Changing Language Doesn’t Change Reality

DictionariesThere are lots of people out there who want to change our language to reflect their agenda.  It’s not just the left, although they seem to be the most adamant about it.  Lefty feminists want to get rid of all male-oriented words and replace them with gender-neutral terms.  Many liberals want to eliminate all words that might possibly cause anyone to be offended, the so-called “politically correct” movement.  There are transgendered people, again, typically on the left, who want to change gender words even further, I’ve seen them try to “transgenderify” them like using “womyn” and the like.  I even saw someone who said we ought to stop calling it the “White House” because that is racist. Never mind it’s painted white or anything.  And on the right, while they’re not so much trying to change the language, they’re trying to preserve it.  They don’t want gays to be able to use the word “marriage”.  What both sides fail to recognize is that the words really don’t matter.  The words are just sounds coming out of our mouths. What matters is the common understanding that people have of what those particular sounds signify and you can’t change that just by rotating characters or inventing new terms.  These things do happen, dictionaries are continually updated to reflect new words introduced into our language, but to do so for a political agenda is stupid.

See, there’s something important to recognize here that I talked about a long time ago.  People need to be able to take a few steps back and look at their arguments to see if they make any sense.  Unfortunately, few do and most are just emotionally attached to their beliefs, not in rationally evaluating them.  The fact is, trying to change words is just a shortcut, an attempt to alter the argument without addressing the problems involved.

The reality though is that it doesn’t matter what the word is, only what you understand the word to mean.  The fact is, my “mailman” has been a woman for more than a decade.  I don’t have to change the language to reflect that fact, only my understanding of the word.  She isn’t a “mailperson”, she isn’t a “mailwomyn”, she is a mailman because that’s the word for the job she’s doing.  Most people simply disassociate gender from the term and allow it to be used for everyone who might possibly be doing the job.

George Carlin had a great bit on this a long time ago and it all still holds true.  Being offended by words makes no sense.  Try being offended by ideas.  That’s all that really makes a difference.

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5 thoughts on “Changing Language Doesn’t Change Reality”

  1. "Being offended by words makes no sense. Try being offended by ideas."

    I'm, in seriousness, not getting what you are trying to say here. Are you claiming that words are not ideas?

    Is "elephant" just an "e" followed by an "l", another "e", "p", etc. ?
    Or is it an "ɛ" sound followed by an "l", "ə", "f", etc. ?
    Is it possible to permit these sequences of letters or sounds in your head, without thinking of a large grey land mammal? I can't do it. The letters, or the sound, may as well be the whole animal.

    Regarding "mailman", the term "postie" works just fine to refer to the person who delivers my mail.

    1. Well, to use your example, there are some people who get really offended if you call the person that delivers your mail a "mailman" because they think it's a sexist term. It has to be a "mailperson" or something similar. As I've said, my "mailman" has been a woman for a long, long time, the job has traditionally been called a "mailman" and it doesn't really refer to the gender of the individual as far as I'm concerned. It does bother some people though. If you want to be against sexism, fine. I'm with you. If you want to alter every male-gender-word on the planet to something gender-neutral because you think not doing so is inherently sexist, forget it.

  2. I read a book somewhat recently (Koban) where some genetic weapon had mutated and attacked the Y chromosome and killed 99.9% of all men. They changed all of the gendered words (like mailman would have been changed to mailfem). At one point, one of the characters was reflecting on the fact that she was so excited when those changes were happening, but looking back she can see that changing the label actually didn't do anything. Once she had real problems to deal with, getting worked up about these things seemed silly.

    My recent post Anything Can Be Inspiring

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