Lesson from dogpiling on PETA: Words do matter

Snarkmeisters and others have had a whale of a good time mocking PETA‘s latest effort to change public discourse and appetites, but the group reinforces an important concept here:

Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it. Here’s how to remove speciesism from your daily conversations. pic.twitter.com/o67EbBA7H4— PETA: Bringing Home the Bagels Since 1980 (@peta) December 4, 2018

Words do matter. So does the evolution of language.

Words express what we think, or in some cases what we want people to think we think. As language evolves, it reflects changes in our culture, in technology, in how we think or don’t think about religion and justice and politics and pretty much everything else. Our use of language reveals what we think about other humans and about animals, as well. What we think about them and how we treat them are closely related.

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Speaking like you always have is easy. So is mocking those who advocate for change that you don’t like or that you don’t think is necessary. So is dismissing certain words and phrases as “politically correct,” a stale, overused term that we all would be better off without. (Evolve, dammit!)

Surely PETA expects mockery and denigration. Just as certainly, they know how to use words to provoke discussion and to make people think. May we continue to evolve toward a civilized society once our present backslide is over. It will require some thinking and careful choosing of words, and maybe a little less barking past each other.

B.J.

Two words that make a writer’s day: “Great read!”

Woke up to this on Monday morning…

When affordable housing doesn’t really mean what you think it means

In my neck of the universe, and likely in your own, words are prone to losing their meaning.

Take “affordable” as the most recent example of a word I once thought I understood. I looked it up just now to check and found this definition in my go-to online dictionary, Merriam-Webster:

able to be afforded

Well OK then. It’s just as I thought, but more vague than I remembered. M-W goes on to define affordable housing as housing that is “not too expensive for people of limited means.”

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Rendering of a wee-Cottage. (Boulder Creek Neighborhoods / Courtesy Photo)

Again, rather vague. What is “too expensive”? When do means qualify as limited?

Affordable is a relative term that can no longer stand alone and have any real meaning, but the news media and peddlers of sundry goods rarely qualify it as they should.

Take this story about the “wee-Cottages” coming soon to the southeast part of Longmont, Colorado. As if the hyphen and mysterious capitalization weren’t unreal enough, the story says these no-doubt-cute little places will be listed in the low-$300,000s. Presumably they are all at least temporarily affordable, because 27 of the 102 wee dwellings will be permanently affordable in the low- to mid-$200,000s.

Permanently? Nothing is permanent.

This is what affordable actually means in our little piece of Boulder County:

able to be afforded by some people but not by many whose means are actually limited

If a guy tells you something is “affordable,” ask him to complete the sentence.

 

A few words on writing

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That is all.

What do documentarians do?

Some people who write documentation call themselves documentarians (6 syllables), leading me to conclude that they produce documentaries and like to use long words.

To say they are documenters (4 syllables) would be more concise. What they do is document stuff.

I generally use writer. ~ B.J.

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Words hover out of reach

macro-1834138_1920bWords hover out of reach
like dragonflies
on a hot summer day,
fleeting glimpses
in shimmer and haze.
The mind drifts
from passing thought
to passing thought
to yet another.
Eyes see fear
in clouded eyes
and look away,
witnessing their own future
as a fading memory.

Imagine there are mountains

Imagine a bull moose, shy and alone, just out of sight to the left, the east. There is no fog to the south, just pine-covered rock piles, gap-toothed hills blocking your view in the near distance beyond the meadows. More distant, through the gaps and barely visible, untold miles away in the sunshine, there are mountains.

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Near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. August 2017