Now you’ve gone and done it, PC police. You’ve forced me to defend Billy Packer.

I’m all in favor of Billy Packer losing his job at CBS, but I want it to be because he’s a joyless blowhard and not for some manufactured controversy.

In case you haven’t heard, Packer, the CBS college basketball commentator, is being lambasted in some circles for using the term “fag out” in an interview with PBS talker Charlie Rose last week. Packer used the term in reference to Rose’s stated desire to act as his gopher during a broadcast. According to Dictionary.com, the first definition for “fag” is to tire or weary by labor; exhaust.

The comment has caused a bit of a ruckus, not along the lines of Michael Richards, but there is still a good amount of hand-wringing over it on the Internet and some talk shows. It’s not the fact that there are people put off by Packer’s use of the term that has my PC radar going off. It’s that these same people acknowledge that it’s clear Packer didn’t intend to use the term as a gay slur. They just think that it’s an outdated term that he should have known better than use because someone might not know the real definition and take it the wrong way.

The controversy is reminiscent of when a white aide to the mayor of Washington, D.C. was forced to resign a few years back for using the word “niggardly” – a synonym for stingy or miserly – in a conversation with other staffers. The aide was later given his job back following an uproar among mostly conservative columnists and pundits. The incident actually ended up providing a couple of good lessons on the English language and political correctness run amuck.

We live in an age where perception trumps intent, where how a person reacts to a comment, even if it’s not directed at them, take precedent over what the speaker or writer is trying to communicate. Using this logic, if you look at someone the wrong way on the street, you should expect to incur their wrath.

Any time someone uses an actual slur, we hear or read about how it’s a good opportunity to educate ourselves on the what, how and why of offensive words. And that is so true.

It would also be good if, whenever a word is misinterpreted as a slur, we used it as an opportunity to educate ourselves on the English language. Most of us could stand an occasional brush up on our language skills.


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