The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and, except where explicitly stated, do not represent those of any other person or corporate entity.

12 May, 2018

Words

Hoo, boy, did I step in it yesterday. And having stepped in it, I wiped it off my shoe and carried on...but it still stinks.

George Carlin, in his famous Seven Words You Can't Say On Television bit, said there are "no bad words. Bad thoughts, bad intentions...and words." I have lived by that my whole life long.

I do have some vestiges of prude in me, which I of course consider good taste. Eddie Murphy in his Delirious stage is profoundly unfunny to me: saying "fuck" seventeen times in a minute does not constitute a joke. Likewise, there are a number of comedians of colour in competition to see who can say the words "nigger" and "motherfucker" most frequently. Oooh, how edgy. It's like the douchebag with the micropenis in his souped up Honda Civic, revving his engine. Oh, buddy, you have so much talent. Look at you, PRESSING A PEDAL WITH YOUR FOOT, you paragon of manliness. You get me warm in the secret spots, you do.

Douchebag.

But profanity has a rich history, and there are times when it is absolutely mandatory. Who among us has slammed a hammer down on his finger and screamed "oh, fiddesticks!"? You don't say "fiddlesticks", you say "fuck", and you say it loud and with vigour. And it's the velar plosive "ck" in "fuck" that does the work. Don't believe me? Next time you hit your finger with a hammer, try screaming "fuuuuuuuuuuuuuu"....and notice how unsatisfied you are.

I'm not here to talk about profanity today, though. I'm here to talk about something worse.

What's worse than profanity, Ken?

These days, there are many words much worse than fuck. Or nigger, or even the absolute foulest English word (outside Australia, anyway), which is cunt. Want an example of a word worse than any of these?

Poly.

No, not because it refers to "polyamory", and never you worry, this is NOT about polyamory in any way shape or form today. "Poly", you see, has been claimed by the Polynesians. Using the word in any other way, to refer to anything else, is "disrespectful". And it somehow "erases" people.

My jaw dropped at that, I don't mind saying. And I said something that REALLY pissed people off: "if you can be erased by a mere word, maybe you weren't really there in the first place."

I'm a white male. I'm not supposed to say things like this. My job, I was told, is to listen, apologize, and correct.

In the face of commands like that -- gee, in my whiteness and maleness I've been foolishly doing other things like singing love songs and building people up and wow, I use words in so many other ways, almost always positive,  when my JOB is to listen, and say the only word available to white males like me...sorry? FUCK OFF -- I can`sympathize with the right-wing backlash against political correctness.

Carlin was right when he said there are no bad words, only bad thoughts and bad intentions. He's right no longer. Words themselves are now toxic, regardless of how they're used, regardless of multiple meanings they might have. Take "poly".  It's a prefix from ancient Greek meaning "many", and it shows up in words like polygon (many angles), polysyllabic (many syllables) and politics (many blood-sucking insects...okay, that's not true).

Or take another word a poly friend of mine got in MAJOR shit for using to refer to her polycule. "Tribe". Oh, the horror of using a word that the dictionary defines as a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest. (But hey, we must remember that dictionaries were written by white males whose only JOB is to listen and apologize and correct, so there isn't a word in a single one of them, except "sorry",  that isn't suspect.)

People are now so quick to assume that if you use a word, any word, it's said with malicious intent.

I know about malicious words. I've had more than my share thrown at me over the years, always with maximum venom: all the gay slurs, of course, as well as things like spazz (for 'spastic') and quad (for 'quadriplegic'), both the latter because of my piss-poor coordination. Nerd and geek used to be ugly words; they've been almost totally reclaimed now. More recently, I get cuck and beta VERY frequently, and the hatred level is just as high as it was with the invective in my childhood.

What makes those words malicious? The intent behind them. Try as I might, I can't see how "poly" is a "bad word".

As for Polynesians demanding that "poly" refer only to them: people have every right to use whatever term they want to describe themselves. Persons of colour seem to change their preferred group name every ten years or so: it's gone from "Negro" through "Colored" and "Black" and "African American". Now it's "persons of colour" or POC. That's fine, until 2025 or so when "melatoninally enhanced" becomes de rigueur. I'll call you whatever you want to be called; that's basic respect. I'll use your chosen pronoun without blinking.

Kindly do the same for me.

Upon reflection, I could sort of understand where the "erasure" comment came from. If you search "poly" online,  you'll have to scroll through MANY pages of results to find a single reference to "Polynesian". (Of course, only a tiny subset of those results refer to polyamory, because as noted above, "poly-" just means "many", Pacific Islanders must be a little ticked to discover that the term they've adopted is already so common in English. They're more than welcome to use it, but they risk a kind of abstract, online erasure if they do.

Even so, using "poly" to mean many does not erase someone. Not in the reality that matters.   People can tell me I don't exist and holy shit, I'm still here. People can call me cuck, fuck, suck and again...still here.

Words can and do have multiple meanings. "Many" in Samoan (which is the official language of Polynesia) is tele...which is, kind of oddly, another extremely common English prefix from Greek meaning "from a distance".

There's a solution that doesn't involve abolishing an ancient, common prefix.

"I am Samoan" in Samoan is i te Samoa.

Do you see "Poly" there? I don't.

________________

There's definitely truth in "woke" sayings like "the oppressor does not get to determine what constitutes harm". There are times, though, when people's harm detectors are turned way the fuck up. They're hyper-alert for any perceived, as opposed to, you know, ACTUAL, slight. And what's worse is that as a white, straight cis-male, my words are automatically suspect (at least) three ways. I must be misogynist, because that's a trait common to males; I must be homophobic, because that's a trait common to straights, and I must be racist, because that's a trait common to...well, pretty much every racial group on earth. (Go to Japan and count the ""Japanese Only" signs and tell me how they differ from these).

I may belong to the classes called "white", "straight" and "born male". They do not define me.

I am more willing than most to respect others. People who know me know this. I do wish the same courtesy could be extended in return.


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2 comments:

Wheels said...

I couldn’t agree more with each and every word andthougt you shared. Brilliant ! It’s disheartening to see what this world is becoming. Well said Sir. Well said !

Ken Breadner said...

Thank you, Wheels. Without a doubt, you are part of my...tribe.

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