Is “Chink” A “Common Idiom?”

@WSJThe day after posting a case involving “incivility” and the use of Twitter, we find another case involving a tweet this time one concerning the president of China and the Wall Street Journal. In a tweet to their followers on August 30, 2015, the newspaper asked the rhetorical question, is there “A chink in his armor? Xi Jinping looks vulnerable for the first time” (see above). What the person who published the tweet may or may not have known is that the use of the word “chink” is a racial slur, one that was popularly used in the 1970s to describe those of Vietnamese descent, but one that has been used also to describe people of Asian descent.

The newspaper acted quickly, deleting the tweet and apologizing. As reported by NBC News, the paper said that they removed the tweet “because a common idiom used might be seen as a slur. No offense was intended.” That didn’t sit well with some Asian commentators and organizations. Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus chairwoman Judy Chu responded to the tweet by saying, “I am appalled that a respectable publication like the Wall Street Journal would use the offensive term ‘chink in [the] armor’ to refer to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The ‘c’ word is to Asian Americans what the ‘n’ word is to African Americans, and the use of this racial slur is deeply troubling.” As others pointed out, however, whomever wrote the tweet may not have known that word was so emotionally and racially charged. We can only speculate. We’d have to assume that the Journal did not intend to use the word as a slur; but should those responsible for using it have known that it carried that sort of meaning? Should an editor have caught the tweet before it went out?

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One thought on “Is “Chink” A “Common Idiom?”

  1. brocknanson says:

    One has to believe it was an innocent enough mistake, simply because the negative response the tweet received was completely predictable. If it was expected to have a positive impact on readership by causing a stir, maybe it was intentional. However, I suspect the negative publicity outweighed any perceived positive effects!

    The various forms of social media today provide a dangerously instantaneous platform to blurt things a few seconds of thought might otherwise revise and sanitize! Not much different to asking the woman at the party if she’s pregnant… instead of thinking for a second and considering the possibility she may have simply gained weight.

    Social media allows one to digitally insert one’s foot in one’s mouth – at light speed!

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