1.21.2011

WMD's: Words of Mass Destruction

The unintended consequence of a recent post has gotten me thinking yet again - most unfortunate. I used a word in a post that has a particular meaning to me but a very different one to another person whose wit, insight and personality makes our little niche of cyberspace all the more enjoyable. For that I am truly sorry. I am not trying to be PC here (I am not good at that anyway). I started again to wonder about the enormous number of Words of Mass Destruction that linger out there ready to do harm, often with out that harm being the user's intent.

Some might say that having to carefully chose ones' words is ridiculous and that 'they' (insert whomever is contextually appropriate) shouldn't be so sensitive and should just ignore it. Easy to say when the word does not carry steel for you.

So much of our language - at least our idiom, comes from dubious historical contexts that we usually don't remember. Much like our genome, our language is saddled with a bunch of old stuff that isn't particularly useful to modern discourse. For example, I still chuckle on those rare occasions when the high and mighty NYT crossword includes 'snafu' in a puzzle. I'm pretty sure that's the only way that word is going to get in there for a while. Think of these seemingly innocuous and common phrases: sacred cows, the pot calling the kettle black, retarded, rule of thumb, tar baby, etc. It's not just the words that have known negative meaning. It can also be ones like handicapable. Intended to be an improvement but usually just cloying and condescending. How often have each of us used these and other phrases without a thought. And shouldn't language be about thought?

5 comments:

mac said...

I'm reminded of the woman on TV who thought it was offensive to her religion to hear "Holy Cow". Instead, she would say "Santa Vaca", which is, of course, Spanish for holy cow.

I would hate to offend someone I respected. However, I think PC speech is meirda de toro.
If we say a blind man is visually impared, he still can't see.
If we say a deaf person is audibly challenged, he still can't hear.
If we call a bitch a female dog, she's still gonna slap us upside the head.
If you call me expanding instead of getting fat, I still need a new belt.

I think a lot of these euphamisms are much worse than the original offending word. That's not to say we should use them (words) merely to offend. Anyone has the right to be offended, just like anyone has a right to be offensive.

Language is about thought, specifically, transferring thought. That's not always easily done if we constrain our words.

mac said...

I should add..

Communicating is not always easily done with word restrictions for a guy like me.
You smart fellas don't have as much an issue there ;-)

Harry C Pharisee said...

Pliny,

I don't know what to say. I'm ambivalent actually. I appreciate anyone's willingness to consider how their words will affect others negatively. (As you did upon accidentally hitting a sore spot of mine. Thanks by the way. That was a kind thing to do).

De todos modos, mac's point jives with my Lenny Bruce schooling. When a word hurts like hell, why does it? Perhaps the labeled should take away its 'power' through exposure rather than pressuring others to censor themselves through euphemisms or silence?

I'm grateful you brought this up. The 'solution' may be obvious to some others, but I need to sit with this a bit and think about it.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

I tend to agree with what has been said. Like most things I find that honesty and kindness really point to the right answers rather than PC behaviors. This is a little example. We could have all gone around with kid gloves or we can bungle a few and make mistakes that we use to learn more about others rather than using them as a wedge.

PC language (in my opinion) does nothing more than avoid dealing with the real issues that troubling language brings to the fore.

pboyfloyd said...

Some people are too thin-skinned, what can ya say?