If you're hooked into the SF writing blogosphere, you've seen all the bruhaha currently burning up the ether. I'm not going to reiterate it all here, if you're really interested just check Tobias' blog.
There's a bunch to be outraged and sad about here, but mostly I'm sad because nobody knows what's what anymore.
When they were younger, my nephews started cursing. They knew the words, many of them were painted on bridge overpasses their school bus would drive under. It's not like the adults in the family didn't use that language sometimes (not frequently, we did try to watch ourselves when the kids were around), but they didn't know what the words meant or referred to. Hilarity ensued until some of us stopped laughing long enough to edumacate them as to what they were actually saying.
My niece also sometimes IMs me. There were several TMAs she (and her friends) were using wrong, which lead to a few conversations of, "Just what the heck are you saying?"
So now I get to the part where I'm reading the dirt fight that is this scandal, and I keep chuckling to myself.
I try my best not to use racial or sexist epithets in real life. Words can hurt, I know that. I did grow up with those words around me though. I've heard people use the N word, with great gusto, when I was young. And, in fact, heard it again two weeks ago in conversation about the presidential race. I didn't shout the person down, although that was my first impulse. I changed my tone in the conversation, extricated myself as quick as possible and changed my perception of the person that used it. There will be later ramifications of it.
However, I have written characters who use them. And for the epithet in question, the story, "My Favorite War Stories" uses a number of them. That's a story about soldiers, talking to other soldiers about the people they had to kill or felt were getting in their way to get to the people they had to kill. Those words are never kind. So I did have to know what words to use.
Which brings me to the term used in the rejection letter that started the whole fire, and why I keep chuckling. Does anybody else know "sheet heads" is an epithet for KKK members? That's what I remember from my childhood. Did some of the brain dead talking heads co-op that epithet to try and change it, or am I remembering incorrectly? I believe the proper epithet the editor was looking for was "towel heads," although "hajii" is also used.