If there is one thing I understand, it’s that words have power. The power derives not from the word’s dictionary definition, but rather from the images the word evokes. Words are not merely referential; they are inferential. They not only denote something; they also connote things. That is why two words that are ostensibly synonyms cannot necessarily be used interchangeably. It is fine to describe Santa Claus as jolly, but I suspect you would get some push back if you asserted that Santa was gay.
It matters what words we use to describe things. It certainly matters what words we use to name things. So I am not surprised by the storm clouds that are gathering around the Washington Redskins. But I am surprised by the lengths that some people will go to assert that the word Redskins has no negative connotations. If it were my team, I would change the name, change the logo, the mascot, even the team colors and I would console myself with the millions of dollars I’d make merchandising all the new team products. But I realize there are some folks who are incapable of imagining a world without their beloved Skins. So I offer up a compromise, a name that holds onto a bit of the old name and its connection to the team’s past without offending anyone. Because no one will have a problem next season when the Washington Coonskins take the field.
Words matter. Choose them carefully.