Defending One Joe Biden “Gaffe”

Even Republicans Join the Word Police

Joe Biden – first as Senator, then as Vice President – continually makes gaffes. Many are irrational or insensitive. Often, they fall into some politically-incorrect faux paux category.

Recently, Biden used the word “Orient” to correctly identify a geographical area.

The Word Police piled on. And so did the RNC.


“Orient” – Insensitive?

In complementing someone he met, Biden said, “You know, on the way back from Mumbai to go meet with President Xi in China, I stopped in Singapore to meet with a guy named Lee Kuan Yew, who most foreign policy experts around the world say is the wisest man in the Orient.”

According to ABC News, “The word ‘Orient’ is considered widely outdated and could be perceived as offensive, or insensitive, especially when used in reference to people.”

The RNC blustered: “Vice President Joe Biden’s insensitive remarks are offensive to both Asian-Americans and our Asian allies abroad.”

But why is it insensitive?

The dictionary says “Orient” and “Oriental” – used in the way Biden used it – is archaic.

The primary meaning for “orient” is “to cause to face or point toward the east.” This is geography. The Orient is east of the Western nations. Japan itself is called “the land of the rising sun.”

(Do we now stop calling the “West” the “West?”)

Oriental is also a picturesque, not pejorative, term which conjures up positive images. A few years ago, some Scottish friends took a trip on the Orient Express, having a wonderful time.) Moreover, people often eat at oriental restaurants (and will use the generic term “oriental” if unsure of the specific cuisine the group might like: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.

“Occidental” – NOT Insensitive?

The Western counterpart for “Oriental” is “Occidental,” which, wouldn’t you know, refers to western nations and peoples. Just as “orient” derives from the rising sun, “occident” derives from the setting sun. “Occidental’s” primary meaning is “a member of one of the occidental peoples; especially: a person of European ancestry.”

However, “Occidental” is not archaic.


Orient/Oriental – referring to “Eastern” (Asia) (rising sun) – is both archaic and insensitive.

Occident/Occidental – referring to “Western” (Europe) (setting sun) – is neither archaic nor insensitive.

In our multiculturalistic world, some cultures are more equal than others. One can denigrate the West with impunity. But using a descriptive geographic term – one which has been accurately used for ages – to identify the East has become repulsive to some.

We can blame that on the Sixties’ counterculturalists and their intellectual progeny who insist on cultural equivalence between cultures, in theory, yet exalt all other cultures above Western culture, in practice.

Perhaps the Word Police should ban all words related to “orient,” lest we offend anyone else. Every school and workplace should have orientation classes for new students or employees. Oh, that’s right, they already do.

Perhaps the Word Police themselves are disoriented.


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