A California school district recently decided it would eliminate the term ‘chief’ from its district job titles over concerns about the word.
The San Francisco Unified School District announced last week it would no longer include the word chief in its job titles. The decision, USA Today reports, follows concerns expressed from Native Americans.
The word chief, as I’m sure you know, was the title given to the heads of the various Native American tribes white settlers encountered. The term itself, as far as I can tell, was not derogatory. To me, it was used the same way the leader of a ship is called its captain.
Even more of a concern is the fact that the word was used to refer to the head of something as far back as 1300, hundreds of years before America’s first settlers had ever seen a Native American.
The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us the word’s definition is the “highest in rank or power; most important or prominent; supreme, best, placed above the rest.”
But here’s where things get interesting. It derived first from the Latin word caput. That word carries meanings that include, “the head, leader, guide, chief person; summit; or capital city.” It also derived from the old French word chef from the 10th century.
Yes, chef. As in the leader of a kitchen.
Are we going to ban the word chef from job titles next?
Maybe we’re going too far.
This reminds me of schools that eliminated references to sitting “Indian style” over worries about Native Americans. But that style, in which someone sits on the floor with legs folded in front of them, came to us from the country of India, where it’s also known as sitting “Lotus style.” It was never meant as a derogatory term for Native Americans.
I have a fraction of Native American ancestry myself.
I can certainly understand the flak terms like redskin and squaw carry these days. But chief doesn’t come close to rising to the same level of offense in my book.
I just don’t see how that could offend people so much that this type of change would be necessary.
Maybe I’m missing something.