Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Time's cover article a few weeks ago was The End of Cowboy Diplomacy. And more recently a reader wrote to the editor to complain:
"Using the word cowboy as a term of derision is insulting to most Americans. Cowboys have always been the good guys, no matter what the European press or some folks on the East coast of the U.S. may think."
Is this the latest in PC-ness? I don't read the word "cowboy" as derisive. It has a specific meaning - a loner with a certain lack of regard for rules. American Heritage says: "An adventurous hero. A reckless person who ignores potential risks."

On the other hand, in the August 7 issue, a Time interviewer said to Willie Nelson: "The Dixie Chicks got in trouble for their views on the President, but your politics are pretty liberal too. Nelson's reply:
"I'm surprised I didn't get in trouble a year before that when I was at a press conference overseas and they were asking me about our wild Texas cowboy President. I said 'He's not from Texas and he ain't a cowboy, so let's stop trashin' Texans and cowboys."
"Wild Texas cowboy" could go either way. If you're talking about, you know, a cowboy from Texas, it sounds vaguely admiring. If you're talking about the President of the United States it would sound inappropriate except that it is an image Bush has cultivated. East coast stuffed shirt that I am, I'm glad it's being toned down.

In the meantime, I think we could be more careful with the literal meanings of words, less quick to attribute unintended judgements.

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