Monday, April 09, 2007

Unintentionally Insulting the Irish

I like to think I am careful and intentional with my words, but when you talk as much as I do, I suppose you're bound to screw up somewhere.

We'd been introduced to the other families prior to the egg hunt this weekend, including a lady we'll call Colleen with her two sons, as well as a fellow we'll call Sean, who brought his young daughter.

As we watched our children navigate the sandbox, we made small talk about names and ages. Colleen commented that her boys were "Irish twins," and explained, "To technically qualify, they'd have to be born within the same year, but they're actually a year and three weeks apart. Most people aren't familiar with the term, so I just use it anyway."

I responded, "Yeah, I know Irish twins. One of our friends and his brother are just 11 months apart."

Sean chimed in, "They must be quite a handful."

At that moment, I noticed his accent. Then I remembered Colleen's earlier comment to him about visiting Ireland, land of her ancestors. Figured out that Sean was Irish. And froze. Had I or had I not said something insulting?

Funny, I never really thought about the words, "Irish twin," but gripped by cold thought around that patio table, I wondered if it was as rude as saying someone "welshed" on a deal (implying people from Wales are untrustworthy) or that you were "gypped" (ripped off by a gypsy or Egyptian). It could certainly be interpreted to mean that the Irish are uneducated in prudent birth control, or some derogatory meaning.

The moment had passed. Should I bring it back up? Sean didn't act offended. Would this haunt me for days or worse, rankle him that Americans would be so rude? I took a deep breath.

"I'm really sorry, I said "Irish twin" and I hope that wasn't horribly offensive. I didn't mean to be."

Sean was very gracious and brushed it off. "Don't worry about it. It's not so much now, but two generations ago, Irish families were huge."

In light of uglier racist remarks in the news, this is lower on the scale, but I was certainly culturally insensitive. For me, this was a reminder how language is powerful, and not to lose sight of that while making it colorful.

Other news:

Q and I played an extensive drum and pot-lid cymbal duet this evening.

SwingDaddy: Let's play something quieter, like Dueling Jackhammers or Jet Engine Testing.

7 comments:

Kimberly said...

I'm a little in love with Swing Daddy :)

Seems to be the week for open mouth, insert foot--although I did mine via blog.

Kudos to you having the guts to go back and be culturally sensitive (even though, really, Colleen started it ;). And how nice that Sean was so gracious about it.

"Retarded" and "gay" are the ones that get me, and the ones I'm most likely to use, since I grew up in the 80s. They were hard words to drop, but once I realized what I was really saying, I knew I didn't want my kids to be casually tossing off perjoratives like that.

wayabetty said...

I say that term all the time and I don't even think twice the ramification of it b/c I thought that's a term that you use to denote kids that are 11 months apart.

Honestly, I think this world is getting a little bit too PC. My hubbie and I are still trying to figure out what Imus meant by saying what he did. Yes, there are some derogatory terms to use now a day, like the N word or Ching or Spic, but com'on...let me ask you if a Black radio DJ said something derogatory about any other races, would we be making such a big deal? I don't think so.

Bones said...

Q: What's Irish and stays outside all night?
A: Paddy O'furnature.

Don't sweat it. I grew up in Boston, and the Irish wear their sterotypes with pride. Wait, that was stereotypical too. crap.

Andrew's mommy said...

I wouldn't worry about it. I don't think the term would be insulting at all. I only just heard the term for the first time very recently, and all I took it to mean was that the Irish are very religious and don't believe in birth control. I have many family friends and relatives with 10-13 kids and I'm sure they wouldn't be offended if the term were Portuguese twins or Catholic twins. ;)

It says a lot about you that you are so caring about others feelings though. :)

Pendullum said...

My father in law always makes drunk jokes about my Irish family members...Oddly enough he is always the only one drunk when he tells these great jokes...

Lady M said...

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments.

Kimberly - I hope the ripples from your "doocing" fade fast.

Wayabetty - I think you're right that things have gotten a little extreme with PC-ness, but I still worry. If someone else Chinese made a joke about all Chinese kids learning to play the piano, I would probably laugh, but I might feel uncomfortable if someone Caucasian said it. Odd, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Bones - LOL! Thanks for the note.

Andrew's Mommy - Good point about it being a descriptive term too. The many families who are particularly proud of their large numbers of children might find it endearing.

Pendullum - Some of the funniest stories do appear when just one person is drunk. :0

Mamacita Tina said...

I think we all say phrases like that without realizing it is insensitive until after the fact. No harm intended. Those phrases do tell us a lot about history, don't they?