This month, it was reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had decided to “ban” seven words like “fetus” and “transgender” for fear they might offend the fragile minds of conservatives, keeping the CDC in line with universities affraid that words will offend liberals and “vulnerable” people.
I would like to jump into this word-banning game as Editor and Publisher of Bombs + Dollars, and I have the power, too, at least on my small corner of the internet. The following are words (in some cases, “words”) that I will never allow to be published at B+D going forward. Tongue-in-cheek, of course; the real problem with the following words is not that they are offensive, but that they just don’t make for good and clear writing.
Bodies, when used in place of “people” – African-Americans are not inanimate objects. They are living, breathing people. “Bodies” is a high-falutin term that social scientists came up with that actually has the opposite effect on people speaking common English that it is intended to have. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Alex Sayf Cummings, associate professor of History at Georgia State University and a contributor to Salon and Al Jazeera America, wrote, “[U]nfortunately many academics, particularly historians, seem to have adopted a language that accepts the Chinese Communists’ treatment of human beings as par for the course. … Who are these bodies we are speaking of? To talk about day laborers standing outside Home Depot at 7AM as a bunch of bodies ready to be transferred to the back of a pickup truck is, perhaps, to make a comment about how they were treated literally as interchangeable arms and legs that could do work by whoever drove by and hired them. But to do so is not just commenting on their dehumanization—it is adopting the dehumanizing and alienating framework in which they are treated by the economic system and treating it as normal, treating unique historical actors as if they are just what an unfair and abusive system understood them to be: interchangeable lumps.”
Everytime a social justice liberal uses the word “bodies,” they are reenforcing that which they mean to oppose.
Import, when used to refer to people – The immigration-critical right also likes to dehumanize people. They use the word “import” to refer to people who immigrate to the US. They treat them as objects devoid of agency, like they are just being shipped over a border like a good. For the purposes of an anti-immigration crusader, this word choice also puts the blame rhetorically on the government, as if it was the government’s decision to bring an individual into the country rather than their decision to apply for a green card. One might very well make a logical argument to cut down on immigration, but they should use accurate language. “The United States was the only developed country consistently to allow millions of very poor, low-skilled families to immigrate,” not “the only developed country consistently to import low-skilled families.” Hell, if you want to maintain the subtext of blaming the government, you can even use “to encourage” or “promote the immigration of.” The problem with “import” is that it also contains a subtext about the writer that makes them appear less credible.
Snowflakes – It’s December of 2017, so that means that Sen. Ted Cruz has used the word “snowflake” to refer to people who oppose the FCC’s recent decision to overturn net neutrality. Essentially the cultural right uses “snowflake” as a synonym for “liberal” or “Democrat”, denying it any useful meaning. The term was originally supposed to refer to thin-skinned millennials who think they are special and get offended by any difficulty, not for someone who opposes a policy for a reason. If it was used as it was intended, it could be a way–albiet hackneyed, cliché and annoying to the ear–to refer to a people who embody the character traits of Donald Trump. But with the rate it is thrown around haphazardly by conservatives, it rarely ends up refering to anyone who is actually acting irrationally offended.
Intersectional – If one wants to express support for women’s rights or gay rights or free-market economics, it makes more sense to express support for that very thing than to divide it up into a bunch of small, identity-based groups and create an unwieldy acronym. To take one argument, trans-activists think trans people should be particularly emphasized in feminist discourse, although they make up a very small amount of the population, because they don’t want anyone to forget that trans women are women. Yet if one were to express support for women’s rights, then that would already include everyone who is a woman. There is no way to express every particular group affected. It would take 6 billion individual names to cover the multitudes of cases existing in the world. In the end, intersectional discourse leaves one overlooking the minority within the minority while at the same time distorting the essence of a situation. See this also.