Posted by Bob on March 01, 2006
In Reply to: Uncle Tom posted by RRC on March 01, 2006
: : : : In response to your response about "sick as a dog" someone called dogs the Uncle Toms of the animal kingdom. This in fact is a misstatement. If you have seen the movie Uncle Tom's Cabin you would know that Uncle Tom was noted, not for sucking up to anyone, but for standing firm on his faith in the midst of adversity, even to the point of death. He was not a sycophant by any means when it came to his belief in God.
: : : N., you have fallen into what some people call the "etymological fallacy" - the belief/insistence that the origin and the meaning of a word must forever be the same thing. Left-handed people are sinister, right-handed people are dextrous, awful and awesome are both good things to be, etc. RRC
: : I'm not sure I understand the appositeness (is that a word?) of RRC's response. What N says about Uncle Tom is what people who've read the book all tend to say. (I haven't read it.) If I understand RRC correctly, he's saying that people's ignorance of the real (well, fictional) Uncle Tom, has permitted the phrase to take on a new meaning, which has superseded the correct one. I say tosh! This case is not at all like the sinister meaning which the word sinister has taken on. Trying to rehabilitate Uncle Tom's reputation and the meaning of the phrase is a noble occupation, even if perhaps vain. The fact that words and phrases are used incorrectly on a very wide scale (e.g. internecine) doesn't mean that careful writers should use them the same way. SS
: I have read the book and seen the movie (not to mention "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" in "The King and I" ^_^). Read the definition of Uncle Tom on m-w.com http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/uncle%20tom . Notice how the etymology makes exactly N.'s point, pious and faithful, then both definitions are negative meanings. IMO, this battle is already fully and completely lost, but I'll not stop you from trying... I'm personally too busy trying to stop people from using the word licorice for cherry Red Vines and strawberry Twizzlers.
Wow. Makes my crusade to use less/fewer correctly seem easy. As the original offender (I quoted someone, somewhere, who once called dogs the "uncle toms of the animal kingdom"), which I still think is amusing, I can say in my defense that dogs are not sycophants in any hypocritical way, either. They're pathologically anxious to please the alpha dog, even if human. Uncle Tom became a negative and derogatory characterization in the 1960s, in the context of black political leaders rejecting members of their own community who would cooperate with (or feel subservient to) what they regarded as oppressors. Overblown rhetoric? Perhaps. But the derogotory sense of the term caught on quickly. Regardless of the virtues of the character in the novel, I guarantee you that if you called a person of color an Uncle Tom, he would not, absolutely not, feel complimented.