Is the term "paddy wagon" offensive to the Irish?City of Portland Archives/Wikimedia Commons

James Mulvaney, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer with Newsday and nowadays an adjunct professor of law at John Jay College in New York, took offense at the use of the term “Paddy Wagon” in a recent New York Times crossword.

He put his grievance into words and was told in no uncertain terms that Paddy Wagon was not offensive to the Irish or anyone else by the Times’ crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz.

What do you think - is “Paddy Wagon” offensive? Add your thoughts in the comment section.

Here is the correspondence:

From: James Mulvaney

Subject: Offensive Crossword

To: "[email protected]"

Monday Jan. 26, 2015 crossword clue by Ian Livengood, the clue 27 down "Police Van" yields the phrase "Paddy Wagon."

While some etymologists claim the phrase relates to a time when New York police were predominantly Irish - and therefore the drivers of the horse drawn police vehicles - the more widely accepted understanding is that the prisoner vans were used to round up Irishmen from street corners. It was implied they were likely criminals, certainly drunks. I personally found myself in the back of such a van while working as a journalist in the mid-1980s along the Falls Road in Belfast. It was rare at that time for anyone other than a "paddy"--the local derogatory phrase for a Catholic--to be placed in such a vehicle.

In [a] 1992 story in the New York Times, Rev. Calvin O. Butts 3d, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, is quoted apologizing for an earlier use of the phrase "paddy wagon" as calling it "a slur against the Irish."

This phrase pops up in your puzzle two or three times a year. Each time, I write to complain--to the Editor, to the Public Editor--for naught. No apology, no change.

James Mulvaney

New York City

----

From: Will Shortz

Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 11:34 AM

To: James Mulvaney

Subject: Re: Offensive Crossword

Dear James,

Thanks for your email regarding the appearance of PADDY WAGON in Monday's Times crossword.

Sorry to have offended you.

But I'm afraid this isn't a term I'm going to worry about. The Irish are not a group that's discriminated against in the U.S. I don't know anyone who has the slightest ill feeling about Irish people. And virtually no one today would connect the term "paddy wagon" in any disparaging way with the Irish anyway.

I'm not going to reject an otherwise fine crossword because it contains this term.

Btw, you wrote, "This phrase pops up in your puzzle two or three times a year." No, you are mistaken. Records show this is the first time it has appeared in a Times crossword since 1971. And that time it was in a puzzle by the celebrated Irish-American constructor Edward J. O'Brien.

Will Shortz

Crossword Puzzle Editor

New York Times

----

Mr. Shortz:

How about eight letters (two words) down for luxury vehicle favored by Saturday worshipers?

My father was the editor of the Cornell Law Review in 1953 and was not offered a job by any Wall Street Law firms. Irish need not apply.

The election of President Kennedy signaled an end to such overt discrimination. Should we suggest the election of President Obama changed things for all people of color?

The British television company Channel 4 has commissioned a "comedy series" on the Irish hunger (one third of the nation died, another third emigrated). I guess to some folks ancient history is funny.

I presume you are correct about the phrase not being in your paper; it must have been some other bigoted editor. Sorry for mistaking you as a multiple lout. Most of us apologize after a single incident.

How about a three letter word that doesn't belong in an apology?

But you are too smart a guy to recognize that.

James Mulvaney, MS

Dept. of Law, Police Science and CJA

Adjunct Professor