Language Police

I was scolded in a meeting yesterday.

We were discussing same-sex marriage, and I was scolded for using the term….same-sex marriage.  I was informed that the correct term now was same-gender marriage. When I replied “Oh, for crying out loud,” I was scolded again for being disrespectful.

Orwell, anyone?

I am an advocate of freedom, and free speech is one of the biggies on the list. I have no problem whatever with the language people choose to use. To quote Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The codicil to this, of course, is that if you choose to use language that is incendiary, you also have to accept the possible consequence of a listener becoming offended and beating the hell out of you. But that’s another post.

So here I am, at an academic research institution, and am being schooled on ‘appropriate’ language. The chastising of me pretty much shut down the discussion, which is precisely my problem with this sort of censorship.

If we are to have any kind of open discourse in this county – and God knows, we need to start having open discourse – then we need to stop censoring the language people use when they’re trying to have the conversation. Especially if the term (or phrase) is one that is commonly used, stopping someone and correcting them stops the conversation dead in its tracks. People will be afraid to open their mouths and say anything for fear of being openly shamed.

Enough with the Politically Correct stuff. I’ve read “1984.” I’m not going there without a fight.



Filed under Me and mine, Miscellaneous

9 responses to “Language Police

  1. A simple statement would be better “I just heard we are supposed to say same gender marriages, isn’t that something?”. Kindness can make difference. and the conversation could continue. But then being right is often placed in front of being kind, isn’t it?

    • Deb, I would like to think that I default to kindness whenever possible. What I find frustrating is the ever-changing determination of what constitutes “correct” language, and the dampening effect that enforcing that correctness has on conversation.

      And, by the way, who is in charge of deciding what’s correct?

  2. ksol

    I have mixed feelings on this, deb. I think it’s good to over time to move toward kinder language, but it gets frustrating to use what you believe is the correct term — and what is still in common usage, even in what I would consider progressive circles — and to be called out publicly on it. When you have good intentions and it gets thrown back in your face, it’s pretty tough not to get defensive.

  3. As a person who is going to get “same-sex married” later this summer, I can assure you this whole same-sex/same-gender thing is new to me. I hadn’t heard there was a change in word choice; so, I guess I learned something.

    My interpretation of the situation you describe is that some folks like policing others. If it was a correction that actually needed to be pointed out (debatable), there is a kind and appropriate way to let a colleague know that they might not “be in the know” about a movement away from one common phrase to a different phrase. But, my guess is that the corrector wasn’t actually trying to help you; but, rather was getting some satisfaction for themselves from the correction.

    I totally agree with you: if we are ever going to figure out how to have these sometimes difficult conversations about race, class, gender, sexuality, we need to provide a safe space, free of shaming and policing.

    On further pondering, I’d say I prefer “marriage equality” as a nice umbrella for such discussions. After all, the whole point of this struggle is that a marriage is a marriage is a marriage. Do we really need to point out whether its a “different gender marriage” or a “same sex marriage?”

    People in the gay community have been getting married for years and years, just not legally. Sometimes I find myself jokingly referring to my upcoming nuptials as my legal marriage. Ha!

  4. Meadhbh

    The other element to consider is that sex and gender do no mean the same thing. Sex refers to the physical body, male female, other, while gender refers to a psycho/social norm that a person ascribes to. They are frequently the same, but not always. And in the Intance when a person who’s gender is male and sex is female (for example) than that person may marry someone who’s gender is male. The laws may use the term interchangably but what they are actually restricting is same-sex marriage, not same-gender.

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