In another land, a long, long time ago, I was a student of languages. It was there that I came across the American left’s obsession with corrupting the language.
In my last year in college, I had American Literature taught by a Fullbright exchange professor. I will never forget the moment the poor man – talking to a class of 36, all women as such classes often are – let slip the innocent word “him” to mean an indeterminate gender. He paused, went white, his eyes widened, and he said, “I mean, I mean, he or she.”
Meanwhile, the class of 36 was staring at him in puzzlement. It took us a while to take it all apart and realize he thought we’d be offended by the use of “he” to mean someone generic, of indeterminate gender.
I think we patted him kindly on the shoulder and told him that no, really, we weren’t offended. The usage was the same in Portuguese and we’d been told it was the same in most Indo-European languages. And who on Earth would get offended over semantics? The language was the language. It meant nothing about us personally.
This was of course before I married, came to the U.S. and found that for the American woman circa 1985, the language was not just personal, it was personally offensive.
I remember standing in horror underneath a bookstore section proudly labeled Herstory.
Of course the etymology of the word history is not his + story, the sort of pseudo-clever deduction about language that I was used to from the near-illiterate elderly people in the village. (It would be too complex and involve Portuguese, but there was this old farmer who had somehow deduced from the Portuguese word for farmer that farmers were the only ones who would be saved at the end of time.)
History, of course, is not originally an English word. It comes from the Latin historia — meaning a relation of events — by way of the French estoire, meaning story. Note please that in neither of those languages does “his” mean “belonging to him.” And that making the same sort of illiterate assumptions about the French word, we’d get “It is oire.”
I thought that the store must have hired an illiterate employee, but no, over the next ten years, in various circumstances, and possibly still except for the fact that I’ve learned to silence such fools with a death glare, I’ve come across the same smug-idiot assumption and “corrections” of the English word, so as to “fight against the patriarchy.”
That this is done by people who paid more money than I make in a couple of years for a college degree, and who, doubtlessly, think that etymology is a dish made with onions, or perhaps a conspiracy of the patriarchy, fills me with a sort of dull rage that has no outlet.
But it wasn’t until l’affaire prom dress that I realized it wasn’t just their etymology that was faulty but that these people had in fact built themselves an entirely new language, with words that are in common use—kidnapped, raped, and made to parade in public with disfiguring makeup. Or if you prefer, with words that are in common use voided of their signification and filled with meanings they were never meant to have, meanings that can only be understood if you share the basic assumptions of leftist liberals.
What brought it to my attention was an incident you might have missed if you were living under a rock for the last several weeks. A white teenage girl — of whom I approve in principle as her thrifty choice reminded me of my kids — decided to forego the ever-more-expensive prom fashions, and instead bought a used Chinese gown at a thrift store. The whole story is here, and if you look at her pictures, she looked gorgeous in it.
But when she innocently posted it on Twitter, there was a storm of outrage. The main word used to express this outrage was that the dress was “problematic.”
I happened to know what “problematic” meant because it’s been applied to me. It means it’s racist. Or racistssexisthomophobic. Or “you’re a bad evil person, go to your corner.”
The teen in the case above didn’t go to her corner and soon started getting support from China. By that time, btw, the left had actually come out and called her a racist.
But before that? There was a group of people saying “That’s problematic” and “yeah, so problematic,” while they gathered their courage to attack. Most of the right (except those in my circles who mock “problematic” shamelessly) would have heard that and had absolutely no clue what they were talking about. Meanwhile, in leftist circles, they were expressing their outrage and supporting each other in it. “Problematic” means “we’re gathering the mob to take you down because you stepped outside the boundaries we approve of.”
There are a few hundred other words that have similarly been beaten until they lose all self-respect and now are passed from mouth to mouth in leftist circles as a sad parody of the words they used to be.
Possibly the most common of those is “racist.” Even before a distinguished colleague of mine accused me of using a racist slur for using “Chicom” (yes, the State Department word for Chinese Communist. I have a bad habit of catching these so I can write faster) I’ve been aware that “racist” for the left meant “saying something I don’t like that might be vaguely tied to someone of color, or for that matter a different culture.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that “Chinese Communist” was a race in leftist minds. They have spent years convincing us that not liking Islamic terrorists is racism, even though Muslims come in all shapes, colors, and conformations.
There is also the ever popular being called racist because one opposes illegal immigration from Latin countries. Particularly since Latin is a cultural designation, not a racial designation (if it were beyond the marginally-included Portuguese – with some justice. Most people identify me as Latin when hearing me talk), it would also include French and Italians. And when one is Latin and, at least when out in the sun a lot, tans enough.
Racist has gone from being the designation for someone who considers other races inferior (or one other race, at least) to being the designation for a white person who says anything at all that might, if twisted and looked at sideways, be implied to make a comment about anyone non-white or non-American. The distortions packed into the word (with a ram-rod) start with the assumption that only whites can be racist — something necessary to disguise the fact that frankly, every race has quite a few racists — because “racism” is power and not liking other races. And only whites have power.
I told you it was crazy, right?
Compare, say, Obama’s daughters to … just about anyone. But never mind that, compare Obama’s daughters to the son of a white drug-addicted mother in deepest Appalachia. Which one do you think has more power? The left would unequivocally say “the white boy.” Because this is built into the word “power” for them, based on a lot of pseudo-social studies that claim white people are just treated better. (I’m sure they are in some times and places, and black people are treated better in some times and places, and Chinese people, etc. ad nauseam. Humans are tribal creatures and favor their own tribe, unless they’ve been trained out of it.)
This leads us to the term “privilege,” which is hidden under so much makeup it’s almost impossible to decipher.
In the dictionary, privilege has a specific meaning:
a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most:
the privileges of the very rich.
a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities:
the privilege of a senator to speak in Congress without danger of a libel suit.
a grant to an individual, corporation, etc., of a special right or immunity, under certain conditions.
the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities.
any of the rights common to all citizens under a modern constitutional government:
We enjoy the privileges of a free people.
an advantage or source of pleasure granted to a person:
It’s my privilege to be here.
Stock Exchange. an option to buy or sell stock at a stipulated price for a limited period of time, including puts, calls, spreads, and straddles.
However, if you start from the leftist assumptions that privilege is rooted in that “power” that comes from being white, then privilege is something only white people have. It can range from the culture as in – I swear I heard this said just this way – “We were very poor when I was little, but we had tons of privileges because our parents always bought us books and valued learning.”
It can be dressing decently or bathing regularly — “if people aren’t recoiling from your smell and locking their doors when you approach you have privilege.” But in the end, it’s always “you’re white and you’re not allowed to say anything about anyone who comes from another country or tans a little more than you do because life is much easier if you’re white.” This, by the way, led to the mentally deranged assumption that parents reading to their children were giving them an unfair advantage, and also that Holocaust survivors — let that sink in — who came to these shores in the clothes they stood in, having survived being utterly dehumanized and losing all their relatives to mass extermination, have “privilege.”
Somehow, by the same magic, “fascist” means “anyone who wants a smaller government” (Because the built-in meanings are the leftist assumptions that people of color can’t survive on their own without a massive welfare state. Yes, I know, we have indeed found the racists.)
Oh, and saying you love America or you want America to defend itself is “white supremacy.” This goes on the leftist assumption that all the achievements in America are indeed made by white people. (Because, you know, they really are racist and think only pure Aryans can create the most prosperous nation ever. But being leftists, they obscure this from themselves by screaming at others. It’s called projection.)
It is because they use a completely different language—built on erroneous assumptions, such as that “history” is “his story”—that the left, particularly women, have become convinced they live in a patriarchy and are more oppressed than women who live in countries where they are draped in sofa covers and can be killed for the “crime” of being raped. You see, they think that everyone around them is always making secret references using “dog whistles” or “secret meanings” completely unaware that they’re the ones who are in fact speaking a different language.
Worse, it’s almost impossible to reach them, because they don’t hear the words we say with the meanings that a normal dictionary gives them. They hear the words with the meanings they learned in their cult, with perverse meanings that were never intended in English.
This discovery of strange meanings in words and this reinforcement of a secret language is very much a thing of extreme dictatorships and cults.
In the eighties, I read a science fiction short story, whose title and author I no longer remember, which was a love story set in the 23rd century, in which a future Red Guard and a future American girl try to communicate love to each other despite not speaking the same language. No, I don’t mean that the Red Guard spoke Chinese. I mean he spoke exclusively in quotations from the Red Book.
I never thought we’d be living it as a society.
It’s quite possible that the true believers are effectively beyond our reach. But we should try to force those who are new converts, freshly spewed from universities where the cult is taught, to unpack their assumptions and confront the real meaning of words.
Making them read dictionary definitions and a bit of history is a good beginning.
Above all, do not accept their definition. Fight against it. They’re holding perfectly good words captive and making them commit acts against their nature.
And corrupting language is corrupting thought.