I was surprised, recently, by a message from Donna Morton, an indigenous peoples activist and CEO of the green tech company First Power. Donna was commenting on our use of the word “savage.” She said it had made her sad. The content was a quiz on, ironically enough, netiquette — proper online behavior: Netiquette savvy or savage? After consulting with Donna and considering the implications of the word, I edited the title to be simply “Quiz: Netiquette” and removed another instance of “savage” in the introduction. The original title is, at this moment, still in the URL but it will be fixed when the tech people can get to it.
When I wrote that quiz, I’m sure I was just pleased to come up with a snappy title and never stopped to consider that it might be considered disrespectful. I don’t associate the word “savage” with indigenous peoples and never have. However, it’s been a derogatory term applied to them for centuries and so it was not a good choice to use in reference to ill-mannered behavior.
I know that the many indigenous cultures around the world are varied and rich and I hope and pray that those cultures and their wisdom may be preserved. I also know that the behavior of supposedly civilized peoples of European origin is responsible for a lot of damage to indigenous peoples and cultures. Their behavior was often savage and the damage continues to this day. The last thing I would ever want to do is to add insult to that injury.
I would never have used that word if I’d thought about it carefully. Although when we hear the word etiquette, we might think of Emily Post and white gloves, the concept is important and always relevant. It’s as true online as it is offline: Good manners are about consideration for the people we share this planet with. And words matter.
See more about Donna Morton and her mission here.
Follow me on Twitter@tao_of_grammar.