Do You Have a Label You Just Don’t Like?

For the past few days, I’ve been noticing that I cringe when I hear certain words used to label people or things in conversation, on social media, or on television. Some of these are words I know bother other people (like “gypsy,” for personal and business names that the Romani/Romanichal folks would not be fond of because the people using the term aren’t referring to actual gypsies, or naming your pets “Dixie” or “Cracker” or other loaded Southern words in today’s climate).*

The Roma wagons are so cool, though. Image by @Loreke76 via Twenty20

Others are just me. I realize that, for some reason, I do not like the word “cheap” when applied to things you buy. I think my internal definition in my idiolect has more to do with poor quality than low cost. In my mind when people say they want a cheap thing, they are saying that they pay more attention to the price of a thing than to how well it will work or how long it will serve, a short-term viewpoint. So, I never refer to things I obtain as cheap. They are inexpensive, which doesn’t have the poor quality connotation that’s really a secondary definition of cheapness. To me.

Yeah, economical, not cheap!

Back to the first group of words I don’t like, most of them appear to be words that apply to cultural, racial, or national groups. I just recently began to cringe when I hear “Latinx,” after hearing someone say no actual Latino or Latina person would use that word, since it isn’t even Spanish. To them it sounds like white people went and made up a word to solve a problem that didn’t really exist. People who speak Spanish don’t take grammatical gender as literally as English speakers do. How about that? Should I use “Hispanic?” That one has its own issues. Maybe I’ll just call people by their names or refer to their country or origin if they aren’t from the US.

As for these Mexicans, in Mexico, let’s use that term. It was either these guys or some pan flute players. I like mariachi music better than those flutes, which aren’t Mexican anyway.

I guess I know how much people treasure their cultural identities, so I want to use the words members of a particular culture prefer to use, even if they change as time goes on. It would be a LOT easier if there was universal agreement, though. I actually knew someone who preferred “negro” to “Black” or “African American.” Plus, the AA term really doesn’t apply to actual Africans or people from the Caribbean who have moved here. ARGH.

One thing the current movement toward acknowledging the great variety of gender terminology and preferences has taught me is this: it never hurts to ASK someone how they want to be referred to. So, if you don’t know, ASK if a Cajun wants to be called that. ASK what your “indigenous” friend likes their cultural identity to be called.

Let’s call this woman “Quechua” and her alpaca beautiful.

Just don’t be cheap about it. Don’t gyp me. Don’t try to jew me down. When did you start to cringe in this extra cringeworthy paragraph? Do you see why I prefer to be careful with labels and their derivations? It’s not just me being a liberal snowflake (by the way, each snowflake is unique and beautiful, so thanks for calling me that, frenemies!).

Signed,

Suna, she/her, McLeod of the Clan McLeod**


*I have known many dogs named Dixie, and it didn’t use to be controversial. Times change.

**Way too fond of one branch of my Ancestry family tree, perhaps?

I Misunderstand Commitments

Sometimes, when you’re walking on a hot day and trying to ignore the pain in your legs from climbing hills (you can tell I was in Austin), you get a sudden insight into how communication works and doesn’t work, and your life suddenly becomes better. Well, it happened at least once, and that was yesterday.

I was just enjoying myself not thinking about work during my one-hour break between meetings, and I started to think about how some of the people in my life announce their plans/intentions/commitments. They state them very firmly. “Things will be this way from now on.” “I will act on this plan going forward.” Things like that.

The post is about language, and I think this is cute. Photo by @NAO via Twenty20

In my little head, I interpret such statements as firm commitments. I then adjust my own expectations to go with these plans. If someone says, “I’m going to do this twice a week,” I expect that to happen twice a week. If someone says, “This is the next project I plan to do,” I get my inner expectations set that way.

This is not the other person’s problem; it’s mine. This leads to much disappointment and confusion when life happens, plans change, or the dreaded “spontaning” occurs (that’s what Lee and I call being spontaneous). I get worked up about people not keeping their commitments, or confused when I hear the twice a week thing didn’t happen starting the next week.

Javascript is inside my head. No wonder I get confused. Image by @Mehaniq via Twenty20,

My insight was that when people around me make these declarations, they are not stating a commitment, they are stating an intention. They’re not stating a definite plan, but more of a tentative plan for the moment. And that’s perfectly fine, because that’s how stating plans or intentions work for them. And besides, even people like me, who state things with all expectations that the plan will be stuck to, sometimes have to change things when circumstances change. Huh, I’d been being rather rigid in my expectations of others!

They sure do. Image by @MPstockart via Twenty20

So, now that I’ve reset my expectations, I’ve a word of advice for those of you who didn’t get this concept hammered into their heads while studying linguistics (almost everyone!).

Your internal set of meanings for words and phrases may actually NOT coincide (probably don’t coincide) exactly with other people’s.

me

Language is really, really ambiguous. That’s why we rely so hard on tone of voice, facial expression, past knowledge of the person we’re talking to, and sincere hope to communicate anything at all. We all have our own internal grammar, semantics (meanings for words), and pragmatic style.

Now you know why I only communicate with snuggles. They are universal.

So, when there are misunderstandings, which there inevitably will be, let’s not be so hard on each other. It’s a miracle that we manage to communicate at all!