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Online posts are a mixed blessing: On one hand, you gain lots of “likes” and encouraging words, but on the other hand, your tired, unrefined  thoughts get published at the click of a button. This encourages more scrupulous readers to remind me to adhere to standard grammar rules, or, for the more audacious, to critique the attitude or ideas of the post.

One such reader gently objected to my use of ghetto/ratchet to describe Inglewood. The reprimand forced me to reflect on my choice of words.

Why did I choose those words over other diplomatic (but less colorful) ones such as “challenging” or “difficult”? I’ve changed the post’s term to “difficult” because, in addition to heeding the advice of my reader, I also realize I’m uncomfortable with the words ratchet and ghetto. This story might help illustrate:

One day I used the word “ratchet” in a lecture to my students. I forget why I used it, probably for effect, but most likely it was an attempt to connect the subject-matter with my students. I had a pretty good understanding of the word – ghetto, uncouth, low-classness, etc. – and needed to find a way to communicate this idea by employing one of their own words.

The word, however, did not generate its intended effect. A few of them, especially some of my brighter students, were astonished. Maybe they were even offended. I was confused by their reaction, because everyone and anyone I knew threw the word around in the hallways like it was nobody’s business, so I treated it as such. Besides, I’m trying to find ways to communicate with my students by using their lingo, so, why should they be offended? Shouldn’t they give me the benefit of the doubt?

If you’ve ever taught ESL or just been around foreigners long enough, the first thing they’ll want to learn is how to cuss. In my experience, however, every time I hear a foreigner bleating cuss words I cringe in disgust. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the accent. Perhaps it’s my snooty upbringing. Or maybe it’s because I feel that the foreigner is trying to gain entry into my culture with cheap entry tokens, as if these ugly words signify their authenticity and inclusion. It’s like a nerdlinger donning expensive jeans and La Coste polos at the club. Or like that one time at the Billy Graham Center in North Carolina, where a white girl zeroed in on our family in the parking lot and enthusiastically started speaking her heavily accented Mandarin to us. I think she was so excited to flaunt her Mandarin with these Asian people so we could marvel at her cultural competence and linguistic powers. Sorry, not impressed.

And, perhaps my using of “ratchet” and “ghetto” with my students served as a cheap ploy for me to gain entry into their circle. The use on WordPress is even worse, because it’s like I’m broadcasting my hardcoreness to my very upper-middle class circle of friends. It’s like a smug Peace corps volunteer brandishing a Peace Corps pin on a NorthFace backpack, which will inevitably draw compliments like, “WOW, you are SO HARDCORE!” oogle oogle oogle. -__-

Anyways, I realize that I’m being a little hard on myself and the hypothetical people I’ve described. After all, being in Peace Corps is somewhat hardcore, and speaking decent Mandarin is really no easy feat. Still, the nerdlinger can eat it, and the teacher trying to get “in” with his students with a few phrases he picked off the street should be rightly ridiculed.


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