Writing for Business

Sep 24 2012   1:28PM GMT

The importance of careful language

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

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.

3  Comments on this Post

There was an error processing your information. Please try again later.
Thanks. We'll let you know when a new response is added.
Send me notifications when other members comment.
  • TomLiotta
    Good manners are about consideration for the people we share this planet with.I strongly agree.I am, however, confused about the point of this post.Is it specifically about the word 'savage'? Is the word now no longer acceptable? Are there valid contexts within which it might be used? If so, what are they? (If not, how did it fit here: "Their behavior was often savage..."?)Or is it that there are words we should be careful using? Are we supposed to know what all of those words are? How will we recognize them? I can accept that there are groups of people who dislike 'savage', but I had no clue that they existed before reading this post. Had I used 'savage' in an article, say, last month, would I have been inconsiderate? Or merely ignorant?We can't be expected to know every word that is offensive to groups of people that might be anywhere in the world. So, can you clarify what the point of the post was?Tom
    125,585 pointsBadges:
  • TomLiotta
    My apologies... I should have known that paragraph formatting wasn't working in FF here. -- Tom
    125,585 pointsBadges:
  • Ivy Wigmore
    Nice to hear from you, Tom! I don't think it's necessary to stop using the word altogether -- but we have to be careful about using it as a noun. I think the problem arose from the slightly ambiguous wording that could have been taken to mean "are you savvy or a savage?"
    735 pointsBadges:

Forgot Password

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an e-mail containing your password.

Your password has been sent to:

Share this item with your network: