A Christocentric moment, if you please.
I’d like to take this post-holiday moment to thank all the retailers and service providers out there at the winding down of your busy season. I know the lot of you get unfairly stuck with the bum rap that is the commercialization of Christmas and I feel that so few shoppers truly reach out to thank you for all the richness and splendor you add to our holiday.
I’d like to start by thanking all the showroom and floor designers who not only disallow space enough for a mother with a stroller to pass between racks and shelves, but who’ve thoroughly negated the ability of any two people to pass even abreast, making it easier for me to keep my fellow man at bay. How did you know I didn’t want to say Merry Christmas to just any old stranger? How did you know I was getting tired of my preferred method of birth control? And, thank you for allowing me to momentarily revel in the beautiful, almost poetic irony of the less-than-stroller-width aisles in stores that sell strollers. I never knew big business could be so artistically oxymoronic.
I’d like to thank all the planners, purchasers, and cashiers out there, who’ve never heard of an opaque bag (sack), as you’ve taught me that surprises around the holiday are just simply overrated. While, on an equal note, you’ve further taught me I should never have deigned to shop in your store without first taking Company training that would infuse ninja-like stealth techniques into my joyous shopping experience. It is these very forward-thinking translucent baggers that have revealed to me that the idea of a family holiday is a farce, instead prompting the need for me to leave alone, to shop alone, and to schedule my return around an empty house just after globally warming the planet by making a second trip to the overpriced, opaque bag store.
I’d like to thank all the vendors of big ticket items who’ve battled recessions and corporate competition to arrive safely in 2007 without the ability to print a gift receipt. I admire your sticktoittiveness, your old school ideals, and raise my fist alongside, these, my brothers, in proclaiming “Stupid Power!” Nothing says “the joy of giving” like the sensation of plain and simple purchaser’s risk. As I sit and wonder how you’ve been so masterful in staying afloat on the modern market without caving to the wants and desires of the consumer, I can only unravel the tapestry of how you did it just so far, concluding that to counter this gift receipt fad, your plan must have started way back when some one decided it took a full and unavailable manager to change out the register’s print paper for regular receipts. You are boldly pushing forth into a singular future, unafraid. Kudos! You’ve realized that my truer shopping need is to feel superior to your cashiers around Christmas-time and thusly you’ve seen fit to hire only those who are confused when I hand them a twenty and a penny on a purchase that rang up at $18.01. I feel alive!
I’d like to thank all the manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers who’ve displayed the wisdom of Solomon by putting their price tags on the INSIDE of the shrink wrap where I could never attempt removal. I appreciate the way you’ve scoffed at convention that claims “it is the thought that counts,” and how you’ve alternatively enabled me to sum up my love for my wife in much clearer and logical dollars and cents. “Honey, this year I love you $776.35!” You’ve given me the gift of exactitude, a gift that every husband and father wants.
I’d additionally like to thank all the glue manufacturers and price tag wholesalers who’ve somehow missed the fact that even stamps now come in the self-adhesive variety. As I gently scrape price tags off for gift wrapping, taking with them huge swaths of my gifts’ original packaging, I can’t help but feel the warm and fuzzy holiday fulfillment that I will experience giving something that looks damaged or used at brand new prices. It’s an unexpected reversal of fortune that speaks to the heart by instilling hope.
I’d like to thank the good people of Fortunoff and of Sears and similar places that understand I wish to go to two places to buy one item. We are, after all, fighting an obesity epidemic.
I’d like to thank the good people of GameStop for sharing an elongated and audible laugh with the other customers on my line as to my choice of PC game for my wife. Laughter gets us in the spirit.
I’d like to thank the good people of Coach for never, ever approaching a guy in camo-shorts and a Jack Daniels T-Shirt to ask if he needed help. In true holiday fashion, you saved him the embarrassment of giving you money in exchange for one of your products. Oh, how his bulldozing brethren would have talked!
I’d like to thank all the malls in the Midwest for imparting to me the truth about my intelligence, not a one of them carrying any adult chess set in any store. Whereas I once thought I might be intelligent enough to play chess, I have now been schooled in the truth, the fact that I am one of the masses and that the masses are not smart enough to play chess. Nothing says Christmas like mass!
I’d like to thank the good people of the fiber-optic Christmas tree outlet for creating a dark and ominous atmosphere that draws out my baby’s seventh cry for the day when the clerk approaches unseen from the side and startles us with his overzealous, yet invisible elf joy. Only three more cries to go before bed now. You are a wizard!
I’d like to thank Billy, the aspiring restaurateur, who took it upon himself, paper hat and all, as I pulled into the Steak ‘n’ Shake under the huge “Open Christmas Eve until 4 PM” sign, to come out to the icy parking lot and let me know they’d closed. It was 2:30. Not only was Billy providing me with vital information, the likes of which you just don’t hear, save for around the holidays, but he also offered up those rare, between-the-lines inferences that let me know if I’d insisted, I’d get a holiday loogey in my steakburger. Billy, you are a God among men!
I’d like to thank the cashier at the gaming store who allowed me to open the box on the last floor model of a specialty game I wished to purchase. I felt like the customer was finally “always right” as she understood that I’d want to look over the quality of the floor model and to count the game’s pieces. I gently pulled back the taped corners and released the folds of the box. I carefully lifted the single piece of Styrofoam that had been form-fitted to house each individual piece in its proper place against the board that was attached to the box interior. Then I watched as the cashier, with one heavy wave of her arm, purposely knocked down and mixed up all the pieces in preparation for closing the box again. Wow! That half hour she and I spent together trying to figure out which of all 45 specialty, puzzle-like pieces fit where in the form-fitted Styrofoam was quality time for us. I feel closer to my fellow man.
I’d like to thank all our online retailers, the ones who guarantee delivery by Christmas during the checkout webpage and then list the delivery date as December 27th on the digital receipt I get via email later. You pranksters, you. Ah, good times.
I’d like to thank all the gift wrapping stations peppered over the holiday consumerscape, specifically for both your unparalleled oragamic prowess and your unwavering memory that lets not one package go through without affixing a tag with your store’s logo on it. Amazing! You are operating at 100% capacity. I now share with ALL my fellow shoppers the special knowledge that our spouses will know we didn’t wrap the thing ourselves. I gave the gift the consideration of seeking it out and buying it. I gave the gift the sacrifice of my time as I waited on a second line to have it wrapped. But there’s nothing like your wife complaining that your gifts count less because you didn’t take the time to wrap them yourself. Brilliant! In the end, I now understand that the sweat and strain that is put into gift giving is perceived as part of the gift itself and that on Christmas I could never ask the stores to lie just a little. Could I? I mean, the wrapping stations are there to help you, but to truly help you is to get you to realize that you should not have been offered a single convenience in the gift giving process. If you falter, if you take that one, time-saving convenience, you are a bad gift giver, end scene. I’ve never felt such a brotherhood of guilt! Rock on! I go out into the world, wiser.
We all could use a break from the frenzy of holiday shopping. It’s true. A little escapism never hurts. And that is why I’d like to thank our local, super-duper, triple giant, multiplex just for being there. From it I can choose Academy Award nominees or holiday themed special viewings. I could sink myself into a drama or just let loose with a good comedy. I can pre-screen what my daughter will be watching or just take in a guilty pleasure or two of my own. The possibilities are endless. Here’s a big shout out to our friends at the cinema, especially to those who’ve unilaterally decided that an advertised 12:01 a.m. on the 20th is actually 12:01 a.m. on the theatre schedule for the 19th. Not only have you single-handedly negated the need for a 12:01 movie start time, a minute on the clock originally decided upon to waylay confusion involved with a midnight show, but you’ve successfully condensed my escapism from a two hour cinematic experience into a three second “It ended yesterday, sir.” Thank you. Thank you for refocusing my time management skill to the holiday tasks at hand.
In the end, there was only one holiday destination that was everything I’d expected it to be, both the things I hate about it and the things I love about it…church.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
A Christocentric moment, if you please.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I don't know what it is about the season celebrating the wondrous event of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that makes everybody so goddamned hostile and paranoid.
I bring your attention to an article at The New York Times.
Apparently Representative Steve King (R-Iowa)is upset that more people didn't support House Resolution 847 which he sponsored. It barely passed by a vote of 372-9, with 50 members not voting or voting "present" (neutral). How could such a thing happen? In a statement, Rep. King says,
"I would like to know how they could vote Yes on Islam, Yes on the Indian Religions and No on Christianity when the foundation of this nation and our American culture is Christianity…I think there’s an assault on Christianity in America.”Of course there is. How could anyone vote NO to Christmas and Christians? Maybe they had a little problem with the language.
Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;
Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;
Resolved, That the House of Representatives...
(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;
(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;
The resolutions for Ramadan and Diwali had no statements proclaiming their importance to this country or, indeed, all of civilization. In the Ramadan resolution we have this piece of condescension:
Whereas some Muslims in the United States and abroad have courageously spoken out in rejection of interpretations of Islam that justify and encourage hatred, violence, and terror, and in support of interpretations of and movements within Islam that justify and encourage democracy, tolerance and full civil and political rights for Muslims and those of all faiths;and
Resolved, That the House of Representatives...The whole thing reads to me as, "Since some of you guys are being so good and playing ball, you can have your little holiday." The Diwali resolution is just pretentious milquetoast.
(5) commends Muslims in the United States and across the globe who have privately and publicly rejected interpretations and movements of Islam that justify and encourage hatred, violence, and terror.
One only has to look at the titles to understand how ridiculous this is:
(For some real fun, go read what was deleted and added to those resolutions before the votes.)
So how could anyone vote FOR resolutions acknowledging that there are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains living in this country that may actually BE American Citizens, but regardless, having this holiday and we recognize that it's important to you so go ahead and do it, I guess, but vote AGAINST a resolution proclaiming that Christianity is the most important religion in the United States, if not the world, and Christmas is the best holiday ever, Amen?
Maybe they hate America and God and Christians and just want to drag the whole country into their godless, communist hell. Or maybe they just thought that Christians really shouldn't sponsor and don't need Congressional Resolutions proclaiming how great they are to all the other Christians in the Country.
Do you think this might have ANYTHING to do with the upcoming Iowa Caucus or maybe Rep. King's own re-election next year?
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The ideas expressed herein are written in direct response to Selwyn Duke’s piece in The American Thinker entitled Stereotyping 101. While I tend to disagree with the author’s content outright, my main purpose for this response is to challenge Bullet with Selwyn Duke’s same task here in My Pants. Content aside, I feel that the column did a poor job of laying out its argument, end-to-end, and I very much feel that Bullet might achieve the intended anti-PC result in a far more insightful, logical, and convincing manner. I’m listening. Teach me.
Selwyn Duke’s take on PC speech and text is, by far, not the only such sentiment out there for the public to consume. From Lou Dobbs’ multiple allusions to Orwellian thought to televised, impromptu debates over Don Imus’ shock jock tactics, from complaint blogs by the thousands to the “legitimate” media jumping on every brain fart and every slip of the celebrity tongue; there is no shortage of Americans out there who simply feel painted into a corner when it comes to politically correct speech.
I chose specifically to rebut Duke’s piece in that it is exemplary of the relatively insupportable arguments used to counter PC mores. It is a very typical assertion about the stereotypical. By addressing this one commonplace tack, I hope to address several.
First, I submit that politically correct speech is not, as many might portend, a restriction on speech or an enforcement of one opinion over another. I further submit that it is neither an inherently righteous practice to use terms equated with political correctness by choice or by social coercion. Politically correct speech has seen masses of people dividing into two camps as if it were a yes/no question. In one camp are folks unfairly labeled as bigots, fundamentalists, and the brain-dead simply for questioning PC. In the other camp are very similar people just as unfairly labeled autocrats, elitists, and hypocrites pursuant to them voicing insult or finding merit in PC. Substantively, PC is not as simple as a true/false scenario. It is not a pro-life/pro-choice type issue. Treating it as such close-mindedly ignores all the many and often complex shades of understanding that reside between these two extremes.
Political correctness, among other permutations, is a linguistic movement. It is one of many thousands of otherwise benign movements in language that have added richness and depth to the freedom of speech we hold in such high regard. Language is constantly reshaped and evolving. It is contorted and challenged through slang and cussing. It is enlivened and intensified through new compound words, brand names, and fictional offerings. It is diced up and constructed anew via professional telephone decorum, sales pitches, improvisation, poetic license, correspondence, legislation, contracts negotiation, commercial ads, books, words borrowed from other languages, critiques, science, investigation, humor, and a never-ending stream of expansive usage. Language is a confluence of every communication ever attempted in every form by every person who’d ever existed. Therefore, language carries with it all the strengths and all the flaws of its infinite participants. Metaphorically, language exists as an ocean of ideas shared in countless word combinations and artistic expressions. This ocean is so vast it is without shore, but familiar enough to evoke patterns, like tides and currents. Much as real tides work through the night while we all sleep, so too do immense and powerful linguistic movements usually go unnoticed.
I describe some other linguistic movements for the sake of example, here.
PC is a simple, neutral, linguistic movement like any other. It, like many, represents language’s constant penchant for self-correction and precision. Wherever there is even a modest need for proper grammar and an interest in accuracy, that’s where you’ll find this particular linguistic movement manifesting itself in conversation.
One might ask, then, why we hear about this morphology so often while others remain silent. The answer seems obvious. These are the words we use to describe people. When language drifts around correcting terms for, say, flowers, the flowers can’t answer back.
That stated, I find Duke to be a very forward and rational thinker. The referenced entry, Can We Please Define Racism? made compelling arguments that were both insightful and balanced. Perhaps this is why I was so disappointed in the methodologies used for Stereotyping 101. I took the piece to be a flimsy assertion as opposed to a good argument. Arguments can be divided into parts: premise, inference, and conclusion. These parts did not stack well.
Duke’s premise was essentially “Are the generalizations true?” Well, frankly, no. Generalizations are never true for very elementary reasons.
Firstly, if generalizations were true, the word generalization wouldn’t exist. We already use a wide, almost poetic, vocabulary to nitpick at any idea’s proximity to truth. Take the words truth, fact, accurate, realistic, exact, axiomatic, self-evident, veritable, on-the-nose, correct, right, assuredly, and precise. They are all expressions defined directly by their perceived CLOSENESS to accepted truth. Conversely, words like generalize, approximate, about, relative, estimate, abstraction, almost, and theorize are a family of expressions specifically defined by their DISTANCE from perceived truth. Their very meaning attempts to imply that no matter how closely they might approach a truth, they can never be one.
Secondly, while generalizations are, by definition, untrue, and therefore frequently false, they additionally fail the litmus test of truism because they are intrinsically subjective. Truth, itself, to whatever degree it does exist is by all means objective. Truth needs to ring true regardless of all perceivers, a practice that generalizing cannot accomplish. Objectivity wins out over subjectivity in every conflict and such is the inequality between truth and generalization.
Duke’s premise is a two-fold disprovable notion, as above, before it even deals with some of the detailed examples meant to illustrate the point. Yet, even as it goes on to cite the case that spawned the blog entry, the common sense purpose of the example in Duke’s text refutes itself further. Referenced are alleged profiling/stereotyping entries in police training documents. The highlighted passages inform about behaviors and weapons of choice particular to ethnic groups. What jumped to my mind outright was the danger this text poses to officers of the law. It was obviously meant to protect our keepers of the peace, when instead it puts them at risk. Police MUST be so skilled and so savvy when sizing up situations in the moment, that even a split second of thought or decision can cost them their lives. An officer need take in every relevant element of her/his surroundings in order to effectuate the best course of action possible. Imagine, if you will, a police officer, during a truly split second decision, expecting a Latino suspect to pull a knife when instead the perpetrator pulls a gun. That finite miscalculation could be a life-ending mental burp. That officer, in all ways, would have been improperly trained to handle the situation, a matter of course that hinges upon a notion as short-lived as the speed of thought. Logically, if the example is meant to assert that officers are better equipped to handle calls with profiling in their training, my idea discounts that. If instead one wishes to counter me by saying these deaths never happen or that we trust our officers to be savvy despite the training text, well then the profiling language doesn’t need to be in the documents in the first place. Either way, the example is a defunct note.
I also feel compelled to point out that this particular example’s phraseology is part of Duke’s problem with carrying the argument through convincingly. The verbiage quoted smacks somehow personal. Hispanics generally do this. Hispanics tend to do that. Hispanics prefer these. Hispanics predominantly choose A over B. I didn’t think I could put my finger upon why I was so personally offended by statements of this sort, even though Duke never wrote any such thing. I know I disagree, but an articulated reason had been escaping me. Finally, I figured it out. This is the same type of language styling that hunters and trackers use to pursue wild animals. Think about it.
The Sunderbans tiger prefers to attack from behind, stalking through both water and on land, but opting not to reveal himself in open water if at all possible. This killer tends to go for a throat strike first, but will drag human prey by a limb to an invisible location before finishing them off. Without an alpha male structure Sunderbans tigers are generally rogues seeking out meals singly rather than in groups.
Language like this is used as simultaneous warning and disclaimer to educate hunters, trappers, trackers, and zoologists about the dangers of the breed while also covering one’s liability should the creature instead decide to leap from a tree or attack in a group. It’s a litany of probables profiling lesser life forms on the basis of their instincts. Humans, on the other hand, deserve not to be treated as prey or as lesser life forms, even in language, especially language that dictates, controls, or instills training for authority figures. Humans, by contrast to animals, make choices rather than instinctual judgments, thereby indicating that police profiling language structured similarly to the hunt is completely baseless. We would not use, say, the now very well recognized speech patterns that precede our ride on a roller coaster to welcome us to our MRI.
Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you’re having a great day here in New York City and welcome you to the MRI Room 12! Please keep your hands, arms, and torso completely still at all times! There are no metal objects allowed on this slide! Enjoy your scan and thank you for choosing Six Flags 51st Street Diagnostic!
How then did hunting and tracking language and speech patterns for animals get lumped onto people? While there would be something equally as tactless in both applications, the profiling language is being learned by an individual with a firearm. The insult is clear.
Duke’s premise put in a double spotlight of failure and the originating example also discounted twice over, I now move on to the inferences portion of the argument. This is where Duke normally excels with contributions and insight. As such, I must say that the following quote from Stereotyping 101 is a golden nugget of food for thought:
“While we must judge everyone as an individual, there are differences within groups but also differences among them. Thus, it makes no more sense to paint every group with the same brush than it does to paint every individual with the same brush.”
This is the inference, eloquently stated and thought provoking, that Duke thereafter tries to prove out. The piece enmeshes linkages, points of order, bold statements, and correlations into an entire matrix of support that I think falls far short of doing the job. Duke may have been better off making the statement quoted above and then leaving well enough alone. Why? Again, I can think of two reasons overall.
The first is a lesser ingredient, but an important one nonetheless. Readers should not interpret tactic as argument. An argument is a clear, concise string of related statements that hash out the conclusion in an agreeable manner. A tactic is a practice of mixing words so that the reader/listener is forced to comply either consciously or unconsciously. Everybody who has ever had a door slammed in their face knows about tactic. Everybody in this country is familiar with the number of times Iraq was mentioned in the same breath as 9/11 as a tactic. Duke’s piece, wittingly or no, contains both inference and tactic. It is the reader’s responsibility to sort the tactic out from all the assertions and then intelligently judge if what is left constitutes an argument. The Iraq-9/11 tactic is one that is used here.
In the same set of paragraphs, Duke mentions stereotype, profiling, generalization, leftist agenda, biases, thought police (a menace to civilization), political correctness, diversity, and ideology. Duke interrelates these terms, and masterfully so, in such a way that the reader is meant associate them. I am supposed to conclude that political correctness and thought police are related. I am supposed to conclude that the negativity of bias is somehow similar to the positivism of ideology. I am supposed to conclude that Iraq, first and foremost, is directly responsible for the events of 9/11. This is tactic and nothing more. It is the practice of choosing the ideas one wishes to degrade and sinking them into a pool of otherwise poor associations with language that we know invoke distasteful connotation.
Philosophy 101, to parody Duke’s title, includes an exercise altogether demonstrative of this practice. Students are asked to think back to the beginnings of civilization and list ideas that might have been perceived as basic, universal opposites. Inevitably, through common sense, students list right and wrong, light and dark, on and off, good and evil, man and woman, yes and no, happy and sad, and other appropriate notions. The problem with the structure of supposed universal opposites is the result. Woman is somehow placed on a list with wrong, dark, evil, no, off, and sad. This is the very tender root of association as used, even by accident, for prejudicial effect.
I am certain that there are strong arguments to be made that Iraq’s very outlook under Baathist control had something to do with 9/11. Constantly mentioning Iraq in the same breath as 9/11, however, is not one of those arguments. It is a tactic. It is guilt by verbal association. Similarly, immersing a neutral linguistic movement like political correctness into a bath of stereotypes, generalizations, and agendas is not a supported argument. It is the exact same tactic, meant to be used in place of connectivity. I submit that Duke’s usage of all the listed terms are not connective at all, but disjointed hopes that the reader will fill in the gaps autonomously, or read without questioning. Duke’s subjective opinion of PC clouds the notion in with the very bully language that the PC movement is meant to address, to self-correct over time. It is incumbent upon the reader to sift out this tactic from the argument and decide if what is left still constitutes a valid point. In the case of Stereotyping 101, what is left is a disconnected list of highly separate talking points without any connective tissue. Those points, each standing alone, are my second foray into rebutting Duke’s inferences. Alternately said, each point on the list can be discounted of its own merit, allowing the argument itself to fall apart.
I counter some of those individuated points here.
Duke concludes with a call for people to stand up for truth in all its forms, restating the claim that there is, at least, an element of truth to profiling or stereotyping or generalizing (an element of untruth to PC). Duke seems savvy enough to draw this conclusion without supporting those who’d abuse said truths and for that I applaud. Still, the most important distinction I’d hope readers might draw between Duke’s conclusion and my own is that more than one truth can exist at the same time.
It is entirely possible, to the point of being numerically probable, that part of a whole is coincidentally true, while the whole itself is true, while the linguistic movement meant to explain those truths is factually neutral. I conclude that it is this simultaneity of legitimacies that put PC in an agreeable light, without actually being pro’ or gung ho for PC. I believe it is my allowance for multiple truths in our one reality that quashes Duke’s more singular perspective on stereotyping. While “Oriental” was once used to refer to a group of people, the word “Asian” is ADDITIONALLY TRUE. While some people in our country prefer to be referred to as “black,” those who’ve chosen the moniker “African-American” might note it is ADDITIONALLY TRUE. While many use the word “white,” the terms “Caucasian” and “European-American” are ADDITIONALLY TRUE. PC is not a question of one word verses the other. Both pro-PC and anti-PC camps fail to realize this. The pro’ side would do better not to enforce and the anti’ side would do better not to point fingers. PC, as a linguistic movement, is about language’s constant forward momentum, a momentum that can no sooner be necessitated than it can be stopped. If PC were all positive and not neutral, advocates would not have to fight for its use. The change would evolve naturally. If PC were all negative and not neutral, nobody would elect to use it. Language would jump to the next logical stage of evolution for this family of words with another, similar movement we might as well call PC2. That’s the beauty of language, all parts of language. It self-corrects. To whatever degree PC terms are currently inaccurate or hypocritical or elitist, our language will eventually correct those as well, but not if we don’t start down the road.
This selection is condensed here and meant to be part of my lengthier blog entry
- There was once a staunch abandon of contractions in what was considered proper speech. Contractions were looked down upon as common. They were viewed as the product of lazy, uneducated tongues. It took an overpowering, linguistic, grass roots movement to see to it that most modern American English is now contracted beyond what can be represented on paper, huge portions of which are today considered proper English.
- Punctuation and text formatting are also parts of language. More recently there was strong opposition to alternatively formatted business language when put to paper. There was one accepted format and all others were deemed inappropriate. It took a movement spurred on by email and the fact that differing email servers handled simple paragraph indents adversely to change this language component. Today, it is okay to send a business to business email without paragraph indents, in many places preferred, so that digital text isn’t interpreted by local machines to belong in all sorts of weird places on the digital page, thereby appearing unprofessional. The change sparked much creativity and many new formats.
- Differing pronunciations of the same words in the same language across the various, fantastic dialects of our free nation all resulted from unseen linguistic movements as language evolved.
- The “Me” Generation more greatly intensified language that centered on the self, in explanation and in literature.
- Einstein inadvertently brought focus to parts of speech that were based in mathematical notions.
- Edgar Allan Poe made up words when he didn’t have one express that which he wished to describe, words that are now in every American English dictionary worldwide.
- Lexicographers find themselves constantly revamping their approaches to proper definitions as science continually serves up new proofs and new discoveries.
- Even efforts like the completely fictional Klingon Dictionary stem from fantasy origins that create linguistic movements, in this case movements so overwhelming that Oxford’s English Dictionary added terms like “Klingon” and “warp drive” to their volumes during the early part of the 21st Century.
- To add, Leet or LeetSpeak is an entire subculture of tech based slang that constitutes an enormous linguistic movement of its own, which in turn impacts other linguistic movements and language. You can read more about "l33t" here and here.
- When looked at from a number of points of view, there is a linguistic movement that seems to state, "If you film an American movie about anything that took place in a language other than English, forcing the actors to use all upper class British accents will lend credibility to the piece." Sure, we English speaking Americans realize that our mother tongue and the pronunciations within it are not the fountainhead of the English form. We are far from the originators of most English words and we look up to even standard British as a form superior to our own in classy usage. However, this does not necessarily mean that a tale from ancient Greece, a ditty about Julius Caesar, and a character study about Gingus Khan must include British accents of any kind. Somehow we grapple onto the idea that anything older than America's Old West is somehow more believable if done in English with a British accent. Yes, Americans generally hate reading subtitles. Yes, some stories actually take place around Brits. Still, American cinema's use of British English to represent any older form of any language highly (and wrongly) expands our existing perception of British enunciation as more chic. Before, such pronunciations were pure, coming from Brits and British actors. Now, most come from American actors attempting and frequently failing to master British pronunciation thereby spurring the populous on to think of these lesser and mistaken sounds as the haut speech. Our minds lend the British speech patterns greater importance in that we are inundated with them through film, while our ears poorly refabricate these patterns into something we turn around and call classy when it is not. Just look at the five year stint that Madonna tried to speak with a sudden British accent in order to make up for her own, stupidity laced, guttural pronunciations. Then, an entire half-step generation of fans began doing the same because it was so neat. Thousands of poor examples of "new" pronunciation and slang got folded into our existing lexicon, just from that one move on Madonna's part.
- What seems like over usage of the word LIKE in today's vernacular drives me personally crazy. However, even I have to acknowledge that it is simply a neutral, linguistic change that language vamps around whilst redefining its structure. Everything below is quoted from an article by Patricia T. O'Conner in The New York Times Magazine showing that lexicographers agree.
By PATRICIA T. O’CONNER
Published: July 15, 2007
Like is a friendly word. As a verb, it gives off affectionate vibes. In other parts of speech, it’s a mensch as well, emphasizing what things have in common, not what separates them. But there’s another like in the air, a gossipy usage that has grammar purists — and many parents of teenagers — climbing the walls.
This upstart like is the new say, and users (or abusers, depending on which side you take) find it a handy tool for quoting or paraphrasing the speech of others, often with sarcasm or irony. Linguists call it the “quotative like,” but any 16-year-old can show you how it works.
For example, like can introduce an actual quotation (“She’s like, ‘What unusual shoes you’re wearing!’ ”) or paraphrase one (“She’s like, my shoes are weird!”).
Or it can summarize the inner thoughts of either the quoter or the quotee (“She’s like, yeah, as if I’d be caught dead in them! And I’m like, I care what you think?”).
Like even lets a speaker imitate the behavior of the person being quoted (“She’s like . . . ” and the speaker smirks and rolls her eyes).
This like is not to be confused with the one that sticklers see as a meaningless verbal tic (“The band was, like, outrageous!”). Linguists would argue, however, that even that one has its uses — to emphasize something (“I was, like, exhausted!”) or to hedge a statement (“We had, like, six hours of homework!”).
But back to the like that’s used as a marker to introduce quotes (real or approximate) as well as thoughts, attitudes and even gestures. Parents may gnash their teeth, but language scholars like like.
“It’s a shame this poor little usage gets such a bum rap,” says Jennifer Dailey-O’Cain, an associate professor at the University of Alberta in Canada and one of several people interviewed by e-mail for this column. Dailey-O’Cain, who has published an often-cited study on the use of like, says, “It’s innovative, it serves a particular function and it does specific things that you can’t duplicate with other quotatives.”
The other quoting words commonly used in speech are say, of course, along with go (“He goes, ‘Give me your wallet’ ”) and all (“I’m all, ‘Sure, dude, it’s yours’ ”). But like definitely has legs. In just a generation or so it has spread throughout much of the English-speaking world.
O.K., the new like is hot and it’s useful, but is it legit? Aren’t some rules of grammar or usage being broken here?
Linguists and lexicographers say no. It’s natural, they say, for words to take on new roles. In this case, a “content word” (one that means something) has become a “function word” (one that has a grammatical function but little actual meaning). Academics call the process “grammaticalization.” It’s one of the ways language changes.
So is the new like proper English? Well, the latest editions of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary now include it as a usage heard in informal speech. That’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s not a condemnation either.
As for me, I’m convinced that this is a useful, even ingenious, addition to informal spoken English. But let’s be honest. For now, at least, it smacks of incorrectness to a great many people. In writing my grammar book for kids, I wrestled with this problem. In the end, I suggested that the usage is O.K. in informal conversation but not for situations requiring your best English.
Contrary to popular opinion, like is not exclusively a kid thing. Grown-ups use it too, men and women about equally, according to Dailey-O’Cain.
“Part of what inspired my study was the fact that my mother (who was in her 50s at the time) used to complain about other people using like,” she says. “But once I started pointing it out to her every single time she used it herself, she stopped making those kinds of criticisms!”
The linguist Geoffrey Pullum, an author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, finds the usage “quite logical and reasonable.” And he agrees that it’s not confined to youngsters. “My former student Jessica Maki caught her 65-year-old aunt, who grew up in North Carolina, saying, ‘I’m like, don’t answer the telephone!’ ”
Yet part of the resistance to like may be due to its youthful rep. “People see it as associated with teenagers,” says Arnold Zwicky, a visiting professor of linguistics at Stanford. “In general, variants associated with young people tend to be disdained.”
Another unfounded assumption about like is that it’s used by the less educated among us. “A lot of people are going to say that the variant just ‘sounds uneducated,’ and no amount of factual evidence is likely to counter this judgment,” Zwicky says. “Here we have another factor contributing to people’s disdain for quotative like, especially in their own children: nobody wants their kids to sound uneducated.”
I’ve always believed that young people are capable of knowing when to use formal versus informal, written versus spoken English. Zwicky’s experience with like-mindedness seems to bear this out. “It’s a specifically spoken form,” he says. “I don’t see it in writing, even from my students who are heavy users of it in speech, except when they’re producing writing that they intend to sound like speech.”
A word to parents: Loosen up. You may be using like this way yourselves without even realizing it. I have a confession to make. My husband caught me in the act only the other day. He was like, “Did you hear what you just said?”
Patricia T. O’Conner’s most recent book is “Woe Is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English.” She is working on a book about language myths and misconceptions. William Safire is on vacation.
The following selections have been condensed here to serve as a part of my lengthier blog entry
Fun With Stereotypes, Generalizations, and Profiling
Modern dogma holds that diversity is one of the greatest qualities a society can enjoy, that it bestows many advantages. But what does this imply? Well, by definition "diversity" refers to differences among groups. Now, not only is it illogical to assume that every one of these differences will be flattering, the supposition that diversity is beneficial implies otherwise. After all, if diversity is beneficial, it is only because certain groups bring qualities or strengths to the table that others do not. And, if a given group possesses a certain unique strength, then other groups are wanting in that area relative to it.
No. Difference is only one definition of diversity. Multiformity is another. Diversity is beneficial not because of the visible strengths one group brings to the table, but the variant IDEAS each individual at the table will be able to offer having been immersed in an entirely unique culture. Diversity is not a matter of measuring intellectual strength verses physical strength verses capable strength verses potential strength verses statistical strengths across ethnic lines. Diversity is the championing of IDEAS that challenge our own, tons of valuable IDEAS that any one individual could not have conjured solo. Diversity is the acknowledgement that the widening of an idea pool is beneficial in all regards, therefore culling new ideas from sources as vast as separate historical cultures. There is no culture, to use Duke’s word, “wanting” in the area of ideas.
Stereotypes often arise because they have a basis in reality.
No. Stereotypes arise because they have a basis in ignorance. Ignorant to environmental or cultural reasons why any two of the same culture might partake in a practice askew from the perceiver’s culture, the perceiver makes her/his observation in a vacuum. That’s the stereotype. I’ve a friend who’d put the issue quite succinctly. He, of a generally anti-PC stance, still said of stereotypes, “The logical defect is the assumption that one can judge the whole by the part [and call it reality.]” Sadly it’s the ignorance that’s the reality, not the observation that proved the onlooker ignorant.
…often it has been remarked that Irishmen liked to drink. Once again, intelligent people know this doesn't mean that every Irishman is a drunkard, but informed people might know something else: Ireland ranks number two in the world in per capita alcohol consumption next to Luxemburg.
…which begs the question, what mass mental shortcomings are at work for the stereotype NOT to have been applied to Luxembourgers?
So then why are the Maryland State Police probably going to have to pay money for saying what these academics got paid money to say.
Because academics are not entrusted with the use of deadly physical force. In fact, life and death situations, the likes of which we empower our law enforcement officers to control, are pretty much the opposite extreme from anything remotely academic. Academics is words, ideas, books, debates. Law enforcement is physical, practical, direct, personal, street smart, and life threatening. It deserves to be consistently fine-tooth-combed for potential flaws pursuant to its life-threatening architecture. Some of the only effective censure we have on the life and death power we’ve granted them is financial censure when those potential flaws are revealed.
And here is another truth. I have only one thing to say about the idea that Hispanics are reluctant to learn English: I've never been asked if I wanted to press two for German.
I respond with several truths:
A) We and Duke do not live on the border of Germany.
B) We and Duke do not live in a nation where within a few years an estimated 25% of the country’s population will be descended from German speaking nations, but rather we do with regard to Spanish speaking individuals having achieved legal U.S. citizenship. Readers might otherwise know them as Americans.
C) Duke and I are both smart enough to understand that when one is trying to support a family on minimum wage, it doesn’t leave a lot of cash around for English classes and tutors; while the many American Spanish speakers excelling at careers who would otherwise earn solvent wages already have a decent enough handle on English to render classes unnecessary. Excuse me for slacking on the English here, but the nonsense word “DUH” comes to mind.
D) I find it interesting that the very U.S. Census Bureau information cited in Duke’s piece to push the humor about “pressing two for German” is a collection of data that completely excludes almost all Spanish speaking groups. It would have been interesting to see how the two sets of data stack up side by side. Duke’s cited data is here. The groups used to collect that data, just two clicks away, are listed here.
E) Call me silly, but I just have a hard time aching for a person who is pained by pressing a button approximately once every fourteen days. I suppose waiting that extra second before the automated voice continues in English is far too long for Duke.
RETURN TO: Fun With Stereotypes, Generalizations, and Profiling
Monday, December 3, 2007
The following was written in response to Bullet's post, The Only Truth: Perception Is Everything, a great read.
This is one “headspace” upon which Bullet and I agree. That’s to say that I agree that modern, western subjectivity in the everyday thought process (if you can call it thought) has thoroughly overwhelmed objectivity, an objectivity our society once strove for like no other ideal. I further agree that it frustrates me to no end.
Much of the social difference between the two, not long ago, took a particular shape in conversation. When an objective speaker met a subjective rebuttal, the objective speaker, by virtue of being objective, had and used the interpersonal tools necessary to actually explain a point to the second in recognizable, common, and convincing detail. Objectivity brings with it a roadmap to accordance. In and of itself objectivity already contains a structure through which to bring a listener over from her/his original point to the counterpoint, agreeably. Objectivity is a great teacher with the skills to help anyone understand. Subjectivity is a preacher that demands agreement with no such mental journey or bipartisan aid.
Today, instead, while an objective speaker still possesses and practices those very tools that cross the middle ground to reach others, subjectivity has gained a newer foothold in conversation and in argument. Subjective speakers have somehow become convinced that there is no such thing as an objective point. They fail to believe that another person has the skill and the wherewithal to step outside of the self and express a truth or a fact that doesn’t necessarily reflect her/his own opinion. This is a falsehood. Subjective thinkers have inadvertently created a collective atmosphere wherein statements like, “Whatever, “ or, “I don’t think so,” or, “I’ve never heard of that, I think you are making it up,” or, “I don’t want to hear it,” or, “S/he has an agenda,” are treated as the most highly weighted utterances in the conversation, the show stoppers, the winning pitches. We’ve all heard such statements before. They are the ones the embattled know-nots use before turning tail and walking away prematurely. The list is endless.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
“I’m not listening anymore.”
“I learned to ignore you a long time ago.”
“I’m not talking to you.”
At least those few years ago these same intentions may have instead been stated as,
“What does this have to do with me?” or “How does this relate to your point?’
“I’m having a hard time listening because I do not understand.”
“I want to give you my full attention, but I am focused on something else right now.”
“Can we revisit this subject at a later time?”
Each of these latter spoken structures at least left the window open for the bridge between points to be crossed. In such a setting, an objective speaker/listener could perform the work to reach concurrence. Apt sentences like these acknowledged the gap between perceived opinions and simultaneously expressed a hope that the opinion closer to fact would reveal itself in the process of open debate. Dare I say, change a mind?
Subjective speakers do not do this anymore. They pick one idea they are comfortable with and stand on it, bar none, absolutely none. They’ve become convinced that repeating the statement more than once is somehow an arguing technique that will make the statement truer. They believe there is nothing to be gained from discussion if the other person doesn’t eventually and fully agree with their original point. They look at disagreement as a win-lose scenario. They enter every conversation willing to learn nothing, blaming conversational discovery on another person’s “bad attitude.” They find fault and insult in disagreement while they do absolutely zero to fervently pursue agreement. They interrupt, belittle, overreact, and even express PRIDE, yes PRIDE, in telling you that they do not need to explain themselves (and therefore their point). Then we put them on T.V.
Subjectivity is devoid of any tool that can ever result in real agreement and that is why it is inferior thought. It takes constructive disagreement to learn, but it takes agreement to move forward. Without agreement, nothing would ever transpire but war, murder, pain, rape, and your basic modicum of hell on Earth.
There are countless dimensions to this fluctuation in civility and endless blog entries yet to be written to lend a broader framework to the subject. It is a deep and complex societal shift to the overly simplified and therein what is falsely “perceived” as more efficient. However, it is this basic move from conversation to versation, and the people who would use it, that can be held almost solely accountable for a great percentage of all unfinished work, bad marriages, poor saving strategies, crime, automobile accidents, poor child rearing, mediocre job performance, and all forms of cheating. At a glance, the problem, though comparatively recent, seems hugely overwhelming and without end. It augments anything negative ever said about a Me Generation to bombastic, national proportions. I am certain that Bullet’s search for an acknowledgement of truth that is outside of the self, or the selfish, must seem undoable. To him, and to other objectivity-seekers like him, I offer below one hope and one piece of advice.
The hope is as follows. In part, I think a great deal of the overly subjective receivers out there have dug-in their heels specifically because they can sense that a regular conversation would eventually prove them “wrong.” They think they know where the conversation is going and rather than trying to be a part of where it is going, steer it a little, they view the destination as bad and instead overtly choose NOT to participate in their own “defeat.” While the thick-headedness of it could make you want to kick a puppy, there is some intelligence in the doing. The subjective points themselves still completely lack any thought to back them up. Their infernal drek is completely beyond rescue. Yet the ability to understand that “I” would be proven “wrong,” the ability to puzzle-out all the possible posits that are yet to be said and interlace them into a foregone conclusion that “I” might be forced to change “my” mind is intelligent in its own way, even insightful. It actually implies that under different circumstances, a subjective thinker would already and quite naturally agree with the objective point of view, sans hand-holding. Sure, the potential richness of this intelligent act is buried under the avalanche of unintelligent perspectives it takes to say “I’m not listening,” I submit, however, that this one act of the lazy mind could be described as an intelligence lying dormant beneath the crust that is a center of self. I believe that an intelligence lying dormant is better than none at all. I truly hope that one day it will explode through and regain the receptiveness that is key to agreement and forward movement. I hope to revisit and renew the path we were once on as a society, a path that saw so much merit in a truth outside the self, in a simple, provable fact, that we spawned arguably the freest nation on the planet. This is my hope and I offer it to you.
The advice I promised is less lofty. They lose! That’s my advice. Realize that they lose! Subjective speakers always lose. Sure, when no one is participating in conversation, if even because only one player has stopped the game, everybody loses out on the learning. Boo hoo! Nonetheless, what subjective speakers do not realize is that in their black or white, win or lose perception of conversation, they always lose. They have created these statements like “whatever,” and, “talk to the hand," and, “I’m not listening” for one express purpose…to end the discussion, to shut you up. Somehow, in shutting you up they feel like the winner. They’ve avoided the “defeat.” They get the last word in and that feels good to them. They actually walk away thinking that you have been put in your place, that you have failed, and that they had the superlative counter-quip. In that horrible human tally we keep in our heads of how many wins and loses we’ve racked up, they check that off as a “W”…every single time. They feel mighty. Still, if the purpose of conversation is to communicate, truly communicate, they’ve lost of their own avail. If the purpose of talking out a disagreement is to reach an agreement, they’ve SINGLE-handedly made that impossible.
Perception-only mongers are actually so bereft of objectivity, that they fail to realize they’ve lost. What’s more, in today’s society, so many blind supporters have come to treat this mental tantrum as a “win,” that even the objective speakers walk away from such intercourse feeling horrible. Objectivists didn’t deserve to be barked at, ignored, and then shut-out.
That is why I give my advice. It is a reminder to all the truly receptive. They lose! You have to know that they lose, definitively. When an incoming my-way-or-the-highway cop-out gags otherwise intelligent chat, you have to walk away at conversation’s end and immediately feel in the right. You just won. They left their king unprotected in the corner. They left the winning lottery ticket on the counter because they didn’t like the clerk’s attitude. You called their bluff, no matter the bet. You must craft the aftershock into the same feeling you’d get from bettering your personal best time in track. Get excited about it. Know it in your heart of hearts, for among other reasons, it is true. Nobody around to see you make the high jump? Still true. No one ever acknowledged your straight A’s in school? Still true. You have to know it so deep down in your blood, every mother-lovin’ time that it happens, that you never actually need to say it. They drop the working-toward-agreement ball and you depart satisfied. There are rules to boxing, two grown people pounding each other. There are rules to war, multiple nations murdering each other’s citizens over ideas and resources. Well, there are also rules to conversation and like boxers, when they break the rules, you just won, quietly, passively, and by default. Take it.
Finally, for those out there who might be left confused; for those who see I’ve now set up a situation whereby the subjectivist still walks away “thinking” s/he’s won with the objectivist walking away “knowing” s/he’s won and it’s accidentally left you wondering how you tell which camp you’re in…well the objective person is the person who reads this entire post.