WOOF! Watchdogs of Our Freedom

Archive for March, 2019|Monthly archive page

“You Keep Using that Word…” (In which WOOF takes Exception to Incorrect Political Correctness.)

In Hardcore lexicography forum on March 18, 2019 at 8:57 am

To clarify this screed’s rant, and the particularly annoying variety of left-wing “newspeak” that provoked it, it may help to explain what we aren’t ranting about–this time. The Internet is ablaze with lists of politically correct claptrap compiled by pathologically-officious arbiters of allowable speech. These lexical bullies infest faculty lounges across the land, united in their quest to denude American discourse of expressive scope by restricting it, in the name of social justice, to words they deem inoffensive, or, if offensive, offensive to practices. politics, or persons who are White, Christian, to the philosophical Right of Noam Chomsky, or otherwise deplorable. While we abhor these despots-manque, it is not our purpose here to catalog their verbal impositions. Anyone with a little nerve and a righteous abhorrence of gibberish can spot, list, and mock these lingual contaminants. And while ridicule is an entirely appropriate reaction to such taradiddle, we are pleased to note numerous lexicographic freedom fighters have taken up the work. Our business here involves a more refined grievance.

Our more refined grievance.

In this screed, we cavil about more than the Left’s enthusiasm for paralyzing our common tongue –we are particularly peeved by a substratum of usages so woefully misconstrued or wrongly etymologized as to give offense on two counts: First, as components of the balmy lexicon of tone-deaf PC idioms, and second, (here’s the important part) by adding a layer of fatuity insofar as they imply meanings contrary to or starkly different from the ones intended. To grasp our point precisely, one need only consider the line famously uttered by Mandy Patinkin in the role of Inigo Montoya from the 1987 romantic comedy “The Princess Bride,” since immortalized as a ubiquitous meme: “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” If you’ve seen the movie, you know the context, and if you haven’t, suffice it that for our purposes, the line speaks for itself—(forgive the anthropomorphism).To illustrate by example, let’s turn to the not-too-distant past, or what we might call the dawn of modern feminism. Many contemporary feminists tend to be unfamiliar with the details of this era, except to speak condescendingly of it as “Second Wave Feminism.” But we recall it vividly, together with the now forsaken term “Fem Lib” (short, of course, for Female Liberation). But that term is no longer in use, and not currently at issue. Our displeasure is incurred by a different, far more persistent coinage emblematic of those fractious times–although, to be historically exact, as early as the dawn of the 20th century there was similar deviltry afoot.

The slur’s the word!

In 1901, the editors of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, preoccupied with niceties that seem quaint at this remove, fretted that “To call a maiden Mrs. is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts…” And in order that no married female be thenceforth addressed as “Miss,” the editors proposed a solution. “The abbreviation Ms is simple, it is easy to write,” they explained, and “for oral use it might be rendered as ‘Mizz,’ which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis’ does duty for Miss and Mrs. alike.” Simple enough, one might suppose, but in an era when “progressivism” meant Teddy Roosevelt, the idea went nowhere. Indeed, the editors of the Springfield Republican probably went to their graves lamenting their failure to save married women from the ignominy of being mistaken for single.

For the uninitiated: A character in “Pogo.”

There followed a dark age of indifference to such matters, during which women in every walk of life faced the daily risk of hymeneal mislabeling. Fortunately for humankind, during an otherwise lackluster interview on WBAI-radio in 1969, Feminist Sheila Michaels resurrected “Ms,” recommending it as a means of uniting the entire distaff sex within a single, collectivizing, Mao-jacket-ish sort of honorific, (and causing anyone enunciating it to be instantly remindful of a character from Pogo). Michaels credited the idea to a pamphlet she’d been handed by some Marxist group now lost to time, as might the entire idea have been, had not a friend of Gloria Steinem’s been listening and mentioned Michaels’s suggestion to Steinem, who pronounced it inspired.

Gloria Steinem–undercover Bunny.

In 1969, Gloria Steinem was the most widely known champion of American feminism, largely—if somewhat ironically—because she was good-looking, a quality conspicuous by its absence among the majority of her confederates. Besides making her a favorite talk-show guest, Steinham’s looks sufficed to win her employment as a Playboy Bunny, a stunt she followed with a widely read exposé in Show magazine detailing the veritable hell on earth endured—apparently—by Playboy Bunnies. Her bunnyhood behind her, Steinem was eager to found a magazine devoted to the feminist cause and thought “Ms.” would make a perfect title—smacking of rebellion, liberation from prosaic sexual roles, and the kind of controversy that drives sales at the newsstands.

The 1970s stood in sharp contrast to the days when a stringent lexical conservatorship consigned silly ideas like “Ms” to the waste basket. The burgeoning influence of the radical Left in American media and higher education meant that Steinem’s advocacy of “Ms” became instantly vogue. If this seems incomprehensible, remind yourself: this was the decade that popularized Disco, earth shoes, mood rings, plaid polyester leisure suits, and Jimmy Carter.  Any doubt regarding the continued communist subversion of government and the arts was set to rest as the U.S. Printing Office raced to approve “Ms.” on all official government documents, while Marvel Comics announced a new superhero named Ms. Marvel, billing her as the “first feminist superhero.” Gloria Steinem was really the first, we think, but she probably refused to wear another costume.

Steinem, bunnyhood behind her, making way for Ms. Marvel..

So, what’s our quibble with Steinham’s epochal choice of magazine titles? Let’s hear from Australia’s ABC News (not to be confused with its execrable American homograph) where contributor James Valentine sums up our objection, writing: “If you choose Ms as your honorific, others may think you mean more than you do…and it may not be a meaning that applies to you or any way related to why you choose to be a Ms.” In other words, Valentine might as well have written, “You keep using that word…”

The very first issue of Manuscript Magazine

Besides its ties to Marxism, which probably bother no one at this point except us, there is the inevitable problem of disambiguation that follows the forced introduction of most nonce-words like a faithful skunk. For example, current polls showing “Ms” on the skids, indicate a sizable population of women believe the term applies exclusively to divorcees, particularly in the United Kingdom; speaking of which, Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, disallows “Ms”, insisting that “”The ugly-sounding Ms is problematic. Although many women have assumed this bland epithet, it remains incorrect to use when addressing a social letter.” The Queen’s English Society likewise dismisses Ms as “an abbreviation that is not short for anything,” which would be concerning, if true, which it isn’t, really, which begs a further remonstrance.

Lacking any pedigree in popular usage. the term often confused even those determined to adopt it. People assumed the letters were separately pronounced, as in “Welcome to your interview, Em Ess Smith!” And the absence of formal standardization saw the term rendered in all caps as often as not. Capitalized, of course, the letters have long denoted Multiple Sclerosis, but in either format, as an exasperated (female) editor famously stormed at the height of the term’s popularity, “Ms means manuscript, look it up!” And so it did, and does, and will continue to—or are we unduly sanguine?

Using MS WORD…

Aside from the improbable existence of some editor at some publishing house, whose extraordinary skills at enhancing and correcting writers’ submissions have admiring coworkers calling her “Manuscript” Jones, it is impossible to imagine any woman, no matter her sociopolitical convictions, intentionally describing herself as a manuscript, or, for that matter, as somehow associated with an incurable neurological disease linked to double vision, psychiatric problems, loss of physical coordination, and death.  More recently, we have Bill Gates’s patriarchally insensitive usurpation of the term in his marketing of MS Word, which may seem relatively inconsequential until you review the 2010 census and note 6,177 Americans surnamed Word, assumedly half of whom are liable to being confused with the world’s first and most famous word processor, not to mention numerous iterations of its popular document format, (now available as an Office 365 app!) And if you don’t think this can spell trouble, consider the plight of the comely but demure young lady bearing this surname, obliged to work at a desk proximal to a bulletin board to which some heedless functionary has affixed a promotional poster emblazoned with: “Thank you for using MS WORD!”Very, very top of mind….

Right on, Sister! Err…brother..er…xe…zhe..or…okay, whatever.

But before we leave “Ms” to its fate, or at least Webster’s Third, we should mention another source of mounting dissatisfaction with the embattled abbreviation, namely, contemporary liberalism. The problem with “Ms,” nowadays, is that people who identify with it are women, and people who apply it, apply it to women. Social Justice, meanwhile, has outgrown such callow paradigms, meaning that societal efforts to confine people to restrictive sexual categories or to distinguish between such categories, is highly offensive. The Left’s current obsession with gender-fluidity engenders (sorry!) the corollary dogma that one can pretend one’s gender is whatever one prefers while requiring everyone else to behave as though identically deluded. Given this recent advance in progressive social doctrine, any honorific specifying an individual’s sex, no matter how radically chic in its day, is suddenly archaic and microaggressive.

Jane Solomon: A very very top mind.

“Sociolinguist” and Atlantic editor Ben Zimmer, for one, insists the lack of gender-neutral terminology in English “has caused a lot of headache over the years,” which we at WOOF confess we hadn’t realized. Fortunately, lexicographer Jane Solomon was more alert. “The need for a gender-neutral prefix seems to be very, very top of mind for people,” the language expert assured TIME magazine. To this end, Solomon is confident the uni sexual prefix “Mx” will prevail where previous efforts like xe,, thon, and zhe, inexplicably foundered.

Afire with the vision of Americans everywhere demanding a usable gender-neutral means of address, constituents of “Fourth Wave” feminism saw “Ms” for what it was–just another gender-specific tool of patriarchal oppression no better than Miss or Mrs. The way forward, they realized, entailed everyone using the prefix Mx, which Sociolinguist Zimmer helpfully instructs readers to pronounce “Mix,” rather than “Em Ex,” an emphasis meant, one assumes, to prevent anyone from accidentally self-identifying as a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile.

Blacklisting “Black!”

H. Rap Brown, where are you when we need you??

In a similar vein, the essayist Dallion Rew (himself African by ethnicity) writes that “Black” is now “becoming more and more disagreeable to people who read and study History!” We maintain the opposite. The Black and certifiably-liberal essayist Kimberly Alexander points out that the problem is not history, but rather “whiney sensitive snowflakes [who] chose ‘black’ as something they can no longer say.”  Right! The problem is that Black political perceptions are influenced far more than anyone dares acknowledge by White, “whiney sensitive snowflakes” who are also media mavens, political leaders, and university professors. So we are now beset by a “fourth wave” (more or less) of Black militants protesting the descriptor “Black” as “racist” because snowflakes in Birkenstocks miseducated them to believe the term was at some juncture foisted upon them by their White oppressors.  Pamela Oliver, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, points out that ballooning numbers of graduates “…educated in predominantly-White schools…have been taught that Black is insulting or that the only correct term is African American.”

Stokely Carmichael: So smart he was hard to debate–so Black he turned into Kwame Ture.

Calling Blacks “Black,” rather than Negroes (the preferred term throughout the ‘50s and early ‘60s, tarnished beyond retrieval by President Lyndon Johnson’s propensity for pronouncing it “Nigras”) is in fact ascribable entirely to Blacks—and radical Blacks, at that. Advocacy for the term ran the gamut from the erudite young SNCC spokesman, Stokely Carmichael, to the barely comprehensible  H. Rap Brown. Malcolm X advocated “Black,” and the Black Panthers insisted on it. The entire Black Power movement demanded it—yet only a few decades later we find Blacks eschewing it because Whites (who are, after all, the tenants of radical chic) misremember it as an insult.

African Americans from Haiti, and beyond…

Gary Player, African

Which brings us to “African American,” the usage most often invoked in place of the spuriously-maligned “Black.” Jesse Jackson, in fact, began advocating this term as superior to Black in the ‘80s, because it de-emphasized color. Today, however, the “woke” custodians of permitted verbiage apply it as synonymous with “Black,” defeating the logic that drove Jackson to recommend it, while conjuring a host of fresh inconsistencies. The decorum impelling us to call any dark-complected individual “African American” is now rampant in our culture—thus students submit essays littered with absurdities like “2.5 billion African Americans currently populate Africa”—or that Haitian refugees are discriminated against because they are “African American.”  But Gary Player, the White golfer who hails from Johannesburg, is African. In fact, numerous African American golf stars have gained fame, but with the notable exception of Tiger Woods, who isn’t really from Africa, they are all White men.  Someone should look into that.

The late Nelson Mandela, addressing his fellow African Americans.

South African President Nelson Mandela was Black, which may explain why a US News reporter notoriously eulogized him as “a famous African American.” And how does one politely strive to mitigate the outrage expressed by Jamaicans and other citizens of the West Indies who come here to study and find themselves enrolled as African Americans, when, in point of fact, they are neither?


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