Sticks & Stones & Harmful Terminology

Une critique, as the French say

Part One

…But Names Will Never Hurt Me

In December of 2022, Stanford University created released the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative. It proposed to eliminate around 100 words they deem oppressive and offensive from the campus vocabulary.  After pulling it in January of 2023, the University said they took it down because it was “intended as a guide, not a mandate” to address racist and harmful terminology commonly used.

Like these:

  • a blind study perpetuates that “disability is somehow abnormal or negative.” It should now be a masked study. [I don’t see anything controversial about masked.]
  • A walk-in cooler or clinic are no-nos. Not everyone can walk.
  • Don’t call another person OCD; they are detail oriented.
  • The idiom of beating a dead horse normalizes violence to animals.
  • Killing it wrongly equates doing something well with dying or death.
  • Calling a U.S. citizen an American demoralizes the people living in the other 41 countries in the Americas.

While Stanford University said they missed the mark with this proposal and took it off their website.

Missing the mark could be problematic. Can everyone hit the mark? Are some people better at hitting the mark? Do we know if the mark wants to get hit? What if Mark goes away and no one misses him? The potential for offense is high. Stanford should rethink that term.

Stanford’s retraction doesn’t mean people with a Word Press blog can’t mess around. I thought it be fun to rake some benign words and phrases over the coals for shits and giggles. If it doesn’t offend you then I’ll call this my Shits and Giggles Initiative for the Betterment of the Language.

Here goes. When three goals are scored in soccer or hockey why do we refer to it as a hat trick? It’s offensive to rabbits. Trix aren’t for rabbits; trix are for kids, and that rebuke is still a sore spot for them. The phase can also make hat wearers feel untrustworthy. Let’s change hat trick to threesies!

Speaking of soccer, why does only one player get to be called the goal keeper? Don’t all the players have goals? The person with the different color jersey who wears gloves should be called preventers which reminds people “we don’t score in this game which is why people love it.”

What if you have an assistant or close associate who helps, guides or supports you? You’re wading in hot water if you call them a sidekick or wingman. Kicking is violent, and it’s better to talk out your differences. Emphasizing wings degrades poultry or other avian creatures! Not every bird has wings, especially in Buffalo, NY. Let’s switch to sideguide or helper outer and no one gets hurt.

If your close associate who helps or guides you also provides wise and trusted counsel, you’re in the dog house if you call him or her your mentor. That word dates back to 1616, and what good came out of that year! It reeks of machismo, and needs a modern refreshing.

And what about being in the dog house? Yeah it’s a smelly, often dirty, isolated place where people keep their dogs to avoid the trauma of having a dog. But dogs have feelings too, and you are trampling on those. Can’t we threaten to punish our fellow human being without reminding dogs some people don’t want them in their house?

Word salad? Salad days? Drop those terms and run! Salads, of course, depict a feminine weakness and has yet to shed its “hunter/gatherer” symbolism. At least that’s what The Atlantic is telling those of you who should be but aren’t offended by “just a salad.” If you click on that link ,just remember you’ve been warned.

Finally, while we’re scrutinizing words and phrases, think tank has got to go. Imagine assuming that people think!

Part Two

The Beat Goes On

My Shits and Giggles Initiative invented some new fun new offense to poke a little fun at Stanford’s language initiative makers. Blind study and walk-in harm no one. But you have to stay on your toes because more offense is waiting in the wings. After writing part one, I stumbled on this story.

Compound words and idioms aren’t the only words subject to the scrutiny of the offended. Whether you pronounce it thē or thuh, definite articles can be a problem.

Enter the Associated Press news service. It tweeted an apology for its inappropriate, offense-causing use of “the.” Read below.

Many were amused by the grand overreach and tweeted that instead of the French, you could use terms like people experiencing Frenchness, people experiencing a croque monsieur, or people assigned French at birth.

Le Monde‘s New York correspondent addressed the gall (or should I say gaul?) of the AP. “It could not have been a non-Western country, to avoid any suspicion of racism or colonialism; nor former enemies like the Germans, which would have been awkward; and the Poles or the Italians are too numerous in the United States.” That’s a gnarly, labored speculation to explain one three-letter definite article. But then the correspondent relented with some realism: “But this Thursday, ‘the French’ had a good laugh.”

What’s the solution? Instead of swerving into offense at those who use a word with no malice aforethought and knowledge of its derogatory origins, why not give people the benefit of the doubt? Who is dehumanized? Why not clean up your own thought life and vocabulary before assuming the worst of others? Can we be offended and survive the ordeal? Are the accusers without

You can be like my fellow Wisconsinites who took the verbal volleys from their superiors in Illinois, those on the other side of the cheese curtain. We were called cheddar heads, cheese heads, bratwurst heads, polka boys and other terms of affection because we were a lesser species, lacking in the sophistication of those in Chicago.

In his song, Hey Der Milwaukee Polka, Wisconsin native turned popular morning radio host in Chicago runs Milwaukee and Wisconsin over the coals. One could say, “Go back to Milwaukee and die” in the 1980s. He didn’t mean it. It’s called hyperbole, and it made them all feel so much better because there obviously aren’t fat women, smelly men, and Polish-Americans dancing to polkas in Chicago.

The response from Wisconsin: the foam cheese head which is now synonymous with the Green Bay Packers. You can buy the traditional wedge hat, or a fedora, or a crown, or top hat; or one for your dog or your baby. You can buy a foam “cheese” bra or necklace or koozie for the inevitable beer you will swig while tailgating and eating bratwurst next time you’re at Lambeau. In other words, an industry of cheeseheads (the French would say tête du fromage) was born from people embracing a slight intended to be derogatory. If your mom was up to the job she told you just to laugh off insults.

Stanford’s initiative-makers thought they were killing it but it looks like they were beating a dead horse. Though only a few loud people object to these words, it gets into your head to edit yourself. Really, most people don’t want to be offensive. If a person’s speech offends you, call ’em a jerk or avoid them. Don’t try to change everyone’s speech. If a phrase is no longer used because people don’t like it, it’ll go away.

Part Three

The Beat Stopped Because It’s Violent

If you wait long enough, another group of intelligent people, who “read books,” came up with more ways to redress the grievances that abound in our language. I had almost published this into Word Press heaven missing what the French would call the pièce de résistance. Because they’re always some offense lurking around the corner. Like this:

A “diversity, equity and inclusion champion” at a California tech company called Phenomenex —begat the Evolving From Violent Language Guide.

The author explained to the Daily Mail, “[Evolving From Violent Language] is for those who would like to replace mostly violently framed idioms with more positive and inclusive language.”

The diversity, equity, and inclusion champion thinks we have to kick to the curb (violence mine) and replace or fix them:

Problem Fix
pull the triggerlaunch
take a stab [at]take the first pass [at]
bite the bulletwon’t avoid it any longer
jump the gunstart too soon
kill two birds with one stonefeed two birds with one scone
deadlinedue date
pick [your] battleschoose [your] opportunities
shoot me an emailsend me an email
overkilla bit excessive
bombed the attemptdidn’t do my best
roll with the punchesmove forward
kick around an ideathink through an idea
Let me be a straight shooter, er, a pretty direct person: this is a waste of time

I saved the best fix for last. We’ve all felt that encroaching violence when someone says “that’s not a bad idea.” The diversity, equity and inclusion champion thinks we should “Evolve” instead to the phrase “that’s a good idea.” I’m willing to evolve if you’re willing to learn the definition of violence.

Some of the unimaginative alternatives don’t “fix” anything. They sort of make you embarrassed for the people who wrote and published this. Do they have self-awareness? Does no one offer constructive criticism like “Huh?” An editor could have rolled their eyes back in their heads. That’s nonverbal, nonviolent speech I can endorse.

Killing two birds with one stone means to accomplish two things with a single effort. How does feeding two birds with one scone convey that? One scone for two birds? Other birds will catch on, and probably the squirrels and chipmunks too. You think they are going to play nicely? Is it a blueberry lemon scone? What if the raccoons find out? Now it’s hissing and fighting and some creature gets hurt. Now which phrase is violent?

Idioms are rich visuals. They are meaningful and full of history. Language and speech are important. They are how we define the world, therefore we can’t allow speech to be a lie. Woman has a definition. Science is not synonymous with consensus.

Language should be left to evolve; There’s a reason why we only use terms like gay apparel in Christmas songs and you’ll never hear “egads, where’d you put the horseless carriage? Those terms were so four score and seven years ago.

Language should not be hijacked or banished. I’ve listed some attempts, but you can go on a search engine and look up banished words and get a decent list. But let’s not coerce or sit in ivory towers and proclaim lists of acceptable words. That makes a person think of words like Orwellian and doublespeak.

Andrew Doyle, British author and comedian, said it best: “Language should be altered by evolutions not by imposition. Otherwise, it’s authoritarian.”

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