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Fusco Brothers irks readers with use of “squaw”

fusco-squaw

Mike LeFort of the Rapid City Journal has responded to a reader complaint over the use of the word “squaw” in J.C. Duffy’s Fusco Brothers strip last week. The word “squaw,” according to some activists is not a real native american word, but “a degrading sexual invective coined by Europeans based on an obscure Mohawk slang for female anatomy.” These activists are waging a campaign to swap out the word in “official” language such as names of geographical locations.

Community Comments

#1 Wiley Miller
February/10/2009
@ 10:13 am

“These activists are waging a campaign to swap out the word in ?official? language…”

Ok, so shouldn’t offer an alternative then?

#2 Stacy Curtis
February/10/2009
@ 10:39 am

Why isn’t someone waging a campaign for better-drawn word balloons in the Fusco Brothers?

#3 Alan Gardner
February/10/2009
@ 12:06 pm

k, so shouldn?t offer an alternative then?

If you read the article, they offer the word “Moose” as an acceptable alternative.

#4 Jesse Cline
February/10/2009
@ 12:08 pm

My moose doesn’t understand me either.

#5 Wiley Miller
February/10/2009
@ 12:25 pm

I did read the article, and the “moose” alternative to “squaw” was in reference to geographical places, such as, changing a place called “Squaw Mountain” to “Moose Mountain”. That’s not the context that was used in the cartoon. Here, it was used in reference to a wife or girlfriend, so they should offer an American Indian word that means wife or girlfriend that’s an alternative to “squaw”. Moose doesn’t work in that context. If anything, it’s more degrading to women.

#6 Tom Wood
February/10/2009
@ 12:37 pm

My ex in-laws are from west Texas, and live near Squaw Teat Mountain. Kid you not.

See Flickr photo

Google the name, and there’s a hundred or so hits to a music album with the name as a song. I guess this is what set them off…

#7 Tom Wood
February/10/2009
@ 1:39 pm

LOL, well that didn’t work. Rogue comment awaiting you in moderation Alan!

#8 P.S. Mueller
February/10/2009
@ 1:59 pm

You need to stay on top of this stuff. “Squaw” is just plain nasty. My guess, however, is that the cartoonist was unaware of the word’s decline in current usage, and meant nothing evil by using it.

Slack is due…this time.

#9 Alan Gardner
February/10/2009
@ 2:10 pm

Rogue comment approved, plus I made the link work without having to do any copying and pasting.

#10 Tom Heintjes
February/10/2009
@ 2:53 pm

Can’t we all just smoke a peace pipe?

#11 Bill Kellogg
February/10/2009
@ 3:22 pm

I had no idea that “squaw” was considered offensive, but I know firsthand that calling your wife a moose is not a good idea.

#12 J.C. Duffy
February/10/2009
@ 3:31 pm

Who knew?

Ironically, my moose broke up with me over this.

#13 Mike Peterson
February/10/2009
@ 3:57 pm

The word has been considered offensive for some time now, as much as because of its uses as anything else. The term “Jewess” isn’t offensive in and of itself, except who would use it and in what possible context? It’s hard to imagine it in a cartoon that wouldn’t seem pretty icky, especially if you then changed the art on the husband accordingly.

“Wife” would be the obvious alternative term here, and it might even be funnier, since it’s such a bland cliche and yet he’s got an arrow sticking out of his back. IMHO, the less you mess with the line, the more laughs you get from the visual.

#14 Tom Heintjes
February/10/2009
@ 4:19 pm

“Cupid is a b!tch.”

#15 Leah Barnett
February/10/2009
@ 4:46 pm

A lot of people think the word ‘wench’ is offensive, but it only means ‘woman’. I always thought ‘squaw’ was the same way in that it COULD be used aggressively and seem offensive, but the core meaning was not.

And, as always, it’s only a cartoon, folks.

#16 Garey Mckee
February/10/2009
@ 6:27 pm

My ho doesn’t understand me.

#17 Alan Jones
February/10/2009
@ 7:07 pm

Would “squaw” be in the same degradation bucket as “broad”? What’s the diff? Why can’t there be some irksomeness anyhow?

It’s the activist’s job to be active about something – IMO no real socio-political relevance here in any case.

#18 Mike Peterson
February/10/2009
@ 8:30 pm

A decade ago, I republished a series of cartoons by Sid Couchey, who was central to Richie Rich, Little Lotta, Little Dot and others. He had done a wonderful series of one-panel cartoons to mark the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh Bay, a critical moment in the war of 1812.

I found only a few obviously offensive pieces as we moved the piece up from the late 60s to the late 90s, but, as I sent them out to fourth grades throughout the area, I was concerned about the depiction of Indians, because one of our schools was in Mohawk country.

I went up there and sat down with the superintendent of the district and showed him the panels, and noted that Sid had also made fun of the Scottish soldiers, of the settlers, etc. But he noted that, when you feel that you have been dismissed and kept at the bottom of the pile, it really doesn’t matter how other people are depicted.

It made sense, and it fit with the experiences I had with the more militant Mohawk of the area. The bottom line is, it’s easy to sit at the top of the pile and declare how people ought to feel. But the people at the bottom of the pile may feel differently, and if you are not a big fat dork, you should probably listen to them, because they are the people who have experienced what they have experienced.

It doesn’t mean you can’t make jokes.

It just means you have to be intelligent and insightful.

#19 Matt Bors
February/10/2009
@ 8:39 pm

“A lot of people think the word ?wench? is offensive, but it only means ?woman?. I always thought ?squaw? was the same way in that it COULD be used aggressively and seem offensive, but the core meaning was not.”

Hey, why is it offensive to call black people “negros” and Arabs “Hajjis”? After all, the original dictionary definitions of these words aren’t racist.

It’s almost as if there could be some Historical reason that these terms are offensive.

#20 tralfaz
February/10/2009
@ 9:14 pm

why not e;iminate ALL cartoons ? I’m sure there is something in each one which would offend someone. So, let us be done with it and the sooner the better. (lol)

#21 Rich Diesslin
February/10/2009
@ 9:33 pm

LOL! Thanks for the laughs on this one all! Mike, you aren’t trying to pick a fight with big fat dorks are you? I mean, I’ll let it go this time …

Anyway, while I enjoyed the whole conversation, Wiley’s first comment pretty much nailed the issue.

Stacy, that word balloon is pretty bad, and what’s with hyphenating “understand”? Wow. Move the characters over a tad!

#22 Matt Bors
February/11/2009
@ 12:31 am

tralfaz, who mentioned “e;iminating” any cartoon let alone ALL of them?

#23 Woodrow Barlettani
February/11/2009
@ 1:24 am

squaw , schmaw,… the joke stinks anyway, it’s mainstream mush, using a half-baked clique to get a laugh, well I didn’t laugh and my indian brothers, didn’t get it , so just scrap it
….Oh yeah and the word balloon was childish or hurried

#24 Mike Peterson
February/11/2009
@ 5:04 am

I used to hang around with a half-baked clique, but after graduation our parents cut us off and we all had to go get jobs.

#25 P.S. Mueller
February/11/2009
@ 8:37 am

All seriousness aside, Mr. McKee’s response made me laugh.

#26 Rich Diesslin
February/11/2009
@ 12:17 pm

Is it odd to anyone else that a native american would have an arrow in his back. Wouldn’t that be something a cowboy would have? Is this really a much deeper commentary on brave on brave violence? Wait, is brave a bad term too? Wouldn’t we all love to have one of our cartoons beat to death in a blog?

#27 Mike Lester
February/11/2009
@ 12:58 pm

As long as we have the “WASHINGTON REDSKINS”, this is a moot point. (Apologies to anyone offended by the word, “moot”.)

#28 J.C. Duffy
February/11/2009
@ 1:10 pm

So many cunning liguists, so little time.

#29 Wiley Miller
February/11/2009
@ 1:23 pm

“Is it odd to anyone else that a native american would have an arrow in his back.”

No, Rich. That’s pretty much the crux of the gag. You see, his WIFE (squaw) is the one who shot him, and she’s an… oh, come on… do I really have to dissect and explain a simple gag here?

#30 RS Davis
February/11/2009
@ 5:43 pm

I remember reading once that Gary Larson said certain words were innately funny, just because of how they look and sound; to him ‘cow’ was hilarious just because it was, well…’cow.’ Kind of like what ‘kumquat’ was to George Carlin.

Well, ‘squaw’ is similarly funny to many people. Frankly, at some point you have to draw a line and defend the right to publish a stupid archane word just because it sounds funny.

I mean, we didn’t storm the beaches of Normandy so Rolf Fusco would have to sit in a bar and hear and Indian with an arrow in his back say “My significant other doesn’t understand me,” did we?!

Hell no! So save ‘squaw’ now for future cartoonists and comic readers to enjoy!! Don’t give it up!

Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!?!?!?
No!

Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw! Squaw!

#31 mike crachiolo
February/11/2009
@ 8:12 pm

the comic strip redeye his wife was called masquaw and to my knowledge never heard any complaints

#32 Mike Peterson
February/11/2009
@ 8:22 pm

The point is that minorities don’t get to tell US what offends THEM because we don’t care. They’re minorities, and that means they don’t have the numbers to matter.

Look, we’ll tell you when you’re offended. Meanwhile, we’re gonna have fun goofin’ on you, because, well, come on, you are kind of weird. Silly food, silly clothes, silly skin, silly noses. How can we resist making jokes about you silly, silly people? (no offense.)

#33 Joe Rank
February/12/2009
@ 12:32 am

Comedian Dick Gregory has had a long running routine concerning stereotyped names.
The fact that there were offensive racists in the past that invented terms to insult others is no excuse to perpetuate the insults.
This could be an oversight. I don’t know the artist. I have known about the negative connotation of this particular word for at least twenty years, as there was an ongoing controversy about a place name near my previous locale.
It is not “cute” or “funny” to use, not once the negative sexual derivation is known.

There are lots of other funny words to use: shoe…chicken…fid…schnoodle…pickle…

#34 Mike Lester
February/12/2009
@ 9:28 am

A Los Angeles woman has filed a class action suit against Miley Cyrus, claiming she mocked Asians in a recent photo by slanting her eyes. Price tag: $4 billion.

In related news, the head of the Satanics United Coalition of Kindred Spirits (S.U.C.K.S.) has filed a similar class action suit in a Massachusetts court on behalf of all Devil Worshipers claiming emotional distress every time someone takes a photo and puts their fingers behind someone’s head making them appear to have horns.

(the first one is true, the second seems plausible. But I don’t think Duffy has any exposure: American Indians and especially women still seem to be open for derision.)

#35 Wiley Miller
February/12/2009
@ 10:15 am

“A Los Angeles woman has filed a class action suit against Miley Cyrus, claiming she mocked Asians in a recent photo by slanting her eyes. Price tag: $4 billion.”

This is a prime example of why I’d love to see our country adopt the British court system of having the loser of a lawsuit pay all court costs.

#36 Jason Nocera
February/12/2009
@ 10:29 am

It’s funny how “wench” has become a derogatory term, however, during Halloween season you’ll see children’s costumes called “Pirate Wench”.

http://www.farmgoodsforkids.com/p-9865-pirate-wench-child-costume.html

#37 Rich Diesslin
February/12/2009
@ 3:15 pm

“…. court system of having the loser of a lawsuit pay all court costs.” For sure.

BTW – on the arrow in the back, I meant to say squaw on brave violence, but my comment made no sense anyway. That’s what I get for not trying. Sorry about that!

#38 Woodrow Barlettani
February/13/2009
@ 12:29 am

lets back it up here, that would be, the losers LAWYER , pays the court costs, Naive folks are conned into these legal games, by hungry Sharks,…. there thats a better one than squaw, how ’bout “Lawyer doesn’t understand me” just another lawyer joke , “but it’s a good start…”

#39 Rich Diesslin
February/13/2009
@ 12:59 am

Ha! I like it.

In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress. – John Adams

#40 Dave Stephens
February/13/2009
@ 5:45 am

I’m left handed.

So, therefore, I’m a minority.

And I am very vocal. I will speak for my left-handed brothers and complain loudly and incessantly whenever I feel victimized which, coincidentally, is 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. Do I care what my left-handed brothers really think on the issues I harp on? Of course not! I’ll do all their thinking for them. If they are not offended, well, it’s just because they aren’t reading the right books or magazines that would tell them what to think.

Not only does the squeaky wheel get the grease, it gets all the press coverage, too…

#41 Woodrow Barlettani
February/16/2009
@ 1:22 pm

Make the spam addition problem easier for us right-handed persons, If you look at my picture, you will see I have NO
left hand, but I was raised by a left handed man(my south-paw, baseball jock father ) and you think you have learning problems, I cared when the kids called me stumpy or lefty they were just putting themselves above me, as children do, but I like Mutant, ’cause I am, since birth,and using Squaw and Chinese eyed as the meaning of a joke, is mean and childish
TA! DA!

#42 Dave Stephens
February/16/2009
@ 7:20 pm

Considering that the word Squaw means “woman”, I am amazed that any native american group could EVER consider that to be demeaning in any way to anyone… I mean, a few groups did manage to invent a false relationship to an unrelated word and they’ve certainly fed that falsehood to most every state in the union, but I am still astonished no-one has called them out on this…

#43 Mike Peterson
February/17/2009
@ 5:21 am

“Considering that the word Squaw means ?woman?, I am amazed that any native american group could EVER consider that to be demeaning in any way to anyone”

Yes, and the n-word means “black” and “hebe” comes from “Hebrew.” So I guess as long as you can find an innocent derivation, history and context have no real meaning.

Fortunately, there’s a simple rule: It doesn’t matter what any of these people want to be called, or what they find offensive. God made Europe so there would be a group of people who could act as referees and decide all these things. Kind of like the Supreme Court, right down to the lifetime tenure.

#44 Dave Stephens
February/17/2009
@ 7:00 am

From Wikipedia:
Squaw is the phonetic spelling of an eastern Algonquian Indian morpheme, meaning “woman,” that appears in numerous Algonquian dialects variously spelled as squa, skwa, esqua, sqeh, skwe, que, kwa, ikwe, etc. As an English language loan-word, used as a noun or adjective, its present meaning is an indigenous woman of North America, regardless of tribe. The term has been considered offensive, frequently so since the late 20th Century.

Also:
The controversy increased when Oprah Winfrey invited the Native American activist Suzan Harjo onto her show in 1992. Harjo said on the show that “squaw is an Algonquin Indian word meaning vagina”. As a result of these claims, some Native people have taken to spelling the word sq***, or calling it the “s-word” (Bright n.d.). This etymology has been widely adopted as the rationale for removing the word from maps, road signs, history books, and other public uses (Adams 2000).
However, according to Ives Goddard, the curator and senior linguist in the anthropology department of the Smithsonian Institution, this statement is not true (Bright n. d.; Goddard 1997). The word was borrowed as early as 1621 from the Massachusett word squa (Cutler 1994; Goddard 1996, 1997), one of many variants of the Proto-Algonquian *e?kwe·wa[4] (Goddard 1997); in those languages it meant simply “young woman”. Although Algonquian linguists and historians (e.g. Goddard 1997, Bruchac 1999) have rejected Harjo’s proposed etymology, the incorrect definition has been repeated by several journalists (e.g. Oprah Winfrey).
Goddard also writes:
I have no doubt that some speakers of Mohawk sincerely believe that it is from their word ojískwa ‘vagina’ (though I know that other Mohawks laugh at the whole idea), but the resemblance (if there is one) is entirely accidental. “Vagina” was not a meaning that was ever known to the original users of the word, and although it appears in a college anthology published in 1973 (Random House, 2000), it was not widely known before Suzan Harjo’s appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1992.”
Goddard does not rule out the possibility that the false etymology could have been believed by some non-Mohawks and thus does not rebut statements by Native people who trace the etymology to local memories of insulting language (e.g., Hagengruber 2006).
Some anecdotal evidence has also been found by Mohawk linguists that suggests that “otsikwa” may actually be a modern slang term for “cornmeal mush” (referred to by Palmer 2001).

#45 Brian Fies
February/17/2009
@ 10:26 am

“…the incorrect definition has been repeated by several journalists (e.g. Oprah Winfrey)…”

Oprah = Journalist?! Snrk snrk snrk!

“…And I am very vocal. I will speak for my left-handed brothers and complain loudly and incessantly whenever I feel victimized which, coincidentally, is 7 days a week and 24 hours a day…”

My left-handed daughter thanks you, and promises that her check to cover your advocacy fees is in the mail.

“…Goddard does not rule out the possibility that the false etymology could have been believed by some non-Mohawks and thus does not rebut statements by Native people who trace the etymology to local memories of insulting language…”

What’s insulting about “vagina”? I’m a big fan…

I agree that people should be called whatever they want to be, and be the ones to decide if/when they’ve been insulted. I also agree that sometimes it is awfully hard for even the most well-meaning person to keep up.

#46 Josh McDonald
February/17/2009
@ 12:09 pm

Hey, if Wikipedia says Oprah is a journalist, who are we to question the All-Knowing Wiki?

#47 Woodrow Barlettani
February/17/2009
@ 3:19 pm

stop with the big words like, advocacy fees, but if your daughter insists , send forty bucks, to “no left hand since birth” Woody it will help the “cause” thanks, but getting back to the issue, … words hurt, and the joke is adolescent, and the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, there are more planets than every grain of sand in the beaches of the whole world, now there’s some jiberish to look up, but the joke still stinks and is mocking a race of folks, what ever the language word means TA!DA! ( I wish my cartoons could get this much attention)

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