We live in an era when everyone has a right to feel offended, disrespected or insulted, where one wrong word can get you labeled intolerant, offensive, or worse.
Nowhere is this more evident than in society's tolerance for nicknames. When I was growing up half a century ago, my older brothers had a friend named "Peanut," an allusion to his short stature. A local business owner in the small town where we lived was called "Shorty," another commentary on his stature. Another was called "Skinney" so often that I never knew his real name. A somewhat overweight classmate was sometimes called "Jumbo."
In the 1920s-1930s Goldsboro, where my father-in-law grew up, there was a man known to all as "Fatty." You don't have to wonder what that nickname said about him. A woman who was a high school classmate was known to everyone as "Stinky," a name she accepted with grace and good humor. I have no idea where the nickname came from.
In olden days, there were people known as "Whitey" and "Blackie" and "Red." Under today's ethical standards, any of these nicknamed people could have filed a complaint with some local, state or federal agency, or perhaps filed a class-action lawsuit against the world. But in those days, they didn't, and if anyone ever gave any thought to the idea that these nicknames were offensive, such reservations were never vocalized. They would have been laughed off the school bus or out of the Lions Club meeting.
We are all so sensitive now. We'd never use an offensive nickname, or if one slipped out, we would live in fear of a knock at the door by the Offensiveness Police. Perhaps we'd be sent to a re-education class to learn that 20th century inconsiderateness just cannot be tolerated any more.
Is the world better off that people are no longer referred to by their height, weight, color or odor? I suppose. But our very sensitivity acts to point out these unspoken differences among us. Long ago, it seems, we were all the same, even those who were acknowledged to be of different height, weight, color or odor.