State Department Chief Diversity Officer John Robinson has published a warning to State Department employees that if they want to “go Dutch” or “hold down the Fort,” they had better find another way to express it. Those phrases are now deemed offensive.
Robinson asks in the publication “How many times have you or a colleague asked if someone could ‘hold down the fort?'” The answer is presumably often but he explains that what you were really saying was “I have to run out but cannot you look out for any Native Americans while I am out?”:
“You were likely asking someone to watch the office while you go and do something else, but the phrase’s historical connotation to some is negative and racially offensive. To ‘hold down the fort’ originally meant to watch and protect against the vicious Native American intruders. In the territories of the West, Army soldiers or settlers saw the ‘fort’ as their refuge from their perceived ‘enemy,’ the stereotypical ‘savage’ Native American tribes.”
To make matters worse, when you used the phrase “rule of thumb” in lines like “As a rule of thumb, I always avoid that” you were really saying “As a wife beater, I always avoid that . . .” He states that the phrase came from a rule that you should not beat your wife with a stick thicker than your thumb.
Robinson nevertheless concludes that “Now that you know the possible historical context of the above phrases, perhaps you will understand why someone could be offended by their use.” Robinson’s hold on the historical context of some of these phrases however seems a bit off.
He appears to be wrong on the origins of these phrases. “Hold down the fort” has been traced by some to both Roman times and more directly to the Civil War.
Likewise, rule of thumb does not appear to originate with the wife beating rule (which by the way was not a wide spread rule). It has been traced to ancient times where fingers and thumbs were used for measurements (here and here).
Putting aside the false assumption that these phrases are racist or misogynistic, there is the problem that virtually no one subscribes this false meaning to the phrases. Until this publication, few people would have thought that saying “hold down the fort” referenced hostile Indians or “rule of thumb” referenced wife beating. Thus, I seriously do not believe that he was talking about an analogous rise in wife beatings when President Obama’s top economic adviser Lawrence Summers said “Breaking from historical patterns, the unemployment rate — currently at 9.5% — is 1 to 1.5 percentage points higher than would be expected under one economic rule of thumb.”
Of course, this may explain how “war” was redefined by the President as a Time Limited Military Action.
Source: Daily Caller