Friday, October 3, 2008

Language Lessons

I'm dying to know when the English language went to pot! I'm not talking grammar here--although that is a SERIOUS problem (take it from an English teacher). But I'm talking about the way we use words and, particularly, the way we direct our words at each other.

Not a day goes by that I don't walk through the halls at school and hear one teenager call another teenager a "B*@#!"--and this is talking to their friends! It's like they walk up to each other, say, "Hey B----, what's up?" When did that become an okay thing to say? When did an insult become an acceptable way to refer to your friends? My friends are so important to me, and I want to use a type of language that shows them just how much I value them. And last time I checked, vulgarity doesn't show true affection.

But the problem of language goes beyond even this. I cannot even begin to express how disgusted I am with the terms "gay" and "retarded"! These days, anything that is bad in our society is called "gay" or "retarded". Now here's my problem with this: By calling something that you consider to be bad or unpleasant "gay" or "retarded", you are by extension calling a gay or handicapped person bad and unpleasant. I've actually even heard a few of my students use the phrase "That's so Jew!" Well, Heil Hitler to you, too! This is exactly the thing that Hitler did within the Third Reich. He associated negative things in society to the Jews by calling something a "Jew fill-in-the-blank". And then, suddenly, it became okay to do bad things to the Jews, because they were just a dirty word; they weren't humans with feelings anymore. So by calling something "Jew" or "gay" or "retarded", we are propagating the negative stereotyping of a group of people. We are, in essence, carrying on the work of Hitler and finding a group of people that it is okay to be cruel toward by changing them from living, breathing human beings into nothing more than a mere dirty word.

Now here's the really ironic thing: We all look at Hitler and what he did as possibly the greatest evil to ever spread across the world, and yet in little ways we show our Hitler-tendencies. No, we're not going out and committing genocide. But, the truth is that propagation of negative stereotypes gradually leads down the path of genocide. First, you're calling something "gay" or "retarded". Then, you're drawing exaggerated, nasty pictures of a specific people. Next thing you know, hate crimes against a specific people are being committed. And finally, all out genocide is occurring.

So here's the deal. If you think something is bad or something really sucks, then say that it is bad or it really sucks! There are thousands of words in the English language. Many of those words are adjectives (for the non-grammarians, that means "describing words"). If you are lacking the right word to express your distain for something, buy a thesaurus. But don't lower yourself to using Hitler-esque, stereotypical name-calling!

Whoever said that "Words can never hurt me" must have been high! Because, whether you believe it or not, your words mean something. And words can hurt. They can even kill.

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