Monday, 28 April 2014

Think before you talk, part 1

I recently read this article about a campaign run by Think Before You Talk at Duke University. They're basically talking about how some commonly used words and expressions fuel a lot of the prejudices and harrassing of minorities in society. When I read it, I thought it was a great initiative and a very important issue. But when I saw the comments on the facebook post where I found it I was appalled by how ignorant some people were, to say the least.

Many of them simply said that people should stop getting affected by these words. They also referred to freedom of speech, a sort of 'I can say whatever I want' attitude towards it all. Well, firstly, these people obviously haven't had any experience with being bullied or harrassed through these words in their life, nor do they have any capacity to realise how much their words might hurt someone. Why would you insist on saying a certain word or phrase if there's a possibility it might affect someone in a bad way? Just find another way to say it, it's not that difficult. If you feel like you simply have to say 'fag', or 'bitch', or 'pussy', maybe you should start reconsidering what your priorities are. Secondly, freedom of speech just means you won't get arrested for saying something. It's a law that exists so no one will get arrested for criticising the government or any powerful people of your nation. Obviously you won't go to jail for saying any of these things, but that still doesn't mean it's your right to walk around offending people.

Other people lectured us on the ethymology of the words, what they really mean. I always get annoyed when people bring up what words used to mean to justify using them now. Sure, ethymology is really interesting, I love learning where words come from and what they meant. But words change meaning all the time. Many people know that 'gay' used to mean 'cheerful' or 'happy', but I think it's quite obvious to everyone that it doesn't really mean that anymore? Well, it still can of course, but it depends on what context it's used in. In fact, language is always very dependable on context. But I'm pretty sure that when someone says 'bitch' or 'fag', they are usually not using those words to be nice.

Another common argument was that we should focus on the actions behind the words, rather than the words themselves. Which I can agree with in a way. We should definitely aim to stop people acting in a harmful way towards minorities. However, I think people need to realise how much impact language has on how we actually think and act. Of course this happens very subconsciously, and that is why using certain words or expressions might seem unimportant. But it really isn't. If you say something like 'don't be a pussy', our mind inevitably relates the word 'pussy' to the female sexual organ. Now, the word 'pussy' in this case has a negative connotation, meaning 'coward'. So our brain will start relating people that have a female sexual organ (that's right, females), with cowardliness. It's not your fault, but because of the negative connotations of the word 'pussy', that's just what happens.

I want to talk about connotations of words too, but that will be in another post. For now, I've said what I wanted about this project, which I really support. Let's hope it will make at least some people start to think about what they say.

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