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Mary Poppins’ Hottentots

The age rating for the beloved children’s classic Mary Poppins has been raised from U to PG because, according to the British Board of Film Classification, the movie contains “discriminatory language”.

A single word is to blame: “hottentots”.

For those of you living in the 21st Century, this is an obsolete term that was once used by Europeans to describe the black savages of South Africa, specifically the Khoikhoi, a group of nomadic herders who still live in the Stone Age.  

The Oxford English Dictionary explains:  

Hottentot, n. & adj.

= Khoekhoe, n. A.1. Now offensive.

Hottentot, v.

offensive. Obsolete. rare. intransitive. To become or live as a person without civilization or culture. Cf. Hottentot, n. A.2.

And please note:

This word is now obsolete. It is only recorded in the 1800s.

Yeah, it’s old and obsolete all right.

It was old and obsolete even in 1964 when Marry Poppins came out.

Now it’s regarded as racially offensive, sure – but it’s not like “nigger” or “jigaboo” or “porch monkey”; it ranks lower than “negro” on the ever-changing scale of offensiveness.

And precisely zero people use it or would be offended by it today.

Find a group of black people, call them hottentots and see what happens.

Nothing.

They’ll just stare at you awkwardly.

They wouldn’t be offended because they wouldn’t know what the word means; and they’re too lazy, or too stupid, to look it up.

Not even the real hottentots would be offended.

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