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. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Spin:No. “You can’t say that, it’s mean” is what I typed, a paraphrase. It’s mean to say that. therefore, Vickie is mean for saying it. But really, you are splitting hairs here.

    Some folks are simply magnificent at splitting hairs. They can get them ever so thin. It is in the exasperation of others that they know they’re in it for the win.

    • #91
  2. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    Misthiocracy:

    I do not think I am.

    You are.  Just because you think you aren’t, doesn’t mean you aren’t.  Denial being the first sign, and everything.

    Either way, the girl clearly meant “You are being mean by saying that word.”

    • #92
  3. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Misthiocracy:

    Ryan M:

    Misthiocracy:

    Since the interlocutor was a 15-year-old girl, however, my advice would be to go along to get along.

    I don’t think “go along to get along” with 15 year old girls should necessarily be our standard…

    It beats bashing one’s head against a wall.

    perhaps… especially since bashing anyone else’s head against a wall is generally frowned upon.  I certainly hope to not raise my kids to be little self-righteous bastards at 15 years old, and I will instruct them to promptly dismiss as morons any of their peers who turn out that way.  If I had a daughter in spin’s position, I’d be extremely tempted to say “tell your friend to shut the f_ up and grow some common sense; there is a massive difference between words and actions, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t ask that kid to prom, so she can stop with the preaching right about now.”  But at 15 I’d have to debate whether to include the curse word or not…

    • #93
  4. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    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.

    I am convinced that this dodge is about making the “labeler” feel less guilty about labeling someone. When you keep saying “stop telling lies,” kids realize pretty quickly that you’re really calling them a liar.

    • #94
  5. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    I may as well also make reference to the actual conversation that I had with the group of liberals who “called me out” on using the R word (to describe a lady’s comment that she was praying for someone to get killed in a car accident).  I said something to the effect of:  “you know what I was doing last weekend?  I was at the county fair with a mentally handicapped friend of ours, having a pretty good time.  I’m pretty sure he isn’t hurt by the word I just used in this context, but I know he enjoyed going to the fair.  How about you?  You know those guys who get hired on at McDonalds because McDonalds thinks that’s a good thing to do for people?  Well, as a liberal, you advocate for a $20 minimum wage that virtually eliminates these positions…  I’m pretty sure they don’t appreciate that much.  But no, I’m the jerk because I used “the R word” in a completely unrelated context, outside of the presence of anyone who could possibly be impacted by it, and you’re my moral superior because you verbally recognize them as equals and chastise anyone who doesn’t conform to your rigid speech code, while you actively disassemble the real market-benefits that enables benevolence on the part of people who actually do care.  Yeah, you’re a super great person.  You and your goddamned fedora and your subaru with a ski rack and your city-dweller patagonia pants and urban hiking boots and the guitar that you bust out at frisbee golf after-parties to show the ladies how sensitive you are; probably singing clever songs about how retarded stupid republicans are and how nobody really cares about the poor except for you and your dumbsh** guitar.  F_ you.”

    Actually, part of that rant did make it into a follow up email where I severed all ties with that group of pretentious liberals, and I think the response was something slightly longer than this, but including the phrase:  “you’re an a**hole and everyone hates you.”  Fair enough.

    • #95
  6. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    Ryan wins the comments.

    • #96
  7. Julia PA Inactive
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Ryan M:I may as well also make reference to the actual conversation that I had with the group of liberals who “called me out” on using the R word (to describe a lady’s comment that she was praying for someone to get killed in a car accident). I said something to the effect of: “you know what I was doing last weekend? I was at the county fair with a mentally handicapped friend of ours, having a pretty good time. I’m pretty sure he isn’t hurt by the word I just used in this context, but I know he enjoyed going to the fair. How about you? You know those guys who get hired on at McDonalds because McDonalds thinks that’s a good thing to do for people? Well, as a liberal, you advocate for a $20 minimum wage that virtually eliminates these positions… I’m pretty sure they don’t appreciate that much. But no, I’m the jerk because I used “the R word” in a completely unrelated context, outside of the presence of anyone who could possibly be impacted by it, and you’re my moral superior because you verbally recognize them as equals and chastise anyone who doesn’t conform to your rigid speech code, while you actively disassemble the real market-benefits that enables benevolence on the part of people who actually do care. Yeah, you’re a super great person. You and your goddamned fedora and your subaru with a ski rack and your city-dweller patagonia pants and urban hiking boots and the guitar that you bust out at frisbee golf after-parties to show the ladies how sensitive you are; probably singing clever songs about how retarded stupid republicans are and how nobody really cares about the poor except for you and your dumbsh** guitar. F_ you.”

    Actually, part of that rant did make it into a follow up email where I severed all ties with that group of pretentious liberals, and I think the response was something slightly longer than this, but including the phrase: “you’re an a**hole and everyone hates you.” Fair enough.

    I submit we adopt the word “Hateful Jackwagon” to describe, respond and interact withthe PC word and speech police that you describe here.

    • #97
  8. Southern Pessimist Member
    Southern Pessimist
    @SouthernPessimist

    Some folks are simply magnificent at splitting hairs.

    They can get them ever so thin.

    It is in the exasperation of others that they know

    they’re in it for the win.

    Nice poem Arahant.

    • #98
  9. Julia PA Inactive
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Jules PA:

    Ryan M:

    Actually, part of that rant did make it into a follow up email where I severed all ties with that group of pretentious liberals, and I think the response was something slightly longer than this, but including the phrase: “you’re an a**hole and everyone hates you.” Fair enough.

    I submit we adopt the word “Hateful Jackwagon” to describe, respond and interact withthe PC word and speech police that you describe here.

    In a conversation with Ryan M, I would of course say “Effing Hateful Jackwagon.” Because, I know my audience. :)

    • #99
  10. user_11047 Inactive
    user_11047
    @barbaralydick

    “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.”

    Amen.

    • #100
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Southern Pessimist: Nice poem Arahant.

    Heh, caught. Just a bit of instant doggerel.

    • #101
  12. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Jules PA:

    Jules PA:

    Ryan M:

    Actually, part of that rant did make it into a follow up email where I severed all ties with that group of pretentious liberals, and I think the response was something slightly longer than this, but including the phrase: “you’re an a**hole and everyone hates you.” Fair enough.

    I submit we adopt the word “Hateful Jackwagon” to describe, respond and interact withthe PC word and speech police that you describe here.

    In a conversation with Ryan M, I would of course say “Effing Hateful Jackwagon.” Because, I know my audience. :)

    hahaha – it’s funny, too, because in front of our kids we cannot curse even a lick… or in front of parents or at work or whatever else.  Yet, I find that it does color a rant quite nicely, in spite of that old saying about curse words signaling a lack of creativity.

    • #102
  13. J Flei Inactive
    J Flei
    @Solon

    Here’s a Louis CK bit about another banned word.

    • #103
  14. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Ryan M:

    Jules PA:

    Jules PA:

    Ryan M:

    Actually, part of that rant did make it into a follow up email where I severed all ties with that group of pretentious liberals, and I think the response was something slightly longer than this, but including the phrase: “you’re an a**hole and everyone hates you.” Fair enough.

    I submit we adopt the word “Hateful Jackwagon” to describe, respond and interact withthe PC word and speech police that you describe here.

    In a conversation with Ryan M, I would of course say “Effing Hateful Jackwagon.” Because, I know my audience. :)

    hahaha – it’s funny, too, because in front of our kids we cannot curse even a lick… or in front of parents or at work or whatever else. Yet, I find that it does color a rant quite nicely, in spite of that old saying about curse words signaling a lack of creativity.

    Profanity, when used artfully, is a powerful too.  It is like a sharp knife, though, so it must be used carefully.

    • #104
  15. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    What exasperates me is when encountering someone who re-uses a word totally outside of its accepted definition as some new form of insult or labeling.  They adopt this new meaning often from some philosophical tract or from within some narrow defile of reasoning then apply it freely to others.  I really got into it here on Rico last year with a group of people doing this very thing, using a word with an accepted definition and a very nasty historical connotation, to apply anyone who disagreed with their moral position.  I won’t reopen that fight here, but suffice it to say that situation would be roughly equivalent appropriating a nasty name as your own personal codeword for anyone outside of your personal philosophy, then further insulting them by saying “well, if you had read and understood [insert name of work here] then you would know what I meant.  You are XXX  because this person says so”.  Thankfully the use of this word here has since decline, but it’s the sort of thing that if you called me to my face I would probably break your nose.

    • #105
  16. user_11047 Inactive
    user_11047
    @barbaralydick

    The perpetual victim, the chronically offended – the type P.J. O’Rourke refers to as the PIAE crowd – Perennially Indignant About Everything.

    • #106
  17. Grendel Member
    Grendel
    @Grendel

    Nihil illegitimatibus carborundum est.

    I was recently publicly rebuked by Robbie George for saying “bastard”.  The occasion was the Q&A after his lecture on “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense”.  I had asked “What hope can you have so long as the federal government subsidizes the production of bastards”.  Such sensitivity toward the feelings of people people one has just identified as the social pathology corrupting the country strikes me as counterproductive.

    AUMom:

    For those of us with developmentally delayed offspring, retarded has a sting that even village idiot does not carry.

    Does it really?  Why is that?  Does it have anything to do with the reality of the situation, or is it all about you?  I’ve encountered parents of retarded children before who enter a conversation with unreasoning apodictic fury, holding their blazing pain at their child’s misfortune before them as a shield and declaring that their victim card trumps all other considerations.  I suppose I could say “Well, at least your child is alive!”, but that would be gay, man.

    • #107
  18. Ralphie Inactive
    Ralphie
    @Ralphie

    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.

    Absolutely correct.

    • #108
  19. user_348375 Inactive
    user_348375
    @TrinityWaters

    108 comments!  Really?  If we could harness this much mental energy in pursuit of something useful, we could build a five hundred mile pipeline in two weeks.

    • #109
  20. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    Grendel

    For those of us with developmentally delayed offspring, retarded has a sting that even village idiot does not carry.

    Does it really? Why is that? Does it have anything to do with the reality of the situation, or is it all about you? I’ve encountered parents of retarded children before who enter a conversation with unreasoning apodictic fury, holding their blazing pain at their child’s misfortune before them as a shield and declaring that their victim card trumps all other considerations. I suppose I could say “Well, at least your child is alive!”, but that would be gay, man.

    No fury on my part, just pain at my daughter’s loss.

    • #110
  21. Salamandyr Inactive
    Salamandyr
    @Salamandyr

    Spin:The word is “retarded.”

    (here come the pitchforks)

    I guessed it!

    • #111
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