Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
The past year has had its challenges for all of us, some more than others.
And the past year has had its joys for all of us, some more than others.
May your own new year glitter with possibilities, offer safety and solidity, and make you laugh.
Happy New Year, one and all!
To those of you who celebrate, merry Christmas!
To all of you, thank you for being part of my life.
On TV or in budget documents
Aww, I was trying to stay in the holiday spirit. I had a post prepared with my own version of a Hallmark Christmas movie.
But the current administration just had to mess with words again. I can’t let it go by when people are messing with words. And in this case, there was a similarity that was too good to ignore.
7 Words We Cannot Use in Budget Documents
7 Words We Cannot Say on Television
Sound familiar? If not, you’re in for a treat.
Background—The federal administration has, according to the Washington Post, given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies within Health and Human Services a list of seven words or phrases that cannot be used in agency budget documents.
Here’s the HHS list:
“vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
Other government agencies have been given other lists of words to “avoid” but the HHS list of 7 words was the most recent and best reported. The HHS protested that the CDC officials weren’t told they couldn’t use those words at all, just not in anything related to the budget.
Sort of like “dirty words.” You can use some of them in some contexts, just not in all contexts.
In 1972, the incredible comedian and social commentator (same thing in those days, right?) George Carlin started performing a routine about the
7 dirty words you can’t say on television
That’s right. There were 7 of them. Too bad the federal administration didn’t have someone on staff with a better sense of humor who would have recognized the similarity. Or, come to think of it, maybe there was someone on that staff with enough of a sense of humor to recognize it and let it go. I like that idea.
7 dirty words you can’t say on television
7 dirty words you can't write in budget documents
Carlin complained that no one would give a list of the words not to say. As a kid, you find out by trial and error (or parental smacking, in his video) which words you can’t say. Then you discover that some words are okay sometimes but not all the time. The word “cock” is in the Bible, but you can’t say it on TV. Today, Carlin might add that you can say, “What a sweet little pussy,” but not “I’d grab some pussy.” (Maybe you CAN say the last one, at least so far.)
So Carlin compiled a list of the 7 words that you can NEVER say on television. They are also words I would never say on my blog, except that, as he said, it depends on context. There are words you could say with friends but not in church. In this case, I’ll say there are words you can say when we’re talking about words that I wouldn’t say otherwise. I can’t blur out Carlin’s words with asterisks and still make his point. Skip over the next two sentences if seeing dirty words will offend you.
Here’s Carlin’s list of the 7 words you can never say on television:
“Shit piss fuck cunt cocksucker motherfucker and tits”
Carlin’s delivery in this routine, of course, makes the list hysterically funny. The seven words are delivered rapid fire as one continuous phrase without a pause. I’ve inserted the youtube link to the best part of this routine. Please watch it if you can.
Carlin has a lot to say about the rhythm of the list, too, and why the two multi-syllabic words are both needed. So I might reorder the HHS list just a little bit, to make the seven words more effective rhythmically:
“vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, evidence-based, science-based, and fetus”
Say it rapid fire as one continuous phrase without a pause and you get the effect.
“vulnerable entitlement diversity transgender evidence-based science-based and fetus”
Carlin’s routine involves frequent repetition of the list of 7, delivered as one seamless phrase. Repetition, repetition, repetition. He’s making a point, of course, or several points.
Words are words, until we decide some have special meaning or power. Carlin says the 7 dirty words are words we’ve “decided” not to say. Here we are today with the federal administration telling others what words they’ve decided others can’t say. At least the a list. Maybe after too much trial and error (smack!).
Carlin stressed that these are words you can never say on television. The HHS protests that these are words banned only from anything to do with the budget approval by Republicans.
Carlin goes on to list other words that might be candidates for the list. The list of dirty words keeps getting added to all the time, he says. The words he lists become raunchier and raunchier as he goes on, and the list becomes longer and longer.
The HHS list becomes longer, too. The Washington Post reports that HHS agencies have been given other words not to use, too.
“Obamacare,” not Affordable Care Act
“exchanges” not marketplaces for insurance
The State Department uses “sexual risk avoidance” instead of sex education
The list of words not to say keeps getting longer and longer.
Somehow it’s not as funny when the HHS says it.
In his routine on euphemisms (euphemisms could be a topic for a whole other blog post in the future), George Carlin reminds us that changing the name doesn't change the condition. Then why change?
Because words do matter. What we call things doesn't just reflect the culture of the moment but can have an effect on the culture longer term and can have an effect on real people, on our humanity. Carlin runs through the changing words for the brain condition of many veterans after war, from "shell shock" to "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" (and now just PTSD). “The humanity has been squeezed completely out of the expression,” he says, and then “the pain is completely buried under jargon.”
I'll bet ya if we'd a still been calling it "shell shock" some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time"
Words matter. Banning words matters. Speaking truth matters.
We have to be careful about words because words can hurt, words can harm others. But the words used to disguise truth are lies, not kindness. Manipulation, not empathy.
Who is speaking the truth today that George Carlin spoke for earlier generations? Who has the courage to say the 7 words you cannot say, whatever those words might be the next time?
I’m late with my blog this week, which seems appropriate for today’s topic since I’m almost always writing my holiday greeting cards at the last minute.
Hanukah has just begun (Happy Hanukah to those of you who celebrate it!)
Christmas is two weeks away (Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it!)
Kwanzaa follows right after Christmas (Happy Kwanzaa to those of you who celebrate it!)
The Solstice arrives next week (Happy Solstice to those of you who celebrate it!)
And to all of you who celebrate other holidays this time of year that I missed, and to those of you who celebrate none of these holidays, Seasons Greetings!
How we greet each other at this time of year has been a bone of contention, to coin a phrase. Some claim we’re stealing their Christmas if store clerks greet customers with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Old-fashioned office Christmas parties have generally become holiday parties.
It might complicate things a bit, though, if we noticed that the word “holiday” originates from “holy day.” So I’m not sure changing to “holiday” is as inclusive as we might want (yes, meanings change, and most people don’t associate “holiday” with “holy day” anymore, but I like noticing such things).
When I write my holiday cards (which I have still been doing on paper with some old friends and family members, in spite of the more eco-friendly online alternatives), I start with a selection of cards with different greetings, including always one “Seasons Greetings” for those whose preferences I don’t know or whose non-religious status I do know.
But I’ve never done a photo Christmas/Holiday card. I’ve received some wonderful ones over the years, especially from my artist friend Pat who incorporates the family headshots into some wonderfully funny painted winter scenes every year. And I’m always happy to see family photo cards. They help me keep track of the growth of children and families who I don’t see as much over the years.
Those family cards are also a bone of contention for some, and this year I’ve learned about a twist on them on Twitter—single people posting their family’s couple-loving, single-isolating family Christmas cards. Family photos full of joy for all the couples in the family, plus the one lone single person off to the side.
Supposedly, the originator of pointing out the single-person-in-the-family-Christmas-card was @kbobby_22, who posted his own family photo.
For those of you not on Twitter, or if my Twitter images don't load, Lisa Gutierrez wrote a story for the Kansas City Starfeaturing some of the best photos. In the original, each couple is holding a sign--parents' sign saying "Excited," surrounded by a couple whose sign says "Expecting," another whose sign says "Engaged," and @kbobby_22 with a sign saying "Egg Salad." In Emily Seawright's homage, her own sign says just "Emily."
Sure enough, even family Christmas cards are loaded with meanings we don't always notice until someone points it out. My favorites in this new Twitter meme are the ones who post their old, ordinary, usual family Christmas cards, no signs added, only now we can see it. Now we can see the happy couples in the family embracing and embraced, with the one solo member stuck on the side.
Tweets are showing the humor in the situation, though the sting obviously still remains. It's not fun being the egg salad instead of the engaged or expecting or excited. But folks are clearly having fun with it, many using it to celebrate their singledom.
Once we notice something--an underlying statement in a family photo--we can choose what to do with that noticing. I love the humor that Emily Seawright and @kbobby_22 show in their tweets, and the many others who've followed. Especially because, once we notice something, we can't un-notice it.
Now I see it everywhere--the family shots with the single person to the side, behind the couch, hands in pockets instead of around someone. Nothing malicious intended there, I'm pretty sure. But boy, it does show us something about how we see people.
So there's another complication of holiday greeting cards to pay attention to. Include the holiday--or non-holy-day--that the recipient celebrates. Take family photos that show just how much you value every individual in the group.
I still haven't sent out my cards, but there will be no photo again this year. There's another thing to notice--who does and doesn't use family photos for Christmas cards. Does it depend on having children, whether newborn or adult?
So much to notice, once you start noticing. It's exhausting. As if we don't already have enough challenges this time of year, just getting things done. But noticing--and pointing out to others what you've noticed--is how change happens. Lots of noticing and calling out going on around the world right now. Notice it, tell others about it, change it.
Meanwhile, we can laugh at the single people statement photos on Twitter. We can send out our cards, paper or electronic, with appropriately chosen messages. And we can enjoy each other's company face to face, no photo needed, and embrace one and all.
So here's to my readers this season. I notice you, and I wish for each of you time spent with people who make you feel good about yourself and peaceful time with yourself.