Calling Things By Their Proper Names

A topic which pervades many others

Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Michael » 17 May 2012, 02:27

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
-Confucius


My wife reads a feminist blog and enjoys asking me my opinion on its posts. She is not in agreement with everything they post, and we have a lot of fun discussing problems or oversights. One we recently discussed was of a sad story by a feminist, recounting an abusive relationship she had recently escaped.

What bothered me about the story, and leads into this post topic, is the use of words in the post and the comments following it. What annoyed me as a philosopher was the use of terms like "victim of childhood abuse" or "victim of domestic violence". No one has ever been victimized by abstract nouns. There are specific causes and people to be blamed, specific circumstances to be examined. Politically correct thinking seems to want to tilt all discussion away from the facts of cases and towards abstractions, which are, of course, to be met with abstract approaches, like a neutered language and thought policing. It is a very sophisticated form of magical thinking, believing that something is being done by "raising awareness" or reforming thought, rather than punishing the guilty party. The poisoned remnants of Marxism have trained people to think this way, blaming their problems on a systemic problem rather than individual circumstances, and simultaneously reducing people's sense of agency while increasing their willingness to support a revolutionary vanguard who will bring about change.

How I wish people would no longer say "I was a victim of sexual abuse" but "I was raped by an acquaintance" or "I was sexually molested by a teacher". Focusing on the concrete details reveals the path to rectifying a problem - in these cases, putting that person in jail.

I invite you all to post your favourite/most hated abuses of language to obscure thought and cloud judgment.
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Gavin » 17 May 2012, 17:45

I suppose these are euphemisms in some cases to avoid the stating such personal and unpleasant things so directly, but they do somewhat remove agency from the acts.

Apart from "raising awareness" there is of course the old "lessons must be learned" which we keep hearing these days. Meaningless, really. What lessons, and who should learn them?!

How about this kind of thing, in The Guardian today:

Mary Richardson Kennedy, 52, the estranged wife of Robert F Kennedy Jr, had suffered from drug and alcohol problems for years.


They always put it like this. The person always "suffered from the problems" - never any agency involved. Yes, these cases are sad, but sometimes (perhaps always) there is agency involved. This could have been:

Mary Richardson Kennedy, 52, the estranged wife of Robert F Kennedy Jr, had abused drugs and alcohol for years.


This still does not make her entirely culpable, but tells it a little more how it was, I think - in fact more impartially. You would not see this in The Guardian though because it does not fit their worldview that nobody is really responsible for their own actions (if they're harmful ones).
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Elliott » 22 May 2012, 11:42

Since my mother is dreadful with computers, I have been helping her write her end-of-year school reports.

A little background on why euphemisms are necessary in school reports... The area is mostly middle-class, with parents both pushy and articulate enough to complain about the slightest criticism of their little darlings. There is also a working-class contingent, who, while feckless and inarticulate, are able to make trouble as well. Indeed I think they copy the middle-class preciousness about kids in a bid to seem like "good parents".

This, coupled with a school management layer who go through every report with a fine-toothed comb before it goes out to parents, yet refuse to defend any teacher who comes up against the wrath of parents, means that teachers have little choice but to sprinkle their reports with euphemisms and even outright lies, and never to say anything critical of the child.

Another problem is that parents (and the management layer) expect each child to have made progress through each school year, so each year's report must be better than the last, or at the very least, not suggest regression. So for each child, their last report is the baseline and no criticism can be made that wasn't in that previous report. Everything must have got better. Nothing can have got worse. If a problem wasn't noticed before, it can't be noticed now: it doesn't exist.

Since there are only so many ways to politely say "he's a disruptive, inattentive and disrespectful little hooligan", a cache of standard phrases has been developed by the teachers. This means that every report is basically a remix of every other report, with nothing particular to the child in question. It is like the Ministry of Truth, where educated people communicate by ticking the applicable phrases from a list.

Anyway, I'll start with the most ridiculous euphemism: "the child could develop his listening skills". What this means is that he could start listening. AFAIK, there aren't any skills involved in listening: you either do it or you don't.

Of course, "could" is itself a euphemism for "should".

Here's the worst (and most frequent) one: "he can". This is code for "he can, but doesn't". So you get "he can give appropriate attention to punctuation" meaning that he never does, even though he could (ie. he has been taught the rules of punctuation ad infinitum).

"A happy and helpful pupil" is one who is happy to help himself and is frequently disruptive of other children's work.

I can probably leave the true meaning of "confident" to the imagination.

"Knows how to make the most of friendships and is skilled in his/her interactions with classmates" means that the child is manipulative, scheming, dishonest and well on the way to a sociopathic adulthood.

"Written work can be well-presented" means that it isn't.

It is unbelievable. At first I disapproved of my mother and her colleagues doing this because, clearly, they are conniving with irresponsible parents in the irresponsible rearing of children, but I can see now that it is simply self-destructive to make a stand when nobody will back you up, and you will actually be admonished for making a stand at all.

When it comes to overall performance grading - and each child gets 5 such grades, for behaviour, effort, etc. - the only allowable grade is "Very Good". Anything else and the parents would certainly be up complaining and the teacher would get vilified, by the school's management layer and also among the parent community.

I think this is a symptom of the West's 21st century dysfunction. We will happily watch something falling apart if averting it would dent our frail egos, and puncture the illusions of bliss that we enjoy.
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Michael » 22 May 2012, 14:04

On Saturday my wife and I took a walk along a fashionable neighborhood in Edmonton near the university. This is a ritzy area of many shops, Starbucks's (Starbucksi?) used book shops, and other bohemian attractions like a public library, art/foreign cinema, and farmer's market. It is a nice place, and we have discussed moving there if/when we both get permanent jobs. Most of the people there are middle-class or students unwisely spending their student loans. I am certain that left-wing sentiment is so thick you could cut it with a knife there, but I can ignore such things for nice shops and clean neighborhoods.

The most amusing thing we saw was a young man in his early 20's sitting crosslegged on the sidewalk with a hat in front of him, panhandling. He had a handmade sign that said "I would rather beg than steal". This man was not poor in the slightest. He wore decent clothes that had obviously known the cleansing touch of soap and were not disheveled in the slightest.

I thought of pointing out his false dichotomy to him, but thought that the visual irony he presented was too perfect. On either side of him were shops with "We're hiring!" signs prominently displayed in their windows.
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Elliott » 22 May 2012, 14:56

Michael wrote:He had a handmade sign that said "I would rather beg than steal".


Is he expecting gratitude for not being a thief?
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Elliott » 22 May 2012, 15:54

I was going to start a new thread but I think what I want to say could fit quite easily into this one.

I've just watched this video (note: it may not play outside Britain) in which two women argue about the need for David Cameron's parenting classes for feckless parents.

The thing that caught my attention was that one of the women spoke of "good parenting" and "bad parenting" but refused to engage with the idea of "good parents" and "bad parents".

As an epileptic, I was struck when reading a few years ago in some PC manual that to call someone "epileptic" is fine, but to call them "an epileptic" is not. It's the difference between applying an adjective to something and applying a noun to it. Apparently, to refer to an epileptic as an epileptic is to claim that epilepsy is the whole of his identity - that he is nothing but epileptic.

Likewise, we have this silly middle-class scruple about calling someone "a bad parent", though we can (just) bring ourselves to say they are guilty of "bad parenting".

Michael, if you've read that thread I emailed to you, you will recognise the same thing in the liberals therein. They are prepared to accept (just) that their lifestyle is superior to that of the underclass, but are terrified of the idea that this makes them, as people, superior to the underclass. They are desperate to split it all down into separate grades - "Okay, I might be self-sufficient, responsible and productive, but a clueless and violent member of the underclass who has lived 40 years on welfare might be better at juggling than I am!"

I can understand that there is a difference between giving someone an adjective and reducing them to a noun, but I just think it doesn't matter very much - at all. I certainly have no qualms about being called "an epileptic". I am an epileptic, for heaven's sake!
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Michael » 22 May 2012, 16:17

Michael wrote:
He had a handmade sign that said "I would rather beg than steal".


Is he expecting gratitude for not being a thief?


Yes, he is, with an implicit threat. I joked to my wife that what that young man needed was an education administered by truncheon and steel toed boot.
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Caleb » 23 May 2012, 04:22

Ah...report writing. The memories. Actually, I lie. I don't miss it at all. At one school I taught at in Australia, if we were homeroom teachers (which I was), we had to read all of the reports written by the subject teachers of our homeroom students and okay them before they went out. I think I have recounted the story before about writing that a student was subversive and all the fuss that caused, the funniest bit being when the assistant principal said, "Maybe he's just trying to be the big man in class." Huh? Isn't that being subversive? Doesn't such a thing make a person subversive?

Anyway, it used to take us a couple of weeks to write all of the reports and go through the whole editing and re-submission process. It was generally a very stressful time for all involved, except for the woodwork teacher. He was a guy who was close to retirement and had originally entered the profession not through a teaching credential, but because they used to have what they called technical schools, and they used to just directly hire tradesmen (so he was a leaveover from that). He was a very no-nonsense kind of old, Aussie bloke. Every single report he wrote followed this exact formula:

In semester ___, _____ made a _____. _____ learnt how to use saws, drills and screwdrivers. _____ received a/an ___ for the _____.

At the time, I couldn't get over the fact that it was so formulaic and that he had finished his reports in less than a day. It really irked me. Wouldn't people know? Wouldn't people think he was terribly slack and didn't care about their kids enough to write a personalised report? Yet he'd obviously figured it all out as it was not only quick, but you'll notice that other than the grade itself, there are no statements involving any kind of judgement in his formula. As such, no one could send anything back to him for editing.
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Jonathan » 28 May 2012, 06:35

Elliott wrote:As an epileptic, I was struck when reading a few years ago in some PC manual that to call someone "epileptic" is fine, but to call them "an epileptic" is not. Apparently, to refer to an epileptic as an epileptic is to claim that epilepsy is the whole of his identity - that he is nothing but epileptic.


Contrast this with calling someone a Homosexual, or a Lesbian, which is just fine. Apparently, there's nothing wrong with suggesting that someone's sexual preference is the whole of his identity.

This, I think, is the cardinal flaw in our culture's attitude towards sex - the elevation of sexual preference to such a central role in one's self-conception.


Regarding the school euphemisms, I am reminded of a few examples I remember reading of Soviet post-combat reports from WW2, with such phrases as "troops need to be instructed in the importance of taking cover in foxholes" to describe realities such as "troops were sent into combat on open plains over frozen ground with no shovels".

Annoying euphemisms are a dime a dozen. My current favorite is "people skills". The uses of such a phrase are endless. Employees are never justifiably frustrated by poor management; their irritation is a manifestation of poor people skills. Career consultants make an easy living by imagining that mature adults can have their character magically altered by a 3-day course. Useless HR resources connive with them to pretend to work. Bah.
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Tom » 05 Jun 2012, 22:28

I have noticed a couple of areas of dishonest word use from officialdom. I suppose the purpose is to deceive or confuse victims, and thereby to deflect their outrage.

The first area is prison sentencing. At least in the UK, people serve half or less of their supposed prison sentence. I feel that when prison sentences are discussed, a form such as 'he was sentenced to a NOMINAL term of five years', or 'he was sentenced to "five years"' should be used to remind the reader of the lie. If he doesn't use such a modification, the reporter has himself been co-opted into the lie. Another bugbear in this area is the idea of 'concurrent sentences', which could be more clearly referred to as the 'commit one crime get three for free' scheme.

The second area is the 'loans' from various institutions to certain insolvent EU countries. The officials involved surely don't believe that these countries will recover to the extent that they will be able to pay off the 'loans', so 'loan' is a dishonest word to use to describe the transfer. The reasons for wanting the transfer might be virtuous, but the whoring of language and the trickery of the voters and taxpayers who will, no doubt, eventually pay for it leave a sour taste in my mouth.
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Grant » 05 Apr 2013, 10:29

Death would appear to provide a plethora of euphemism. We're reluctant to say someone died. Instead they passed away or crossed over and are resting peacefully.
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Angela » 05 Apr 2013, 11:41

Has anyone noticed that people don't like using the word 'indigenous' any more when they are talking about the United Kingdom? It simply means native born or 'originating in and produced naturally in a country', but you could be forgiven for thinking it was nothing less than a hot potato now ... I have come across many examples of this, mostly on Radio 4. I'm sorry I don't have links to show you - but the latest was a discussion about sociology and geography, and an academic describing movements of peoples all over the world, it was very interesting. Then he used the word 'indigenous' when he was talking of the history of the peoples of the British Isles, and it was as if he caught himself out. He quickly said, I don't like that word, and substituted another.
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Re: Calling Things By Their Proper Names

Postby Yessica » 14 Jun 2013, 13:11

Gavin wrote:I suppose these are euphemisms in some cases to avoid the stating such personal and unpleasant things so directly, but they do somewhat remove agency from the acts.

Apart from "raising awareness" there is of course the old "lessons must be learned" which we keep hearing these days. Meaningless, really. What lessons, and who should learn them?!

How about this kind of thing, in The Guardian today:

Mary Richardson Kennedy, 52, the estranged wife of Robert F Kennedy Jr, had suffered from drug and alcohol problems for years.


They always put it like this. The person always "suffered from the problems" - never any agency involved. Yes, these cases are sad, but sometimes (perhaps always) there is agency involved. This could have been:

Mary Richardson Kennedy, 52, the estranged wife of Robert F Kennedy Jr, had abused drugs and alcohol for years.


This still does not make her entirely culpable, but tells it a little more how it was, I think - in fact more impartially. You would not see this in The Guardian though because it does not fit their worldview that nobody is really responsible for their own actions (if they're harmful ones).


Over here they often do not even say a person suffers from the problems, but "a neighbourhood" or "a community" does... like "You might want to be careful when you go to X. This neighbourhoods suffers from a lot of stabbings" instead of "beware of the knifers in this neighbourhood".

Really how can a stabbing happen without a knife-wielding criminal involved? They make it sound as if it was just an event like the weather.
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