The term homophobia continually frustrates me. Specifically the phobia suffix. Taken literally it would mean a fear of men, however it is in essence a shortened version of homosexual-phobia. The problem is that this is a loaded word. Not everyone who thinks being homosexual is wrong thinks so due to fear. It’s entirely possible to have no fear of gay people and to simply think it is wrong, because your religion says so is just one example.
Using the term homophobia is equivalent to anti-abortionists calling themselves pro-life, implying abortionists are supportive of murder. The queer community tends to be progressive(also a loaded term) and having had to deal with these types of tactics, should understand the problem with using them. Anti-gay or some such is a far more accurate term, without having to resort to trying to frame or characterize opponents of homosexuality.
A final note, the word is different from hydrophobia, which has a similar misuse. Hydrophobia is a word that evolved naturally as our language changed. Homophobia was deliberately chosen as a weapon. I would think such tactics are beneath the queer community. At least, they should be.
While I was growing up terms such as ‘gay’, ‘faggot’ or ‘queer’ were purely insults for homosexuals. Gay people reclaimed the word queer as a pride issue and now many choose to refer to themselves in this way. The words gay and fag/faggot are still used to refer to queer people, although I would think only fag/faggot could be considered offensive. The question is, if you refer to someone you don’t like who isn’t gay as a faggot or something negative as being gay, should queer people find this offensive? Should people using the words in this way stop?
The easy and correct answer here is that some people find the words offensive so people should simply stop using them. However, words and their meanings change. There is a whole generation of people who may refer to or describe something negative as gay, yet have absolutely no issue with people being gay. For some people this is just a habit that they may have to consciously try to break, although others may not see any issue with it.
I think it is likely that using these words in this fashion will fade out, or the meaning will change across the board, just as it changed once before from meaning happy to meaning homosexual. I think the South Park episode ‘The F Word’ hit the nail on the head. In the episode the boys use the word fag to refer to obnoxious bikers who make a lot of noise, annoying everybody in the town. The adults are upset as they think the boys are using the word to insult gays (not at all homophobic) when the boys are just using it as a generic insult to refer to the bikers, with no gay connotations at all.
I do understand why gay people could be offended, as the insult only came about as being gay was considered a negative or lesser thing. However these days, just as with the South Park boys, it is not the way the insult is used and is rarely the intended meaning. As was mentioned in the South Park episode, a word is not automatically offensive, it is people who give words their power and allow it to be offensive. Personally, I don’t think using gay to refer to something negative should be that offensive, as I believe enough time has passed that the words meaning has changed in that context.
I think it is an interesting issue and I can see both sides of the argument. At the end of the day however, nothing is going to change with those choosing to be offended by it continuing to be offended and those who continue to say it continuing to say it. What will be interesting is if in 10 or 15 years from now ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ are still used as insults, or they have just faded out of use completely.
Stupid uses of English
It really annoys me when people use words in stupid ways, or invent new words for no reasons. I don’t mean incorrect uses of words due to ignorance, or where words are commonly used with a commonly accepted meaning different from their dictionary definition. No, what annoys me is when people use words deliberately incorrectly because of some political reason, because of willful ignorance or because they think it’s clever or cute.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I doubt many people will find it interesting although some may find it informative. I am making this list largely for my own benefit; I am curious to see if a pattern emerges as I add words over time, as I find it curious that some words quite annoy me while others do not bother me in the least.
So without further ado, my list and justifications of why certain words or their uses annoy me.
- Chillax – There is absolutely no need for this word! It is a blending of Chill and relax when both words already mean the same thing. It is not a portmanteau since the two words already have the same meaning.
- The Human Condition – I’m not entirely sure why this annoys me. I guess it’s because being human is not a condition….nothing is gained by saying “Human Condition” over simply saying “being Human”. Everything that makes humans unique emotionally or physically is already implied by the word Human. There is nothing that defines us as Human Beings which can be said to be a symptom of a condition.
- USian instead of American – This is just retarded. It seems to be used by people who have a problem with the USA, and want to seperate the USA from the other countries in the Americas. There are at least to problems with this. Firstly, the USA is the only country where it’s denizens are referred to as Americans. When referring to Americans it will be obvious who is being referred to. Secondly, the only possible argument for using USian instead of American is to remove ambiguity which isn’t accomplished at all. There are two countries on the North American continent with “United” and “States” in their countries names. So when referring to USians, are people referring to people from the USA, or people from the United Mexican States? It’s always stupid to invent new words because you have a dislike of someone or something to the point you won’t even use the word.
- Homophobia – A word that should actually mean having a phobia of people with a same sex attracted. According to Wikipedia the word originated in 1969 to refer to heterosexual men who feared men may mistake them for being homosexual. These days the word is commonly used to refer to anyone who dislikes or disproves of homosexuals, the thinking being that in this enlightened day and age homophobia must be the only explanation if someone disproves of homosexuality. This is stupid..there may be many valid reasons for people to dislike homosexuality, none of which require a fear of homosexuality to justify that dislike.
- Occam’s Razor – A principle which states “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” leading to a conclusion that the simplest explanation is the best one. Unfortunately this has been adopted by most people to mean the simples explanation is the correct one, where arbitrary definitions of simple are used. As an example take a scenario where you have cheese and a mouse in a room unobserved for 5 hours. If the cheese had somehow ended up resembling a face or intelligent pattern most people when applying Occam’s razor would conclude that a human made the pattern, rather than the mouse. In this case those people would be using the word simple incorrectly when they actually mean likely. It may be more likely that a human snuck in made a pattern as a joke, however it is not simpler as the sneaky human is an additional variable. The Skeptics Dictionary has a more thorough explanation.
- Strawman argument – People seem to misuse and accuse people of this all the time. I gues they heard it on teh itnernets and couldn’t be bothered to look up what it actually meant. A Strawman argument is responding to a new different argument than the one made and passing it off as the opponents original argument. Not simply dismissing a point or making a new claim. You can see many examples of Strawman arguments and false accusations of such in the comments of my OpenBSD article.
- Ad Hominem – Often when someone insults someone in an argument they get accused of making an Ad Hominem attack. An Ad Hominem attack is not any argument that directly or implicitly insults an opponent, it is an argument that attempts to prove its correctness through insults an opponent. That is a big difference. I can insult someone as much as I like and as long as I also attack their argument then I am not making an Ad Hominem attack – I’m just being a jerk.
- Racist – Wow this word gets misused. Racism refers to negative discrimination of people due to their race. It is a lot more complex than that with all the underlying reasons and consequences and such, but in a nutshell that’s what it is. However, far too many uber-PC people seem to think even pointing out that people look different is racist. For example, using the color of someones skin to differentiate them out of a group. This is not negative discrimination at all, it is just an easy way to identify people out of a group, the same as using someones gender or body type. Another example may be imitating stereotype for comedic effect such as Eddie Murphy playing an asian guy in Norbit. There was nothing racist about that at all, anymore than Dave Chappelle playing a white news reporter. A more recent absurd example is Atlanta having to rename their yellow line to the gold line because some people in the Asian community considered it offensive. These examples can be racist if they were used to negatively discriminate or deliberately offend people but by themselves they are harmless unless people decide to make a big issue out of it.
- Troll – This also gets thrown around on the net simply because people disagree. A troll is someone whose primary motivation is to obtain a negative response out of people, often by being deliberately controversial or provocative. I think it is a shame that these days it is all too common for anyone with an unpopular idea to be labeled a troll, no matter how well it may be presented or supported.
- Third world countries – People tend to use the term “third world” to refer to developing countries which is incorrect. The term third world arose during the Cold War to refer to countries that remained non-aligned or neutral to capitalism . Thats pretty much it. Using third world to refer to any of the countries that are still developing or not as stable as the countries in Western Europe or the Anglosphere is incorrect and quite possibly offensive. Many countries today are far to complex to simply be categorized under the first/second/third world system. Simply referring to them as developed or developing makes far more sense.
- Geek – This is an interesting word. Back in the day it was an insult, but nowadays it seems to be a badge of pride. Something that used to be limited to computing and maybe technology in general, at some point people tried to take it back as a hip word. A good example of this is Harry on Aintitcool, where he never misses an opportunity to remind everyone how he is a film geek and talk about geeks as a collective group as though they were family. The thing is when people try to use the word this way it is perfectly synonymous with hobbyist or enthusiast. Those words tend to work much better than a poor attempt to take back a word that you were bullied with in high school.
Tween – According to Wikipedia it describes a child between the ages of 8 and 14. Why? After 12, they are teenagers. Before teenagers, they are children. Teenagers tend to have stuff in common, as do children. 8 and 14 year olds tend to have almost nothing in common. A false word for a false demographic. If you really need to talk about children who are not quite teenagers than preteen has always been fine, and will continue to be.
- Homepathy – A lot of people seem to use this word think it is roughly synonymous with naturopathy. This is not the case – homeopathy refers strictly to the idiotic practice of dilution various substances in water to the point where none of the original substance remains and claiming that the resulting water can cure various ills, even cancer. It’s dangerous and should be illegal, yet in the US some universities offer degrees in it while getting federal funding. Something I just don’t understand.
- Hacker – Whenever a media story reports about computer criminals the people who have been around since the 60’s tend to jump in and try to point out that a hacker is nothing related to computer security bur rather someone who likes tinkering and employing lateral thinking. Well, sorry guys, the war is over and you lost. The primary meaning of the word hacker is now related to computer security and there is no going back. It is the definition understood by most people and the definition in the dictionary cements it. This isn’t to say the other definition can’t still apply, but to say the primary definition is wrong just shows an ignorance of how language evolves.
I also find it interesting that certain uses of phrases or words do not annoy me. For example, when people use the word literally to mean something figurative people get annoyed because they say the word literally is being used incorrectly. This is incorrect however as the word literally has been used as an intensifier since the 17th century. People also get annoyed at the phrase “begs the question” being used to mean raises the question. I don’t see a problem with this as while this usage came about due to not understanding what the term originally meant, I see little proble with the phrase having a second meaning synonymous with raises the question. Finally I think it is interesting whenever people get upset about the phrase “I could care less” when people get all huffy ans assert that it can’t possibly make sense and that it is simply wrong. Well, it is certainly wrong in a logical sense, but it isn’t hard to see that most people are using “I could care less” in a sarcastic sense, which is absolutely fine. I suppose this doesn’t annoy me because it is obvious how the people using the phrase mean it, with the new meaning being commonly accepted and self-evident.
Update 1 – October 13th 2010
Updated to add points about geek and tween
Update 2 – February 28th 2011
Updated to add points about homeopathy and hacker
Update 3 – August 20th 2011
Update about begs the question and I could care less.