I'm not super keen on the word myself, but I suggest that we might have more important things to worry about and fight over.
The dust-up began when Lafayette attorney and former CODOFIL chairman Warren Perrin threatened to file an FCC complaint against Eunice-based KBON 101.1 FM over lyrics to the song "RCA (Registered Coonass)" by Jamie Bergeron and the Kickin' Cajuns.
The chorus of the song includes the 'c' word, which Perrin considers an insulting term, basing his claim upon a definition first put forward by the late Jimmie Domengeaux, who founded CODOFIL.
Domengeaux maintained that the word derived from the French word connasse, which he said Frenchmen used in reference to Cajun soldiers serving in France during World War II. He said the word translates to "dirty prostitute." The Louisiana legislature used that definition when it passed a concurrent resolution in the 1980s condemning the word but not outlawing it.
However, further research suggests that Domengeaux's connasse etymology may be skewed, since the word "coonass" was used in Louisiana well before World War II. Modern French dictionaries make no reference to a prostitute in defining connasse, it just means a stupid, disagreeable woman.
A good number of researchers now believe "coonass" has a much more innocuous beginning, coming from cunaso, a Caribbean Indian word that most likely got here via the Spanish. It describes a fellow who lives simply on and with the land--which is a perfect description of the early Cajuns (who came here when Louisiana was held by Spain).
Some etymologists suggest "coonass" is more offensive to white-collar folk than to blue-collar workers. It has something to with what sociologists call "covert prestige."
Whatever definition you choose, there are a lot of Cajuns who don't find the term derogatory at all; you can still see bumper stickers reading, "Proud Coonass," on vehicles across Acadiana. Those drivers apparently agree with Bergeron's assessment of his song and of the lyric.
"It's a party song, it's a fun song and that's what it's all about," he said. "Some people find it degrading, but it's all in how you put it," he said. "I'm not calling anyone out, I'm calling myself a coonass, I'm proud to be a coonass.
"I didn't resurface the word; the word is there, it's used. I hear it, I use it, people use it around me. It's not a degrading word, that's who we are, that's who I am," he said. He said it is because of fans' requests that he's printed up a bunch of RCA T-shirts to sell.
At last word, Perrin was still considering a complaint with the FCC. He says he would base the claim on a 1980 court case, Roach v. Dresser, in which federal judge Erwin Hunter Sr. declared Cajuns a bona fide minority. Perrin says that gives Cajuns the same protection from ethnic slurs as other groups such as Jews, Spaniards, or Italians.
That puts the question bluntly: In either the court of law or the court of public opinion is the "c" word judged a degrading ethnic slur or simply a slang word that some people find offensive?
And, more practically: What are the chances of Perrin's complaint before an FCC that allowed Archie Bunker to call Jews, Spaniards, Italians, and others by nicknames that you can be pretty sure they didn't like?
I don't like the "c" word and I don't use it, but I think that by custom and definition the word may be nothing more than a nickname some people don't like and others don't mind.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.