Last week was not a great week for Princeton.
In New York, a member of the Class of 2009 was accused of shooting to death his financier-father, who had been contemplating cutting back his son’s $3,000-a-month allowance by $200. Then, on the campus itself, freshman Newby Parton, from McMinnville, Tennessee, took to the pages of the Daily Princetonian to complain that his fellow Tigers like to tease him about the way he pronounces “CoolWhip.” He did so, however, in words that only an Ivy League undergraduate, ca. 2015, would choose.
A friend of mine whom I quite like had put me through the “Cool Whip” routine, so I waited awhile and texted her this: “Making fun of regional speech is a micro-aggression.” . . . There came no apology or retraction. She really did not understand that she had caused any offense, even after I had plainly told her so. . . . I am afraid that I have unwittingly hurt the feelings of people so accustomed to microaggression that they did not bother to speak up. . . . I am afraid because microaggressions aren’t harmless—there’s research to show that they cause anxiety and binge drinking.
And so on. For readers not acquainted with current academese, “microaggressions” are defined as subtle, seemingly innocuous words or habits that reinforce sexual and racial discrimination: For example, using the pronoun “he” when referring to a person who might be of either sex—and thus, according to microaggression theory, deliberately excluding females from the ranks of humankind. As Parton demonstrates, microaggression theory can be applied to just about anything—and, in fact, has been applied liberally, exposing such social indignities as “microinsults,” “microrapes,” and, perhaps worst of all, “microinvalidations.”
It may be some comfort to know that the public reaction to Parton’s declaration, even at Princeton, has been largely negative. Some self-described victims of microaggression have spoken up on his behalf, but the overwhelming response has been laughter. It’s a relief to know that, in old Nassau Hall, the spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17, Jimmy Stewart ’32, George P. Shultz ’42, and James Baker ’52 hasn’t entirely vanished.
On the other hand, The Scrapbook is genuinely mystified by Newby Parton’s complaint. Not that microaggressive Princetonians get a charge out of his southern accent, but his claim that natives of Middle Tennessee pronounce the word “whip” as if the first two letters were reversed: “hwip.” The Scrapbook is not unacquainted with this corner of the Volunteer State—McMinnville is 75 miles southeast of Nashville, 50 miles northeast of Sewanee—and has never heard this particular locution. The Middle Tennessee twang is easily identified, and there are regional indicators: For instance, the “ville” sound in McMinnville and Nashville tends to be swallowed and, combined with the aforementioned twang, renders Music City as “Nyshfle.”
But Cool Hwip? Never heard of it. Those Princeton undergraduates have every reason to be fascinated. Should we chance to meet, The Scrapbook might even ask Newby Parton to pronounce Cool Whip, too.