Ever cross paths with an old friend and utter the phrase “long time, no see”? If yes, slap yourself for being an insensitive racist against Asians and Native Americans.
According to a student at Colorado State University, the school has been brainwashing incoming freshman, or “first-year” students, to avoid using “non-inclusive language,” which goes beyond just using the correct pronoun for people who identify with a different gender. In a piece for the Rocky Mountain Collegian, student Katrina Leibee writes that the school’s regulation of language has become so intoxicating that students “should carry around a dictionary of words they cannot say.” One such phrase happens to be “long time, no see.”
“In a meeting with Zahra Al-Saloom, the director of Diversity and Inclusion at Associated Students of Colorado State University, she showed me an entire packet of words and phrases that were deemed non-inclusive,” writes Leibee. “One of these phrases was ‘long time, no see,’ which is viewed as derogatory towards those of Asian descent.”
The packet says the phrase originally mocked “Native Americans or Chinese pidgin English” without providing an ounce of historical context. It suggests saying the flaccid, unmeasured, structureless, “I haven’t seen you in a while” in the phrase’s place.
According to Reason, the exact historical origins of the phrase are entirely hard to trace because it has been in such wide use for so long. “The greeting’s Wikipedia page raises the possibility that it is of Chinese or Native American origin, but an NPR article from 2014 says the phrase is so widespread that it’s impossible to tell for sure,” notes the outlet.
The 2014 NPR article profiles several possible Native American and Chinese origins of the phrase (none of which are demeaning) but ultimately makes no conclusion. Even if the origins were Chinese or Native American, the common usage of the phrase never suggested anything racial.
As the 20th century progressed, ‘long time no see’ began to evolve from a phrase in broken English to a standard way to greet an old acquaintance. By 1920, the phrase makes it into Good Housekeeping magazine. The novelist Raymond Chandler used it in more than one of his books. In Farewell, My Lovely, Moose Malloy drolly tells his ex-girlfriend Velma, “Hiya, babe. Long time no see.’ And in 1949, the poet Ogden Nash published his poem “Long Time No See, Bye Now” in The New Yorker. The poem introduces us to Mr. Latour, “an illiterate boor” who “alls poor people poor instead of underprivileged.”
Today, the phrase “long time no see” is so widespread as a greeting that there’s nothing to indicate the term’s origins, be they Native American or Mandarin Chinese.
When the CSU student confronted the campus language commissars about the fact that nowhere in the country are phrases like “long time, no see” being regulated, she was given empty platitudes about making the world a better place where she stands.
“Even if the world isn’t good, you should be good,” one superior told her. “CSU abides by the principles of community, and we want to make it an inclusive space.”
A long time it will be before we see the universities make sense again.