    These regular updates to our legacy culture by “the woke” remind me a lot of Orwell. “We have always been at war with Europa.”

      1. PseudonymousKid

        I know Pops, it’s just so trite. The fresh high-brow comment would be to note that you and your set are in your Twilights. The vampires are winning. “I decided as long as I’m going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.” Well said, Ms. Meyer.

  4. orthodoc

    Brandeis University has come a long way since it gave us Abbie Hoffman. But it’s not alone in its descent. A certain school far above Cayuga’s waters, for instance, now offers ASTRO 2034, “Black Holes: Race and the Cosmos.” It’s course description reads as follows: “Conventional wisdom would have it that the “black” in black holes has nothing to do with race. Surely there can be no connection between the cosmos and the idea of racial blackness. Can there? Contemporary Black Studies theorists, artists, fiction writers implicitly and explicitly posit just such a connection. Theorists use astronomy concepts like “black holes” and “event horizons” to interpret the history of race in creative ways, while artists and musicians conjure blackness through cosmological themes and images. Co-taught by professors in Comparative Literature and Astronomy, this course will introduce students to the fundamentals of astronomy concepts through readings in Black Studies.”
    This sounds like a lot of mental masturbation, or as the word-banning at Yale has it, mental head-of-college-bation.

    1. SHG Post author

      You don’t say.

      Cornell hasn’t been the same since they cut down the Stump.

      1. Edward

        The “black” in black holes has to do with the fact that the gravity of said object is so strong that even light cannot escape, hence the term, black hole. I’m sure many know this but I’m just stating it for the record.

  5. Paleo

    I don’t understand what they aim to accomplish by targeting the word picnic with such a ridiculous assertion.

    Seriously, I grew up in the old south. In the 60s. During first and second grade my school was segregated. I saw a lot of overt racism as a kid. But the only entity that I’ve seen associating picnicking with lynching is Woke Brandeis.

    1. SHG Post author

      People are desperately searching for evils to eliminate, but there aren’t nearly enough so they invent them. Any connection, direct or orthogonal, real or imaginary, is enough to point, j’accuse and destroy. Then they can pat each other on the back for being so very sensitive.

      1. Paleo

        Exactly. I grew up witnessing substantial racism.

        Now it’s “ooh a white girl wore cornrows!” or “hey these white women can’t have a taco truck”. Or the absolute silliness around the ok sign.

        And the want to indoctrinate young children in this crap.

        1. SHG Post author

          The rationalization is kinda brilliant in a Kafkaesque way. Someone claims trauma, either for themselves or marginalized group, and if you challenge the notion that a white woman wearing hoop earrings is cultural appropriation, that makes you the racist for questioning the orthodoxy. It’s a good set-up.

  6. DaveL

    Would it be mean to point out to them the existence of “drop-in triggers”, i.e. self-contained aftermarket kits for replacing a firearm’s factory trigger? Or that the word “general” also refers to high-ranking military officers? Come on, let’s get this euphemism treadmill rolling.

    1. SHG Post author

      With a little effort, there’s practically no word or phrase that can’t be associated in some way with something unsavory. And if not, then just make it up.

  7. Rengit

    Allow me to go off the reservation a bit and take a stab at setting a rule of thumb: if your “picnic” is so bombastic that it requires a trigger warning, your “picnic” is a true burn-down-the-house rave, and you are killing it as the host.

  8. Pedantic Grammar Police

    This will take forever. Let’s have the list of allowed words, and our helpful tech overlords can ban all words not on the list.

    1. Rengit

      Soon enough, having private, in-person conversations will be grounds for “suspicion of terrorist activities”, because tech companies can’t monitor and moderate them.

  9. LTMG


    Off the reservation. Use the nicely colloquial “Lost in space!”

    Trigger warning. Use “horse warning”. Roy Rogers’ horse was named Trigger. Or say, “If you are so thin skinned and prone to outrage at the slightest provocation, elect another class.”

    Rule of thumb. Use the mellifluous single word heuristic instead of the clunky two words “general meaning”.

  10. st

    I’ll take a shot at this. It’s great fun to watch the wokester tribe going off their own reservation.

    What are the poor infants in college classrooms to do? How will they get their puppies (or the spirit animal of their choosing) and playdough if they can’t have trigger warnings?

    We need a new rule of thumb before we can powwow to take a stab at solving this horrible new dilemma.

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