Showing posts with label words. Show all posts
Showing posts with label words. Show all posts

Feb 16, 2022

Are You Kidding, or Are You Being Mean?


 I taught tenth grade for decades, and one of the things I tried to make my students aware of is the difference between joking, kidding, being funny, (whatever we call it) and being cruel. One of the lamest excuses we offer for cruel behavior is "I was kidding." I asked them to consider the following things, but people on social media might take the same lessons to heart.

Is it necessary to point out differences? The other day I was sitting with several people when a woman we all know came along wearing, for the first time since I've known her, a wide-brimmed sunhat. The day was hot. She has lots of skin damage from years in the sun, and I happen to know she sees a dermatologist regularly. As she approached, the comments started. "Are you going out to pick cotton?" "Where in the world did you find that hat?" "You look like a dork."

She took it well, but come on. Was it necessary? Might they have figured out why she'd chosen a hat that provided more shade? Are baseball caps the only allowable headgear these days?

Can the person change the thing you're "joking" about? Mitch McConnell's neck draws far more comments on social media than his behavior as a political leader. Why not focus on his decisions, his comments, his actions? Are we in kindergarten, making fun of a person's looks? Not cool.

Would I like it if someone said something similar to/about me?  As a kid I was thin, but "skinny" was the predominant descriptor. I started asking people who said, "You're so skinny!" if they'd be okay with me saying, "You're so fat!" Often, they didn't realize that I took the word as criticism, and some claimed they considered it a compliment. No, it's not. Especially among adolescents, words like skinny and fat are never useful.

Now come the comments about political correctness and cancel culture. "We can't say anything!" some complain. They might add, "We're expected to actually think about what we say before we say it!" Gee, what a concept! 

I agree that those things can be taken too far, and terms that started out as "okay" get branded as wrong, wrong, wrong. Take retarded as an example. It simply means "slow," so originally, when it referred to those whose learning is delayed, it was descriptive. But people began using it as an insult. (This is not uncommon. It happens in language all the time, and is called lowering. For example, stink was once any smell, but over time it lowered in meaning and now is used only for bad smells.) 

When a word is used as a pejorative, it's time to find other, less offensive, words to replace it. That can be difficult. With words like retarded or crippled, replacement terms can be cumbersome, like "differently abled," and many go the same route as the originals because people use them to "joke" (meaning point out in a mean way) about differences between people.

We can all be less hurtful if we considering the three points made above. Even if we're "joking" or "kidding," we're adults. It's time to leave the playground taunts behind.

Nov 14, 2016

Being Precise

This is a re-post from 2011. Just not up to being clever right now.

I know that language changes over time. It has to. I know that clinging to the old ways is futile and might make me seem cantankerous or even silly. But it was my job, for three decades, to guard the language, to see that people under my care used it clearly rather than sloppily, thinking about what they wanted to convey as well as what other people might make of it. So I'm going to list some things that seem to me worth keeping in our language.
PLEASE KEEP distinctions between similar words. People who are aware of the differences listed here are disappearing, yet there is good reason for keeping their separate meanings.
                nauseated/nauseous-People become nauseated when they encounter something that is nauseous.
                might/may-I might call and ask you if I may take you out to dinner.
                farther/further-He went farther than anyone else to further grammatical awareness.
                fewer than/less than- She ate fewer M&M's than he did but drank less soda.
                bust/burst-The police burst through the door to bust the drug dealers.
PLEASE USE the correct word or word form. If we think as we speak (gasp) we might recall the things we were taught. Yes, grammar rules change, but it's hard to have a sensible system when usage is sloppy. I say keep the simple rules and do away with the goofy ones. The examples below result from not thinking about what is being said.
                Say, "Drive slowly" not "drive slow". The verb should be modified by an adverb that       tells how the driving is to be done.  We can add that things should taste "really good" as well, since adjectives are modified by adverbs just as verbs are.
                Write "I'm supposed to" instead of "I'm suppose to". Since we've lost the sense of the word "suppose" in this phrase, which was originally something like "it is supposed (expected) that I will do this" we have begun to lose the form it should take too.
                Write "I would have" instead of "I would of". It's easy to explain, difficult to fix. People hear of" not "have", so they spell the word they hear, despite the fact that it makes no sense. (Perhaps we shouldn't worry. It will become "woulda", anyway.)
I do not contend that being precise will save your soul, make you healthier, or turn the economy around. I just like it a lot (TWO words) when people speak and write precisely.

Mar 28, 2016

Diseases and Syndromes and Help--Oh My!

(Author's Note: I have a great deal of sympathy for those who struggle with disease and infirmity. This post is in no way meant to belittle the trauma of actual disease. It's tongue-in-cheek, because the current state of the media, both public and social, makes me crazy, and because some of us are just plain smart-alecks.)

Here are some things I could get behind if there were a drive, a telethon, or a campaign to abolish them.

The Meme-a-Thon: Do you or have you suffered from people saying things that make you want to punch them in the face? Research has discovered a contributor to this syndrome, and we now know that it comes from meme saturation. Useless and unprovable, memes invade every aspect of our lives, with a meme for every situation that does absolutely no good for the listener but makes the speaker think he's said something wise.
With your help, we can educate people on the hurtfulness of repeating memes that often exacerbate feelings of sorrow and worthlessness. Here are just a few of the trite, useless phrases your donated dollars will be used to eradicate:
    God never gives you more than you can handle.
    He's in a better place.
    When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
    Guns don't kill people. People kill people.
Drive to Defeat Inaccuracy and Redundancy:  Today's 24-hour availability of news, sports, weather, and whatever means that someone is always talking. While such people were once hired for their ability to speak well, the widened field has allowed uneducated, unskilled, and downright unpalatable talkers to assail our ears with grammatical errors, extended, unfounded opinion, and repeated inanity.
Citizens for Better Speech will lead the way in helping these people think while they speak--maybe even before they speak. No longer will sports announcers use inaccurate descriptors like, "The golf course is ruthless today."  No more commercials with mixed idioms like, "My bill was lowered in half." And this year's special focus: eliminating those whose best advice is, "If our guys are going to win this game, they're going to have to score some points."

The Campaign for Quiet: In many American homes today, there is no such thing as quiet. Our three-pronged approach will first address consumers themselves, reminding them that they do not need to have the TV on for "background noise." As sound-dominated minds experience silence for longer and longer periods of time, researchers believe thought will result, creating a sense of peace, a lessening of fear of the unknown, and perhaps even original ideas.
Our organization's second focus is letting TVs talking heads and their handlers know that silence isn't necessarily a bad thing on the air, either. For almost anyone who loves a sport, silence beats listening to repeated reports on the legal scrape a player got into three years ago or the fact that an athlete's dad died just before the big game last year and he played in it anyway.
Finally, funds for this campaign will educate weather people, who should understand that we don't need to be told to take an umbrella, turn on our headlights, or "get out and enjoy that sunshine." Anyone who can't figure those things out should just stay home.  Try that silence thing. It might help.

How Doth She Bigotry? Let Me Count the Ways

    I left a conversation yesterday wondering how many ways one person can offend another in three minutes. I was outside sweeping my si...