Is Coolie a derogative term? According to Wikipedia and the Urban dictionary, it is. Why then, is it still used so freely to describe the common conical shaped hat most commonly associated with Asian slaves or Asian manual laborers? I blame Hollywood. The actual hat is a Vietnamese hat called a Non-la.
I go through hat phases, and I am currently looking at the conical hat. The dilemma arises with the fact that what I am calling a conical hat, is more commonly known as a Coolie. So, do I use a term that is considered derogative by some (Coolie), or do I use a term that is less known & understood (Conical), there by causing confusion (I am not referring to a Hennin which is also a conical hat) and reducing the effectiveness of my communication? Finally, do I use Non-la which is the accurate term but is rarely understood?
Language is a living entity. Words are invented, their meanings evolve as was evident in my post about the word Vulgar. Words come into fashion and then out. To have a large vocabulary is an asset allowing you to choose a word that communicates more precisely. In this case a hat shape, commonly referred to as a Coolie clearly brings an image of the Non-la to mind, is offensive to some people? Conical is too vague, a cone does not really capture the essence of the hat shape.
This may seem unconnected, but it is related. I was recently reading some older books. I love the little hard bound short story books. I love the texture of the cover, I enjoy the turning of paper pages, and the smell of an old book. I also enjoy hearing how they communicate with each other, especially between the generations and in courtship. Recently I was reading The Twins, a children’s book by L.E. Tiddeman. There isn’t a publish date, but L.E. Tiddeman died in 1937 and wrote between 1880-1931. In just one short paragraph on page 32, she used the terms, gay, cripple, and nigger. Although I found this shocking, there was no malice, it was purely descriptive.
The terms cripple and nigger are no longer appropriate for common communication. New terms are used that are more sensitive and/or accurate. We have obviously made progress is this area. So, what do I call my Non-la hat? I would prefer to avoid the term Coolie, however I am not sure that very many people know the name Non-la. What would you call it? Would you stay with the commonly recognized term, like Coolie? A vague but inoffensive term like conical? Or, the actual name that is least known – the Non-la?
I recently made a new hat, which I am calling my ‘Non-la inspired conical hat’. Soon I will be adding a new post about making this hat.
I had a brilliant charity shop find of this conical asian hat, but I don’t think it is actually a Non-la. So what do I call it? Here is a link to my A Good Hat Day blog.