Before I get to whatever pops into my head today, a quick note about comments: Ever since I got my new laptop in October, the day’s comments are not ending up in my inbox. Rather, sometimes they do, but only a few. Sometimes four or five will download, then disappear before my eyes. I’m trying to remember to check the site a few times a day to see if anyone is hung up in moderation, but don’t always. Which is the long way around to saying sorry, I just released one from the mod pen, and it might have been there a while.
Meanwhile, in today’s news, I find myself agreeing with Nicholas Kristof on so-called inclusive language:
Before the millions of views, the subsequent ridicule and finally the earnest apology, The Associated Press Stylebook practically oozed good intentions in its tweet last week:
“We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college educated.”
Zut alors! The result was a wave of mocking conjecture of how to refer sensitively to, er, people of French persuasion. The French Embassy in the United States proposed changing its name to “the Embassy of Frenchness.”
The A.P. Stylebook deleted its tweet, citing “an inappropriate reference to French people.” But it doubled down in recommending that people avoid general terms with “the,” such as “the poor, the mentally ill, the wealthy, the disabled, the college-educated.”
I believe the crime of putting a definite article before a group of people is known as “othering,” one of the many, many terms I see on Twitter these days. And this practice, of allegedly making people feel more included by changing small things in the language we use, is something I have very mixed feelings about. When I wrote about fat kids a while back, I noted the change I heard in a reporter’s use of the term “obesity.” You can scroll back if you like. I’ve also noted that we no longer say “slave” but “enslaved people,” etc.
Personally, I don’t think these small changes make much of a difference in perception – if you didn’t know slaves were human beings, I can’t help you – but that’s just one old person’s opinion. A young person’s opinion, which I saw on Twitter a while back, is that it’s a terrible, terrible crime of othering to ask someone with an accent or unusual-for-the-U.S. name anything at all about their family, immigration origin, etc. I was taken aback, as I’d just done just that with Mohsen, my Uber driver home from the airport the other week. He enthusiastically told me about his journey from Lebanon to Dearborn, his family, and gave me some excellent cooking tips for making the cuisine of his native land.
All this time, I thought I was being friendly. It’s a conversation-starter, and I think most of us are sensitive enough to word and express our questions in such a way that we express curiosity and genuine interest, not go-home-Johnny-Foreigner attitudes.
(May I say that after five seasons of “The Crown,” I’m mostly indebted to it for that term – Johnny Foreigner – used in an early season by Matt Smith, playing Prince Phillip? It’s a great term.)
I approve of replacing “bums and winos” with “the homeless,” but I really don’t see how “unhoused” is better, or even more accurate. I supposed it’s driven by the fact so many of these individuals consider their tent or lean-to or even a van down by the river as a home, but holy shitballs, this strikes me as a fine hair to split. It may also reflect the belief held by many advocates for this population that is is perfectly OK for people to live in a tent pitched under an overpass permanently, if they so desire, and this is not something I agree with, so.
Kristof goes on to cover the Latinx thing, pointing out that most people of Latino/a origin don’t like or use the gender-neutral thing – no surprise, as it bends a gendered language, Spanish, to English-language ends, which strikes me as a form of, what’s the word, supremacy. And my age and personal gender will never allow me to use terms like “chest feeding” or “pregnant people” without a wince, either internal or external.
Ultimately, I come down with Kristof on his contention that:
…while this new terminology is meant to be inclusive, it bewilders and alienates millions of Americans. It creates an in-group of educated elites fluent in terms like BIPOC and A.A.P.I. and a larger out-group of baffled and offended voters, expanding the gulf between well-educated liberals and the 62 percent majority of Americans who lack a bachelor’s degree — which is why Republicans like Ron DeSantis have seized upon all things woke.
DeSantis, who boasts that he will oust the “woke mob,” strikes me as a prime beneficiary when, say, the Cleveland Clinic explains anatomy like this: “Who has a vagina? People who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) have vaginas.”
Call people what they ask to be called: That’s fine. But there’s something creepy about white, educated people correcting everyone else’s.
You may disagree! And if you get stuck in moderation, I’ll try to free you a.s.a.p.