Chancellor “personally sick” over CSU discussion of words

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.

Better to be ignorant and offensive, Jon?

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.

Image by cgarniersimon from Pixabay 

‘Toady’ on my mind today

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.

Image by Егор Камелев from Pixabay

“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.

Here’s what I found.

What surprisingly fond amphibiotic memories came rushing back!

…the toad hotel my siblings and I built from corrugated boxes on the banks of the Little Cedar River, which flowed gently just behind our childhood home in Mitchell County, Iowa.

…the tiny toadlets leaping for their lives, desperately trying to escape the deadly blades of my reel mower in the big back yard in Cedar Rapids.

…the lovely toad sculpture that lives on my desk in the basement under the watchful eyes of a Milton B. Davis carving of a Golden Eagle.

Toads. You gotta love ’em, warts and all. Toadies, not so much.


* A brisk 3.2 mph on a steadily increasing grade, prelude to semi-vigorous and repeated lifting of weights.

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.

dogpile

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.

Thoughtless writers and the stigma that needs to die

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:

ALL WRITERS ARE LUNATICS

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.”

Why?

  1. Both the image used in the post and the related question make light of the serious issue of mental illness.
  2. 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.

writer's deskRegarding 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.

Take that, stigma.

Write on.

B.J.

On a lighter note…and a darker background

Hello. Yeah, it’s been a while.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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).

Write on.

B.J.

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.”

20180403__04tcbweew1
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.