Did Dr. Laura Use the N-Word?


It’s all over the media. Dr. Laura Schlesinger has left radio, over a dust-up over her alleged use—eleven times (!)—of the so-called “n-word” in conversation with a black female caller.

Notice I said “alleged.” The fact is, Dr. Laura did not use the “n-word” at all. Nope, not even once. She said the word, but she did not use it. How do I know? Because if the word she said had been put in writing, as she said it, it would have been placed in quotation marks, indicating that she was not employing the word to refer to something or someone or some class of people, but to speak about the word itself. This is known as mention. It is fundamentally different than use. In mention, a word is singled out for direct consideration.

The caller now says she has absolutely no respect for Dr. Laura. This is nuts. I watched in shock as Dr. Laura, who obviously agreed to appear on the show, was grilled by a CNN anchor for her wrongful action. What wrongful action?

Let’s be clear. Dr. Laura is not being arraigned because she used the n-word, but because she said the n-word.

* * *

The distinction between use and mention is well-known in philosophy and deserves greater respect. Consider this way of explaining the point from an excellent reference work in philosophy.

  • Sentence 1: The Nile is longer than the Murrumbidgee.
  • Sentence 2: The Nile is shorter than the Murrumbidgee.

The Nile and the Murrumbidgee are rivers. Which sentence, (1) or (2), is true? Answer: (1). The correct answer is determined by the comparative lengths of the two rivers. The Nile is the longest river in the world, around 4000 miles. The Murrumbidgee River of New South Wales is much shorter, at about 870 miles.

Now consider:

  • Sentence 3: “The Nile” is longer than “the Murrumbidgee.”
  • Sentence 4: “The Nile” is shorter than “the Murrumbidgee.”

Which sentence, (3) or (4), is true. Answer: (4). Why? The correct answer here is determined by the lengths of the phrases “the Nile” and “the Murrumbidgee” in sentences (3) and (4). “The Nile” (8 characters, if we include one space) is shorter than “the Murrumbidgee” (16 characters, if we include one space). “The Murrumbidgee” is twice as long as “The Nile.” So (4) is true and (3) is false. The lengths of the rivers has no bearing on the question.

[See A. W. Sparkes, Talking Philosophy: A Wordbook, p. 8.]

* * *

I have a question for readers. How are we supposed to talk about concepts without words, and about words without the words themselves? Today, apparently, you can’t even say the “n-word” for the purposes of mention and analysis. So how are people supposed to know what word the term “n-word” refers to? (You can say “the n-word” but you cannot say the word that “the n-word” stands in for.)

Outrage over an exaggerated sense of meanness in Dr. Laura’s radio counsel is another move toward the coarsening of culture in the direction of a culture of vicitimization. The poor woman who called Dr. Laura for her advice in a matter was poised to be offended. She’s been conditioned by shabby thinking and a form of racism that continues to poison public discourse.

* * *

If I say that I don’t like the “n-word,” what do you suppose I mean by that? Do I mean that I don’t like the six-letter word that is signaled by the hyphenated word? Or does it mean that I don’t like the hyphenated word?

Frankly, I don’t like either one. The first I don’t like because it is pejorative when used, and obviously (but inexplicably) dangerous even to mention. The second I don’t much like because it’s just plain stupid. It’s the only word currently tolerated for the purposes of referring to the altogether different six-letter word that starts with an “n” and is rightly offensive when it is used.

So here’s another question. What’s the difference between using the phrase “the n-word” to refer to, you know, the n-word, and mentioning (as opposed to using) the n-word itself?

Oh, and why should Dr. Laura have to leave radio over something like this?

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Who Is the Commander in Chief?


So it’s official . . . kind of. Major Hasan is a zealot for “radical Islam,” and people knew it. Doesn’t give you too much faith in the system, does it?

In an earlier post about the Fort Hood incident, I suggested that the question is: How could this happen? Though I suspected it then, it’s obvious now that part of the answer is our faith in political correctness. Yes, PC is an abstract concept, not a person. So having faith in it sounds preposterous. So what I should say is that because of the insidious influence of PC, we have faith in people we never should trust. PC blinds us to the importance of knowing whom we trust.

I did not knowingly trust Maj. Hasan. But I surely did indirectly. More important, the people he gunned down trusted him. That trust has always seemed warranted and invulnerable to suspicion. Not any more. Read more of this post

Today’s Message from Carrie Prejean, Former Miss California


It all started when she answered a politically select question with a politically inorrect answer. For that she was denied the Miss USA crown. Even her Miss California standing was in jeopardy. Then Donald Trump kindly came to her defense. More trouble surfaced, however, with the revelation of photos of Ms. Prejean, well . . . “revealed.” Yesterday her pal, Donald Trump, defrocked the beauty queen with words akin to “You’re fired!”

cprejeanToday Carrie Prejean rebounds, starting with an article for BigHollywood.com. For an article ostensibly written by her, the title is a little weird: “Exclusive: Miss California Speaks Out After Pageant Firing.” Prejean defends herself against allocations that she violated the conditions for wearing the Miss California crown. Conveniently, the professional photos go unmentiond. They are, of course, unmentionable.

The whole ordeal has turned tawdry. It doesn’t help that Prejean has expressed a dual affiliation, one in her capacity as Miss California USA and another as a firm and vocal believer in God and God’s providence. Christians with a public platform may learn from her experiences.

The Most Important Lesson

Miss Prejean says today that she’s learned a most important lesson from what she’s been through. You might find this interesting. She writes that “nothing is more important than standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the cost may be.” This is how she answers vicious attacks, to which, she maintains, she has consistently responded with integrity.

It saddens me to hear that this is “the most important lesson” she’s learned from the ordeal. Yes, she has been attacked. Yes, some attacks have been vicious and motivated by malice. And yes, Carrie Prejean acted with courage when she answered a politically-motivated question in a way that ensured that she would not win first place in the Miss USA pageant. She says she anticipated the possibility of the question, prayed it would not come up, then answered candidly when it did. I wrote about that and the fallout here.

So Ms. Prejean was not completey surprised by the verdict when the crown went to someone else. What may have surprised her is the effort that followed to incriminate her, to demonize her after so publicly taking a pro-marriage stand. As these things do, this led to the exposure of some pictures taken not so long ago. And no matter what Ms. Prejean says now in public, her photo-shoot clashes with her public image as innocent, with having traditional values and sticking to them.

Faced with the public appearance of hypocrisy, there are far more important lessons to learn than the one affirmed with such poise by Carrie Prejean. She says, “Nothing is more important than standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the cost may be.” What does it mean to stand up for what you believe in? Surely it means more than simply asserting your beliefs. Surely it matters no less whether your belief-assertions are matched by public and private conduct.

The Nature of Integrity

This is a question of truth—truth that you believe what you say you believe, the truth of what you believe, and the truth of the inner person. These are three distinct ways in which we are related to truth as individuals. Integrity is a matter of alignment among all three. First, do I truly believe what I say I believe? Second, is what I believe actually true? And third, is my life in harmony with what I believe?

These are hard questions. No one who contemplates them feels completely assured of his or her own integrity. But we are not always uncertain; sometimes we simply know that we fall short. This is why we must ask these questions of ourselves. They are a means of testing how faithful we are to our own values.

Carrie Prejean concludes her article with these words:

I am proud to be an American, and blessed to have had the opportunity to exercise my freedom of speech. I am excited and looking forward to where God leads me in the future. I know He has big plans for me. I am proud to be the strong woman God has molded me to be. I will always stand for the truth, respectfully, and never back down.

Americans have much to be proud of. Americans are blessed with the privilege of free speech. Of course, for the believer, it’s not only about freedom of speech. With freedom comes responsibility—the responsibility to speak with integrity.

Divine Guidance

Ms. Prejean speaks, finally, of divine leading. Her doctrine of divine guidance cannot be discerned in detail from the brief comments she makes. She claims to know that God “has big plans for me.” She doesn’t speculate about what those plans are. But the language she chooses is arresting. “Big plans.” But why not simply “a plan”?

Or why big plans for me? Ms. Prejean is “proud to be the strong woman God has molded me to be.” Many speak this way when talking about divine guidance. God’s leading is personal. It is special. It is large. It is for me.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves a few questions. Where do we get our ideas about divine guidance? What do they say about our view of God? And what do they say about our view of ourselves?

Carrie Prejean is a public figure. She stepped very deliberately into the limelight and became a kind of celebrity. She’s human, with human ambitions and human limitations. She has an opportunity to speak freely of what she believes and why. Today she’s declard in a very public way her values and her beliefs. She’s related them directly to how she understands God’s work in the world, how God leads individuals, and what individuals can expect from God when they use their free speech to affirm their values.

This young woman has provided believers everywhere with an opportunity for sober reflection about issues of integrity, the role of the believer in the world, and dependence on God, come what may. We do well to consider what are the most important lessons we can learn from her example.

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