Curiosity often gets the blame (or the credit, depending on your point of view) for killing cats, but more often it leads to learning.
Take this morning, for example, when I was fortunate enough to have Presidents’ Day* off and learned that someone named Eamon Loingsigh from New York had started following this blog. I’m not good at all about acknowledging this, but every new follower is a big deal. I look at their profiles and usually read a post or two – out of curiosity, of course.
Having some ancestral ties to Ireland, and a photo of my mother visiting a hovel somewhere in County Donegal, I read Eamon’s piece and signed the petition. The words “potato famine” do not do justice to what they are used to describe.
I did not know such a discussion was ongoing. As a writer and editor, I support calling things what they are. (I was impressed by the polite back and forth in the comments on the blog post.)
I also learned a new word, which I hope to be able to use in a sentence someday and force the curious who’ve never seen it before to look it up:
* It certainly doesn’t mean what it used to, does it?
Last week I posted my own reaction to Jon Caldara’s column in that Sunday’s Denver Post about the use of words. Today Tony Frank, chancellor of the Colorado State University system, chimed in with his take.
It included this:
Do I think several of the suggestions in the list are just plain silly? Sure. Do I wish there had never been any debate about the use of the word “America”? Of course — it makes me personally sick because I and everyone I know at our university is proud of our country. (Still, as an American, I’m not going to tell anyone what they can and can’t debate, even if it personally offends me — especially on a college campus where free and open debate is our job.)
Tony Frank, Denver Post, August 4, 2019
Caldara, predictably, missed the mark completely. Not having paid much attention to Tony Frank, I don’t know but will speculate that his response was entirely predictable, too. I was surprised to read that he is personally sickened by discussion of how the word “America” is used.
So much for the part about “free and open debate” being part of his job on a college campus. Let’s hope Frank feels better soon and begins to think more clearly.
How ironic that the president of a Denver “think tank” would rather the citizenry not think about the words they use.
In a column in today’s Denver Post, Jon Caldara derides efforts to promote the use of inclusive language by Colorado State University and others with an ignorant, offensive rant that includes this:
For those offended by our president’s vile use of words, you might wish to consider Trump was the inevitable reaction to the truly offensive indoctrination from the likes of CSU, public broadcasting and the educational establishment.
Caldara, Denver Post, July 28, 2019
So forget the bogus claim that Trumpsters became Trumpsters because of economic anxiety rather than their misogynistic hate for Hillary Clinton, or their racism, or their fear of others.
Caldara’s explanation pins it on their offense at the idea that we would do well to use our words carefully. He thinks we’re all better off remaining ignorant. Hogwash.
Somewhere between 1.37 and 1.79 miles on my post-workday walk* on a treadmill at the gym today a favorite old word came to mind. I was watching CNN on a screen just off to my left – Fox News being a few monitors over to my right, of course – when it happened.
“Toady,” my brain said. I can’t say for sure if this was triggered by the sight of Rick Santorum or Lindsey Graham, but they both appeared on the screen just minutes apart.
Unsure if either of them met the actual definition of the word, I looked it up when I got home. Among other things, I’d decided I absolutely have to use toady correctly in a poem that is beginning to take lumpy shape in my brain.
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.
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.
The chaotic world of social media is awash in nonsense, much of it perpetrated by those who claim to be or imagine themselves to be writers.
They consume precious bandwidth by tossing around famous quotations of questionable provenance, Instagramming their groan-inducing sentiments about “the writing life” and, with their often careless use of language, perpetuating damaging stereotypes about writers and others.
Take the example that set me off today, a post that said:
The poster asked: Haven’t you noticed that all writers are just a little bit… off? (In the best way possible)
A couple of dozen followers agreed, celebrating their alleged lunacy and the apparent cool and oh-so-specialness of their writerly selves. I responded with a simple “Nope.”
Both the image used in the post and the related question make light of the serious issue of mental illness.
The notion that “all writers” are a “little bit off” is a myth.
The term lunatic itself is outdated, pejorative slang, though it does seem to be useful in Twitter snark and other online commentary. It was even removed from the U.S. Code in 2012. Its use may seem harmless and even lighthearted in some contexts, but no serious writer who seeks to destroy the stigma that surrounds mental illness will use it lightly.
Regarding 2, while it is true that some famous writers suffered from mental illness that shaped their creativity (and sometimes led to their deaths), writers in general are no more “off” than the general public.
For the record, I have been treated for depression for nearly 20 years. I’ve been writing for a living a good bit longer than that.
Please forgive the somewhat darker keyboard image. It may seem a little moody, but it’s simply providing more contrast with the verbiage that runs across the middle in front of it. Some day I’ll find a WordPress theme that I don’t feel compelled to fiddle with.
Two other things
I have a new Twitter account that you’re more than welcome to follow if you are so inclined. It’s going to focus on writing and written stuff. There may be an element of grouchiness at times, witness the pinned tweet about writer’s block.
I’m on track to have my next crime novel available as an ebook by the end of July. Here’s to not being derailed yet again! Join my email list and you just might get a free copy. (You will for sure if you’re among the next 10 to join the list).