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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Linguistic Snobbery

   
Author Topic: Linguistic Snobbery
Natej11
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Was reading OSC's newest review just barely and his discussion of some university's list of "banned" words. It was an enjoyable read, and closely matches my own opinions on the subject, and many of the conclusions reached when I took a linguistics class.

These are simply my thoughts on the subject, and shouldn't be taken as concrete truths. I'd love to hear what you all think about this.

While OSC mostly describes the people who tried to ban words as "idiots" or some variation, I think it would be interesting to delve deeper into the reasons why they do so. The answer is not stupidity as often as you might think.

The quick and simple answer, of course, is linguistic snobbery. Dialects within languages are almost universal, as are accents and influences from other languages spoken in or near the region, often by immigrants. Speakers of all languages tend to view their language as superior to all others, just as citizens of a country tend to view their country as superior. The wealthy take this a step farther by holding their own dialect as superior to all others.

This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. There are certainly dialects more suited to formal settings or for fitting in to the higher echelons of society. Prestige dialects are not just limited to the wealthy, in fact: in the US English speakers with British Isles accents tend to be regarded favorably, as they speak a prestige dialect.

Unfortunately the opposite is true as well, and is one of the major forces behind linguistic snobbery and ludicrous attempts to ban words. There are dialects that are considered inferior, and their use is frowned upon. Languages evolve with use, and any language that allows the speaker to clearly express themselves is successful, all equal from the simple stipulation that language allows communication.

Linguistic snobs believe theirs stands above, for whatever reason, and they attempt to constrain all language to fit their rules. This works great for them because those who try to mimic their dialect either succeed and become one with them, fail and provide derisive amusement, or do not try at all and become outcasts.

And that is why they try to write grammar rules that make no sense, ban words that are currently in use, etc. Many of them do not even realize what they're doing, or sincerely believe they're serving the cause of "purifying" their language.


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Robert Nowall
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"It ain't proper to say 'ain't,' 'cause 'ain't' ain't in the dictionary."
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Rhaythe
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That don't make no kinda sense, man.
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tchernabyelo
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Um, if you actually follow this back to LSSU itself (http://www.lssu.edu/banished/ and the links therefrom - I particularly recommend clicking on the "About Unicorn Hunting" link which will give you an idea of the tone), you'll discover this is nothing to do with actually banning words. It's a long-standing yearly exercise in which they allow people to nominate words they are sick and tired of hearing - usually it's overused current slang terms.

As far as I can tell, no-one is seriously suggesting that the use of such words or phrases should be punishable in any way.

As happens all too often, looks like a case of sloppy mis-representation at third-or-more hand.


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Robert Nowall
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"Using the words 'swell' and 'lousy' in conversation is a swell way to get off to a lousy start."
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Matt.Simpson01
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There was much ado about nothing with this list last year i believe. As tchernabyelo said, it's a list of words people are tired of hearing. Come to think about it, ESPN did a similar list late last year or earlier this year, and it was of terms heard spoken by athletes that have become so commonplace that they don't really mean anything anymore. Whew, what a sentence.

Anyways, I think OSC made some valid points in his review. In particular, was the one about the phrase "man up." How many times over the past few years have men been made out to be not masculine any more? Strong women have come to the forefront of our society due to the skewing of the media that brings us our news. When it comes to that, my wife has said it best. She used to think that she didn't need a man to do anything for her. Ex. moving furniture, yardwork, building projects, any hard manual labor in general. Now, she would tell you that there are a lot of things that she couldn't do without me.

When he talks about his youngest saying "it's soakin cold outside," that reminds me of something i heard years ago when a co-worker failed to show up one morning. The supervisor called his phone to check on him because it was unusual for him not to call in if he was sick. His girlfriend answered the phone and told the supervisor that he was "snowed in under the covers." That was hilarious back then as it is now when i think about it.


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redux
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From OSC's article:
quote:
After so many years in which men have been told not to act like men, I rather like it. "Be tough," the phrase is saying. "Take it," "Do your job," "Stop whining.

Am I to believe those are qualities best embodied by men? What would the opposite of man up be? Someone who is weak, can't take it, shirks responsibilities and whines all the time? To woman down?

I prefer the original expression - to cowboy up. At least it refers to a profession and not gender. Or the other variant suck it up.


Edited to add: You can save words from extinction - http://www.savethewords.org/

2nd Edit: To clarify, I am not suggesting that OSC endorses my proposed antonym to the phrase man up. I'm only making an illustrative point as to why the phrase is actually quite silly.

[This message has been edited by redux (edited May 24, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by redux (edited May 24, 2011).]


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Natej11
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I think in the article Card explains that the phrase "man up" means act like an adult, not specifically like a man.
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tchernabyelo
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Then why is the phrase not "adult up"?

Sorry, but there are more than enough times that "man" (rather than "human" or "person", which have no gender connotations attached) is used as "fully functional human being"; we really don;t need to keep adding new ones.


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LDWriter2
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I believe Man Up did originally mean to act like a man. As in stop whining and Man Up. Or Man up and do your job. That last could be for any adult but it was told to men.

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Wordcaster
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I found OSC's review of the list sort of odd. The list clearly intended as a fun tradition, not as a University trying to claim "authority over our language." He then slights the school, saying, "I suspect Lake Superior State University would not be among the first 500 choices for that role."

Even his examples of why the list is dumb are misrepresented.

quote:
For instance, LSSU's list would ban the phrase "the American people," with the explanation "Aren't all Americans people?"

No, I must reply, but not all people are Americans, and since "American" in this context serves as an adjective, "the American people" serves to distinguish us from, say, "people" or "the Mayan people." The phrase "the _____ people" is a common one, and there is no less reason to plug "American" into the adjective slot than any other identifier.


The actual list actually puts greater emphasis on banishing "the American people" because of its overuse and as one person comments, "these people imply that 'the American people' want/expect/demand all the same things." One person has an opinion that American, if used as a noun, is sufficient without adding "people" and he jumps all over the whole entry like a lofty academic grammar policeman.


I found his comments misrepresenting and unwarranted.

(Note: this article didn't upset me -- I'm just offering a counterpoint to it. Both "the list" and OSC's article are written for fun and for the reader's enjoyment).


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Robert Nowall
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"Man up" has also come to be used in the context of what some call the "feminization" of Western man, too.

As for me, well, I use "man" instead of "people," not to exclude women, but in the sense of man embracing woman.


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tchernabyelo
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Robert - but how can a reader/listener know, when you say "man", whether you are including women or not? You certainly don't do it every time you use the word. Lamguage should be about clarity of communication, so why use unclear terms?

Wordcaster - OSC has a very strong beef with some sections of Academia over language (and other political issues). Whether he has a particular reason to portray LSSU in a negative light, or whether he made a genuine mistake in misinterpreing the purpose of their "banned words" (entirely possible if he didn't go back to check primary sources) I have no idea.


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Natej11
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I could also point out that just because something is intended humorously doesn't mean it isn't a slight on other members of society. Racist jokes are very popular among segregated groups, as much as the people in those groups might pretend otherwise.

The list of banned words might have been intended as just a joke, but that doesn't mean there's not an underlying force behind it that might be more sinister than just poking fun.

And before I come off sounding all PC I honestly don't care one way or another. I just like to offer different perspectives.

[This message has been edited by Natej11 (edited May 25, 2011).]


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
...how can a reader/listener know, when you say "man", whether you are including women or not? You certainly don't do it every time you use the word

Yes I do, and I cannot be responsible for the depths of someone's ignorance of how the English language works...


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Josephine Kait
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It’s actually quite common for me to walk up to a group of my female friends and say, “Hey guys.” When I hear someone say “man” the meaning that I most commonly assume is adult human. I might not be the norm, but for me if you say “man” and actually mean a male human you might have to clarify that. Just my thoughts on the subject…
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tchernabyelo
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Sorry, Robert, I don't believe you only ever use the word "man" as a non-gender-specific term.

The very first line of one of your stories, with a male protagonist, is "This is a story about a young man with an old idea". Whereas in another, where the protaganist is (nominally) female, you specifically say "My first day as a human", not "My first day as a man".


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Rhaythe
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Context is a beautiful thing.
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Robert Nowall
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First, I'm impressed that someone admits reading any of the stories on my website.

Second, "a" human would be different from "a" man. Both are singular, but in context, "human" refers to species and "man" refers to gender. (In the case of the first quote, the character is male; in the second, the character is female---recent, but female.)

One might also point out that "human" or "humanity" also contain the word "man," as does even "woman." One might substitute "humanity" for "Mankind" in some contexts.

One might also also point out that there are those who say "peoplekind" or "chairperson" or "womyn" or somesuch nonsense---I'd go on at length about the reasons many people make such bizarre substitutions, but we've all agreed not to discuss politics.

(Here's a less political example. In the Hudson Valley in New York, there are lots of place names that end in "-kill"---Catskill, Fishkill, Cobleskill, Spackenkill, and so on. A few years ago, some bonehead wanted "-kill" changed to "-save." "-kill" is just archaic Dutch for "creek" or "stream," its presence in the Hudson Valley a matter of historical fact. It has nothing to do with the English word "kill"---and even if it did, why change it?)


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Natej11
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Maybe the guy's last name was Spacken and it creeped him out.
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tchernabyelo
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Robert - "Plant Girl" has the core makings of a fine MG/YA SF novel, if it's allowed to breathe more and (for my personal tastes) moves away from feeling so resolutely American rather than alien (though in YA this may actually be a selling point, as I get the impression YA readers don't want too much strangeness).

"Human" may include the letters "man" but it doesn't mean the same thing; there's no gender connotation to the word "human" and so my personal preference is to use terms like "humanity", "human", "person" rather than say "man" and then have to explain that "sometimes when I say man I mean person, but sometimes when I say man I mean man". If there's an unambiguous word to use, then use it, unless of course there's a particular need to create ambiguity (which in fiction writing there often is, but in non-fiction writing it is very very rre for ambiguity to be remotely helpful).


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Brendan
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I always thought the term "man up" had a specific meaning on the sports field. It means to be accountable for your specific opposition player, so that no man can get out on their own (and therefore receive an easy pass). It implied a defensive discipline, not a direct toughness although that may be a side effect. I would be interested to see if that meaning is the drift or whether it drifted from that meaning to mean a general toughness or growing up.

quote:
how can a reader/listener know, when you say "man", whether you are including women or not? You certainly don't do it every time you use the word. Lamguage should be about clarity of communication, so why use unclear terms?

The same way that the term "bank" can be shown to be a place to deposit money, or the edge of a river, or the turning of an airplane. Context.

Prior to the feminist movement, the use of gender-specific words to encompass both genders was quite widespread, and context made it clear which was meant. Admittedly, these days, there are some places that have so embraced certain word changes brought in by the feminist movement that they don't understand the broader references of these terms - they automatically think that they always have a gender specific implication. However, there are still large swathes of English speaking people that do continue to understand such subtleties. The worry, for me, is that the loss of linguistic subtlety will result in the reinterpretation of past works in a way that was never intended by the authors.

[This message has been edited by Brendan (edited May 26, 2011).]


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Robert Nowall
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I just saw "man up" in the comic strip 9 Chickweed Lane this morning...something involving a gay male ballet dancer having an affair with a (female) ballerina. (Don't ask. I swear it makes sense if you've read the story from the beginning.)
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