USC Professor punished for using Chinese phrase in class that sounds like a racial slur

September 4, 2020 • 1:00 pm

This is just one more item in my continuing documentation of universities acting insanely when they don’t want to anger the Woke. This one is unbelievable, involving punishing a professor who, by any rational standard, didn’t do anything wrong. But this happens more and more these days.

So, from yahoo! News, which took it from the National Review, we have an article about Greg Patton, a professor at the University of Southern California who was admonished and then placed on leave when he used a Chinese phrase that sounds like the n-word. Click on the screenshot to read the piece:

An excerpt:

Greg Patton, a professor at the university’s Marshall School of Business, was giving a lecture about the use of “filler words” in speech during a recent online class when he used the word in question, saying, “If you have a lot of ‘ums and errs,’ this is culturally specific, so based on your native language. Like in China, the common word is ‘that, that, that.’ So in China it might be ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’”

Here’s the phrase at the Chinese Grammar Wiki:

In conversation, you may find yourself at a loss for words, unable to find the correct phrase you are looking for, or simply needing time to gather your thoughts. When you experience this feeling, in English, you may say “umm” or “uhhh” or another filler word. In Chinese, the word for this is 那个 (nèige). (The word 那个 can be pronounced both “nàge” and “nèige,” but for this usage, “nèige” is normally used.)

Here’s the video of the offending statement; it’s pretty clear that he is not making a racial slur! Nevertheless, somebody must have complained.

USC issued a statement to the right-wing website Campus Reform about Patton’s punishment:

In a statement to Campus ReformUSC said Patton “agreed to take a short term pause while we are reviewing to better understand the situation and to take any appropriate next steps.” Another instructor has stepped in to teach the class in the meantime.

“Recently, a USC faculty member during class used a Chinese word that sounds similar to a racial slur in English. We acknowledge the historical, cultural and harmful impact of racist language,” the university said in a statement.

USC is now “offering supportive measures to any student, faculty, or staff member who requests assistance,” the statement added, saying the school is “committed to building a culture of respect and dignity where all members of our community can feel safe, supported, and can thrive.”

This is unbelievable. The man utters a pretty well-known Chinese filler phrase, and is demonized and placed on leave because the phrase sounds like a racial slur in English.  But he neither uttered a racial slur nor had any intention to do so. Nevertheless, he’s punished, the University debases itself and then offers support to people who were offended. How can something like Patton’s grammar lesson make people feel “unsafe”. If they say that, well, I don’t have to believe that so-called lived experience. It is an offense culture where you must pretend to be offended, even if you aren’t.

This is madness, but madness is, as they say, “the new normal.” It’s as if someone referred to a “chink in one’s armor” and got reported for using a slur against the Chinese.

109 thoughts on “USC Professor punished for using Chinese phrase in class that sounds like a racial slur

  1. Can anyone say: SNOWFLAKES?

    Good lord, the university is rolling out special support for any students so gravely injured by their mistaking a Chinese phrase for a an English derogatory.

    Grow the F up, people.

      1. There was also a 2008 controversy in Dallas over the term “black hole”. One of the pecksniffs who objected to “black hole” also claimed that “angel food cake” and “devil’s food cake” were racist.

  2. I have heard that phrase spoken by a Chinese coworker, and it did not sound like the forbidden N-word. It sounded like NAY-ge. (I learned a little Chinese at one point so I recognized the term.)

    But when I listened to the video, I could see how someone would mistake Patton’s pronunciation with the N-word. Given the sensitivity of the word, he probably should either work on his Chinese accent, and/or clarify what the word is.

    But the only sources that say he was suspended appear to be based on the National Review. I would wait for further confirmation.

    1. I worked in China for several years and some people do in fact pronounce it as nigger. I was new to hearing Chinese so these words really stood out.

      1. Well, obviously, the Chinese need to change the way they pronounce their language, and until they do, Chinese is cancelled in all places of tolerance.

          1. ISTR that half way through Gulf War Chapter 1, Bush the First changed the way he pronounced “Saddam”, and the allegation was that the changed pronunciation was a homophone for “donkey’s bum” or something similar in the dialect of Saddam’s home region.
            I’ve no evidence for this story – but it does sound just the sort of thing the PsyOps people would try.

          2. All Classical Latin pronunciations are correct so you are excused. All hard c’s pronounced as well.

            Misereátur tui omnípotens Deus, et dimíssis peccátis tuis, perdúcat te ad vitam ætérnam

      2. My wife is Chinese, and both she and her friends pronounce it as ”niggeh”.

        If this story checks out, it surely must be peak madness? Right? It can’t get any more crazy than this?

        1. One of Trevor Noah’s stand up bits talks about how in his mother’s language, Xhosa, a word that sounds like “niggeh” means “give” or something. I forget. So clearly, a lot of languages have sounds that are similar and potentially offensive in other languages. Context matters. Would that student berate Trevor Noah’s Black African mom for speaking Xhosa and saying that?

    2. It was perfectly clear already.

      It’s an insult to the intelligence of students to think that they can’t understand this in context.

    3. It’s school boy nonsense on the level of the way thirteen year old me sniggered at the German word for “father” the first time I heard it in a German lesson.

      Seriously, stop trying to justify this bullshit.

        1. Wow, somebody’s going to get upset by the word “sniggered.” And you must have sniggered at the word for One Way, Einfahrt.

    4. I take it you didn’t read that National Review article, as it has far more information, including the students’ statements. I also take it that you didn’t read this post, as it includes a statement from the University about his suspension.

      And how could he have possibly provided more clarification regarding what the word “is”? This is a legitimate question I’m asking you. Did you read the quote? He said that he was about to give an example of something said in Chinese in place of “um” or “uh” as used in English, and then he gave that example.

      Furthermore, the word is not “sensitive”; the students who feel that, because it sounds like another word, they have a right to claim that their mental health has been harmed and the teacher should be sanctioned are “sensitive” (to put it lightly).” The word isn’t sensitive because it’s not the actual “sensitive” word.

      Finally, the fact that you have heard >one Chinese person say it differently is not only irrelevant, but rather insensitive to mention, if we’re going by the standards of these offended students. China is actually a very big country. Like, really big. There are many different pronunciations of the same words, just like there are in the US, UK, and other countries. There isn’t only one way of saying it.

    1. It is obsessed with race and potential offense, no matter how trivial or mistaken. Sensible people of all ethnicities need to speak out against this poisonous culture.

    2. Thanks, Marina, but it’s only the left in our country that has gone mad. There are some still some who are right (or non-left). I guess we’ll see how many come November.

  3. Many many years before all this stupidity of offence and cancel culture began, a CBC morning announcer said the phrase “did you” and it sounded like he said “Jew” and even in this context, saying “Jew” isn’t a swear. Someone actually called The JDL on him. Of course, when they investigated, it was clear he didn’t say anything offensive. I was glad CBC aired the whole debacle so we could see how silly it was. Now look where we are though!

    1. I had a boss who hailed from Lubbock, Texas who pronounced the seventh month of the year “jew-lie”, which struck me as mildly amusing. That was the 1980s, a more innocent time.

    2. This reminds me of a case I saw on TV many years ago. A tv programme had found an announcement for a house to rent in a local small ads column and were shocked and outraged to see that the announcement included the statement ‘no Asians’.

      They doorstepped the would be landlord to challenge him about his racist restriction and he was utterly bemused. After a bit of discussion it turned out that he had dictated his ad over the phone to the newspaper and the person taking down the details had misheard ‘no agents’ as ‘no Asians’! (it helps to imagine the phrase spoken with an Aussie accent).

  4. Next:

    Teacher suspended for saying “bag.”

    Student suspended for saying “kite.”

    Santa cancelled for saying . . .

  5. Like Nicholas K., I am also married to a Chinese woman, and I can also attest that my wife says neige when she’s searching for the right term to say. Indeed, I often hear the filler word in conversations with my in-laws and Chinese friends. Being a serious student of the language, I’ve taken to incorporating it in my Chinese speech. The pronunciation is really more like NAY-guh. I pity those who are offended by this. They must live in a constant state of anxiety from looking for offense where none exists. They remind me of the old-time Lutherans who saw Satan behind every bush.

  6. Its time to ban teaching Chinese. What’s the point of fluency in foreign languages anyways, these kids should just be doing “ethnic studies”. Anyways, its cultural appropriation for non-Han Chinese people to speak Chinese, its worse than white people with dreadlocks.

    In fact, why don’t we have a book burning where we burn all non-European language instruction books to prove how non-racist and non-Xenophobic we are. . . after we coerce confessions out of white supremacist foreign language instructors, of course.

  7. If you are so ignorant, that you cannot understand what the professor is trying to explain, you don’t belong in the class or at the university. Why on earth would the “n-word” be used by a Chinese person to express a pause? Instead of reporting the professor, the student could have asked a question to clarify the professor’s meaning. This is absurd. I guess the professor will find another example for future lectures.

    1. Those were my first thoughts too, though perhaps this was an online class and the student didn’t have classmates to immediately clarify the context.

      Either the student was not paying attention or is too dumb to understand what was being taught, and too unmotivated (or too woke) to seek clarification from the professor or classmates.

      My counselling advice to the student would be to make a more serious effort to improve his/her understanding in order to avoid making baseless and defamatory claims, or switch to a less-demanding course.

  8. “… committed to building a culture of respect and dignity where all members of our community can feel safe, supported, and can thrive.”

    The irony being that they don’t care at all about the non-Woke feeling safe and supported.

    1. Its a feature not a bug. The word is hypokrites, “stage actor, pretender, dissembler” not eironeia “dissimulation, feigned ignorance”.

  9. This is madness, but madness is, as they say, “the new normal.”

    Though this be madness, yet there is no meaningful method in’t (may Polonius please forgive me).

    1. O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space — were it not that I heard microaggressions.

      (I just found out that “microaggression” is accepted by Firefox browser’s spell check)

    1. I saw someone blow up, so to speak, because someone used that phrase….not “people of color”, but the other one.

      Aren’t these essentially codes delineating who is in or out, friend or enemy?

  10. The urge to hair-split terms in a culture of offense is not a recent invention of Woke-land, and the term being a Chinese one reminded me of the old Imperial culture, where those writing memorials to the Emperor had to be very careful about how they worded things, since if a term might have a double-meaning or similar glyph that had an insulting nature, you could get your head chopped off.

    In more recent times, the Stalinist, Nazi and Maoist tyrannies were ever on the watch for the seedlings of thought crime. It can be said that such insane vigilance didn’t work well in the long term to create a viable progressive productive society, which should make the thought police of today wary of going down that road yet again (but who ever could accuse such minds of really learning stuff from history).

  11. There used to be a thing called the Principle of Charity, which “demands that another’s position or behaviour be portrayed in the best possible light.” (J. Baggini & P. S. Fosl, The Philosopher’s Toolkit, 2010, 115)
    The Wokies have replaced it with the Principle of Uncharity, which demands that another’s position or behaviour be portrayed in the *worst* possible light.

    1. ‘There used to be a thing called the Principle of Charity, which “demands that another’s position or behaviour be portrayed in the best possible light.”’

      I’m reminded of “Straw Man” and “Steel Man.”

  12. What happened to the professor is frightening to anyone learning a foreign language…including English. You simply don’t have the control of making the new sounds.

    BTW, here is the National Review article, which I encourage you to read, which contaings the following quotation from one of the offended students…And it sounds like they are also upset that a warning wasn’t issued first????

    “It was confirmed that the pronunciation of this word is much different than what Professor Patton described in class,” the students wrote. “The word is most commonly used with a pause in between both syllables. In addition, we have lived abroad in China and have taken Chinese language courses at several colleges and this phrase, clearly and precisely before instruction is always identified as a phonetic homonym and a racial derogatory term, and should be carefully used, especially in the context of speaking Chinese within the social context of the United States.”

    1. What the…? The word neige is NOT commonly used with a pause between both syllables. The two syllables are usually pronounced very quickly and definitely connected together. I studied Chinese in college, admittedly many years ago, and never heard any warning or proviso about this very common word. In fact, in those pre-Woke days, it was mercifully a non-issue.

  13. What is the normal result when the lunatics take over the management of the psychiatric treatment centre?

  14. Years ago when I was in gradual school, some folks were stumbling across campus singing Monty Python’s “Philosopher’s Song” loudly and drunkenly (as is right and appropriate). One phrase in the song goes;

    “Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
    Who could think you under the table”

    Some members of a black fraternity misheard that lyric in predictable ways. A stink was raised, an article about the outrage was published in the student paper and people got upset. Until it was all explained (the singers had no idea anyone even heard them). The black “brothers” took it all in stride, apologized for getting it wrong and got together with the people who were singing and learned the song.

    You have to remember this was long ago, in the Before Times. Now, of course, there would be marches and riots, the singers would be expelled from school, their careers (if they even yet had one) would be over, the administration would flagellate themselves bloody and statues of the Pythons would be torn down all around the world.

    Ok, maybe not that last part.

    1. John Cleese seems to be getting in trouble with the woke on social media these days.

      “Life of Brian” would never pass muster with the progressive establishment now (at the time it came out, it was the right-wing religionists who got offended by it, but that’s turned around.)

    2. I was just telling my young Chinese neighbor about this crazy n-word thing and he said this had happened to a Chinese friend of his (who did not even know about the English n-word) and who had a Black guy standing next to him take offence.

  15. My prediction: he’ll be cleared of saying something that inadvertently sounded like the “N word” but cancelled for cultural appropriation…

  16. I work with Chinese people and I heard this exact phrase last week on a call and it caught me off guard for a minute until I figured out it was just like you say the equivalent of saying “um” or collecting thoughts. I can understand how someone could hear it and just stop because that’s what I did for a minute. Nevertheless obviously once one understands it shouldn’t be a problem.

  17. What is wrong with these people?! This type of misplaced offence is taking all the fun out of life. Watch out that we don’t end up in a world totally lacking in healthy spontaneity and full of robotic, self-censoring humorless people.

    1. And even if in the end you are found innocent of the accusations, the investigation pulls you through the mud anyway. I think I’d simply quit a place that went through with such nonsense instead of dismissing it out of hand.

  18. I’m not sure how many hiring managers would be willing to hire grad students who so easily take offense. There’s no benefit of the doubt given. Would love to follow their careers.

    1. It might be a service to future employers to have these details recorded for future reference. E.g. “Jane Doe, UCLA ’20 – demanded professor be fired for using a Chinese phrase that (unbeknownst to her) sounded like a racial epithet”. I would certainly not want that kind of liability on my team.

      Just thinking out loud…

      1. Of course, the students remain anonymous in this case, as they do in many of them, despite their bravery and wisdom. Read their statements in the National Review article. It’s a whole group of them! And the spoke in paragraphs about the wisdom of their judgment here and the terrible toll this professor’s utterance of a common Chinese word has taken on their “mental health” (yes, they actually say that!).

    1. I minored in Chinese, and it *never* occurred to me that neige sounds like the epithet. It takes extensive training in offense-taking to develop the trained ear required to find every offense that may be lurking behind any given rose hedge.

      It reminds me of a passage in the Bible:

      “woe unto the world because of offenses … (and) woe unto him by whom the offense cometh”

      If that wasn’t a revelatory glimpse of our times, I don’t know what would be.

  19. Bring out the dunce cap to put on the professor, make him confess his horrific error(s) and send him to the country to work all that erudition out of him.

    In fact, get rid of all professors and turn them into farmers. Let the students teach the classes despite their lack of knowledge.

    Perhaps, intelligence that humanity has acquired arduously and carefully over the centuries can be reversed in much less time than it took to acquire it.

    Really, universities now are only good for taking money from wealthy donors to have their names associated with campus buildings and prestigious programs. And for supporting sports teams that bring in money to the university, but not to the sports playing students.

    Until the profs are sent to the country, at least we have a daycare arrangement for students who know so very little (but believe they are fonts of wisdom) and can’t care for themselves or others because they haven’t learned how.

    Please pardon the snark.

  20. Hate to break it to you, professor, but people have already gotten in trouble for saying “chink” with reference to armor.

    And I’m not including the times when an uproar followed after it was used to describe the vulnerabilities of Asians, such as Jeremy Lin, Xi Jinping,and Masahiro Tanaka.

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