Thursday, July 09, 2009

Language usage

Its easy to get irate on the internet. There are countless threads on feminism, sexism, racism, homophobia in which (inevitably) unoppressed middle class white men (and sometimes women, but it seems to be men), make ignorant statements. I think whats frustrating about these people is that I may well have shared their viewpoints on some issues while younger. While the very idea of racism has always been utterly abhorrent to me, including using racially charged words, I certainly acted in a homophobic way while younger, because I was ignorant.

Why do words have value? Why should someone saying something charged, if they don't mean in that way, matter? Gay is an example brought up again and again, as it used by many to imply that something is bad. The claim is that it is used frequently enough that the meaning of changed. This is, of course, not true. The common usage of the word in such a manner is really not that old, and currently the meanings are linked. After all, the reason people used gay to imply something was bad was because homosexuality was considered bad. Thats why I did it, after all.

For me the important thing about controlling words is actually about growing up. Having to spend one's youth being reminded about how margailised one is by the words of children is not a pleasent thing. It is something that we as a society have tried to do for racial slurs- it is known for most children growing up that using such charged language is not acceptable, that its hateful, and, this is most important, there is nothing wrong with being in another race. We have not done perfectly, but society has changed its attitudes, and language comes with attitude. Using racial slurs are taboo, and thats GREAT.

I want the same thing for homosexuality, because kids who are gay shouldn't have to grow up feelign disgusted at themselves, and feeling alienated. Thats how we get generational change, and language is a big part of that.

I understand that language is often changing, and perhaps in 30 years time it will be acceptable to use the term "nigger" as merely expressing friendship for all races. Clearly, we are not there yet, and to claim otherwise is utterly disgenous.

The thing is about language is it rarely hurts us to stop using certain words; in theory we can head to lunacy by making too many words taboo, but most stories related about not being able to say common sense words are exaggerated stories. Its not too hard, if we're honest, to see which words are charged and which are not, and we can make a conscious effort to stop saying those that are.



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