Today in the culture wars: Bicycle counter edition

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is circulating a petition to change the name of a bicycle counter for being culturally appropriative. They write:

“Totem” is a word for a cultural indigenous object, not to be appropriated and commercialized for bike and pedestrian causes.  A good product does not need to appropriate culture.  Cultural appropriation lends to the oppression of Native people, by erasing and colonizing culture, or making culture into a commodity.  (Further reading on the appropriation of “totem poles.”)

The counter is called “eco-TOTEM“. It is a pole. It totals (or totes) the number of bicycles crossing a point. It’s a pun. Puns and other forms of weak humor are common in product names. The Apple Macintosh (a type of Apple, misspelled), the Ford Pinto (little sibling to the Mustang), any number of hair salons.

The firm, after a request, does not want to change the name of their product.eco_totem_nantes_velo

So aside from living in the area, I have no stake in this battle. (And some people would say I am ineligible to have a valid opinion because of privilege or some such nonsense (as if they really know my background), but free speech is still a right).  I was curious about the etymology of the word “Totem”. The Online Etymology Dictionary writes:

totem (n.)Look up totem at Dictionary.comanimal or natural object considered as the emblem of a family or clan, 1760, from Algonquian (probably Ojibwa) -doodem, in odoodeman “his sibling kin, his group or family,” hence, “his family mark;” also attested in French c. 1600 in form aoutem among the Micmacs or other Indians of Nova Scotia. Totem pole is 1808, in reference to west coast Canadian Indians.

The word phrase Totem Pole, from which the pun-part of  “Eco-TOTEM” is presumably a backformation, combines Totem with “Pole”

pole (n.1) Look up pole at“stake,” late Old English pal “stake, pole, post,” a general Germanic borrowing (Old Frisian and Old Saxon pal “stake,” Middle Dutch pael, Dutch paal, Old High German pfal, Old Norse pall) from Latin palus “stake” (see pale (n.)).

Wanting the full picture, we can look at “eco”, a prefix from ecology (or economy)

ecology (n.) Look up ecology at Dictionary.com1873, oecology, “branch of science dealing with the relationship of living things to their environments,” coined in German by German zoologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) as Ökologie, from Greek oikos “house, dwelling place, habitation” (see villa) + -logia “study of” (see -logy). In use with reference to anti-pollution activities from 1960s.

Adopting (or appropriating) foreign words is just something English does, it’s Borg-like that way. The Eco-Totem product combines Algonquin (via French and English), Greek (via German), and Latin (via German). It is a melting pot of a word. The melting pot idea used to be seen as a strength of America … e pluribus unum and all, but now multi-culturalists want to divide us. As I noted in 2012 (No Hetero, Godless, Childless, Capitalists welcome), when looking at the categories the campaigns were appealing to, there is no place for some groups in that reasoning. This explains a lot of what is happening in 2016.

appropriate (v.) Look up appropriate at Dictionary.comearly 15c., “take possession of,” from Late Latin appropriatus, past participle of appropriare, adpropriare (c.450) “to make one’s own,” from Latin ad- “to” (see ad-) + propriare “take as one’s own,” from proprius “one’s own” (see proper). Related: Appropriatedappropriating.

But fortunately they only still speak Latin in Vatican City, so are not especially offended by the appropriation of “appropriation”.

offense (n.) Look up offense at Dictionary.comlate 14c., “hurt, harm, injury, pain,” from Old French ofense “offense, insult, wrong” (13c.) and directly from Latin offensa “an offense, injury, affront, crime,” literally “a striking against,” noun use of fem. past participle of offendere (see offend). Meaning “action of attacking” and “feeling of being hurt” are both first recorded c. 1400. Sense of “breach of the law, transgression” is first recorded late 14c. Sporting sense first recorded 1894.

I suppose anyone can take offense at anything … and somebody will.

I am offended

I am offended that you are offended

I am offended that you are offended that I am offended

I am offended that you are offended that I am offended that you are offended.