Frontiers in linguistic sensitivity

The death of St. George Floyd has been the occasion of deep thoughts of all kinds. On the assumption that he is taking a typical cut of the action, I note that attorney Ben Crump has come to Minnesota and found his stays lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice. Now he turns his attention to new frontiers in linguistic sensitivity as he salutes abolition — abolition of references to the master bedroom in Minnesota real estate listings.

I think credit should be given where it is due. In this case, New York has led the way and, as is so often the case out here where we struggle ceaselessly to overcome our provincial inferiority complex, we are simply aping our trend-setting masters, er … betters. See the August 5, 2020 New York Times story “The Biggest Bedroom Is No Longer a ‘Master.’” Subhead: “The term’s racist and sexist undertones lead New York’s real estate community and others to rethink outdated industry jargon.”

Students of ancient history may recall that Bobby Kennedy adapted a line or two from George Bernard Shaw to ask: “Some men see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?'”

Here we might say that some see things that never were and ask why not. As the Times story reveals toward the bottom for those who have sacrificed precious brain cells to read this far (links omitted):

The first recorded usage of “master bedroom” seems to have been in a 1926 Modern Homes catalog by Sears, Roebuck and Co. The pamphlet offered potential buyers a kit they could use to build their own homes. A “master’s bedroom” was referenced in the second-floor description of the most expensive home in the catalog, but not in the floor plan itself. Before this reference, most floor plans used the word “chamber” when referring to bedrooms.

“It seems to me the term is coming more out of a commercial orientation than a professional one,” said Thomas Mellins, an architectural historian. Mr. Mellins guessed that Sears might have introduced it as a way to attract aspirational suburban home buyers who aimed to be viewed as part of the expanding middle class after World War I.

Words matter, but so does ignorance. I won’t even mention the possible impact of such ignorance on fans of the famous Seinfeld episode. I wish I could call on Rod Serling to recite: When words yield to ignorance, that’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!

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