Baa Baa Black Sheep

CBC’s list of words

CBC News Ottawa recently published a list of ‘banned’ words according to the anti-racism and language experts they consulted. Some of the phases contain the word ‘black’ which the experts said can be hurtful to people because of the negative historical and cultural background of the word. (Some people would like to add Black Friday to the list).

My Black Sheep Tangle

I was surprised to see the term Black Sheep.  Historically, black sheep were less desirable than white sheep only because the black wool could not be easily dyed colors. The phrase eventually evolved to refer to the oddball member of the family who did not fall in line with the others.

What about blackmail? It was first used in the 16th century in Scotland where it was a payment exacted by plundering chiefs in exchange for immunity from more pillage.

While in the current context, both words have evolved into negative portrayals, the word ‘black’ can also be a positive or powerful word, such as black belt, black diamond, black coffee, black pepper, black ink, etc.

The word white can also have an undesirable connotation – white elephant, white lightnin’, white out, white trash, show the white feather…

Hopefully, some day black and white will no longer be a source of conflict – Yin Yang will prevail.

Moving on, I’d like to know why CBC didn’t put the word ‘short’ on their list. If I was a sensitive ‘vertically challenged’ person, I would object to the many phrases that contain the word ‘short’: short changed; short end of the stick; the long and the short of it; a day late and a dollar short; one brick short of a load; a few sandwiches short of a picnic; draw the short straw; short circuit; short fuse; short sighted…

Rex Murphy, of the National Post, responding to the CBC list, constructed an editorial about these words by using them all: Rex Murphy: Tongue-tied by CBC’s 18 words you can’t say

Alas, it is the case that the rich tribe of consultants employed by the CBC to make sure Canadian English never falls into bad-speak is being pilloried on Twitter and elsewhere as lame , and even (shudder) tone deaf .

Other even more savage criticisms are raining down on the corporation, such that its executives and high-profile personalities have been called together in a kind of public relations powwow , to brainstorm some way of responding to the crisis.
– Rex Murphy –

Normally I would ask you what your thoughts are on this subject, so here goes: Do you think the legs I drew on the Black Sheep look a bit like piano keys?

Update: thanks for your comments about the Sheep’s legs. As per your input, the Sheep has now been named ‘Little Piano Legs’.

19 thoughts on “Baa Baa Black Sheep

    1. I believe the tide is starting to turn, as they say. Some Universities in Canada are starting to realize how dangerous it is to limit freedom of speech and thought in the manner they have allowed some of the students to dictate. Similarly, a news outlet is free to limit what words they will allow their reporters to use, but it isn’t their job to tell the readers what they can say (though they certainly have become the decision makers when it comes to telling readers what the readers should think and believe!)

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  1. I wanted to write a post about this but I chickened out (no offence to any poultry out there who might feel I am demeaning them by using that word!) I suppose from now on any references to anything coloured “black” will have to be referred to as “void-of-any-colour” (as in “my little void-of-any-colour dress”); anything in white (a word which, as you pointed out, hasn’t been deemed offensive for some reason) shall be “a-blend-of-all-colours” (as in “some of my favourite movies are the ones that are void-of-any-colour and a blend-of-all-colours”). Very descriptive. LOL! I wonder where it will end?!?!?


    1. “my little void-of-any-colour dress” – now that is funny. I think the best course of action is to just keep using most of the words we have been using unless we meet someone who personally objects… then we can change course for that person.


  2. Only yesterday at a cousin’s get together we were lamenting the loss of all the nicknames we all had a kids and the fun of all the family hanging sxxx on each other, all falling about laughing. It was in good spirit and toughened us for the life ahead. And little piano legs is a cutie, ‘ebony and ivory’?


    1. Thank you for giving my sheep a name – ‘Little Piano Legs” has the nicest ring to it!
      What did our moms tell us? Sticks and stones will break our bones, but names will never hurt us.
      Of course, they did hurt – until we turned the table and came up with a good name for the tormentor.

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  3. Ugh. Guess I better refer to my licorice as just that, instead of “black” or “red”. Both are sensitive words in the States these days.


  4. Master bedroom and master bathroom are out, also. I remember years ago when I was doing IT tech support and a black guy by his accent called in for help. He had two drives in hi computer and I was having to explain how to tell the master for the slave drive. It was very backward. Computers have advanced beyond that, fortunately.


    1. Master – another word with an interesting history. In the late 12th Century it was a person eminently or perfectly skilled in something. Until recently, we might say a person was a master mechanic or master builder.
      I can see the difficulty when the term ‘slave’ is brought into play!

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      1. It’s interesting, also, because it’s a noun, adjective and verb. A person can be a Master as in the head of something, a school teacher, a scholar. One can be a master craftsman, mechanic, etc, as you mentioned, and one can over come saomthing by mastering it. I wonder if Master’s degrees will be determined racist?


  5. WD Fyfe writes about the “eagerly offended”, and I think that group is growing by the day. It’s truly pathetic how thin-skinned too many people are becoming. They look for offence where none is intended. They revel in hurt feelings and victimhood. If “society” keeps coddling these people, resilience will be a thing of the past. This was an interesting post.


    1. In my experience this holiday season, the young who are the least vulnerable are afraid of Covid the most. Apparently they don’t look at the Alberta government stats to assess their risk.

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      1. I can understand that, however. Everything is so fluid in terms of the information, and being young, they don’t have the perspective older people do. It must be awful to be young right now.

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