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MatPlus.Net Forum General Let's stop using the word "pickaninny" now
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(1) Posted by Andrew Buchanan [Saturday, Aug 1, 2020 11:59]; edited by Andrew Buchanan [20-08-01]

Let's stop using the word "pickaninny" now


Enough. I've just had an American IM in Facebook insist:
"It is absolutely imperative that we at once stop using the awful offensive term “pickaninny” and replace it with something better."

This is not a word that has aged well, particularly in USA:

Let's just do this, without drama and fuss. Keywords are easy to change in a database: let's just replace it with "melano", which is the medical opposite of "albino". In some sense perhaps, neither "albino" nor "melano" is ideal, but neither is uttered with malice, and that's the key point.

It's not a matter of "political correctness" - this is a genuinely nasty term, and we will lose nothing by getting rid of it. In the current circumstances, I don't think we should wait for a WFCC meeting in order to make a decision on this. We should each of us individually decide - in particular, I will approach the management of PDB, WinChloe & YACPDB, and hopefully they each decide to take a view. I hope that magazine editors will take a similar view: there are too many for me to contact but please do circulate this message.

If "Gens Una Sumus" means anything at all, it means we have to get rid of this term, which demeans us all.

Thanks for your time,
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(2) Posted by Siegfried Hornecker [Saturday, Aug 1, 2020 13:39]

The terms Albino and Pickaninny will rmeain. Full stop.
It's a long-standing term, over a hundred years old, and everyone knows what it is. If we use another term, at some poin that term will become offensive to someone and we have to change it again and again.

What about the Führer theme? Is that offensive because someone might not know who Viktor Führer was?

Of course, you will argue that Frank Janet coined the term Pickaninny in 1916, so there's a difference. But is there? How do you want to enforce to stop using the term Pickaninny? Mathematicians still use Pi instead of Tau, so you can try a fight against windmills, but - while I support the use of Tau as it serves practical purposes - I see no practical purpose in abolishing a term that is used for over 100 years just on the base of it having an offensive meaning today. Once we cave in to such horrible ideas, such newspeak, our entire language is not safe anymore.

No, I believe that terms, once established and in use, should last through the ages, regardless of other meanings they might also have. And as such I celebrate the swastika twomover as much as it was celebrated when it was first publiched, its brilliant key 1.Qd6 being not diminished by a group of fanatics who tried to enslave one half of the world and kill the other using an ancient symbol of luck for their criminal agenda that cost the lives of dozens of millions.
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(3) Posted by Joost de Heer [Saturday, Aug 1, 2020 16:24]

Let us stop playing chess alltogether. A game where a man (king) is more important than a woman (queen) is outdated. Futhermore, it uses bishops which is insensitive towards other religions than Christianity. The use of black and white, and especially the nasty habit of chess composers insisting that white is always the winning side, is also an outdated concept which must be stopped immediately.
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(4) Posted by Jakob Leck [Saturday, Aug 1, 2020 20:59]

It's interesting to learn about the historical connotation that I was not aware of until now. I only knew it as a technical chess term.
But I don't see how the use as a technical term in chess can be that offensive that it has to be eradicated from our language. Because someone on facebook said so? Sorry...
Also, why rush it? And what kind of weird replacement should "melano" be? It's unbeknown to dictionaries I usually refer to.
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(5) Posted by Jakob Leck [Saturday, Aug 1, 2020 21:03]

Btw.: Melano is a small municipality in Switzerland. ;)
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(6) Posted by Olaf Jenkner [Saturday, Aug 1, 2020 22:32]

Andrew, you are exactly four months too late.
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(7) Posted by Kostas Prentos [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 05:08]

I could not agree more with Andrew and Steven Dowd, who first pointed to the meaning of the word. It is a derogatory word, a racial slur and we are better than this. We wouldn't use the N word for anything, and this is exactly the same.

Weird coincidence. The first time I heard the word used without chess context was today, watching the movie "Selma" about Dr. Martin Luther King. In one scene, King's wife answered the phone and someone on the other end threatened her children saying verbatim: "You ain't got long. When the hearts of those Pickaninnies of yours stop beating...". We can do better than sticking to such a word.

It may be the case that we Europeans are not as sensitive to racism as many Americans are. This word might have been OK to use a century ago, but it no longer is. The same goes for the Swastika symbol. It is associated to the Nazis and Hitler, and any use it had before is irrelevant anymore.
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(8) Posted by Siegfried Hornecker [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 07:13]; edited by Siegfried Hornecker [20-08-02]

It may be the case that we Europeans are not as sensitive to racism as many Americans are. This word might have been OK to use a century ago, but it no longer is. The same goes for the Swastika symbol. It is associated to the Nazis and Hitler, and any use it had before is irrelevant anymore.

It also seems to be the case that there are too many people in America who can't understand that words can have more than one meaning. And also symbols.

And you saying that the history of hinduism or buddhism is irrelevant because they used the swastika for millennia is something I will not even grace with arguments. Everyone plainly should see why such argumentation is wrong...

But let me tell you a funny story instead.
A while back Kasparov was asked if chess is racist, by a "journalist" working for the Australian ABC (not to be confused with the ABC in America). So the Australian ABC is a taxpayer funded networkk.
"If you are worried that the game of chess is racist, please take up Go, where black moves first, instead of looking foolish by wasting taxpayer money at a state broadcaster to 'investigate,'" Kasparov said.

Also, as a final note, I'd like to remind you that Orwell's "1984" mentioning wrongthink and newspeak was not intended as an instruction manual, but rather as a warning against changing terminology because someone could find it offensive.
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(9) Posted by Kostas Prentos [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 08:01]

What other meaning does the word "pickaninny" have? The only one I can find is offensive. As a theoretical exercise, replace the word "pickaninny" with the symbol of a swastika; should we keep using it, because it had a different meaning before Hitler?
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(10) Posted by Rosie Fay [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 09:18]

Excellent point, Andrew! This is a good idea exactly because the term is just a piece of chess jargon which can be replaced just as easily as the name for a shade of brown. Unlike the Führer theme, the name "pickaninny" really is offensive.

Siegfried Hornecker: I'd like to remind you that Orwell's "1984" mentioning wrongthink and newspeak was not intended as an instruction manual, but rather as a warning against changing terminology because someone could find it offensive.

That's the first time I've come across that interpretation of 1984. One thing 1984 really does warn against is changing the language to make it impossible to express certain ideas, such as free will.
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(11) Posted by Jakob Leck [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 10:05]

Rosie, how do you "easily" change something that has been used in books and magazines for over a hundred years and that people are accustomed to? Also consider the fact that many people currently using this term in a chess context are not English native speakers and thus may be less sensitive to or aware of the offense that can be taken. For "easily changing" the terminology some kind of general acceptance may be required, you cannot simply impose it.

Kostas, does the use in chess not qualify as a meaning of its own to you? You don't think of "a small black child" (OED) when referring to the theme of a problem as a "pickaninny", do you?
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(12) Posted by Alain Villeneuve [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 10:26]

If I understand well, millions of buddhists and brahmanists must stop using svastikas because of a man with a mustache ?

And 2 years ago, in the Ohrid congress, when I saw svastikas in the Sv. Clement church, was I suppose to smudge them ?

Who are you to impose your rainbow revolution to the entire world ?
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(13) Posted by Darko Šaljić [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 12:55]; edited by Darko Šaljić [20-08-02]

I was competing in one tournament in my youth, when the youth players, from one Muslim country refused with disgust to play with Staunton chess set because the king had a cross on top.
Maybe the term aristocrat should be also dropped, because it offends all the peasants and communists of this world?
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(14) Posted by Andrew Buchanan [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 16:59]; edited by Andrew Buchanan [20-08-02]

Dear friends,

I really appreciate *all* the responses on this issue of language, both here and via other channels.

Let me save some folks here some time: I am not trying to solve all the challenges of our troubled world. I am not interested even to fix all the issues in chess terminology. So no straw man arguments or whataboutery please. All I ask is to find a replacement for one word which I am ashamed to use in public. Let's focus on that.

This issue would perhaps not be pressing were it not for the high level of racism in USA, a country still burdened with its history of slavery. In this context, a word we problemists have used in a very technical sense for over a century happens to have become a racial slur, at least in Britain and USA. Chess composers are concentrated in Europe, I think, which has its own historical issues. So why should we care about this word? It's not about political correctness, which I deplore, but about kindness.

What distinguishes this term: its usage outside chess is normally associated with malice or spite directed towards the innocent.

Here's an example from CNN:
"Writing in his column in the Daily Telegraph [Boris Johnson] used the term "piccaninnies," which is a racist term used to describe black children." The British Prime Minister apologized in 2008 for this statement, but said that he was taken out of context - perhaps he was trying to allude to other people's attitudes. If true, that shows the term is even more problematic as his intended nuance is impossible. The CNN article was *headlined* "'Watermelon smiles' and 'piccaninnies'", indicating that this term is not just racist but *emblematic* of racism.

Facebook now has the "Chess Endgame Studies and Compositions" private group with 10K members. It is very active for solving, has excellent moderators, and members from all over the world, including USA and Africa. There are other chess problem groups but this is the most focused on compositions rather than tactical puzzles. It is wonderful that so many are now learning about chess compositions, but a term which might be tolerated in discourse with friends must meet a more demanding standard if it is going to be disseminated more widely.

But we haven't done anything wrong: how can we lose this word, which we have been using in a different sense for a hundred years? Let's look at decisions made in two related creative fields:

- Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. One of her very best is "And Then There Were None", originally termed "Ten Little N******". It was renamed and reworded for the US market, and nowadays the new title & content is used worldwide.

- In June 2020, Hasbro, publishers of the collectable cardgame "Magic the Gathering" banned 7 out about 20,000 different playing cards they have published, the most notorious being "Invoke Prejudice", but also "Jihad" & "Crusade".

In both cases, publishers acted prudently and kindly. To me the kindness is key: the IM I mentioned in the base post teaches chess to many black children in America. Who knows who are the other chess problem enthusiasts scattered in different countries of the world? To let go of one tired word is all we are asked, and the cost is nothing.

Thank you for your time.
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(15) Posted by Siegfried Hornecker [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 17:18]; edited by Siegfried Hornecker [20-08-02]

What other meaning does the word "pickaninny" have? The only one I can find is offensive.

The Albino is, "the four possible moves of a WP [white pawn] on its initial square (excluding squares a2 and h2)," and, the Pickaninny, "the four possible moves of a BP [black pawn] on its initial square (excluding squares a7 and h7)".[3] The latter term was coined by Frank Janet by 1916.[4]

There's a non-offensive meaning in chess where a black pawn's (on b7, c7, d7, e7, f7 or g7) set of all four possible moves is referenced.
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(16) Posted by seetharaman kalyan [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 22:00]; edited by seetharaman kalyan [20-08-02]

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(17) Posted by seetharaman kalyan [Sunday, Aug 2, 2020 22:02]

@Kostas. I am a Hindu, and as far I can I remember my grandmother used swastika as religious decoration in front of our house. In fact the six point star of the Jews is also a revered symbol used by most Hindus.
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(18) Posted by Kostas Prentos [Monday, Aug 3, 2020 00:07]

Unfortunately the symbol of the swastika carries too much negative weight (and abuse by Neo-Nazis) that I would feel very uncomfortable using it for anything. See this interesting article: about how people are trying to reclaim it and erase all the evil that is associated with it. No, we will not start defacing monuments, because of the man with the mustache. Nor will we start tearing pages of chess books with Pickaninny problems. But we can change the chess term to something less offensive. The first step is to recognize it is an offensive word. Then, maybe we can act.
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(19) Posted by Alain Villeneuve [Monday, Aug 3, 2020 10:57]

I don't know enough USA to appreciate "pickaninny" but I suppose it is similar to the french "nègre".

This is the correct word for "people of black race". It is not negative at all, it is source of pride, just hear Léopold Sédar Senghor. When I was young, I saw galleries of "art nègre", read sometimes the "revue nègre", ate the delicious cake "tête de nègre". The owner of one my favourite restaurants called during decades his employee "Le Nègre", he was very happy and no customer complained. But this word became later pejorative because of the ideologists who took more and more power in France.

The evil is not in the word but in the head of those who decide there is evil in the word. When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.
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(20) Posted by Dejan Glisić [Monday, Aug 3, 2020 11:51]; edited by Dejan Glisić [20-08-03]

Pickaninny is word for dark skined children.

P.S. Wikipedia article (without Frank Janet's Pickaninny from 1914) >>>
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MatPlus.Net Forum General Let's stop using the word "pickaninny" now