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Why terms like ‘Latinx’ don’t stick

Regular readers of The College Fix no doubt have seen the word “Latinx” (pronounced “lah-TEE-nex”) here and there. Its use is pretty much confined to academic circles, despite the efforts of folks like Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.

A recent poll showed that the word is used by a paltry two-percent of Latinos, and it’s a good bet most of that group are affiliated with higher education in some manner.

Despite what Rachel Levin argues in the winter edition of USC Trojan Family — that “no amount of grumbling” can stop changes in a language — Columbia University’s John McWhorter claims that “latinx’s” weakness is that it’s been imposed on us from above.

“Although it may seem that new elements of a language settle in when regular people imitate famous or prestigious people,” McWhorter writes in The Atlantic, “more generally, new language comes from below.”

“Latinx,” as opposed to “African American,” is “largely discussed among the intelligentsia.” It does not feel “useful” as the latter term did (and does).

From the article:

To black people, African American felt like a response to discrimination from outsiders, something black people needed as an alternative to the loaded word black. The term serves as a proud statement to a racist society. To Latinos, Latinx may feel like an imposition by activists. It’s also too clever by half for Romance-language speakers accustomed to gendered nouns. …

Today, there is a new singular they that refers to specific people, as in “My girlfriend is sick, so they’re staying home.” This usage, favored as a linguistic reflection of gender fluidity, strikes many, especially people of a certain age, as faintly absurd. They see it as an imposition from above, or at least from without; they regard it as a mere fashion statement. But people way below that certain age are using the new singular they quite fluently. Chances are, it will truly catch on in the language, because for those embracing it, it comes from below, and feels natural and useful in a changing America. …

Latinx may solve a problem, but it’s not a problem that people who are not academics or activists seem to find as urgent as they do. Now as always, imposing change on language is wickedly difficult from above, even change with wisdom in it.

Read the full piece.

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