Ruminations on Changes in Language

As most of you know, I’m inclined to be very conservative with regard to changes in English–my reaction is something like, “Okay, I’ll accept that change as soon as you convince me it makes the language more flexible, and permits finer distinctions.” Now that, in itself, is neither good nor bad. I understand that many battles have already been lost, and if I still use “hopefully” to mean filled with hope and never use it for I hope or all right-thinking people ought to hope, and if I consider “they” to be plural, well, that’s my business, and I’m not about to criticize someone else for using them differently.  And lately, I’ve even been trying to grit my teeth and remain silent in the face of “proactive.”

In many cases, especially corporate-speak, I know perfectly well why I hate it: it serves to blur distinctions, and to convey a dishonest subtext (for example, “self-select” in place of “choose” is intended to elevate the importance of the subject, the object, or both).

But what is interesting to me is when I discover exceptions. Blatant misuses of English, usually from the internet, that delight me. I’ve found no pattern for when something makes me grimace in pain, and when it makes me smile.

For example, “U” in place of “you” irritates me, but I actively like “obvs.”

Remember the lolcats thing from a few years ago? I hated that. For about six months. Then, suddenly it made me grin, and I even used it a few times. Why the change? I have no idea.

Much of leetspeak (such as “l33t”) makes me want to hit someone. But there are other things just as bad that I’m totes okay with, and some of them are just adorbz.

So, do you love them all, hate them all, or are there some you like?  And if you can figure out a pattern in my taste or your own, I’m interested in hearing it. Because language.

Random, disorganized, scattershot thoughts on Cook’s post

I’m talking about this post.  And, yeah, my blog post makes no pretense of being organized or coming to any conclusion.

1. I think I need a new category tag that goes, “I’m not a feminist, but…”

2. Just because a bunch of people all get upset about something, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong.

3. In his post, giving examples of pure SF writers, he starts with this: “Issac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein to name but four…”  Um, excuse me.  Theodore Sturgeon?  Is there a different Theodore Sturgeon than the one who put human love and sexuality at the center of more stories than I’ll live to write?  Because surely he can’t mean that Theodore Sturgeon as an example of writers who avoided romance.  Am I missing something?

4. I DO agree with him about false advertising, however. I mean, when I pick up a book that claims to be well written, and, in fact, it turns out to suck galactic moose, I get really annoyed.

5. Book of the New Sun, fantasy or science fiction:  Apparently it’s fantasy, on account of the failure of the Earth to wobble properly.  Well, glad we’ve got that settled.  Let’s not talk about Doc Smith, all right?  Next up will be Lord of Light.

6. I really am uncomfortable when I find myself on the same side as so many people I so vehemently disagree with on so many issues.  It’s like when I say something on a panel and the audience applauds–it makes me think I’m taking the easy way out.  I don’t have a pathological need to be in a minority, but not being in the minority makes me twitchy, and I have to wonder if I’m letting myself fall into groupthink.  But then I remind myself that I agree with Republicans on some things–like a passionate hatred for Roosevelt (in my case, because he saved Capitalism), so I guess it’s all right.  And, you know, see point 2 above.

7. What kicks it over the edge for me is the phrase, ” the attention to detail that only women would find attractive: balls, courts, military dress, palace intrigues, gossiping, and whispering in the corridors.”  There is something so utterly, well, EWWWWW about that, that as an admirer of Bujold, I am just unable to not say something.  So I’m saying something.  Here’s what I’m saying: EWWWWWWW.

Okay, that’s all for now.  More later on how women are ruining science fiction.



Why I don’t use the term “Classism”

Racism refers to prejudice based on race; sexism to prejudice based on sex, &c.  Classism, therefore, refers to prejudice based on social class.  Is it real?  Of course it’s real.  But.

Regarding the working class, prejudice isn’t the most important issue.  Or the second most important, or the third.  You have to go pretty far down to even find prejudice on the list of things that matter.

What matters to the working class is not that it is treated as the working class, but that it is the working class.  The goal is not social justice for the working class, the goal is that the class, as a class, cease to exist.  That by the revolutionary act of making everyone part of the working class, no one is, and the benefits of social production be distributed evenly and fairly (no, stop right now with the bullshit about “what’s even and fair?” and “who gets to decide?” and yada yada.  That isn’t the point of this post, and we can talk about it another time).

Prejudice against the worker, or against the poor, is almost a non-issue; the issue is that some people produce everything, others reap the profit from those who produce, and that this contradiction today threatens all of human civilization.  The worker does not want an end to prejudice, the worker wants no longer to be “the worker.”  It has very little to do with what is in someone’s head, it has everything to do with the social relations that determine all other social relations.

The term “classism” puts prejudice at the front and center of the discussion.  But social classes are not caused by prejudice, rather they cause it.  Class distinctions are the root cause of prejudice in the modern sense of the term (as opposed to tribal loyalty, which I would argue is a different thing).  The very term “classism,” therefore, undermines this understanding, inverts the relationship, and thus makes it more difficult to understand–and therefore eliminate–class distinctions.  And prejudice.

On Language, Politics, and Why and How to Argue

Rhetoric.  Rhetorical devices.  Politics.

There’s been a discussion of free speech and censorship lately, falling into the usual camps of, “It isn’t censorship unless a government does it” (clearly nonsense), and overblown statements calling any criticism an attempt at censorship.  My issue isn’t with either of these, it is with the language used.

A few posts back I did a post in which I discussed various political camps using curing cancer as a metaphor.  Most people, I think, got what I was doing (a few didn’t, but that always happens). But when you do something like that, you aren’t trying to convince anyone of your position on the major issue. What I mean is, anyone who read that and had the reaction, “Oh, gee, he’s right. I’ll become a socialist now,” isn’t someone I want on my side.

The point of something like that is to draw some distinctions. Ideally, those who read it, while still not agreeing with me, went, “Okay, now I’m a little clearer on how he views the difference between a liberal and a pseudo-leftist.”  I consider that valuable. If someone who reads that finds himself, because of events in the real world, questioning his basic assumptions, then maybe some of that will come back and help clarify a few things.  And there’s a second purpose: to help things become more sharp and clear in my own mind.  And a third purpose: it is an argument with those who are in 95% agreement with me for the purpose of making it 96%.  (Also a fourth reason, because it made me smile, but let’s skip that one for now.)

The object of the exercise can be stated as follows: To make distinctions and differences in our minds accurately reflect, as much as possible, the differences and distinctions in the real world. I oppose liberals every bit as much as I oppose conservatives; but they aren’t the same.  I oppose pseudo-leftists as much as I oppose Libertarians; but the differences between them matter.

With that in mind, take another look at the second paragraph above.  In it, I say, “overblown statements calling any criticism an attempt at censorship.”  The trouble with that is, it is exactly what I ought to be showing, rather than simply stating it.  And by failing to do that, I pretty much remove all value from it.  The question is, where are the lines between criticism that attempts to clarify and sharpen issues, and an attempt to shut someone up, and when does the latter become censorship?  Now that is an interesting question, and one I’m going to ignore, because I want to talk about the more general case.

When does one refer to another by a derogatory label? That is, when is it correct to refer to someone as an imperialist, as a reactionary, as a pseudo-leftist? When two conditions apply: 1) it is accurate, and 2) the other is not whom you’re trying to convince of anything.

Were I to try to convince someone that his position was that of a pseudo-leftist, I would explain what I meant by the term, discuss the implications of it, and attempt to show how that person’s positions fit into that category.  When I, in another discussion, refer to someone as pseudo-leftist, I’m not trying to convince that person; my agenda is to make distinctions in the context of another discussion.  Does that make sense?

As part of the conversation mentioned above, some of the more extreme opponents of censorship (which is not, mind you, a bad thing to be) will refer to those who differ with them as “anti-speech” or “pro-censorship.”  What this tells me is, those people are not the intended audience. They are not who you are trying to convince of anything.  If your argument takes the form, “By taking position X, you lend support to excessive censorship because of Y,” then there is an effort to convince those people. If your argument takes the form, “The reason I object to the pro-censorship people is,” then you are attempting to make a different point, aimed at different people.

I bring it up because I sometimes see people using a derogatory label for positions they oppose, and then, apparently, trying to argue with those who hold those positions. This makes nothing more clear or sharp for anyone.  Following a friend’s Tweet, and then link to link to link, I recently came across some Men’s Rights Activists. Seriously, I have nothing to say to those people. I don’t want to convince them of anything. We have no common basis for action or discussion.  But if I did want to argue with them, I wouldn’t say, “The trouble I have with you sexists is…” because convincing them that that label applied would be exactly the goal.

Bottom line point: Do not enter into political discourse without knowing what you want to accomplish and why, after which you can give some thought to how.  “Because he’s wrong,” is not a sufficient reason.  Now, if I can just remember to apply that rule to myself, all will be well.