Two linguistic coups

For years I’ve heard the word “urban” used as a stand-in for Black, a euphemism, if you will, to avoid labeling crime and other pathologies “Black”, but everyone knows who you are talking about when you say urban crime, urban schools, urban mayors, etc. But I’ve never been able to get a fix on the semantics of the word until today, when the Black mayor of a 68% Af-Am city, Memphis, spoke of Memphis as being a “large urban city”! That’s like speaking of a female woman. Urban means city. But the mayor, Black himself, got caught up in the jargon. Fascinating.
Another linguistic coup: an interview concerning monster trucks. The first one was called Big Foot, and the design was copied, so there were lots of “Big Foots”. Steven Pinker covers this in The Language Instinct where he shows how irregular plurals are made regular when the item does not refer to the lexical item in reality (sorry that’s so awkwardly stated) e.g. saber-tooth tigers, when we call them a saber-tooth, do not get called “lots of *saber-teeth” but lots of saber-tooths. The same with The Toronto Maple Leafs, not Leaves, because they aren’t leaves, they’re a team of humans. Same with Life magazine: you don’t have a bunch of Lives lying on the coffee table but a bunch of Lifes. Again, fascinating.

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