Thursday, June 20, 2013

Language bullshyte walls

Unnecessary euphemisms are asinine.

Necessary ones can be quite practical when you have young ears around or folks who you don't really want to know what you're talking about, but unnecessary euphemisms are slowly starting to annoy me.

I mean, why?  Why use it?  Are you using it because you believe the listener will be offended by what you're saying or because you are too skittish to say what you really mean?  Are using euphemisms a tactful way to avoid offending others or do we increasingly lack the courage of our convictions and so we choose alternative, sad, watered down versions of what we're really trying to say?

The longer I teach, the more annoyed I get with euphemisms.  The handbook we use reminds students (and teachers) to be direct and succinct in word choice and expression, so this has become a part of my life.  Don't fill your language with fluffy, indirect terms that don't add any real meaning to the text but instead are just circumlocutory ways to get to the point.  Be direct!  Say what you mean with courage and conviction.  If it offends, oh well--at least your point was clear.

The more I become a lover of language, the less tolerant I become for language bullshyte.  (I suppose in some ways using "shyte" could be seen as a euphemism for "shit," but I don't use "shyte" because I need a euphemism; I use it because I like it.  Anyone who knows me knows I have NO qualms about cursing.)  Language bullshyte is a waste of time--mine and yours.  Yours because you had to find a roundabout way to say what you didn't want to say directly.  Mine because if I don't understand what the heck you're saying, I have to waste time figuring out what the fuck you meant.  Be direct; don't waste time.

Becoming a parent changes your life in so many ways.  Since becoming a parent, euphemistic words that annoy me most relate to the genital parts of the body.  I'm starting to see that it's a preference for some people, but I also surmise that it's a generational thing for some people to choose to use words like "peterwhacker," "vajayjay," "pecker," "vaj," and the like.  (And this is to say nothing of the slang terms that we all know so well--"cock," "dick," "pussy," "cooch," etc.  The slang terms are another topic for another day.)

When I first became a parent, I decided that my child(ren) would know and use the correct terms for the body parts: penis, vagina, breast, etc.  I mean, we don't say "peepers" (eyes) or "walkers"(feet) or some other asinine words for other body parts, so why do we feel the need to teach children euphemistic terms for penis and vagina.  Giving these parts cutesy terms delays understanding.  It distracts, and it gives people a language wall to hide behind.  It makes it as if the real words and by extension, the parts themselves, are an embarrassment.  This cannot be healthy.

From my own experience, growing up using the euphemistic terms delayed my ability to openly and freely discuss my body when it was necessary.  Discussing, looking at educational images of, thinking about these parts became taboo and somehow wrong.  That certainly isn't healthy.
Could it be that simply not using the correct terms makes people embarrassed about discussing the body parts?  And what happens when people are embarrassed to discuss genital parts?  Disinformation?  Delayed understanding of sexuality?  Hiding things unnecessarily? 

And if no one ever comes back to the child later and has a real life discussion with the real words about how everything works and why you shouldn't be ashamed of the words OR the body parts, what happens when that person becomes an adult and still has the embarrassment factor associated with their genitalia?  What happens when they encounter the opposite sex or the same sex in a sexual encounter?  What happens when they first learn of people being asexual or transgendered or a hermaphrodite or anywhere else in between?  Do they seek an understanding of these new ideas and thoughts or do they remain just as embarrassed because they were never exposed to the correct terms from an early age?

Now, I'm not saying that simply using "penis" or "vagina" will stop people from being confused or repressed or secretive.  I'm also not saying that people need to go out and practice free love and overshare, but I am saying that having honest conversations with honest language does a world of good.

In recent months, what's annoyed me most about the words "penis" and "vagina" is the pregnancy and parenting message boards I frequent.  I read these posts that use the euphemistic terms and think, "Ok, you're actually pregnant right now, and you can't (or won't) use the actual words for the body parts that made you pregnant?  Is this a personal preference or can you not say the words?  Are you seeking not to offend or are you skittish?  And if you're seeking not to offend, isn't it a bit damn ridiculous that people frequenting message boards for pregnant people cannot use the words 'penis' and 'vagina'?  What the hell?"

And while we're on the words "penis" and "vagina" and generations.  I crack up a little inside each time my son uses the word "penis" and an older person cringes.  It makes me smile that my son is using the correct terms and in some way is chipping away the way of language bullshyte that my loving family create for themselves.  It also makes me smile because in some ways, I'm raising a budding rebel. ;-)

Admittedly, it took me awhile courageously stand on with my convictions to use clear, direct, real language--especially as it relates to "penis" and "vagina."  But I'm there now, and I encourage others to go forth and conquer your language bullshyte wall.  Perhaps if we stop using language bullshyte, we'll come to demand it of others and we might all be a bit better off.

For now, I'll encourage you to check out this spoken word poem "Totally like whatever, you know?" by Taylor Mali.

Go forth and speak with conviction.

Tear down your language bullshyte wall!

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