Monday, January 27, 2014

words are important

Even though I'm definitely not recovering from surgery anymore--I mean, I have this low hum of very mild pain and I'm careful about what I lift and all, but for the most part, I'm fine--I do still spend a lot of time doing nothing, which leads to a lot of time thinking. I'm sure I do nothing mostly because it's been really cold and windy and I'm not skiing and Mr. Magoo the dog doesn't really go for walks anymore, so I don't spend all that much time outside. Instead, I sit and think and try not to become a crazy person.

This post, I'm realizing, has nothing to do with exercise or food. Unless we're talking about food for thought.

Annnnnd...I owe a dollar.

Not too long ago, I was reminded of a debate, an argument really, I had in 2006 with a good friend about a certain word and its meaning. I contended that words are words and, although some bite, every word has a reason for its existence. Recently, however, I heard that debated word tossed into a conversation and I had a very different reaction than I did seven years ago.

I still think words are words and we should celebrate both the history of language and the evolution of language, but I've changed my mind on a few things. I definitely dislike certain innocuous words and always will. For me, it's the same as liking certain colors and disliking others. I like blue. I don't like green.

I flinch when I hear the words fridge, din din, hubby, veggies, kiddo, and Taylor Swift. But, I don't get really upset when I hear them.

All right, fine. I just don't like Taylor Swift. I have a feeling if she weren't famous and she were hanging out near me when I was in my 20s, I would have tripped her in the bar. I find her behavior, her posture, her lipsticked mouth objectionable. I'm sure she's a fine woman. No. Scratch that. I'm sure she'll mature into a fine woman. Right now? Objectionable.

I have a running gag with my sister-in-law's kids that the worst sentence in the English language is Taylor Swift saying, "Eat your veggies, kiddo, or they go back in the fridge."

To be clear, I don't like that sentence but it doesn't offend me. I'm not going to be up in arms because Taylor Swift wants me to eat my veggies or has the audacity to call a 45-year-old woman "kiddo."

I used to lurk on a forum to read some comments and threads because the people on the forum were crazy--crazy, like sitting home alone because it's too cold outside and you're living in the echo of having recently recovered from surgery crazy. I won't call the forum out here, but it was a forum for people who enjoy a specialty recreational activity and hobby. A charming yet harmless hobby that would definitely draw people away from the table and into the shed or barn out back to see the fruits of the host's labor--or in one case, into the small room in the city apartment where the end-product of this hobby was hanging from the ceiling. (You're totally curious right now, aren't you?)

The people hosting the forum eventually had to create an entirely new section called "Miscellaneous--non [hobby] related" where all the crazies would gather to talk about gun control (or not), abortion rights (or not), how much we love our president (or not), religion (my way is best and you are an idiot or not), and all things not suitable for that dinner table we just left to examine the canoe hanging from the ceiling.

Heh. See what I did there?

It's where I learned the phrase ad hominem attack. It's where I learned all my LOLs and IMHOs and ROTFLMAOs. (Or as someone I used work with would write it ROTFLMBO. I think she was Mormon.)

In this Miscellaneous thread (Discovery! I did not know how to spell "miscellaneous" until today. Thank you, auto spell check!), one man prided himself on being some sort of back-to-the-woods intellectual. He envisioned himself as a member of the E.B. White, Thoreau crowd, but he was more of the pedophiliac (not a word, I know) Ted Kacynski variety of person. And, he loved to talk about things that made people uncomfortable, like how he felt sensual with his cat (named Catawampous, can you imagine?) and how the 15-year-old checkout girl at the local grocery store was giving him the eye, because he felt it was his duty to bring these things to light and he felt he was merely commenting on society and the world he lived in. (Ugh. That sounds a little too close to what's happening with this blog. What is happening with this blog?!)

Actually, I don't really know what was driving him but I loved him. Not because I agreed with him, but because he was so delusional I couldn't stop reading his posts. He would casually toss out the words cunt, nigger, spic, paddy, pussy, faggot, retard, and whatever horrible word pops into your head right now. And, I'm sorry for that. I really am. I'm not writing this to shock.

He would then get all defensive when someone called him out for using these words. "They're just words!" he'd shriek into his keyboard. "This shows how closed minded, racist, homophobic, and misogynistic you are! You're the one thinking all those bad things, not me!"

It was brilliant. He would always win his argument. And it brings me to this debate/argument I had almost 10 years ago. Words are important, not just in the PR sense in that nothing is ever less expensive or, god forbid, cheaper. It's always affordable. Words are important because they bring a certain stereotype to mind or a certain emotion to mind. If a word is used to bring someone down, it matters.

I didn't think this in 2006. I thought words were words. I was at an art opening or something similarly uncomfortable yet smug and a man I knew casually but not closely hissed breeder at me. I was shocked and offended. I have never liked that word. One, because while I am heterosexual, I'm not a breeder and as someone without kids, that word stings. For the record, by the way, I am straight but not narrow, thank you very much. (I just made myself laugh.) And, two, all those babies people adopt? They are squeezed out of lady breeder parts. So, you can't hate breeders and yet adopt their babies. Yes, even the Asian ones.

Hey now. Sorry. That's a nasty stereotype. But I can't resist a joke, no matter how offensive. And, as my friend D says, "Stereotypes save time."

Oh, god. Sorry. No.

How I responded to this man was to say the word "breeder" is as bad a word to me as "faggot" because I weighted all words equally. I stayed away from certain words, such as the ones listed above, because I knew they hurt, but I attributed the same weight to each word. For me, personally, the word that got under my skin was "breeder," but I gave it the same weight as any other word, including the word faggot. This turned into a weeks-long debate with other friends because I would bring it up in conversation whenever I could. God, I got really boring. It had turned into a real thing for me.

And then, a few years ago, I watched Louis C.K. talk about it on his show "Louie."

So I did a little research. In some circles, the word derives from the word "fagot," which meant "contemptible woman" or "ball buster" in the early 20th century. Or it could be derived from late 18th century when "to fag" meant to do tasks for an upperclassman as an underclassman. I haven't found evidence that the word "faggot" is directly linked, when talking about a homosexual male, to the sticks thrown on a fire, but as The Straight Dope says, words happen.

With all of that behind me, faggot has become the most objectionable word to me. Call me a cunt. Call me a bitch. Call me a ball buster. Say I'm retarded. Tell me I'm emotional because I'm on the rag. Criticize me for being a bad driver. Make fun of me because I can't fix the kitchen sink or change a tire. Allude to my love for romantic comedies or my desire to drink sweet cocktails in fun little glasses while shrieking with my girlfriends. Those words and those stereotypes all carry the same weight and I will choose to fight or not to fight, depending on how Taylor Swifty you are and how much bourbon I've had to drink.

But, don't ever use a word that however remotely or inaccurately links to the days when human beings may have been used as kindling. I'm not saying what happened to people who were burned at the stake is in any way better than someone used as a faggot, but at least the heretics and witches mostly died of asphyxiation. That poor man being thrown down on the bonfire and held there with sticks and poles by a crazy mob of barbarians to make the fire grow faster and hotter? No. (Lord knows, the Irish would have been a better choice anyway, what with all that whiskey running through the veins. Did the Irish ever actually burn at the stake or did they just get burnt by the English landholders? Sorry. Off-topic.)

People are not kindling and we should all know what we're saying when we say it because words are very, very important. Dink.

[I should mention a former colleague of a colleague shared an unpublished rant directed toward an unreasonable and disgruntled customer about a year ago. When he was done with his reasonable yet flippant response, he ended the letter with "Dink." I've stolen it here because it makes me laugh.]

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