Archive for the ‘Language Use’ Category


We’ve all heard the cringe-inducing jargon: white privilege, white skin privilege, woke (self-congratulatory term of the day), phallocracy (yes, a real PC term), differently abled, safe space, triggered, Latinx (obviously better than o/a), exceptional (retarded), and the granddaddy of all this awkwardness, “people of,” and  so on.

First: Who the hell came up with these terms? Second: Who the hell uses them? Third: Why? Fourth: What on earth purpose does this serve? Fifth: Who benefits?

1) Well, no one really knows. A decent guess is that well-off, guilt-ridden white PC academics in Ivy League or other $40,000-a-year-tuition universities, and possibly members of authoritarian marxist political parties, came up with this crap;

2) The just-mentioned white academics and holier-than-thou left political activists who don’t give a shit about alienating everyday people — activists (at least in word) who want to signal their virtue, people who have never lived in a ghetto or barrio and are separated by an income gap from those of us stuck here;

3) The surface reason is that they want to “educate” people about “privilege.” A secondary reason is that they don’t understand what four decades ago Audre Lourde called the “hierarchy of oppression,” and don’t give a shit about organizing the unorganized and building solidarity across racial and gender lines.

What better way to appeal to (white and especially male) people barely making the rent, without health insurance, and in fear of job loss than to tell them they’re “privileged,” and (unspoken) should be ashamed of it and themselves? Why on earth wouldn’t they rally to your cause? Why on earth talk to people about the actual hierarchy of oppression and their place in it, when you can use insulting, guilt-inducing terms to gloss over all the many and important gradations, paint the less oppressed as “privileged,” and pat yourselves on the back for how enlightened you are?

4) As mentioned above, the purpose of using such terms is virtue-signalling: letting the world know that you’re “woke.” Not remotely making the world a better place.

5) The only people this serves are right-wing theofascists, such as Trump, who want to paint a grotesque image of those opposed to them as holier-than-thou, out-of-touch elitists. Referring to poor and working class people who aren’t as oppressed as others as “privileged,” rather than “less oppressed,” is both grotesque and insulting. It’s hard to imagine a more effective divide-and-conquer strategy.

Referring accurately to all of the oppressed as oppressed leads to solidarity. On the other, referring to the less oppressed as “privileged” is not only inaccurate, it leads to warfare within the poor and working classes. Divide and conquer.

Condescending, reductionistic PC terminology plays into Trump’s and the other ruling-class theofascists’ hands.

How utterly disgusting.


The British analytical group, More in Common (“founded in memory of [British MP] Jo Cox [murdered by a neo-Nazi]”), reports that the vast majority of Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture.

The study has design problems, such as considering no political positions to the left of “progressive activists,” and defining “PC culture” only in terms of language. (Obviously, it goes far beyond this.)

Still, the study has some value. Among other things, it reveals that a full 80% of Americans (including 75% of Afro-Americans and 88% of Native Americans) “dislike” PC language and consider it a problem. As well, the single group most likely to view PC jargon favorably — though only a third do so — is “progressive activists,” 8% of the total population, who are overwhelmingly white, earn over $100K per year, and are most likely to hold advanced degrees.

In other words, “the liberal elite,” those most likely to control “progressive” media outlets (such as, to fairly single them out, Alternet), and to indulge in the use of PC terminology.

And PC terminology is to all appearances not intended to unite the oppressed against the common ultra-rich enemy, but to give its users a warm feeling of self-congratulation on being enlightened, morally superior, above the rest of us. It’s in-group, self-identifying, and self-congratulatory jargon.

Think about it for a moment. How many people do you know who use terms like “woke,” “people of color,” “white privilege,” “privileged”? I’ve lived for nearly 30 years in a barrio where maybe 25% of the people are white, and I have never heard any of my Mexican or black neighbors, or my poor white neighbors, use these or similar terms. Never. Over damn near 30 years. Never.

“Progressive activists” are not speaking the language of the people. They may want to shame people into using their jargon, but they are not speaking the language of the people.

It’s time for the “progressive” left to stop patting themselves on the back. It’s time for them to stop using jargon that alienates people. (Try telling someone who’s making minimum wage, spending 50% of their income on rent, has no health insurance, and can’t come up with $500 cash to cover an emergency, that they’re “privileged” because of the color of their skin — see how far that gets you; see how far that goes in building coalitions to build solidarity, to improve life for all.)

The PC left is a curse, navel-gazers intent on proving to themselves how virtuous they are in comparison to us unenlightened plebes, especially through use of their in-group jargon. They’re an ongoing disaster.

If the left is ever to make real progress in this country, to make concrete policies to benefit all, it won’t be through using bizarre jargon that plays into the hands of Trump’s “very fine people.” It’ll be through talking about economic policies that benefit all of us.


“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

— George Orwell, Why I Write

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(Thanks to T.C. Weber for this one, who’s doing the same damn thing.)

 


“[Chekhov] has put his finger on a problem that often affects writers and just as frequently stands in the way of clarity: the belief that every noun needs an adjective, that every sentence must be elaborate, that every turn of phrase must be lyrical, poetic, and above all original, and that it represents some sort of shameful failure of the imagination to use language in a way that can be readily understood by all.”

–Francine Prose, “It’s Harder Than It Looks to Write Clearly” on Lithub

 


I just read a self-indulgent, useless piece by an editor at another small press regarding a recently deceased prominent sci-fi author (Ursula Le Guin). The editor had nothing interesting to say — whatever; it’s what I expected — but what really irritated me was her use of the term “passed away” in place of “dead” or “deceased.”

If you’re trying to convey useful information, euphemisms — even the most commonly understood — are a lousy, inefficient way to do it. Let’s take this euphemism: “passed away” is a  term with two words, a dipthong, and three syllables. The slightly more polite but still accurate “deceased” is a single word with two syllables. “Dead” consists of a single word and a single syllable.

Over the last three-and-a-half years, nearly of 20 my friends have died (all younger than me). They’re dead; they didn’t “pass”; they didn’t “pass away”; they didn’t “go to a better place.” They’re dead. And I miss them.

There’s no way to sugar coat it, and trying to do so is obnoxious, condescending — taking the reader as a delicate flower who can’t handle the truth.

As Lemme put it, my friends are “stone dead, forever.”

Using euphemisms wastes time and makes honest discourse more cumbersome.

Stop it. Please stop it.


One of the main mocking points of the right is the language of the left, especially PC terms such as the mandatory “people of.”

Here’s a hint as to why using such language is a really dumb thing to do: It’s artificial. In real life — at least around here — No one talks like that.

My neighborhood is about 80% nonwhite, and over the last quarter century while talking with my Mexican, black, and poor white neighbors, I have never heard the words “people of color.”  Never. The black people refer to themselves as black people or African-Americans. The Mexicans refer to themselves as Mexicans or Mexican-Americans, very occasionally chicanos. Not “people of color” — that’s a term for guilty white folks and identity-politics types of any color, who care more about using the correct PC terms than about reaching the people around them (more accurately, reaching the people in poor and working class neighborhoods).

After that disastrous usage and similar off-putting PC terms, things get even worse — totally divorced from reality, totally divorced from daily life.

Let’s take a prime example: “Smash US Imperialism.” What the hell does that mean? “Smash”? Does it have any concrete meaning? No. It’s just metaphorical.

What about “U.S. Imperialism”? That might have some meaning (varying) in hardcore leftist circles, though one suspects it’s close to a ritual incantation. Most of my neighbors would have at best a foggy idea of what that term means.

The point is that “Smash U.S. Imperialism” is just empty political sloganeering. It has nothing to do with daily life.

After such empty rhetoric, incredibly enough, things get even worse.

Condescending identity-politics types will happily lecture people about how they’re woman-haters for refusing to vote for authoritarian warmonger and corporate lapdog Hillary Clinton, and how having a woman in charge will be a huge step forward. (Yep, having Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi at the top of the heap in the UK and India changed everything, didn’t it?)

Even more obnoxiously, holier-than-thou identity politics types will lecture people about how they’re racists just because they’re white. Some of the more dishonest, disrespectful PC types even have the nerve to ask other white people “Are you a racist” in order to manipulate them into being lectured about how all white people are racists.

This type of patronizing PC b.s. does far more harm than good. It unnecessarily alienates people and plays into the stereotype that everyone on the left side of the political spectrum is a condescending jerk.

So, what to do?

If you want to talk with people and actually move them, talk to them about their daily lives. Talk with them about how lacking healthcare means they might die, how their kids might die; talk to them about the shitty schools in the neighborhood; talk to them about the insane cost of higher education; talk to them about how the 1% pay lower taxes than they do, and how they’ll never get ahead as long as that continues.

Talk about daily life, what we’re all going through, and we might even get to hardcore Trump worshippers. When we point out how government and corporate policies play out in daily life, how they affect all of our families, we might get through to people.

Let’s point out why, in concrete terms, our shared pain exists, and we might get somewhere.

Using abstract, PC language and slogans almost guarantees that we won’t.

Talking about daily life is the best, and arguably the only, way to reach people.

 

 

 


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from 2013. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

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by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

I recently read a short story by a well-known science fiction author, and found myself grinding my teeth as I plowed through it. Why? It was well plotted and the characters were well drawn, but it contained several common writing errors — errors that the editor should have caught, and that the writer should never have made. (She’s a major figure in the sci-fi genre, and the story collection was published by a major publishing house.)

The first error was misspelling of the past tense of the verb “lead”: it’s “led,” not “lead.”

The second was my current pet peeve, incorrect use of the infinitive: “and” is not part of the infinitive; “to” is. For example, “I’m going to try and get a job.” Wrong. “I’m going to try to get a job.” Right.

The third was misuse of both semicolons and colons.

Semicolons have only two uses: 1) to separate two closely related phrases that could stand as independent sentences; 2) to separate items in lists, especially within text. They can be used as separators in bulleted or numbered lists, but that’s optional.

Colons have a few more uses: 1) at the end of salutations in letters or e-mails; 2) to introduce lengthy quoted material; 3) at the end of a complete sentence when the following phrase, clause, or word illustrates or explains the preceding part of the sentence; 4) to introduce a list.

Everyone, at least occasionally, makes writing mistakes. But when abundant such errors indicate the following: 1) the author is simply a poor writer and doesn’t even suspect s/he’s making common errors; 2) the author takes little or no pride in his or her craft, is too lazy to learn proper usage, and doesn’t think it matters; or 3) the author is aware of his or her writing errors, knows they’re problems, and wishes to slough them off on lesser mortals (i.e., editors).

These are all excellent reasons for not wanting to work with an author.