Words, Words, Words

 

A couple of days ago, I started a conversation on Facebook about the use of a specific word. I’m not going to tell you what that specific word is, because it is beside the point I want to make here. The conversation was lively, most people disagreed with me, it got a little testy, and I eventually deleted the entire thing.

Sidebar: The instant I deleted the conversation, I felt foolish. I felt like a fool for two reasons. First, as soon as the conversation began to get very personal, I “took my ball and went home.” Disagree with me? Make it personal? Conversation over. That was childish. Second, as my wife says “If you can shut someone up, you can control them.” I felt like I’d been shut up. The personal bit of the conversation was basically “I don’t understand why anyone is even discussing this, it’s sad, you don’t care about how people feel.” To paraphrase the paraphrase: this is settled science, so just knuckle under and behave the way you are supposed to. There is nothing to discuss here.

Sidebar to the sidebar: There is no such thing as settled science. Anyone who tells you that there is no reason to have the discussion is just trying to shut you up. Okay, back to the point.

Here is the point I was trying to make. It stems from something that happened to my 15-year-old daughter at school.  She referred to someone using a specific term. She was not being derogatory, she was not making fun. She simply used the term to describe the condition of the person, so that the person she was talking to would know who she was talking about. She was then told “You can’t say that, it’s mean.” She came home and asked “Why is that mean?” I think she understands why the term can be mean, she was just frustrated that the person she was talking to did not take the term in the context it was used, but rather ascribed meaning to my daughter’s words that she did not intend.

And there’s the root of my point. Someone heard the word, had their own ideas about what that word means, and decided that is what my daughter meant when she said it. So I took to Facebook to point out that words have meaning, and that words have different meanings in different contexts. Rather than ascribe meaning to a word that isn’t there, in the context of the spoken and written word, we should strive to understand the person communicating. We should take what we know about the person, and ask ourselves “Is what I think I am hearing consistent with what I know about this person?” We should ask “When you use that word, what do you mean?”

By now you may have guessed the word that was used. On dictionary.com the word has two definitions. The first is a simple statement of fact. No moral judgement exists in that definition. The second definition is different. It means, literally, something completely different than the first definition. There is a moral judgement explicit in the definition. When my daughter used the word, she intended the first definition. When I spoke about it on Facebook, I was speaking about the first definition. No moral judgements about anyone were implied. Yet, moral judgements were made about us. Even when trying to explain that words have meaning, and that understanding each other is important, moral judgements were hurled at us. Victoria is mean. I am insensitive. I am unnecessarily agitative. I think “those people” are worthless. We are offensive if we use that word, regardless of the intent.  We should use other words. It should be noted, of course, that some of the words we were instructed to use were found offensive by others.

So, the more I thought about this political correctness (because that is all this is), the more I began to realize that words really have no meaning. Words are meaningless. Only feelings matter. I feel like you meant a certain thing, and therefore you did. The words you used have no meaning whatsoever. This is the insidious nature of political correctness. Political correctness has created a culture of communicative laziness. We no longer “seek first to understand.” Rather, it seems, we seek first to find offense.

Finally, what have I learned? Yesterday morning I would have said “I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.” But as the whole thing sunk in, I’ve learned that I’m stronger than that. I like to discuss Big Important Issues. It’s why I’m a member of Ricochet. It’s why I post things on Facebook, and engage people in discussion in person. I think talking about these things is important. And if you don’t like it, you can lump it. I won’t be shut up. Never again.

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  1. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    Misthiocracy:

    Demanding that a word’s definition remain constant over that timespan is little different from demanding that all automobiles be designed the same way as 35 years ago, otherwise the very idea of what constitutes an “automobile” is meaningless.

    In the context of this discussion, the definition of the word retarded is still what it has been for decades.  It hasn’t changed.  But, the perpetually offended crowd has decided that is has changed.

    • #31
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Misthiocracy:Demanding that a word’s definition remain constant over that timespan is little different from demanding that all automobiles be designed the same way as 35 years ago, otherwise the very idea of what constitutes an “automobile” is meaningless.

    “Automobile” is a generic word. It encompasses things built more than a hundred years ago with steam engines and will encompass things built a hundred years from now with dark-energy transposition engines. A 1978 Chrysler LeBaron is a more stable and specific concept. If we decided that a 1978 Chrysler LeBaron had to be called something new every ten years and that every other specific and generic term had to change, where would we be as a people in trying to communicate? Or would older people get to keep the language they are born to while the new generation invents its own and they have to translate between?

    The truth is that some of this actually happens, like that gentleman who still referred to himself as Colored in the 1980’s. (He was a former Tuskegee Airman, by the way, a fascinating man.) But there has to be a balance, and there has to be an understanding of the older terms.

    • #32
  3. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    Spin:

    AUMom:

    There will be people who continue to use retarded because they can. Go for it. Just do not excuse or try to validate it unless done in ignorance. Excuse me, after I cry for the lost adulthood of my daughter, I’ll go hug her and do something fun. She’ll think it’s wonderful and won’t know the pain.

    So we are clear, I do not intend to use the word to describe anyone. Neither am I suggesting we use the word in the presence of people who find it offensive. What I object to is someone who applies a moral judgement to someone who does use the word, when the word is used innocently.

    As a parent of a child with whatever condition someone might refer to as “retarded”, what would do you think should be used as a general reference to that condition or any condition similar?

    If I were to refer to someone who had Downs syndrome, I might say “Jim and Betty have a child with Downs syndrome.” If I did not know what condition they had, and the word retarded (offensive though it may be) might generally describe the condition, what other word or phrase should I use? I remember I volunteered to drive for a men’s retreat, and the pastor asked if I would take a guy with me. He said, in a hushed tone, “Just so you know, he’s, uh, you know, special ed.” Now, referring to someone as special ed can easily be considered offensive. But the pastor didn’t know what to say, because he isn’t a doctor and doesn’t know what condition the man has. But he wanted me to know that the guy was, well, retarded. Or mentally disabled. Or mentally handicapped. Or developmentally delayed. Or whatever word or phrase it is that describes his condition that isn’t offensive.

    I’ve been told that every one of those phrases is offensive. So I quite literally do not know what word or phrase is to be used. So what am I to do? Pretend that the guy doesn’t have a condition? You may say “Why does it matter?” Well, in many ways it doesn’t. But in some contexts it’s appropriate to make reference to a person by including that condition. Since there isn’t a word I can use that someone doesn’t get offended by, I’m at a loss.

    Whatever you use, please remember that you are reminding the parent and/or person of life altering conditions. I am not usually sensitive, especially toward myself, but towards my daughter? Any reminder that her life is not going to be what her grad school brother or her college educated parents are is hurtful Use what you want. Just own the pain you are inflicting with it.

    • #33
  4. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Spin, I don’t like PCdom, either…But, point of clarification: “handicapped” (when applied to a horse) connotes “at a disadvantage”; when applied to a person, it implies: “holding one’s cap-in-hand” -“begging” – and, presumably, only capable of doing so.  I much prefer: person with [insert condition here].  This preserves dignity, but doesn’t deny reality.  I’m a person with cerebral palsy; I’m not “physically-challenged”. [Blech.]   This says it better than I can:

    http://youtu.be/apN-EU3tO00

    • #34
  5. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    If the terms you use in speaking to an audience are dependent upon the sensibilities of that audience, you will never know what terms to use, because it is simply impossible to know what is in the minds of everyone in that audience.  You, as the speaker, are supposed to know what everyone’s hot buttons are, so you can avoid offending them?  Well, that is impossible, but that is what is asked for in many situations.

    • #35
  6. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Misthiocracy:

    Arahant:

    Misthiocracy:Language is a technology, and it follows similar rules as other technologies.

    Look at how much technology in general has changes in 35 years. Why would one expect language to be any different?

    Creating new inventions for new niches is one thing. Creating new inventions that are less effective than what they replace is a different situation.

    Who are you to say that a 2014 Chevy Malibu is “more effective” than a 1972 Chevy Malibu? Clearly the definition of “Chevy Malibu” has changed immensely in that time. Whether one is “better” than the other is entirely up to the observer.

    • #36
  7. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    Parents and family of developmentally delayed people have far more to think about than other parents.

    Sure, I want AUSon to get a great job, find a lovely intelligent woman, and have a great life. I pray that my daughter is not lonely or has someone who abuses her.

    When it comes to AUDaughter, not only did I have to fight the educational system because she was well-behaved and did not require constant attention from the teacher (so she got minimal attention), AUDad and I have to make sure she is properly cared for after we are gone. AUSon knows that he has to shoulder the responsibility when we pass. He already has had far less of our attention because we had no choice but to expend nearly all of our time and energy on our daughter.

    It can’t be fixed. All the platitudes from well-meaning but stupid people are less than worthless. It’s easy to say, “I am sure God has a place for her.” Sure He does but that’s hard to see when you deal with it on a day to day basis. And we are some of the luckier ones. AUDaughter drives, holds down a 15 hour a week job, and handles money remarkably well, better than a lot of NFL players. If she doesn’t have it, she won’t spend it.

    Again, it is your right, privilege, and choice to use any phrase you like. Believe me, by this time, we usually have learned to mourn and move on. Your choice.

    • #37
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Misthiocracy:Who are you to say that a 2014 Chevy Malibu is “more effective” than a 1972 Chevy Malibu? Clearly the definition of “Chevy Malibu” has changed immensely in that time. Whether one is “better” than the other is entirely up to the observer.

    Chevy Malibu is a marketing name under which many things have been sold over the years. A 1972 Chevy Malibu is not the same thing as a 2014 Chevy Malibu. If I call a Dodge Dart a 1972 Chevy Malibu. I am simply wrong. If I call a 1972 Chevy Malibu a Kermitigantagar, I am not wrong, but not everyone will know what I am saying. If a 1972 Chevy Malibu is called a Kermitigantagar between the years 1980 and 1990, but a Hoobleflixar between 1990 and 2000, and then a Nablebeefur between 2000 and 2010 and a Trwekelflexion between 2010 and 2020, we are probably no longer communicating.

    • #38
  9. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    sometimes-being-politically-correct-can-go-a-bit-too-far-17-photos-11Sometimes things do get a bit muddled.

    • #39
  10. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    My favorite was on ESPN, Somebody, a French African American, is having a bad day.

    Then they got to someone from Nigeria, I think. The poor reader had no idea he could just say African.

    • #40
  11. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Arahant:

    Misthiocracy:Who are you to say that a 2014 Chevy Malibu is “more effective” than a 1972 Chevy Malibu? Clearly the definition of “Chevy Malibu” has changed immensely in that time. Whether one is “better” than the other is entirely up to the observer.

    Chevy Malibu is a marketing name under which many things have been sold over the years. A 1972 Chevy Malibu is not the same thing as a 2014 Chevy Malibu. If I call a Dodge Dart a 1972 Chevy Malibu. I am simply wrong. If I call a 1972 Chevy Malibu a Kermitigantagar, I am not wrong, but not everyone will know what I am saying. If a 1972 Chevy Malibu is called a Kermitigantagar between the years 1980 and 1990, but a Hoobleflixar between 1990 and 2000, and then a Nablebeefur between 2000 and 2010 and a Trwekelflexion between 2010 and 2020, we are probably no longer communicating.

    Close, but a better analogy is this:

    A 72 Malibu is Mr. Malibu Sr., whereas a 98 Malibu might be Mr. Malibu XXVI – they’re more family names, as well as brand identities – series of iterative changes from one to the next.  But they are all automobiles – that itself does not change.  A Tesla is an automobile too, as is a Prius, as is 1908 Stanley Steemer.

    • #41
  12. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    AUMom:

    Whatever you use, please remember that you are reminding the parent and/or person of life altering conditions. I am not usually sensitive, especially toward myself, but towards my daughter? Any reminder that her life is not going to be what her grad school brother or her college educated parents are is hurtful Use what you want. Just own the pain you are inflicting with it.

    I’m not trying to inflict pain, nor be insensitive.  And certainly, if I’m talking to you I’m not going to say something callous or hurtful.

    Having said that, by your statement here, any word or phrase used to describe your daughters condition will be painful, and potentially offensive to you.  Is that correct?

    • #42
  13. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Misthiocracy:I argue that other languages have standards bodies BECAUSE the majority of their usage is non-commercial, unlike English. When the majority of mass communications comes from established authorities, it’s natural that an authority be established to regulate the language.

    Which came first? English-language commercial dominance? Or bodies regulating other languages? The Académie française was established in 1635. The Real Academia Española was established in 1713.The English version was never established. Just making things up on the spot is much faster and more dynamic than having to submit your request to some august body for them to decide what your new thing will be called. Thus, many French still say e-mail rather than le couriel, or whatever the official term is.

    It does create difficulties, as we are discussing, but it’s better than regulation. What we are conversing of is a form of self-regulation or attempts to establish the power of a regulating body informally..

    • #43
  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    skipsul:

    Arahant:

    If I call a 1972 Chevy Malibu a Kermitigantagar, I am not wrong, but not everyone will know what I am saying. If a 1972 Chevy Malibu is called a Kermitigantagar between the years 1980 and 1990, but a Hoobleflixar between 1990 and 2000, and then a Nablebeefur between 2000 and 2010 and a Trwekelflexion between 2010 and 2020, we are probably no longer communicating.

    Close, but a better analogy is this:

    A 72 Malibu is Mr. Malibu Sr., whereas a 98 Malibu might be Mr. Malibu XXVI – they’re more family names, as well as brand identities – series of iterative changes from one to the next. But they are all automobiles – that itself does not change. A Tesla is an automobile too, as is a Prius, as is 1908 Stanley Steemer.

    You’re right, but it wasn’t my point. My point was if the same thing is called different things as the years change, it’s difficult for people to keep up. When calling a 1972 Chevy Malibu a 1972 Chevy Malibu becomes offensive because it currently wants to be known as a Trwekelflexion, it causes confusion. As Spin said, every term used offends someone, and we can’t always know by looking what condition someone has.

    • #44
  15. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I find the field of psychology pretty funny sometimes. The child psychologists make a bundle telling parents to always label the deed, not the child. Yet the entire field spends its time devising new and better labels for what people are as opposed to what they do.

    My mom suffered from schizophrenia, and for years I went out of my way to say “she has schizophrenia,” and the psychiatrists never noticed the distinction I was making and would say, “your mother’s a schizophrenic.” Stop! Please don’t say that to her. I’m trying to build up her self-esteem, and you are crushing it in front of my eyes.

    I had another relative who suffered from alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disorder that some people suffer from. But psychologists continue to call them “alcoholics.” A person to whom that is said feels defeated before he or she even starts to look at what’s going on.

    A problem with a lot of terms is that they stir up defensive feelings in people. Any sentence that starts with “you” gets people’s attention pretty fast. Make that sentence “you are this or that,” and whatever else you have to say won’t be heard.

    It’s human nature.  I’ve noticed it on Ricochet. Sometimes commenters will start off by saying something like “You’re this or that,” and then go on for several more paragraphs. When the person who was addressed in the comment responds, the response goes right to the accusation or insult or kind words, as if the rest of the comment wasn’t even written.  So predictable and very funny.

    There must be a human survival response at work here. It seems to be a universal part of the human condition.

    • #45
  16. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Spin, AUMom, et al. Please see my edited/updated #34…Thanks!  (AUM: Check your Inbox, when you have a chance, thanks!)

    • #46
  17. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    skipsul:

    Spin:The word is “retarded.”

    (here come the pitchforks)

    The irony is that “retarded” was originally intended as a more PC substitute for prior words like “idiot” or “simpleton” or any of a variety of other terms. In time “mentally handicapped” will be seen as cruel and replaced with something even sillier, but then that will take on a pejorative meaning, etc. etc. etc.

    It’s the euphemism treadmill.

    • #47
  18. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Spin:

    Misthiocracy:

    Demanding that a word’s definition remain constant over that timespan is little different from demanding that all automobiles be designed the same way as 35 years ago, otherwise the very idea of what constitutes an “automobile” is meaningless.

    In the context of this discussion, the definition of the word retarded is still what it has been for decades. It hasn’t changed. But, the perpetually offended crowd has decided that is has changed.

    Hey, it’s their right to find a word unpleasant, it’s their right to communicate their displeasure at the use of the word, and it’s their right to promote their own preferred definition of words, as long as they do not use coercion to limit speech they find unpleasant or to impose their preferred definitions.

    If one’s goal is for a message to be received as intended and also processed favourably, one must always tailor one’s message to one’s audience. If one has insufficient information about one’s audience, then one must tailor the message to the lowest common denominator. Human communication has always been thus.

    If the goal is merely self-expression regardless of how the message is actually received, in that case there’s no requirement to tailor the message at all.

    (Apropos of nothing: I personally reject the very concept of “taking offense”. IMHO, an offense is a morally illegitimate act that one party commits against another party. One can claim that another party has committed an offense against oneself (and receive remediation if one can prove to a judge that an offense has occurred and that the accused party is guilty), but one cannot choose to be the victim of an offense. One can choose to be aggrieved, but one cannot choose to be offended. IMHO.)

    • #48
  19. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Arahant:But there has to be a balance, and there has to be an understanding of the older terms.

    If something “has” to be, that implies that one is justified in using coercion to ensure that it is.

    I do not believe that it’s appropriate to use coercion to enforce a preferred definition of a word, therefore nobody “has” to understand older terms (though I do believe they are required to tolerate older terms, using the word “tolerate” in purely legal terms).

    I would fully agree that it’s preferable for people to understand older terms (as well as my own preferred definitions of words). As evidence, I point to my many past comments (which have sometimes resulted in accusations of pedantry) arguing that my preferred definitions are usually those which most closely reflect the etymology of the words in question.

    However, I have no authority to impose that preference on another person (no matter how much I’d like to chain up pomo linguists in a damp dungeon).

    • #49
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Misthiocracy:

    Arahant:But there has to be a balance, and there has to be an understanding of the older terms.

    If something “has” to be, that implies that one is justified in using coercion to ensure that it is.

    My usage does not mean coercion, it is more like in physics. In order for something to change direction or velocity, a force has to be applied to it. In order for a language to work as a medium of communication, words must have shared meaning. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. No communication happens. We are just grunting at each other. Yes, dynamism in a language is good, but if it does not balance the amount of dynamism with a certain amount of stability and with adjustment time then the system falls apart. No coercion involved. It just stops working.

    • #50
  21. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Spin:

    I’ve been told that every one of those phrases is offensive.

    No phrase or word is a priori “offensive”. Words are merely collections of sounds and symbols.

    Pretty much everybody find some words unpleasant, according to how they were educated. Even George Carlin admitted that some words have “a lot going on”. Everybody’s also free to express that they find some words unpleasant.

    Now, a subset ofpeople consider themselves aggrieved when they hear words they find unpleasant. Upon hearing the word they experience an unpleasant visceral sensation which they did not invite or consent to. It sucks when this happens, and it would be insensitive to suggest that it doesn’t occur, but it’s still not proof that an offense has been committed.

    Finally an even smaller subset of people will attempt to coerce others into abandoning the words they find unpleasant. These people have always existed and will always exist. They are usually either in officially sanctioned positions of authority, or else they assume authority for themselves based on imagined membership in some political and/or cultural group. They have no right to do exercise coercion, but since when has that ever stopped tyrants?

    The challenge for lovers of liberty is to ensure that these people are never granted the power to coerce others into complying with their preferred interpretation of words.

    • #51
  22. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    RushBabe49:If the terms you use in speaking to an audience are dependent upon the sensibilities of that audience, you will never know what terms to use, because it is simply impossible to know what is in the minds of everyone in that audience.

    True, one can never “know” with 100% certainty what terms to use and which to avoid, but one can increase the probability of successful “message transmission” by increasing one’s knowledge of one’s audience, and/or being mindful of language which is commonly considered unpleasant when one is not confident in one’s knowledge of the audience.

    RushBabe49:You, as the speaker, are supposed to know what everyone’s hot buttons are, so you can avoid offending them? Well, that is impossible, but that is what is asked for in many situations.

    Firstly, I do not believe words can be an offense. Claiming to be the victim of an offense solely because one heard a word one finds unpleasant is a hallmark of a tyrant.

    However, if one’s goal is to maximize the probability that a message will be received as intended and/or favourably, then yes it certainly does behoove the speaker to learn as much as possible about one’s audience, and to tailor the message with that knowledge (or lack of knowledge) in mind.

    I fully agree that the task is impossible in 100 per cent of attempts. However, audience-focused message design and word choice increases the probability of success so that it’s greater than zero per cent.

    • #52
  23. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Spin:

    I’m not trying to inflict pain, nor be insensitive. And certainly, if I’m talking to you I’m not going to say something callous or hurtful.

    You cannot guarantee that a message will not be hurtful. Emotional pain is adjudicated by the recipient of the message, not the originator of the message. All you can guarantee is that you will not say something intentionally hurtful.

    Whether or not the message is “callous” depends on whether one is being willfully ignorant about the likelihood of one’s audience experiencing emotional pain upon receipt of the message. A poorly-received message would only qualify as “callous” if the speaker did not care how it was received.

    • #53
  24. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Arahant:

    Which came first? English-language commercial dominance? Or bodies regulating other languages? The Académie française was established in 1635. The Real Academia Española was established in 1713.The English version was never established.

    Not quite true. Oliver Cromwell attempted to impose language formality on Britain during his dictatorship. For one thing, he made English the official language of Britain for the very first time in the nation’s history.

    His attempt at formalization of English worked out about as well as the rest of his dictatorship. Trying to impose one’s preferred linguistic culture on a country made up of so many militantly independent linguistic cultures is pretty much a non-starter. He was about imposing a single nationalist vision by force, not the free trade of ideas and works of literature.

    Meanwhile, the Academie Francaise was founded by Cardinal Richelieu during the reign of Louis XIII.  I would not describe that period of French history as being notable for its commitment to the free trade of ideas and letters either. Being smack dab in the middle of the 30 Years War and all that, the Academie was a gambit by an authoritarian government attempting to impose a single nationalist vision on the country.

    One could argue that it succeeded where Cromwell failed because the French aristocracy was happy to humour the King as long as they received their aristocratic goodies, and Cromwell was all about eliminating aristocracy goodies so he had no way to sell others on his vision.

    By contrast, English began to be standardized thanks to (mostly for-profit) works of literature.

    The birth of “Modern English” is generally considered to coincide with the publication of Shakespeare’s plays and the King James Bible in the early 17th century. These works were not created with the intention of standardizing the language. That was merely a secondary benefit.

    Later in 1755, Samuel Johnson’s dictionary was greatly influential in standardizing English spelling. It was a for-profit work, commissioned by a group of British publishers. i.e. English usage being shaped by commercial forces rather than the  established authority of government.

    As such, I think my hypothesis about the malleability (and success) of English being the result of the anglo ideal of free commerce, while the formalized languages are that way due to authoritarian cultures more concerned with nationalist communalism than with individual profit.

    • #54
  25. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Misthiocracy:By contrast, English began to be standardized thanks to (mostly for-profit) works of literature.The birth of “Modern English” is generally considered to coincide with the publication of Shakespeare’s plays and the King James Bible in the early 17th century. These works were not created with the intention of standardizing the language. That was merely a secondary benefit.

    Later in 1755, Samuel Johnson’s dictionary was greatly influential in standardizing English spelling. It was a for-profit work, commissioned by a group of British publishers. i.e. English usage being shaped by commercial forces rather than the established authority of government.

    Okay, I think I see where you are going here. I had thought you were implying that since England and America dominated the landscape commercially for a few centuries between them, that other languages “specialized” in official formality. Your earlier statements were not so clear on the subject as this.

    • #55
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Arahant:My usage does not mean coercion, it is more like in physics. In order for something to change direction or velocity, a force has to be applied to it. In order for a language to work as a medium of communication, words must have shared meaning. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. No communication happens. We are just grunting at each other. Yes, dynamism in a language is good, but if it does not balance the amount of dynamism with a certain amount of stability and with adjustment time then the system falls apart. No coercion involved. It just stops working.

    Words must have shared meanings for communication to take place, it’s true, but that doesn’t mean that each word must have a single officially-sanctioned meaning or else communication becomes impossible.

    Nearly every English dictionary lists multiple definitions for nearly every word, and yet English-speakers are still able to muddle through life just as well (if not better) as speakers of more formalized languages.

    The very success of English’s position as the planet’s current lingua franca seems to disprove the hypothesis that formalism is a prerequisite for successful communication.

    I would argue that if two people argue over which of their preferred definitions of a word is the sole “correct” usage, they are both trying to limit human communication so that only their preferred ideas are even possible (as per Orwell’s Newspeak), rather than trying to broaden human communication so that any idea is possible.

    They both desire formalism in every circumstance, as long as its their own preferred formalism, because they each believe that their preferred ideas are so obviously the only correct ideas that language shouldn’t even allow the possibility of entertaining alternative ideas.

    • #56
  27. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Misthio,

    We’re talking past each other. I have never advocated that there be only one meaning per word. Nor is that what this discussion was about. The issue here is very close to Orwellian. Somebody decides that a word needs to be replaced and we all have to shout our two-minute hate against the old word. A week or a year or a decade later, the next new word replaces the last new word and we have to shout down and denounce any who dare to use the word that was alright just last week.

    Like Spin, I don’t know what the current term is. Why? Because there have been at least six during my lifetime. Six terms for exactly the same thing. Air hostesses, stewardesses, flight attendants? Pick one and get off my lawn!

    • #57
  28. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    Nanda Panjandrum:Spin, AUMom, et al. Please see my edited/updated #34…Thanks! (AUM: Check your Inbox, when you have a chance, thanks!)

    Is the point that one should not say “That retarded boy over there”, but one should say “You know, Mark”?

    I agree with you, and I am sure, had my daughter known it, she would have used the person’s name, rather than refer to him using a word to describe a condition that he has, as if somehow that condition defines him.

    • #58
  29. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    hah.  Have you ever listened to the Flyover Country podcast where Terry and I discuss the word “retarded?”

    I thought that post of yours was great.  I’m sorry I didn’t see you were being personally attacked, or I would have chimed in.  I suppose next I won’t even be able to talk about how taking offense to that sort of thing is quite stupid, because, you know… some people actually are stupid.  Are they less than people?  Trust me, I’m all in favor of being sensitive when you know people have hang-ups about certain things.  But how arrogant do you have to be to make your personal hang-up into a vast societal rule?

    Give me a break.

    • #59
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Arahant:We’re talking past each other. I have never advocated that there be only one meaning per word. Nor is that what this discussion was about. The issue here is very close to Orwellian. Somebody decides that a word needs to be replaced and we all have to shout our two-minute hate against the old word. A week or a year or a decade later, the next new word replaces the last new word and we have to shout down and denounce any who dare to use the word that was alright just last week.

    And my argument is that someone has every right to propose and pursue the dissemination of that revision to the language. They simply do not have the right to use coercion to enforce it.

    If their pursuit of the revision is persuasive, then it will proliferate.

    You’re entirely free to express displeasure at the proliferation of an opinion with which you disagree.

    You’re also free to express displeasure that others express their displeasure at your expression of displeasure, etc, ad nauseum.

    At no point “must” one side give way to the other. They can express their mutual displeasure indefinitely if they so choose.

    When one person says to another “you cannot use that word”, that statement is clearly a falsehood, but they still have the right to say it. Freedom of speech is not limited to statements that are true.

    On the other hand, if a person says to another “you may not use that word”, and they back up the statement with force, that is clearly tyranny.

    (The OP did not specify if the interlocutor was in a position of authority over the daughter and/or was issuing a command to refrain from using the word upon threat of reprisal, or if the person was merely expressing their opinion on the appropriateness of the word.)

    • #60
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