Thursday, May 19, 2016

An Impolitic Convocation of Words, words, words

I was speaking with the wife yesterday, bemoaning my ability to maintain a weight of which I can be proud. She said I looked fine. She might be right, but I don't see it. I'm constantly 5 pounds over what I want to be.

"The thing is," I said, "I am trying to have a girlish figure and ANY figure you have is, by definition, a girlish figure. It's just not fair!"

She gave me the kind of laugh that spouses of so many years give when the actual message is "I'll laugh if you promise to stop talking, NOW."

But the thing is, if we want to talk about privileges inherent in language, we have to start acknowledging that some groups have an automatic advantage. Women don't just have a lock on their figure. They also have girlish laughter and their own mystique. I can never have that mystique. And definitions? There are Broad definitions, but no male ones! And Flicks? Chick flicks. No male movies. Lady fingers, Dame Fortune, Lass-o's and (imported from England), Bird feed.

And they aren't the only ones -- different professions have co-opted certain things and we are forced to pay homage to them. Fireman's carry! Do I get a carry? No. Secretary hand (that's an old fashioned term for proper handwriting). Principal investor! Why should we have this inherent bias which gives principals the advantage linguistically? Where are the teacher investors? And golfer Gary Player gets his own piano!

Languages are complex and dynamic. They don't always mean what they say or say what they mean. Slangs, figures of speech and conventions drift in and out and it might serve us better to work on speaking and writing clearly, and working to understand ideas instead of grasping at straws to be offended by the words. Don't confuse the medium with the message or you will be offended by baby oil.

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