I spend an inordinate amount of time reading and writing and thinking about words, why they’re used, how they’re used; how sentences are structured, what human motivations are behind those structures, and what human motivations are behind the assumptions we make about language. That all being said, there are an awful lot of words that have sort of died and become useless, and I’d like to just remove them from popular usage. Here they are, and why.
WORDS THAT ARE ABOUT IMPORTANT IDEAS BUT ARE SUPER-VAGUE
Society: As in, “society does [x] to [y group].” Who is society? I’m usually on the side of being brief, but it’s not useful to use catch-all umbrella phrases to make an argument about a social or political problem. Who exactly is causing the problem, and how exactly are they causing it? That’s the only way we can identify causes and start thinking of solutions to root them out.
Oppressed: As in, “women are oppressed by [group/action/etc].” I will admit that I’m guilty of using this term because it’s easy, but easy is also lazy. It might be factually correct (burdened with unjust impositions or restraints, subject to an unduly harsh exercise of authority or power), but it’s also a loaded term that’s easy to dismiss if you’re on the other end of the conversation. Just as with “society,” if you’re going to make a social or political argument, you have to identify the exact process of injustice to make a good, clear argument that’s hard to factually refute.
WORDS THAT ARE GENDERED
Silly: When are adult men called “silly”? I’ve been called “silly” three times today for standing up for women and people of color in a white-male-dominated space. You’re being silly! Your politics are silly! It’s an insidious word because it’s used in a light way, like saying “Come on, now,” but it’s constantly directed toward women to play into the cliché that women are irrational and not worth listening to.
Dramatic: This is almost exactly the same thing as “silly.” I had a boss tell me I was being “dramatic” for reporting sexual harassment once. Oh yes, the drama of following policy. Our stupid gender standards hold that men are stoic and unfeeling (which is unfair to men), and of course “manly” is the way to be, so any waves created by a woman are “dramatic” by contrast. It’s a way of saying sit down, shut up, swallow your thoughts, you’re not connected to reality, no one cares.
WORDS THAT, LIKE, REALLY? THIS IS THE BEST WE COULD DO?
Nipple: Does anyone else get skeeved out over the word “nipple”? It sounds like a really kiddie word, but then we use it to talk about adult sexual stuff, and that causes cognitive dissonance for me. The scientific term is “mammary papillas,” but that’s not better. All in all it’s too associated with producing milk to feed infants. Couldn’t we come up with one term for it that’s associated with feeding babies and one term for it that’s associated with sex? We’ve got “boobs,” “breasts,” “tits,” and “rack;” why couldn’t we come up with more than one word for nipples?
WORDS THAT ARE PRECIOUS
Journey: Calling your experience your “journey” is a way of differentiating the importance of the course of your life from the blasé just-living, not-journey experiences other people have. It makes it sound like you trekked or traveled, when really, you just lived, like everyone else. Maybe your experience was novel! That doesn’t make it a journey.
Silenced: This fits in the category of both not-specific and also precious. When I was working with great narrative writers, they insisted that characters not be passive, that things not happen to them, that they be agents in their own stories because lives are, in fact, series of choices. That’s why it’s precious, as a feeling – it’s passive. When it actually happens, when someone actually has their voice removed, it’s important to say how it happened instead of just using the blanket verb “silence.”
WORDS THAT JUST STOP IT ALREADY
Slut: “Slut” is actually not a thing, either. What’s a slut? Who counts as a slut? How many guys do you have to have slept with to cross into slut territory? Do you make exceptions for women who are your friends and you know they’re cool and they’ve got their own thing going on but everyone else who’s slept with that many people is a slut? What’s the practical downside of being a slut? (Oh, and citations please – data or research only – if you’re going to make an argument on that one.) Does being a slut make you unable to be other things, like a friend, sister, daughter, employee, or intelligent human being, and if not, why do we bother to call people slut? Is there a universal definition of slut or is it just a word we put out there that doesn’t add quality or substance to an argument? Just stop. Stop it stop it stop it.