Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the category “Political Correctness”

Yes, Words Matter, a Guest Post by David Gerrold.

Note from Deb: David Gerrold posted this on Facebook early this morning, and I felt it was important, so I asked him if I could reproduce it as a guest post, giving him full credit, of course. He was kind enough to say yes, so here it is.  For those of you not familiar with David Gerrold, he is the author of over 50 books, several hundred articles and columns, and over a dozen television episodes, including Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

And now, I turn the floor over to Mr. Gerrold:


Yes, words matter.

The trick is to not let them matter very much.

Ask an African-American what he or she has been called. There’s a whole song in the musical HAIR which lists some of those. Ask a Jew what he or she has been called. You can go back to Shakespeare’s MERCHANT OF VENICE to understand the tradition of Jew-baiting. And women — there’s no shortage of derogatory words for women, many of them based on female genitals. And gay men and women? Hooboy! Someone was working overtime on that linguistic smörgåsbord.

But guess what? Along about the fiftieth time someone calls you a faggot (or any of the other joyous epithets), the words begin to lose all power to hurt. After a while, it’s just amusing. After a while, it’s just an invitation to snap out a great punch line. A woman shouted at me, “Are you a faggot?” I looked at her and said, “Are YOU the alternative?”

Yes, words matter — but that doesn’t mean we have to be victimized them. We can own them.

Somebody on an online forum once thought to shame me. He called me a “homo.” Oh, heavens. My response? “You think I should be ashamed of my capacity to love? Every time someone calls me that, they’re reminding me of how much love I’ve experienced in my life. You really think I’m going to wither away?”

I’m a writer. There’s a lesson that the great writers have mastered: own the language. Ride it like a bronco. Hang on for the ride. Steer it where you need it to go. OWN THE LANGUAGE.

Yes, words matter — but I refuse to be a victim of language, I intend to be one of the owners.

Sigh – I HATE Political Correctness

Your grammarian is particularly grouchy this morning.

I was reading the current issue of Time (which had finally dried out enough that it could be picked up without falling apart)  when a small “sidebar” type article caught my attention. Written by Katy Steinmetz, the article is about how states are trying to replace gendered language with gender-neutral terms.

It’s an interesting article, and the comments are kind of amusing, but…. We have not been able to come up with a genderless third person pronoun (I tend to prefer”Heesh”; others use “zir”). To me, that would be much more effective than the traditional, but somewhat cumbersome, “he or she.”  However, the legislatures trying to deal with this issue seem to think that using “he or she” (alternated with “she or he”) is a relatively easy fix. What they are having problems with are words, like “manhole,” “penmanship,” and “ombudsman.” They have come up with fixes for “penmanship” (“handwriting”) and for “ombudsman” (“ombuds.”), but are somewhat stymied over what to do with words like “airman” and “manhole”.

To me, this is almost as stupid as the insistence back in the 1970s that women needed a separate language. Is our language sexist? Yeah, it is. Then again, our society is still sexist to a large degree. Will changing the language to a more gender-neutral one change that? I don’t think it will do a lot – at least not in our lifetimes. Yes, the language you use informs the way you think. But I think that if a society really becomes less gender-biased, the terms that are needed will develop naturally, rather than being legislated into effect. After all, changes in language did little to improve bigotry – it just meant that people gave lip service to equality, while thinking whatever they thought before.

Then again, I think that much political correctness, like much diversity training, is bullshit engendered by those with good intentions. When I worked for $MajorFinancialServiceFirm, they were really big on diversity training, but the upshot of most of it was that there are certain things you can be sued for publicly admitting to, and it would be nice if you didn’t do or say those things, so we don’t get sued for millions of dollars. The haters still hated, regardless of how many seminars or workshops they attended, and those who didn’t hate were forced to spend hours of time that could be better spent doing their jobs in seminars that they were already well beyond in terms of actions and feelings.

And, I don’t notice them making a fuss over words like “charwoman,” “nanny,” or “cleaning woman.” I guess it’s only male-gender-specific words that matter enough to these people, which kind of begs the question about how pure their motives are, nu?

How do you feel about political correctness, especially as applied to language? If political correctness in language should, in your opinion, be addressed, what issue would you want to see addressed first? Do you think that using gender-neutral language will have any real effect on how the average person thinks?

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