Thursday 25 May 2023

Rolling euphemisms, wokery, & the glories of the English language

Keeping up with whatever is the approved euphemism has always been a great lark.  We read that "obesity" now needs to be replaced - and not with "too fat", either.  The Beeb hasn't caught up with this one yet - you do really need to be on your toes.  Fortunately, the English language is replete with a wide range of colourful alternatives.

It was ever thus: whole histories could be written on the rolling evolution of the approved terms for, e.g. death, various disabilities, and descriptions of ethnicity.  Up to a point, this is to do with kindness: when a particular conventional usage becomes a term of abuse or mockery, it's time to coin something new.  Which is fair enough, albeit we sometimes get empty phrases like "learning difficulties" which covers so broad a spectrum of phenomena as to be rendered meaningless.  I have learning difficulties when I keep being interrupted, but I doubt I qualify for charitable largesse.

There's a nastier dynamic at work, though.  When anything is being politicised by the identitarian left, terminology becomes paramount, the left being beset by over-intellectualisation, theorising - and faddery, one-upmanship and ideological purity.  And nothing is more enjoyable than witch-hunting.  So nothing is neater than to keep changing the rules by making some term in common usage a shibboleth: utter it, or say it wrong - and you're damned.  Hurrah! - another heretic exposed and harried to the point of despair!

And this need to "be on your toes" ensures that only the elite of lefties at radical academic institutions can ever be up to date in these matters.  Everyone else is guaranteed to be behind the curve, beyond the pale, and in need of re-education and groveling self-flagellation, at the very least.  But maybe total cancelation and ruination.  Oh, the horrors of feeling oneself in thrall to such vicious little shits - who increasingly call the shot, not only in colleges, but in HR departments across the English-speaking world, depressing though it is to acknowledge.

If there is hope, it lies with the proles, as Orwell famously wrote.  They'll have some ideas on the subject of obesity, and one or two other things besides.  Who ate all the pies, eh?



Caeser Hēméra said...

Perhaps the time has come for a modern spin on Wells 'The Time Machine', with rather different versions of Eloi and Morlocks.

dearieme said...

The swine! After years of "portion control" by my beloved I have fallen down from Class II obese into Class I. Triumph! And now they want to obliterate the word. How very dare they?

It's made such a difference that when I saw a new cardiologist a few months ago she looked up from my medical record to say "You are heavy but you have the frame to carry it". Ha, my proud beauty! Words of encouragement!

Another couple of decades and maybe I'll carry on down to "overweight" which I refer to as "pleasingly plump". (I won't live for another couple of decades, realistically, but maybe it's good to have an ambition.)

Observational studies, however, are clear: the overweight, and perhaps even Class I obese, outlive the "normal". The things not to be are "underweight", Class II obese, or Land Whale i.e. Class III.

One conclusion from those figures is that the definition of "normal" is plain wrong. That is, it's wrong if the medics use "normal" to mean a desired figure, a good target, or the like.

I once asked a medic whether he used "normal" to mean "desirable" or "average". His jaw dropped. He'd never even thought about it. Alas, critical thinking isn't a strength of the medical trades.

And another thing: medics chatter idly of a desirable range of BMI. But they never mention the major demographic variables in this context. Am I really suppose to believe that a desirable BMI does not depend on age, sex, or race? Bollocks!

jim said...

Confucius he say:- “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion". Orwell had much the same idea. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

An elderly gay friend said that half the fun went out of it when doing the deed became legal. He was an old time Dilly Boy who enjoyed tormenting pretty boy policemen - back in the day. Thankfully things have moved on since then - dreadful injustices done. Now we have some fussed up row over a chap who dresses up like a woman (badly) and gets niggly because someone took the piss. As dear Noel said - it's dirty but it's done, it's dirty but it's fun. Oh the righteousness.

Then if one thumbs through Lacan or Foucault and Derrida and Bataille most will find their eyes glaze over but spare a thought for the denizens of literature and psychology departments who are compelled to take an interest - poor darlings. Still, they are working out what we may think in 50 years time - about 0.0001% of what they think today.

dustybloke said...

Although I don’t do anything like the travelling I used to, I sometimes fantasise about observing a devout Leftie trying to explain the nuances to a Hungarian of “coloured person” and “person of colour”. Preferably in a bar by the time the schnapps has made an appearance…

Anonymous said...

I guess it depends on when you lose the weight.

In the bowel cancer clinic, about to be subjected to proctoscopy:

"Losing any weight?"

"I wish"

"That's good..."


Pity it's now all contaminated with uranium.

Also OT, a few of the top China people at the State Department have left. Rick Waters and Wendy Sherman. And a China/Russia dove, Colin Kahl. Is that a sign they don't like Pentagon plans?

I don't think China will invade Taiwan - why should they? Far better to let the West keep destroying itself, keep taking in the money, keep slowly weaning off the dollar, keep building Silk Road 2, keep supporting Russia as best they can.

But who can tell what's in the hearts of men? I guess it's always possible the Chinese leadership want to do something spectacular, but is that in their makeup? Whereas the neocons are capable of anything and everything.

Nick Drew said...

Jim - anyone forced to read Derrida deserves all our sympathies (except that they should have checked before embarking on the course). Talk about needing a trigger warning ...

dusty - @ trying to explain the nuances to a Hungarian - an Italian friend of ours was convulsed with merriment to the point of apoplexy by reading of two female clerics getting married. Could not consider this in any way a serious proposition

anon - agreed, the Chinese play the long game: but Xi clearly has Taiwan marked down for a personal achievement in his own lifetime

when I worked in Russia I became accustomed to business counterparties eschewing short term opportunities (including sensible hedging of volatile commodity-price exposure) with the phrase: "we take the 50-year view". Well someone in the Kremlin doesn't

too many Old Men In A Hurry

Matt said...

You don't have to be Hungarian nor Italian to be confused by the woke bollocks.

Elby the Beserk said...

An assault on language is an assault on civilisation, as yer man Orwell so sagely noted way back. Sagely noting being on of his fortes.


"Handicapped" is now offensive I am told
"Disabled" is not.

Both mean exactly the same.

How and why did we get so confused?

Anyway, one of the great boons of growing old is that you no longer give a damn who you offend, nor will it cost you your job...

dearieme said...

@dusty: explain to your hypothetical Hungarian that “person of color” is an American spelling of “person of choler”.

Clive said...

I’m not entirely certain this is on-topic, but if I hear one more person say they’re “going to have a wee” I might just be sick as a parrot.

Is it just me that thinks we’ve allowed our language — and ourselves — to become irredeemably common?

dearieme said...

“going to have a wee”

We debated teaching the offspring to say defecate and micturate. But in fact children seem to end up saying what their kindergarten friends say. C'est la pee-pee.

That does leave open the question of who is the grit in the oyster who starts the pearl.

jim said...

Pee and poo, words are like pistols etc. Are we becoming 'more common'? Where is one's yardstick - perhaps Mitford and U and non-U. Depends a bit on whether one has a sitting room or a lounge or a kitchen/diner or a cardboard box. I doubt Mitford would be bothered much.

Micturate and defecate - ok in some academic paper but to use in the playground would invite ridicule and ostracism - and quite rightly. Piss and shit sound a bit rough even in the public bar at the Dog & Duck and if one wants to 'pop out the back' we don't need to know the precise details.

I read somewhere that posh types go to elocution lessons to learn to talk common. Back in the day they just spent a few days in any City dealing room and soon had the corners rubbed off their speech. Lunchtime in the Nags Head soon completed their education.

An interesting question is why American actresses feel required - indeed obliged - to use the F word so loudly and frequently. Is it because F has some residual shock effect even today in hick mid-West towns. A sign that 'we are emancipated'. No dear, just tiresome.

Anyway, some AI system is scraping up all our comments and deriving a psychological and social profile on each and every one of us. Much good may it do whoever.

Anonymous said...

Talking of euphemism, surely the greatest, as seen in the entire British medis, is "the increase in energy prices following Russia's invasion of Ukraine" - add "unprovoked" or "brutal" to taste.

The reality, which even the Tory-allergic Guardian refuses to make explicit, is "the increase in energy prices following Britain's sanctions in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine".

We did this to ourselves, or to be precise, our Government did this to us, and the media tells us "Russia did it".

lilith said...

I discovered there is no need to be fat. Just avoid eating fats and carbohydrates in the same meal...that way you avoid triggering the Randle Cycle. Also avoid seed/vegetable oils like the plague. Filthy inflammatory stuff. In fact, do the opposite of all "healthy" dietary advice since the 1960s.

My offspring was offended by my use of the phrase "The dog is having a spaz"....I resisted the temptation to ask the Brian Blessed eternal question "Are you retarded?!"

Don Cox said...

Eat whatever you like, but not too much of it.


Caeser Hēméra said...

@Clive - it has _always_ been common. That's why it's been such a raging success.

English has never been too fussy, cheerfully sponging up new words and uses of words, and ensuring different origins can live together - cow/beef, pig/pork, etc. Always happy to absorb aspects of languages and slang into it's own, from bungalow to naff.

It's always growing too, content to graft itself to other languages like Mistletoe, so we get all the pidgin versions like Chinglish, and even in the UK it evolves.

Take some of the words used by Da Yoof ov T'day - I was amazed to learn that 'rizz' comes from 'charisma.'

It's also why, to France's eternal chagrin, English is the lingua franca of the world, despite being the brazenest hussy of languages. For them it's like the Dauphin has shot off with the lusty and busty village barmaid, leaving their beautiful and virginal daughter stood up at the alter.

Caeser Hēméra said...

Just realised I've spelled 'altar' as 'alter.'

I could blame cackhandedness, I could blame autocorrect, but I'll go for 'When in Rome' ;)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Dante’s Inferno could have a 10th circle of Hell or maybe we’re already in it.