Will Naked Mountain Be Clothed by PC Police?

Is Naked Mountain, Va., too risqué for families to visit? Should access be restricted to adults only? Or should it be renamed to something less objectionable, like Partially Clothed Mountain? Perhaps Au Naturale Mountain would be obscure enough so as not to incite impure thoughts.

Sounds ridiculous, I know, but no more ridiculous than what’s really happening in the Maryland state legislature. State Sen. Lisa Gladden and eight other lawmakers put forth a proposal that would create a commission to suggest new names for two mountains that, according to Gladden, have objectionable names: Negro Mountain and Polish Mountain.

Negro Mountain is thought to be named in honor of a heroic 18th century black man. An effort some years ago to rename it Black Hero Mountain failed because a commission found the name Negro Mountain was not intended to be derogatory.

Nobody knows the origin of Polish Mountain’s name, but apparently being called Polish is offensive. Even if you’re from Poland.

Words, even those used as proper names, have meaning. Especially when words are used as names, they should be chosen carefully and deliberately. However, we also should acknowledge the context in which they’re chosen and used. (See the recent attempts to revise Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.)

Names tell a story, whether or not those names fit into the politically correct sensibilities of subsequent generations.

If this proposal passes in Maryland, I’ll bet it’s a matter of time before some of my beloved Virginia mountains suffer the same fate:

  • Sugarloaf Mountain will become the more healthful Aspartame Mountain.
  • Poor Mountain will become Economically Disadvantaged Mountain.
  • Whitetop Mountain will become Caucasiantop Mountain.
  • Chicken Mountain will become the vegan-friendly Soy Mountain.
  • Bald Mountain will become Follically Challenged Mountain.

I hope this trend doesn’t spread to other states. Otherwise, the folks in Intercourse, Pa., had better start thinking now of a new name. And keep it clean!


The Weight of Our Words

Two seemingly unrelated events in the news combine to illustrate the significance of choosing carefully the words we use to make our points.

The mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., caused a lot of discussion about the tone of political discourse in the United States today. While I don’t believe the gunman committed his despicable act directly as the result of fiery rhetoric, I’m convinced that the environment in which our discussions take place has contributed to a more hostile society. And I believe politicians, cable TV and radio personalities, people who spew hatred via social media and even some clergymen birthed this toxic condition and feed it with their daily infusions of vitriol.

We consumers of mass communication are complicit, too. The Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermanns of the world stay in business because of us. We are the reason they’re unlikely to change the tone of their diatribes anytime soon. They’re in a contest to see who can out-zing the other and many of us are on the sidelines, egging them on, all the while boosting their ratings.

A related event in the news is the decision of a publisher to release an update of Mark Twain’s classic “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that replaces the offensive word nigger with the supposedly more acceptable slave. The argument goes that a cleaned-up version of the book will free it from banishment in school libraries across the nation and open it up to a new, more sensitive and politically correct audience of students.

Subjecting Twain’s masterpiece to editing 125 years after the fact robs Twain of his creative license as an artist and robs the audience of its freedom to either choose or reject Twain’s message. More than that, it represents a total misunderstanding of Twain’s statement in support of human dignity and the personal growth that can happen in the hearts of even the most ignorant people (Huck, not Jim).

Each event demonstrates the weight of our words. Those who participate in the heated political rhetoric of our day have little to no appreciation for the power of words. They don’t think through the consequences of what they’re saying and they can’t see the destruction their words are causing. Those who would edit Huck Finn also have little to no appreciation for the power of words. They don’t understand that Twain was deliberate in his choice of words as a reflection of the society of his day and a reflection of the prejudice in people’s souls.

Words carry a lot of weight. That weight can either crush us with its impact or it can make us stronger as we lift words to a higher purpose.

RELATED UPDATE: In a CBS News poll, 57 percent of respondents said they don’t believe heated political rhetoric was a factor in the Tucson shooting. Of course they don’t. It’s like asking a drunk, “So, do you think your drinking has anything to do with your life being in a shambles?”