The politically correct silliness of 'Latinx'

Sick and tired of reading, hearing and writing about the Covid-19 pandemic, and now the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, and the ensuing street protests, I’m going to turn my attention to something that’s been bothering me for awhile: The silliness of “Latinx”, a neologism that’s gained traction over the past few years and has even crept into the Merriam-Webster dictionary, as an acceptable term for referring to Latinos or Hispanics.

Ever since I was pointedly admonished, by no less than the mother of a mentally handicapped girl, not to use the word “retarded,” I’ve been very conscious of “dog whistles” or booby-trapped descriptors of certain groups even if, sometimes, they might be technically accurate. Most often, rather than to innocently describe people, these terms are deployed to denigrate or stigmatize “others.”

The late Rev. Fred Phelps, may he not rest in peace. 

So gay people object to “fruitcake,” “faggot” and even the clinical “homosexual,” the latter suggesting a psychological malady.

Gay works for me, and LBGT does too, though recently that designation is getting loaded with other letters, like Q for “queer,” or others to indicate someone’s  “non-binary” sexual-orientation. 

In fact, I don’t particularly care what specific subgroups in the gay community choose to call themselves, except that, in everyday speech, such acronym soups can be unwieldy.

Just watch straight politicians pause for a second to remember which label is the correct one—LBGT? LGBTQ? LGBTQIA+?—wary they might cause offense by omission or by using the wrong abbreviation. So they hurriedly mumble through the designations, sounding sometimes like someone with a mouthful of risotto.

Many long-used and innocuous-sounding monikers have become unacceptable and rightly so. Native Americans should not be called “Indians” simply because idiot European explorers at first confused America with India. “American Indian” doesn’t work either for the same reason. “Native American,” fits the bill nicely, because those folks roamed America long before the disease-ridden Europeans showed up, stole their lands and ruined their lives.

In Mexico, with a vast ethnic pot of some 30 indigenous groups, most with their own tongues derived from the Uto-Aztecan family of languages, “Native American” doesn’t quite work. “Indigenous people” or indígenas in Spanish, might be more accurate. Unless, of course, you pretend to know the differences among Mixtecs, Olmecs, Toltecs, Zapotecs, Nahuátls and other ethnicities. In that case, you’re on your own.

“Colored,” and of course, the notorious “n-word” are considered offensive by most civilized Americans, though it still pops up in speeches, Tweets and Facebook offerings by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other denizens of the far-right netherworld.

So “African-American” has come into use, extending to black Americans the same geographic reference accorded to other ethnic groups,  such as Italian-Americans, Cuban-Americans and so on.

Then we come to “Latinx” (it rhymes with “Kleenex”), an unnecessary invention, damn near unpronounceable when you get to the plural, “Latinxs.” Try saying that three times fast.

Who needs it?

It all goes back to the grammar of Spanish, and other Romance languages, in which nouns and adjectives jibe in their gender and plural forms. So Peruano is a Peruvian man; Peruana a Peruvian woman; and Peruanos refers to Peruvians as a group.

But some groups took offense to those age-old grammatical conventions. For instance, the “os” in the collective Peruvian had a sexist ring to it, because the “o” also denoted male Peruvians. To correct that, some people used more the gender-inclusive Latino/a, or Latin@, though how do you pronounce “@”?

And so Latinx was born, perhaps during the 70s, some scholars theorize, when some radical feminists would cross the “o” in Latino in posters and graffiti. 

People who identify themselves as “non-gendered and non-binary”—meaning, I think, that they refuse to be pigeonholed in any gender or sexual-preference category—also took offense to the male-sounding, and presumably exclusionary, ring of “Latinos.”

The new term, another linguist explained, “does not imply a specific gender—as would the ‘o’ (masculine) or the ‘a’ (feminine) for nouns in Spanish—and is meant to disrupt the grammatical binary that is inherent in this Romance language.”

In case you’re a woke copy editor, “latinx” is lower cased in Spanish, but capitalized in English.

Whatever: The term has spread through most newspapers and magazines, and embraced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other liberal politicians, who sometimes mispronounce it as “Latin-X,” in an clumsy effort to tickle the sympathies of Latino voters.

Problem is, hardly any Latinos, outside academic circles, call each other “Latinxs,” which sounds more Rumanian than Spanish. In fact, 98 percent of Latinos asked in a poll didn’t want to have anything to do with the Latinx, and preferred conventional designations like Mexican-American, Hispanic, Chicano, or the old-fashioned Latino.  

Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times observed, “There’s very little evidence that ‘Latinx’ is a thing that many Hispanics or Latinos call themselves, at least in the kind of numbers that normally determine how political candidates talk.”

No less an authority than the members of the Royal Academy of Spanish, based in Madrid and with branches in other Spanish-speaking countries, gave a thumbs-down to the Latinx aberration, noting that the conventional Latino and Latinos were just a reflection of proper Spanish grammar and not “gender oppression.” 

But the worst may be to come, as other nationalities latch on to this linguistic nonsense. How does Chicanx and Filipinx sound to you? 

As a card-carrying Latino, I say it sounds like “Argh!.”  

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