“A suit doesn’t make a man.” - Croatian saying
Walking into Weiner World in Downtown Pittsburgh, I guess I was hopin for a breeze from the past, a memory of things which still resonated.
“Hey Buddy, what can I get ya?” said the wispy-mustached guy behind the counter, who was about 24 years old. His greeting jarred me out of my reverie.
“I don’t know buddy,” I responded sarcastically, a little surprised at my tone. I didn’t like the youngster callin me ‘Buddy,’ and something made me wanna let him know.
I don’t think he got the hint. Still, I am writing this piece on names—familiar ones and clichés—because it’s important to remember that depending upon what side of the trades or tracks you hail from, a word might be considered harmless, or an insult, like “college boy.”
A while back I was workin on a story with Richard Korman and he was editing and adding to the piece, and he made a few references to “hardhats”—meaning blue-collar workers or tradesmen—which set me off. Reading the words in the draft story bearing my byline, the fightin muscles in my stomach clenched and I had that nervous, anticipatory partly nauseated feelin I’ve always felt when I’m ready to fight.
“I don’t want my name on the story if you’re going to use the word ‘hardhat,’” I told Richard. “It’s derogatory, class-biased and offensive.”
Richard said ENR used the word all the time, and it wasn’t really offensive. I maintained it was offensive.
So he removed the word. But I’d complained so loudly, he suggested I write a blog on it. Since then, we both looked up the meaning of hardhat and found that yes, it’s considered derogatory in some instances. From the Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expression, published by McGraw-Hill:
a construction worker. (Usually derogatory.)
Especially in a macho industry like construction, calling someone the wrong name could result in trouble—or a punch in the nose, or worse. Even using foul language on the job could be harassing to some employees, and end in in a lawsuit. You needn’t look any further than Mr. Sterling and his beloved Clippers to see the reality of that idea.
But even more than the fear of pecuniary damage, employers and employees shouldn’t mislabel others because when they do, they objectify the person and make them part of some faceless mass of people. That’s partly why I didn’t like that young man callin me ‘Buddy’—because it felt like he uses the term with everyone till it has no meaning. Plus, I aint his buddy.
I had to think for a long time about why I hated bein called Buddy by that lad; it wasn’t just because I’d heard some wet-behind-the-ears kid call me that more than once. I realized it is because my dad would call me that, as in:
“Hey Bud, you wanna go with me to the bakery?” Dad might say, and it didn’t matter where the place he suggested we should go was, it was goin with him that was fun.
So don’t call me “Buddy,” “College Boy,” or “hardhat,” or any other name you might think might be too casual, familiar, or objectifying, and you won’t get my Irish, English, Scots, Welsh, Norwegian, German or Croatian blood up. Be careful—though I’m just one person, it’s like prewar Europe inside. One false move and war breaks out.