Democratic Underground

Take Back the Language
April 13, 2001
by Geni Hawkins

Control of language controls thought. Orwell knew this. The talking (babbling) heads on television and radio know this, too. That's why it's been such an important (if generally unstated) part of the conservative agenda to demonize, vilify, and ridicule what used to be honorable words. It's time for the progressives in this country to take back the language. "Liberal" is not a pejorative. Neither is "feminist," or "secular humanist." "Politically correct" is what we used to simply call good manners, or politeness. "Environmentalist" should be a compliment, not an insult, as should "intellectual."

Politicians today run like hell from any of those terms, because we've allowed the reactionaries in this nation to define them as insulting, negative, or ludicrous. This is crap, my friends and neighbors. Let's look at the definitions of a few of those words, and then at how the conservative spinmeisters and their parrot legions are trying to redefine them.

"Liberal," adj., Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded. Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor. Generous in amount; ample. A person with liberal ideas or opinions. Member of a Liberal political party. Hmm, sounds like something we'd all just HATE to be, right? Funny how tacking "bleeding-heart" automatically onto the beginning of that makes it seem as if it should be embarrassing. An additional definition which is considered obsolete: Morally unrestrained; licentious. Now, of all the possible definitions for this word, why does it not surprise me that the reactionaries and fundamentalists only see the obsolete one?

"Feminist," noun, A person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism, which is defined thus: Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. The movement organized around this belief. Hmm. Equality of the sexes. Sounds like the old T-shirt slogan - the radical belief that women are people. Somehow, the term "nazi" has gotten tacked onto the end of the word, and the prevailing opinion seems to have become that the word connotes a shrill, man-hating, bra-burning (I'm surprised they're not still going off about us bobbing our hair), unfulfilled female. How do you get from a belief in the equality of the sexes to a medieval personification of a witch? I still don't follow the progression, but it horrifies me how many women (and men) of my acquaintance preface any discussion of equal pay, equal rights, whatever, with the phrase, "I'm not a feminist, but..." It's time to stop being ashamed of thinking that women are human beings first.

"Politically correct." This one has, somehow, come to mean a person bending over backwards in a ridiculous attempt to avoid labeling anything, anywhere, with a gender, ethnic, or sexual connotation of any sort. And yes, there are those who have done some grave injustices to the language in the name of political correctness. But let's look at the motivation here; why does the language need forever to assume that the generic term for humankind is mankind? If a person prefers the term Asian to Oriental, or African-American to Negro, in what way is that causing harm to use those terms? Why can't mailmen become letter carriers, or manhole covers become access holes? The vast majority of what gets labeled "political correctness" is the attempt to avoid causing offense. That's what my mother termed "good manners."

It's time we stopped apologizing for it. I say enough of the right wing absconding with the meanings of our words. Take back the language!


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