When Has Something Outlived its Usefulness?

It’s a good question. How can you tell when something has outlived its usefulness?

This could easily be a post about some of my most recent dating disasters. The Pirate immediately comes to mind, since obviously I wasted way more time on that non-relationship than was necessary. Interesting, since I didn’t mourn the end of things with the Bartender or question it nearly as long as that, even though I was much more invested in him.

But today isn’t a post about relationships. It’s about words.

Phrases actually.

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As an English teacher, I get a front seat view of how often the language changes. Between the exceedingly rapid changes in technology and the bastardization of the language due to the effort to express complex ideas in 140 characters or less, the language is changing. A lot. We’re losing use of idioms left and right, and people are losing the ability to understand allusions, even easy ones.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was saddened by some of the changes in the language. I’m angry, even, at some of them (I will never approve of the word Bae as a name for a loved one). There are, however, some changes that I think need to happen.

Anyone who’s followed along with this blog for any amount of time knows that I’m not a fan of the term “feminist.” I don’t consider myself a feminist because I think the term is unintentionally sexist. I think in the beginning, it was necessary to make the distinction that being for women’s rights was the right fight for gender equality.

I even believe that the fight isn’t over.

Women still make roughly 3/4 what a man does, or less, depending on race (which is another issue, which we’ll get to shortly). If the fight were through, if things were truly equal, we wouldn’t have a presidential candidate that was suggesting that women need to change careers if they’re being sexually harassed, or who thought it was acceptable to harp on his (female) opponent’s appearance and the sound of her voice as opposed to actually debating the issues.

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And those aren’t even the most recent of absurdly sexist things he’s said! It was just the most convenient, already made graphic with a handful of quotes.

Of course, in fairness, Trump was just as hateful to his male opponents.

Perhaps he’s not a good example because, well, I’m not sure he’s even aware of what the issues are in order to debate them, which is why he relies on Gaslighting and bully tactics in order to keep people enraged about his behavior instead of actually listening to his politics.

I was watching a variety of YouTube videos yesterday, and someone finally said what I’ve been saying for a while now: Trump is winning because he’s turned politics into a reality TV show. He’s got that formula down pat, and he’s following it to a T. He’s playing the role of the guy everybody loves to hate, but who’s so outlandish, people keep voting to keep him just so they’ll see what asinine thing comes out of his mouth next!

Only that’s not a good way to run the country…

But enough about Trump. This isn’t supposed to be about him. We’re talking about words and language and how it changes.

Although… you know, Trump’s got all the best words… Just ask him.

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Back on topic.

I think that as times change, the connotations of certain words or phrases change and so the word or phrase itself needs to change as well.

I’m not saying anything new about connotation. When I teach my kiddos the difference between connotation (context) and denotation (definition), I always use the word “hot.” If you ask a student what the definition of “hot” is, they almost always tell you the definition about temperature. Then I ask them if it means the same thing if someone says that a person is “hot,” or what does it mean if you say someone has “hot” breath?

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That’s the difference between denotation and connotation. Boom. Easy, peasy. And it proves how the connotations change over time, too.

Whether rightly or wrongly, the connotation of feminism isn’t exactly positive anymore. It was coined during a time when there really was a war between the sexes! Women had to prove that they were as tough as men, that they could be as rational as men thought they were, that they could be as proficient as men…

The push for gender equality was synonymous with pushing a feminist agenda because the feminist “agenda” was simply to be seen as equal!

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Some would say that’s what it still is. Feminism is simply still about making things equal for both men and women. Some would argue there’s a hidden agenda, or that the true feminist agenda is one of misandry, the mistreatment of men (misogyny is the mistreatment of women).

I don’t particularly care which side of the issue you take. I’m here to say the easiest way to circumvent that particular issue altogether would be to simply embrace a new term. We need a term that focuses on equality for everyone!

After all, there are multiple civil rights movements still going strong right now.

There are people still fighting for religious freedom, especially in light that the leader of the Republican party is talking about deporting people for religious reasons because of some idiotic notion that the religion is to blame for the terrorism and not the fact that it is really an issue of extremism.

Extremist Christians were to blame for the Crusades that sought to wipe out Islam centuries ago. Are we going to do away with all religions because extremism causes people to do stupid things?

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Then there’s the LGBTQ community, which was successful in getting marriage equality, but now there’s a fight over the basic right to use the bathroom in peace. It could be argued that the cause is again extremism in religion… It is the fundamentalist Christians, after all, that are making a big deal over the trans community’s ability to use their chosen gender’s bathroom.

But this isn’t a post for pointing fingers.

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I started this post hours ago, and now I’m sitting here trying to figure out exactly what the next step is. I’ve reached the section that talks about race. The civil rights movement for ethnic America isn’t over anymore than the other two, and it’s probably the oldest civil rights movement of them all.

I find it hard to talk about. I am not white, but my family is, so there are those who would argue that I’m biased because of my upbringing. Perhaps they feel that white privilege extends to me by association.

Some while back, I lost a good friend because she told me I didn’t have the right to speak about the Black Lives Matter movement because, I “don’t have skin in the issue.” Because I’m not black, in her estimation I’m not allowed to have a say.

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And yet, I would tell you that being neither black nor white gives me an interesting perspective. An unbiased, outside opinion of sorts. I’ve dated both and found that racism exists on both sides of the line because we are so busy seeing what’s on the outside that we completely miss who a person is on the inside.

I’ve said that for a while, so anybody who claims that what I’m about to say is just some racist counter argument hasn’t been paying attention to my views on the issue.

What spawned this whole post was an article that was going around on Facebook. It’s a letter from a law professor to some anonymous students of his that sent him a somewhat scathing letter condemning him for wearing a #BlackLivesMatter shirt.

It’s quite lengthy, but I read all of it. I was impressed with how he offers suggestions for more effective writing. Plus, the professor makes quite a few good points, and I particularly enjoy how he uses actual logic to refute the arguments: he points out their logical fallacies.

logical fallacy

As I was reading, I found myself mildly conflicted. The professor’s arguments were sound, but, as he explained, they only work if the premise is accurate. And I don’t know if I agree with his premise.

Is there a problem with racism and prejudice in this country? Yes, but I don’t know if I agree with the idea of continuing to separate ourselves by color to solve the issue. I do feel that by saying Black Lives Matter, it does potentially increase the violence because of how it is perceived by the majority of people who are actively part of the problem.

Perception is a big part of marketing, and while we’re not marketing people (that’s a whole other era of racism that we are thankfully past), we are trying to market an idea.

The idea is that black people are people, too, and are entitled to the same rights as all people… most notably the right to live and not get shot for stupid reasons.

But if you’re trying to sell that idea to some hillbilly (for example) who has been taught all his life that minorities are here to steal his livelihood, and that they prefer violence and ignorance, telling this angry hillbilly that black lives matter isn’t going to be met with the logic and understanding that you’re looking for.

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And before I get blasted for saying black people are either of those things, I don’t believe it. I say violent based on the way the African American community is portrayed in the media, including the hip hop that comes from the African American community. I say ignorant because I’ve seen with my own eyes the idea promoted that it’s better to be “hard” than smart. That and because of the bastardization of the language…

I’m still angry over things like “bae” and “cray.” Not cute, internet and hip hop. Stop it!

We’re still forcing each other to be separated by what’s on our outsides instead of recognizing that we’re all just people!

I feel the same way about transgender. I think we’ve focused so much on the external that now we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s possible to be born into the wrong body. I don’t think the body matters that much, and letting your naughty bits define you seems unenlightened to me.

But I also recognize that I don’t have the right to tell someone that they can’t change their outside to match what they feel is accurate on the inside. I honor their wishes and don’t make a big deal of their decision. If it’s someone I’ve known for a long while, it may take me a minute to get the pronouns right, but not because I disapprove, only because it takes a while to make that adjustment in my processing.

A person is a person.

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We’re all just people. We need to stop seeing each other by what’s on the outside, and stop categorizing each other like canned goods. We complain about the gendering of the toy section, and the “gender tax” that says that a man’s razor and a woman’s razor that are identical except for color are priced differently. The woman’s razor is more expensive because it’s pink, and because companies know that women will pay more to look good.

Bic even tried it with pens…

I wish that were a joke, but it’s not.

My point is this:

All lives do matter, no matter the color or gender or sexual preference or religion, or mental ability, or language. And yes, some people need to realize that that means Black lives matter, too.

But maybe we should realize that the people offended by the Black Lives Matter phrase are products of years of racist indoctrination, and they may not realize how damaged they are. To get through to them, phrasing is important, and we have to get the idea through to them in a manner that they will not perceive as a threat.

Same as with the word feminist.

Both phrases have become shrouded with negativity because of unintentional connotations. Perhaps it’s time we found new words and phrases.

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