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Words, Jan. 26



"Party down: A look into the thriving weekly urban parties in the River Market ... It's not only a sign of a reinvention for Little Rock's urban nightlife, but also a testament to the tenacity of the events' promoters, whose personalities tend to be as big as the parties they throw."

In my old Random House, urban is an adjective that means "of, pertaining to, or designating a city or town." But the article on "urban nightlife," and the photographs accompanying the article, make clear that urban means more today. To be blunt, which the people who use the word this new-fangled way seldom are, urban is sometimes a synonym for "black."

Sometimes, but not always. Where better to look for the meaning of urban than the on-line Urban Dictionary, compiled by many contributors, one of whom says the word urban "is exploited by corporations such as MTV to refer to black music/culture, without mentioning race." Another says urban is "a marketing term used to hide the fact they are focusing on a racial group." Other contributions:

"City style is largely driven by blacks, and thus 'urban style' often refers to black urban style. ... Thus, indirectly, 'urban culture' implies black culture in certain contexts."

"As a musical term, urban means 'emerging and developing in densely populated areas of large cities, especially those populated by people of African or Caribbean origin.' "

If you mean "black," why not just say "black"? I'm reminded of the sportswriters who, in commenting on the superiority of Southeastern Conference football, for example, go to great lengths to avoid referring to black players. I'm not sure whether this reluctance to mention race directly is good or bad for race relations.

The Queen's English:

"Many old people with disabilities will stop receiving home visits from carers. Poor families will lose subsidised child care." From a British publication, of course. Americans would say "caregivers," and put a z in "subsidized."

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