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JLeslie's avatar

Is the word articulate off the table now for complimenting how someone speaks?

Asked by JLeslie (65519points) March 27th, 2019
16 responses
“Great Question” (0points)

This comment was made on a Facebook thread:

Damn, this guy is really smart and articulate. There are so few of them out there nowadays.

It was regarding this clip from the between the scenes of The Daily Show about reparations for African Americans.

After the statement a Facebook user asked who is “them.” Then a short discussion followed about how black people could be offended. I took “them” to mean anyone in media when I first read the original comment, but the person was questioning if “them” meant black people, similar to the huge upset that happened when Obama was complimented for being articulate.

I always think the word articulate is a compliment. Race doesn’t even occur to me. Everyone was complimenting Obama on his speeches and speaking ability, and in the same vein Biden says Obama is articulate and it gets turned into a racist word by the media. In my opinion it was a piece of propaganda, but I except that now the word articulate is probably taboo. I don’t want anyone to be hurt.

I’ve used the word in the past to describe why I can understand some Spanish speaking accents better than others. I use “enunciate” also, maybe that’s bad too. I remember Charlize Theron talking about learning American English, and that the trick is we enunciate our words fully. Each word is separate. Is enunciate a trigger word also? No more describing how well people can express themselves, or if they speak clearly?

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mazingerz88's avatar

People do ascribe all sorts of meaning to a single word. Sometimes they’re merely projecting their own frustrations. Imagine if instead of articulate the word eloquent was used. Lol

hmmmmmm's avatar

Don’t refer to African Americans as “articulate”. Just don’t. Why? Because many AA find it quite offensive.

jca2's avatar

I just googled the words “Do African Americans get offended articulate” and there’s all kinds of stuff all over the internet about it.

Bill1939's avatar

Sadly, some people are ready to take offense regardless of the context that words appear. Others seem to enjoy ‘stirring the pot’ and publicly fake disapproval. Enunciate, though it lacks the breadth of meaning, may be used in place of articulate in some instances.

janbb's avatar

It sounds condescending when used to to refer to a black person. Goes back to when Joe Biden used it to refer to Obama. The inference taken is that they are among the few smart ones. In other contexts and for other people, there is nothing wrong with the word.

kritiper's avatar

Not in my vocabulary.

Dutchess_lll's avatar

Oh brother. And Obama was the first person that came to mind. IMO he is about the most freaking articulate person on the planet! Him and Michelle. Guess I’m racist. :(

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb That’s the thing, it goes back to the Biden comment. I don’t think that was the case about the word before, or was it? What if the media had framed it as a great compliment, I just think it’s likely the Republicans or Democrats against Biden used it to try to make Biden look old or racist. If it was the Democrats they did it to also boost Obama as the black candidate. It was purposeful in my opinion, as I said above, propaganda. Successful, at causing outrage then and ongoing for the word.

Biden obviously thought Obana was great if you read everything he said. The Democrats talked constantly about Obama possibly being the first black president. His race was always being put front and center as a marketing tool, even when a lot of us weren’t even thinking about his race.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@JLeslie – You’re saying that the media created this out of thin air, changing the way that we now use the word? What is your evidence for this? I was in college in the early 1990s and we knew about this then. The fact that Biden used it and people pushed back and it became the first time many white people had been exposed to this concept doesn’t mean that the whole concept is a media creation.

I’m not sure why you seem upset at this whole notion that language is all about context, which invariably will involve culture and history when we are talking about issues such as race. What is the harm to white people to not use “articulate” when referring to a black man or woman?

Edit: I just noticed this blog post from 2005 (pre-dating the Biden thing, I believe). The author appears to be complaining about this as you are.

Yellowdog's avatar

Would it sound racist to you, if I were to say that THOSE people are normally ignorant and inarticulate But damn,this guy is really smart and articulate. There are so few of them out there nowadays.?

Biden has a racist past. In context, he is saying that those people like Obama are rarely intelligent or articulate, But this one is.

Dutchess_III's avatar

You knew it back in the 90s @hmmmmmm? This is the first I’ve ever heard of it.

Pinguidchance's avatar

Whether or not “articulate”, or any other word, can be used as a slur is deserving of discussion by all intelligent, honest, god-fearing Americans.

JLeslie's avatar

@hmmmmmm I’m not assuming the media created it, I’m asking did this start with Biden, and is it possible the media created it. Or, a political campaign that used the media. Were black people outraged and insulted before that incident when someone complimented them in this way? Many people were complimenting Obama’s speaking ability like it was a great thing, they still say Obama is a great speaker, but the word articulate is treated as a bad word specifically.

I’m not upset about losing the word per se, I want to know if it’s hurtful so I know not to use it. I would not have known before the Biden thing that the word could be negative, because if I said it I would only mean it in a complimentary way. It doesn’t matter though, if it’s hurtful at this point then I want to know, so I don’t use it.

What I’m upset about is, if previous to the Biden remark, and reaction to his remark, black people didn’t specifically take offense to that word, then I think it’s another sign we need to be really careful of media interference and being manipulated. We already worry about foreign governments interfering, and it happens within our country also. I just think people need to be more skeptical.

It’s a very scary time. I am not talking about reporting the news, the free press is incredibly important, and in a way a 4th balance in our government, I am talking about manufacturing outrage. Fear and anger are being used viciously in our society right now to divide us.

Thanks for the link. I hadn’t googled to see if anyone else was feeling like me.

@Yellowdog I understand that if he had said or meant that black people usually aren’t articulate that it would be offensive, but I have a really hard time thinking that was Biden’s feelings. Biden works with plenty of smart, educated, well spoken, African Americans. In his social circles basically all African Americans are similar to him. Obama chose him as a Vice President! I don’t think even Obama thinks Biden is racist or had mal intent. Biden didn’t say “those” people, that is a word being injected.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@JLeslie: “I am talking about manufacturing outrage.”

If you’re interested, the classic book on how media manipulates public opinion is Herman/Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. It was written in 1988, but it still holds up.

I agree that corporate media functions to manufacture opinions. But in this very small, isolated case (the “articulate” thing), I think this is a clear example of the media finally giving voice to people who haven’t been paid attention to. All of the articles questioning the use of “articulate” in Biden’s case is really similar to something even more critical that has happened more recently regarding police brutality against the black community. The rise of BLM finally forced the media to at least give some coverage to voices that have been ignored for so long.

JLeslie's avatar

@hmmmmmm I only agree if black people actually found it offensive prior to the mass media reaction to the Biden comment. I can’t speak for African Americans.

African Americans certainly have been talking about police harassment and brutality and an unfair justice system for many many years, so attention given to that is good and needed; although, it backfires a little, like almost everything does.

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