Wine Marketers Can Take a Lesson From Tarantino’s Misfortune
“Wholesalers have responded to requests to distribute New York wines in such a niggardly fashion that wine shops outside the state are forced to relegate the few Empire State bottlings they are offered to the retail ghetto of the “Other Wines” section.”
The thing that is wrong with this sentence provides an important lesson to publicists and marketers.
The problem isn’t with grammar. The sentence is perfect in that respect.
You might quibble with the point it makes, but that’s not the problem either.
The problem with this sentence, if it is uttered or written by someone hoping to make a point about wholesalers or about the status of New York wines in a retail setting, is that some people reading or hearing it will miss the point entirely while on their way to being offended by your choice of words.
There is no good reason to use words that some people mistakenly believe are offensive or believe are used to be offensive when other words are available for use that, while perhaps not as precise or suitable, won’t stir people to be mistakenly offended.
I was reminded of this today in a conversation with a pal about poor Quentin Tarantino. Mr. Tarantino has been trashed in the media for giving an acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards in which he used the word “Ghetto”.
The filmmaker behind “The Hateful Eight” was accepting an award for Best Original Score on behalf of Ennio Morricone, who composed the score for “The Hateful Eight”. On stage he proclaimed exuberantly:
“Wow, this is really cool. Do you realize that Ennio Morricone, who, as far as I am concerned, is my favorite composer ‑‑ and when I say “favorite composer,” I don’t mean movie composer, that ghetto. I’m talking about Mozart. I’m talking about Beethoven. I’m talking about Schubert. That’s who I’m talking about.”
Derrick Clifton, writing an Op-Ed at NBCnews.com, led the charge against Tarantino:
“Even when you’re a white person who demonstrates some level of appreciation or affinity for Black people and black culture—you’re still white. You don’t get a free pass to play around with the words, phrases, and experiences that reinforce the marginalization of Black people.”
Of course Tarantino’s use of the word “Ghetto” was accurate. His use of the term was totally outside the context of race. And, most importantly, it was used as a noun, not in the more recent appropriation of the word as an adjective that Clifton defines as meaning “people, places, and things that remain hopelessly destitute and below par—particularly those that are Black”
In a similar way, numerous people have been panned, fired or otherwise demeaned for properly using the term “niggardly”. This particular word is neither derived from the N-word slur, nor does it refer to race in any way. It means miserly or stingy.
Nevertheless, the words “Ghetto”, “Niggardly” and a few others are so frequently or likely to be misunderstood and as a result cause offense, there is no good reason to use them even if their precise meaning would help make one’s point more precise or meaningful. It’s just not worth risking your point being lost to those who mistakenly take offense. And this is particularly the case for communicators working on behalf of or for a business that uses communications with media, consumers or colleagues to help position their products or service. In fact, taking that risk is probably malpractice.
So, put another way:
“Wholesalers have responded to requests to distribute New York wines in such a stingy fashion that wine shops outside the state are forced to relegate the few Empire State bottlings they are offered to the rarely visited “Other Wines” section.”
The sentence doesn’t have the same flair. It’s not nearly as evocative as it could be. But it also won’t cause mistaken offense—unless perhaps you are a wholesaler.
Incidentally, Mr. Tarantino responds to his critics: