Monday, December 19, 2005

Snow White and the Dam Busters

SQA has previously bemoaned attempts to re-write history, see especially our blog Re-writing history: a critique of a Vision of Britain in which we expressed concern at the trend in current academic historical research to disinvent our historical counties, apparently backed by the public sector.

The private sector is jumping on the bandwagon its seems, in the form of Sir David Frost who is proposing to re-make the feature film The Dam Busters starring Richard Todd as Wing Commander Guy Gibson, as reported in The Guardian of 8 December 2005.

So what is the issue here, you may ask?

Frost is considering re-naming Gibson's dog Nigger to something more politically correct. Our objection is only partly that re-naming the dog is deceptive and manipulative, as though re-writing history will achieve anything or that the name itself is innocuous. Our main concern is the implicit suggestion the dog was named after a black person. Nowhere is it made clear the word actually literally means black and would apply etymologically as much to a black dog as a black person or that the nowadays pejorative use of the term is merely one of numerous applications and was not always pejorative in connection with black people.

Sir James Murray in The Oxford English Dictionary concedes the term nigger is colloquial and usually [i.e. not always] contemptuous.

The term can be found in other forms all derived from the Latin niger meaning black as for example in negro, the country and river Niger, the district of the Dutch East Indies Niggery and the Christian names Nigel and Nigella.

This is an example of three things which are anathema to SQA: social engineering, anachronism and dumbing down history or any complex subject (see our earlier blogs Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, A figment of our imagination and Why metricate archives?)

Perhaps in the new film, if it takes off, Gibson's dog will not be run over.

Further reading

Simon Heffer in The Sunday Telegraph

The Dam Busters: Inaccuracies and Comments

The British Film Institute

National Film and Television Archive



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