Pittsburgh Officials Remove Bus Slogan After Complaints That It Reminds Riders Of A Racial Slur . . . When Read Backwards

Port_Authority_bus_PittsburghWe have been discussing the expanding number of terms and phrases deemed racist or, in the new lexicon, a form of “microagression” against minority groups. An example this week is found in the decision of the Port Authority in Pittsburgh stripping buses of its new ad campaign after complaints that “Ziggin Zaggin” is racially offensive because it reminds riders of the n-word when read backwards.

The Port Authority that “. . . due to recent complaints about how this message appears when read backward, we have decided to remove the message from our vehicles.” That will take days and added expense. In all honestly, I really did not get the slogan or why it was selected. However, the decision is being debated as to whether we are becoming too prone to injury or offense in our society.

This controversies raise the difficult question of where or how to draw the line when some object to an interpretation or reaction to particular words. I expect some would be surprised to see the word “Naggaz” or “Niggiz” in a reverse image in a car mirror and would take a second look. However, is that enough to deem the slogan offensive?

What do you think?

Source: CBS

96 thoughts on “Pittsburgh Officials Remove Bus Slogan After Complaints That It Reminds Riders Of A Racial Slur . . . When Read Backwards”

  1. Guilt. Who invented guilt? Guilt may be derived from “gullible.”

    Then there’s guilt over not feeling guilt.

    Strong minds and weak minds.

  2. Now how words are interpreted when viewed backwards…I have no grasp of that. I don’t speak or write backwards, so why would I?

  3. My preference is to use the common parlance of today in picking words to utilize. It isn’t hard to differentiate the noxious from the inoffensive. I am aware of historical usage but that doesn’t mean I need to repeat it. YMMV… 🙂

  4. Paul – that is so interesting. I was told so earnestly by a family member when I used it in casual conversation. Does that mean I can resume using it again, or has it been utterly ruined? Because I can think of many applications for the German definition.

  5. Paul

    To the British they policed the world for centuries and made it a better place, while they were enslaving, exploiting, and destroying cultures. However, they did take the place of others who were enslaving, exploiting, and destroying cultures and may have done less harm, in the long run. Great Britain was also evolving as a society and in doing so moved from the rape and pillage routine towards the emancipation routine.

    In the end one remembers what one wants to remember. Mel Gibson and John Wayne is how most Americans will remember Vietnam. Thousands of American dead and wounded and 9/11 is how America will remember Iraq and Afghanistan. People leave the scenes of their failures as fast as they can. It is a learned reaction that stems from ego. Those that spend a little more time exploring failure and less time ranting how they are number one simply through birth, tend to form the vanguard of the evolution of a society. This much is apparent if one takes only a brief look at the past two or three generations.

    1. issac – and I remember the millions of dead Irish, the drug addicted Chinese and the millions of slaves shipped to the New World as my vision of Britain.

  6. Shakespeare didn’t change the meaning of words so much as he made them up as he needed them.

  7. “Ari may feel Karen is too young, however it is never too late to learn.”

    “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.”

  8. Wadewilliams – I loved “The Importance of Being Earnest,” both in print, and Colin Firth with Judi Dench onscreen. “I hate to be inquisitive, but would you kindly inform me who I am?”

    “Karen sets herself up for a lifetime of frustration if she finds it annoying when ‘idiots’ keeping changing the meanings of words.

    Jeez. What must she think of Shakespeare?”

    I’m not referring to puns. I mean when bigots turn a perfectly innocent word into a racial slur. Like what Ari and I were talking about. Or “thug” could be another example. Suddenly the media is determined to rewrite the definition from “violent criminal” to a racial slur. Since Obama also uses it, I think that effort will fail.

  9. In the same vein, as I think I’ve mentioned before, is the term “Gook” for a Korean…actually it is derived from the term “Guk” in Hangul which means person…thus Mi-Guk was an American and Han-Guk was a Korean. Sometimes we don’t know the sources of our pejoratives…and actually they are not pejorative at all, except in the inflection & context used to say them.

  10. Karen S … in my youth(40’s-50’s) the word “spade,” used alone, was a reference to black people, period….just as much as another term “jiggaboo” and sundry other pejoratives. The other uses were more grammatically & semantically correct, but when used alone in a phrase “spade” meant a black man. Fortunately it passed out of usage within a decade or two.

  11. Karen

    Further research is recommended….

    From Annie Grieshop; a related question came from Morandir Armson: In a recent online discussion about singing masters and hymn-book salesmen of the 19th century, the word shyster was used to describe certain members of that fraternity. Someone objected to the term as anti-Semitic. And now, of course, all sorts of opinions and etymologies are popping up. Would you be so kind as to clarify the term’s history for us?

    A The supposed anti-Semitic origin links the word to the name of the vengeful money lender Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, with the occupational ending -ster added. This is untrue. It is also often claimed to come from the name of a New York lawyer named Scheuster; in the 1840s, his unscrupulous ways are said to have so annoyed Barnabas Osborn, the judge who presided over the Essex Market police court in that city, that he supposedly began to refer to Sheuster practices. No such lawyer has been traced and it’s clearly just a folk tale. Unsuccessful attempts have also been made to link it to a Scots Gaelic word and to bits of English slang.

    Whatever its origin, we use shyster to mean a person who uses unscrupulous, fraudulent, or deceptive methods in business. Historically, it has mainly been applied to lawyers. There’s good reason for that, as Gerald Cohen discovered when he traced its true origin some 25 ago. Professor Cohen found that shyster appeared first in the New York newspaper The Subterranean in July 1843, at first in spellings such as shyseter and shiseter but almost immediately settling down to the form we use now.

    A general view of the Tombs in New York.
    The Tombs prison

    The background is the notorious New York prison known as the Tombs. In the 1840s it was infested by ignorant and unqualified charlatans, who pretended to be lawyers and officers of the court. Before shyster came into being, pettifogger was the usual term for them, a word of obscure origin for lawyers of little scruple or conscience that dates from the sixteenth century. Mike Walsh, the editor of The Subterranean and the first user of shyster, summed up these plaguers of the Tombs in this passage:

    Ignorant blackguards, illiterate blockheads, besotted drunkards, drivelling simpletons, ci-devant mountebanks, vagabonds, swindlers and thieves make up, with but few exceptions, the disgraceful gang of pettifoggers who swarm about its halls.

    Mike Walsh described shyster as both obscene and libellous. The circumstances surrounding its first appearance suggest that in New York underworld slang it was a term for somebody incompetent, so a potentially libellous description, and that only later — largely through the publicity that Walsh gave it in his newspaper in the years 1843-1846 — did it come to refer specifically to a crooked lawyer.

    Professor Cohen concluded the word derives from German Scheisser for an incompetent person, a term known in New York through the many German immigrants there. Mike Walsh considered it obscene because it derives from Scheisse, shit, through the image of an incontinent old man. This is plausible, because British slang at the same period included the same word, meaning a worthless person; the usual spelling was shicer, though it appeared also as sheisser, shiser and shycer. It’s recorded first in print in Britain in 1846, but must be significantly older in the spoken language. (It was taken to Australia and from the 1850s was used there for an unproductive gold mine.) It may have been exported to New York by London low-lifers.


    1. Karen – here is the Urban Dictionary definition, but the best resource is the OED.

      Shyster is derived from the German term scheisser, meaning literally “one who defecates,” from the verb scheissen, “to defecate,” with the English suffix -ster, “one who does,” substituted for the German suffix -er, meaning the same thing.

      Generally used to describe someone who is untrustworthy, money grabbing and full of crap, particularly in the field of legal work for some reason.
      My lawyers are a bunch of shysters
      by Martin Duxon September 04, 2003

  12. Aridog:

    “Karen, you are too young to remember the racist use of the word “spade”…however, Issac is right that it isn’t a term that made sense. Never-the-less in the late 40’s and the 50’s, “spade” referred to black men, and it was a banned term in my family’s house.”

    I did not know that. Was the phrase, “call a spade a spade” referring to this usage, or is it an innocent phrase where one of the term had a negative connotation for a couple of decades? For example, I still use “a chink in the armor”, or talk about chinks in the wall of a log cabin, because it has no reference to the slur usage of that word, and those phrases have been used for thousands of years. Well, maybe hundreds, if it’s origin was not Middle English or even Old English. It’s annoying when idiots hijack innocent phrases or symbols.

    I ask because it was less than 10 years ago that I learned that the term “shyster” was a Jewish slur referring to Shylock in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” I’d read the play, and Al Pacino was excellent. But had no idea at all that “shyster” had that connotation. Even after that, I’d have to catch myself to keep from automatically using it out of habit.

  13. State Powers. States’Rights! is not enumerated in the Constitution. Of course it can be found in the penumbras of the original version. But then we had a civil war. And then by 1870 or so we had three new Amendments to the Constitution. State powers– some of course. State Rights? None delineated. Individual rights. Rights. Gotta keep the words square. A reminder of the good ol days. Like when justices on the Missoura Supreme Court had to resign because they would not sign a loyalty oath to the new Constitution and the “Reconstruction Amendments”. They called themselves “UnReconstructed”. Such folks still exist today. They lost the civil war and they wont quit– generation after generation. Went in dumb, come out dumb too. Shufflin round Atlanta in their alligator shoes.

  14. issac @ 6:30…

    Splendid comment!

    A reminder of the good old days.

  15. The incidents such as those are well documented. Northern racists, Northern bigots, Northern opportunists, Northern conscripts that either went into the Army or else, etc.

    One or several acts of bravery, humanity, etc does not outweigh the reality of the situation, just as one or several acts of evil does not outweigh the righteousness of a cause.

    WW2 saw many exemplary acts of humanity on the enemies’ side and vice versa. Americans lament the loss of fifty thousand plus dead but fail to understand that the war was as criminal as any. Over three million Vietnamese died during the time when they were supposed to have been able to vote in their own government as promised by the US during WW2, and so on.

    We live in a world run by double talk. Perhaps it’s better than facing reality. In any event the world is a safer, freer, and better place now than ever before and this is primarily due to the wars fought against such things as colonial opportunities, slavery, etc. Some things are just black and white even though they exist in a fog.

    1. issac – don’t I remember the British being the major slave trader? And what about that British Empire? Gave it to the East India Company to run. Wasn’t there something about the British, the Chinese and a couple of Opium Wars? And how many civil (religious) wars did the British participate in? And should we talk about Ireland and Northern Ireland?

  16. Paul

    If you take away all the mumbo jumbo about state’s rights etc. you are left with slavery. If the North and South were on the same page regarding abolishing slavery then there would have been no issue regarding state’s rights strong enough to cause a war. This includes issues revolving around tariffs, the North’s desire for a stronger and more internationally focused central government, and any and all other issues. The South was predominantly agrarian and this agrarian based economy supported the industrial make up of the South and a lifestyle of an upper middle class that ran the country, not much different from today. Without slaves to drive the Southern economic engine the South would suffer greatly. Without the issue of slavery all the other complaints are no different than the nonsense heard routinely from Texas and other states that feel that to be Texan is more important than to be American. Just as the Viet Nam war was wrapped and shrouded in ‘saving the world from communism’ the Southern cause was wrapped and shrouded in maintaining state’s rights and as many other issues, issues that without slavery would not have been enough to cause secession.

    It is a common theme of pseudo historians and novelists to pick an issue or issues associated with the core thrust and focus on that or those issues. This is not much more than the desire to be the first to discover something.

    If Shelby Foote were to come back to life and write another hundred books, he could not change history, without the issue of slavery there would not have been a Civil War. One does not need to read Shelby Foote to understand that. The hundreds of historians who have consistently arrived at that same conclusion are sufficient, and one does not need to read them all. Slavery was and is abhorrent, was the cause of the Civil War and the flag that represented that cause represented a time and place of infamy.

    1. issac – there is an interesting book whose title I do not remember, but it is sitting in my storage locker. I covers the black experience during the Civil War. One of the most fascinating incidents was one where a black militia tried to join the Union Army and was told “No, boy. This is a white man’s war and it will be fought by white men.”

  17. Jump for joy all you true Americans – one less commie, unionist, hater gone. At last this sound is silenced…

  18. Paul

    Regardless of Shelby Foote’s work, the South and all its trappings fought to retain their glorious right to enslave, whip at will, lynch, demean, etc a race of people so that they could enjoy a lifestyle they deemed, god given, rightfully theirs, etc. The North, regardless of its history of slavery, fought to abolish slavery. The rest is the John Wayne window dressing that comes with any event such as this. The flag that represented the abolishing of slavery was pretty much the one we still have. The flag that represented retaining slavery was the one in question. After all is said and done, the Confederate flag represented slavery.

    Shelby Foote’s writing along with any other historical fiction writer cannot change that. That there was bravery, sacrifice is not the issue. The issue is that in the country of the history the history tends to change to eventually omit the less desirable traits of the country, washing them over with humanity, that which can always be found, in the War in Vietnam, Hitler’s Germany, the USSR, etc. In the end it is what it is if you dig deep enough.

    I read enough Shelby Foote and listened to him on the TV with his authoritative tired and knowing eyes to understand where he is coming from. Don’t confuse reconciliation with reality. Mankind can be evil and good at the same time. Hitler loved his dog.

    1. issac – the North DID NOT fight to abolish slavery. Slavery existed in the North during the Civil War. You need to read all of Shelby Foote to criticize him. You have barely scratched the surface. You know as much about Shelby Foote as you know about cowboys.

  19. Someone at the club here left the computer on with this blog up on the screen. So I read the comments on this topic. I am from Mississippi but moved North years ago to a segregated city called New York City.
    Soon I will be moving to Alabama to get away from this mess. Between de Blazio, Al Sharpton, Hillary, and others the hypocrites are driving me away. Phony baloney now, phony baloney tomorrow, phony baloney forever!

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