"swamp-dwelling" - offensive?

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Thomas Tompion

Senior Member
English - England
I was a little surprised to be told this morning by an AE member, whose opinions I very much respect, that, in her view, it is offensive to characterize a person as "swamp-dwelling". As trial canters have suggested that her views are sound, I'd like to clear up a question of political correctness.

We need to be clear that I'm not talking here of someone from Battersea or Manhattan, who might think it offensive to call their home a swamp, but of someone who lives in a swamp, through choice, or social or economic necessity, maybe. The famous Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq, perhaps.

As one who out of misplaced romanticism regards most wickedness and vulgarity as coming from cities and large towns, I wondered whether this view was general across the English-speaking world.

So here is the question; it has two parts:

1. Do you think it offensive to describe someone who lives in a swamp as swamp-dwelling? If so, is it offensive to describe someone as living in the country, in a valley, by a lake, etc.?

2. If you can't politely call swamp-dwellers, swamp-dwelling, how do you describe them? Do you just have to avoid mentioning their chosen place of abode?
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I was a little surprised to be told this morning by an AE member, whose opinions I very much respect, that, in her view, it is offensive to characterize a person as "swamp-dwelling".
    In what context did the AE member say that, TT?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In what context did the AE member say that, TT?
    I had said that different English speakers spoke different sorts of English, and said that a swamp-dweller from Louisiana might talk in a different way than someone from London. She considered certain parts of what I had said misleading, so I changed them, and I asked if she regarded 'swamp-dwelling' in itself as offensive. She said she did - I've quoted her directly in the OP (in brown italics). She also said it was very late in her part of the world, which is why I didn't trouble her with further questions.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    In AE there are literal and figurative associations with things that live in swamps.
    Some people from Louisiana live in bayous, and there is nothing pejorative about saying so. Swamp dwellers, the more broadly used term, and a person characterized as "swamp-dwelling", are another matter. Let me note in passing that the former term is much more widely used than the latter.

    If you hear person A calling person B a swamp dweller, chances are good that they are in a dispute. A is likening B to a creepy crawly thing that lives in a swamp. Think of alligators, leeches, lizards and such.

    If you are describing people who really live in swampy places, you would probably choose another term, just to avoid possible association with that sense of swamp dweller in AE.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Characterizing a major ethnic group, one that has made a huge contribution to regional culture, one that constitutes a statistically large population group of several large cities, one that does not dwell in swamps, is at the very least astoundingly ignorant. Yes, it is offensive.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    To my BE ears swamp-dwelling just means 'who live(s) in a swamp' (and the same for swamp-dweller). (Just like, for example, cave-dwelling.)

    It's perhaps something to do with the rarity non-existence of swamps, let along swamp-dwellers, in the British Isles that makes the term feel so innocuous to us you and me, Mr.T.
     

    Uncle Bob

    Senior Member
    British English
    Isn't it the "-dweller" that is causing anxiety? While calling someone a 'swamp-dweller', 'cave-dweller' or whatever '-dweller' could, according to context, be seen as perjorative that would not be true of calling them an 'inhabitant of ' swamps, caves,.... While I have never heard of a 'Battersea-dweller' it does sound less charming than an 'inhabitant of Battersea'.
    Nevertheless I would have thought the context determined the offensiveness.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I have to translate just a little to get the sense of this.

    If you refer to someone, or a type of person as an Irish bog-dweller my reaction depends entirely on context. In the right context, I assume this is a legitimate anthropological or sociological description. But if you say it in a context where an insult would be expected, I would be insulted, as required. We're generally obliging people, happy to take offence when it is offered :)

    If you change the phrase around to talk about the bog-dwelling Irish, I'm a great deal less sympathetic. Now you are commenting on all of us, and it is most likely that you mean to be insulting. If you're an old friend and we are used to trading this kind of label between us, I'd respond in kind - with a smile. Otherwise I'd be likely to take offence.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    It does sound pejorative to me, as if it's mostly used as an insult of about the same strength as 'low-down' or 'troglodyte'; whereas we can refer neutrally to the marsh-dwelling folk of Norfolk and Iraq.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    In your world, would referring to someone who does not live in a swamp as "swamp-dwelling" be offensive?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    The context point is clearly important: here's an example of what is evidently a perfectly acceptable use of "Louisiana swamp-dweller": click.

    I guess it behoves those of us not attuned to the possible sensitivities to follow cuchu's advice:
    If you are describing people who really live in swampy places, you would probably choose another term, just to avoid possible association with that sense of swamp dweller in AE.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Characterizing a major ethnic group, one that has made a huge contribution to regional culture, one that constitutes a statistically large population group of several large cities, one that does not dwell in swamps, is at the very least astoundingly ignorant. Yes, it is offensive.
    Who is doing these opprobrious things, Nunty?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    In your world, would referring to someone who does not live in a swamp as "swamp-dwelling" be offensive?
    I personally would never dream of trying to offend someone by calling them swamp-dwelling. I wouldn't even use cave-dwelling. I'd say troglodyte. In fact, I often do say troglodyte ~ I live in East Manchester, after all;)

    For me swamps simply have no 'cultural resonance' (to use a very grand term), I'm afraid: they're just swamps. The same goes for the terms -dweller and -dwelling.

    If someone called me (e.g.) a swamp-dwelling Lancastrian, I'd just think, "Huh? what's that supposed to mean? it doesn't even make sense ~ what have swamps got to do with the price of fish?"
     

    ewhite

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    swamp-dweller from Louisiana might talk in a different way than someone from London
    While I understand that the above is a paraphrase, it does strike me as potentially perjortive: Why else was the Louisianan described as a "swamp-dweller"? The Londoner received no such colorful description.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    While I understand that the above is a paraphrase, it does strike me as potentially perjortive: Why else was the Louisianan described as a "swamp-dweller"? The Londoner received no such colorful description.
    I assure you I had no feelings either way. I was trying to think of two strongly opposed ways of talking English. I might just as readily have chosen a New Yorker and a coalminer from Sunderland. If anyone should think that suggested I had a contempt of coalminers - or that all coalminers lived in Sunderland (to evoke one argument which has been put forward by implication), I'd suspect them of some kind of paranoia, and recommend a long course of treatment.

    P.S. I like the French too.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    I think that it is ultimately a question of context, of guessing intent. My conclusion is that one should be careful when there is a possibility that the reader will read "swamp-dwelling" as connoting ignorance or unsophistication.

    On the other hand, I'm perfectly happy to call residents of Washington D.C. swamp-dwellers.
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    Panjandrum has it right. Call me a bog (swamp)-dweller and, depending on the situation, I'd either laugh or take offence.

    As an aside, people from Dublin can often be heard referring (pejoratively) to everyone else in the country as "boggers", a variant on the swamp-dweller appellation, so in Ireland at least, I'd advise using such terms with care.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think that it is ultimately a question of context, of guessing intent. My conclusion is that one should be careful when there is a possibility that the reader will read "swamp-dwelling" as connoting ignorance or unsophistication.

    On the other hand, I'm perfectly happy to call residents of Washington D.C. swamp-dwellers.
    That's funny, Biblio. I don't think you're quite suggesting that swamp-dwelling isn't offensive as long as the people so described don't live in a swamp, but for one glorious moment I thought you were.

    I take your point about intent, and people using such expressions ironically probably need to know their audience. Anyone who knows me and how I spend my time will realize that I'm more likely to regard swamp-dwelling as a compliment than the reverse. I spent most of yesterday in a swamp, by choice, to my considerable profit, both financial and cultural. I go about once a week, to see what's cooking.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I don't think "swamp dweller" per se is an insult in AE. It can be used as an accurate description, just like "cave dweller" or "bog dweller". However, particularly since most people in Lousiana don't live in swamps, it sounds just as pejorative as bog dweller or cave dweller would in other contexts. Yes of course there are some people who actually live in caves and thus can be correctly described as "cave dwellers." However, often if someone is described as a cave dweller, it is intended to characterize them negatively. I think swamp dweller has the same dual usage possibilitites. "Backwoods" is another similar word.
     
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    ewhite

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    We do live in an over sensitive world. :warning: Some posters have also elluded to the Bog Irish. Is this also offensive? Take a look at the commercial use of BOG IRISH. Link thanks to Google.

    GF..
    No, I think we live in a world where formerly despised communities are finding a voice, and using that voice to good effect.

    I submit the very next citation of "bog Irish" that Google offers"

    Costello Slammed for `Bog Irish' Slurs

    RENOWNED Irish fashion designer Paul Costelloe came in for some heavy criticism early this week after the Londonbased artisan said Irish women "wouldn't know style if it tottered up to them in 10-inch heels."

    He added that the Irish are "only a couple of generations out of the bog,"
     

    preppie

    Senior Member
    American English (Mostly MidAtlantic)
    I'm afraid that I hear swamp-dweller as an intended insult except in very narrow circumstances. It's the nature of the words. If they are from the bayou's in Louisiana then they say that they live in the bayou or in the swamps. If someone wants to insult them they say they are swamp-dwellers. We have swamps in NJ but we refer to the people who live there as residents of the town or township they are in.
    If we want to be pejorative we can call them swamp-dwellers regardless of where they live. It's one of those terms like "wrong side or other side of the tracks". Even when it's said innocently, "other side" of the tracks has a bad connotation to it.
     
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