Word spooky banned by theatre over ties to racism in World War Two

A major Scottish arts organisation has dropped the "spooky" word after it was discovered it was used as a derogatory term during World War 2.

Despite everything from supermarkets to VisitScotland planning to use it in the lead-up to October 31, National Theatre Scotland (NTS) has dropped it after spooky was flagged up as a racist slur, the Daily Record reports.

It was last used by NTS in 2016 for A Christmas Carol at the Old Kirk in Kirkcaldy, which it described as a “spooky location”.

But the charity’s commitment to fight racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement has identified offensive words, including spooky.

A theatre source said: “No one has complained about it but there were worries they could in the future.

"There’s been a lot of training and meetings since the BLM movement and how NTS should change.

“It might seem mad but NTS is committed to fighting racism so need to be extra careful in the language it uses.

"It's always been a really white organisation but it is trying to change that and become more diverse.

“There might not be many people who know that ’spooky’ can also be used as racist but, even if it’s one person who is offended, it’s one person too many.”

The controversy around the word re-emerged in the US in the last decade.

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The Dutch word “spook” translates as a ghost and has been used in English since the 19th century. It is also used to describe a spy.

But in World War II it took on a more sinister meaning. US military officers began using it as a derogatory term to describe black pilots.

In 2000 Philip Roth wrote a book called The Human Stain, which told the story of an academic forced to quit after calling two black students "spooks".

And in 2010 supermarket chain Target apologised after selling black soldier action figures called “Spook Drop Parachuters”.

Glasgow-based NTS, largely funded by the Scottish Government and headed up by Jackie Wylie, has campaigned on racial equality since 2020.

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The organisation publishes details about the ethnicity, gender and disability status of its board and staff.

But latest figures show over 91% of its board and 87% of its core staff are white.

Recent NTS productions include Hannah Lavery’s Lament For Sheku Bayoh, which deals with issues about the death of the 31-year-old and performed by a cast of Scottish black women.

NTS said: “The company will now always interrogate language choices on all materials to try to ensure that no offence or hurt is caused by inappropriate language or by words that have historically oppressive connotations.”

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