“Get her drunk then get her done.”

So reads one of the decals on the F-150 pickup truck parked in my new neighbor’s driveway. Of all the objectionable aphorisms on that particular truck, that’s the mildest one. I wonder what my daughter will think of that when she notices it some time over the next few days, which she surely will.

There is a mud fight going on over at Ed Brayton’s blog regarding his use of the word “shrew” in reference to Sarah Palin. The Kliqueons (rhymes with “Klingons”) have called Ed out for being sexist. He says they should lay off and it is not OK to call him a misogynist, and anyway, he’s done all kinds of good things on behalf of feminism and women and stuff so they should see him as an ally. They say they are not calling him a misogynist they are just calling his use of the word “shrew” a misogynist thing to do, but, in the words of Ed’s brother, DuWayne, “No, no one actually called Ed a misogynist, they just accused him being an asshole, questioned his commitment to equality and mentioned what a nasty person he must be. But by all means, continue to berate instead of explaining why it is so offensive, because that is ever so fucking productive…. Just keep in mind you’re productively slamming someone who has been an advocate for equality since … bla bla bla” (“bla bla bla” added). Oh, and the various commenters have come down on one side or another, writing off Ed as never having said anything positive about women, or being a really nice guy, or whatever.

Bla bla bla.

It is interesting for me to watch the Kliqueons going after Ed, as this is playing out almost exactly like the one or two times they went after me. In both cases, a person (Ed or me) used strong words. In both cases, one or more Kliqueons decided that word was not OK according to the Kliqueon Kode. In both cases things were said about the original alleged offender that were unrelated to the original perceived offense, and that were themselves offensive. In both cases, the alleged offender objected to being shat upon, and in both cases the Kliqueons used this response to tighten their noose on the alleged offender.

I’m not particularly interested in noting that The Kliquons are not really the Keepers of the Voice of other writers, they are not really Teh Deciders of what is OK and not OK to say, think, imply, mean, or even not mean or imply but simply invoke incidentally to making some point or another. I’m not particularly interested in noting that the Kliqueons may often be seen as more interested in their own self aggrandizement than in any positive action. Oh, and I’m not interested in keeping this about the argument and not ad hominim. The Kliqueons are goat-sucking fuckhead assholes, they try to be such very much on purpose (or at least, this is what they tell us, and I can only take their word for it), and they do this for noble objectives (which I sincerely believe, by the way). Also, they do a damn good job of it much of the time. Being goatfuckers is their blogospheric raison d’etre, and I’m sure they appreciate the fact that this is noticed. I don’t know what we would do without them.

So, enough complements to the Kliqueons. Let us turn now to shrews and F-150 pickup trucks.

It is hard for the Anthropologist in me to let this conversation pass without comment because I think it might be exemplary of an important linguistic phenomenon.

Katherina is a character in a play that is in turn wrapped in the meta-Shakespearian play “The Taming of the Shrew.” (Did you know “The Taming of the Shrew is a meta play? If not, I’m not sure if it is OK for you to have an opinion on it. Go read it and report back at a later time.) Anyway, Katherina is, in fact, the shrew who is tamed into nubile marriageitude through a series of over the top acts of humiliation and shame, etc. etc. It is almost certainly not the case that this misogynistic sequence of events reflected the attitudes and behaviors overtly valued by the play-going classes of Elizabethan england, but rather, the misogyny reflected in this play was seen as such … misogynistic … by pre-enlightenment contemporary audiences. Which matters not at all to the idea that the shrew is the term embodied in the play to describe a woman who needs to be, and is, “tamed” to fit more appropriately into a patriarchal framework (which even then was being criticized and lampooned now and then).

So it is possible that Ed’s choice of the word “shrew” is sexist. The word “shrew” certainly is on my list of words that have this characteristic … of being linked in modern thinking to sexism.

The simple truth is that not everyone knows about the shrew thing. I’ve asked, in person, via email, and on my facebook page what people think about calling someone a “shrew” (I did not specify the sex of the person being called a shrew in most cases). My favorite answers came from three different female biologists who were under the age of 35, who linked the attributes of actual shrews to a person but totally skipped the usual historical reference. “I’d think of someone with mousy brown hair and a pointed nose who ate a lot of insects.” So, surely, there are people who don’t know the literary allusion at all, or at least, don’t have it on the tip of their tongue. That may not diffuse the possible sexism in Ed’s word choice, because we may suspect Ed knows about The Taming. But it is interesting.

Another set of people took Shakespeare’s description and simply applied that, without going meta about the commentary being sexist. In this framework, “shrew” is like “bitch” and words like “hag” and “old wives” in that they are negative references that apply only to women. These words are quasi-symmetric to words like “bastard” and “dickhead” which supposedly apply only to men, but since “bastard” and “dickhead” did not emerge from male-repressive matriarchal societies, but “bitch,” “hag,” and “Old wives” did arise as terms meant to be directed against women in patriarchal societies. So these sets of words are not mirror images.

But they could be. One could call a man a shrew if one wanted to. Or, one could use these terms in their gendered way, but evenly across the sexes, recognizing that men and women may be reasonably seen as capable of being bad or unpleasant in unique gender-specific ways. Or maybe it would be better to adopt the practice of learning the handful of highly gendered negative terms and avoid using them. Or, if you want to use them, know that you are opening a can of worms. There probably are times when a writer means to slap the reader hard. Maybe that is what Ed was doing. I don’t know.

The point is this: The political meaning of a word … the role of a word in code or dog-whistle language, or as an indicator of underlying biases … changes over time and across contexts. My biologist friends were thinking of the tiny insectivore, and nothing else at least when first asked. Since Kiss me Kate is old and they are not English Lit majors, “shrew” slipped by them. Is it necessary that every generation be reminded to not use the word “shrew” or can the sexism itself or the word itself slip into obscurity? Does the link to gender always accompany the word? Can there be a day in the future when to call someone a “shrew” implies that they have a pointy nose and eat a lot of insects? Do we need a word for that? (Probably not.)

We had a discussion around here lately about the word “seminal.” In my view, “seminal” is a sexist word (for different reasons than “shrew”) and I only use it ironically. But the irony is lost on almost everyone, and I would never try to tell someone who used the word that they were being sexist. The same applies to the words “testify” and “testament” and related terms. But these are quirks that apply to me and a few other people who happen to have common interests in African pastoral societies and the Bronze Age of the Ancient Near East.

The word “shrew” is probably not in that esoteric category, but it is more esoteric than, for example, “bitch.” Don’t you think?

I have a feeling that “shrew” as an insult will eventually go the way of other arcane insults such as micreant, lewsdster, and joithead (all from Shakespeare). But at the moment it is not quite there yet. At the moment it probably belongs on Teh List.

So, as long as the word “shrew” remains untamed, and there are Ed Brayton’s in the world, we are thankful for people like Physioprof. He was there to slap Ed Brayton when Ed used a word not previously cleared for use by Teh Klique. It is appropriate for Physioprof to demand that Ed apologize, just as Physioprof would if he was caught using a misogynist term, even if quite innocently. I’m also glad that Isis jumped into this fray. Now that Isis has identified the misogyny in the midsts, I’m sure she rightfully expects Ed to apologize, because when one makes a mistake that is what one does. Apologizes.

Am I wrong? Probably. And I’ll probably be hearing about it.

“Get her drunk and get her done.”

The somewhat more obscene sticker on that particular truck reads “McCain/Palin 2008.” (The mild irony there is that Ed was caught using the unauthorized “shrew” in relation to Sarah Palin. Which I think is totally wrong. Both McCain and Palin are total bitches, but neither is really a shrew in any sense I know of the term. But I digress.) One symbol on the Ford Pickup that is even worse is what appears to me as a white supremacist symbol. And there are two trucks. I’ve not really had a close look at the second one.

I’ll tell you what. I’ll address these issues of my neighbor’s. I’ll work through diplomacy, through our ownership association, through example. More broadly I’ll keep working on our local political campaigns that promote liberal and progressive candidates and issues, and I’ll stay in touch as always with our local schools. I’m sure there will be conversations when I put out campaign signs for a liberal Democratic candidate for congress next year. I may just tell the guy to turn his truck around when he parks so guests visiting me do not have to be offended. Unless the other side is worse, of course. The point of all this being to show my neighbor, in a neighborly way, that he lives in a world where people do think he is an ass for having such a misogynist decal on his truck. To show him that not everybody thinks it is funny.

This obnoxiously decorated F-150 has caused me to decide to do something I had planned on skipping this year given the recent birth of Mr. Huxley: Giving my annual presentations on diversity to the Middle School sixth grade classes, if I can get someone to help Amanda with the baby. (This is done in small groups and takes a day and a half.)

I’ll take care of that stuff. I’ll address the misogyny in my own back yard. I’ll finish the magazine article I’m working on regarding race and racism. I’ll put in the hours on the phone and on the streets for the progressive candidates. I’ll talk to the students in the middle school and I’ll frighten the teachers in the high school.

But I can’t do everything. I am only one person, after all! I need help. So, I’ll take care of all that stuff if the Kliqueons can cover my back and manage Ed. And together, we’ll make progress in the fight against sexism, racism, and everything.

Comments

  1. #1 Zarquon
    December 1, 2009

    You can’t call someone a shrew because it offends the adherents of Shrewdaism.

  2. #2 Rich Wilson
    December 1, 2009

    Related only in that it was a bumper sticker: I was once riding my bicycle down the middle of a narrow residential lane, keeping up with the cars in front of me. We were all doing about 20-25 mph.

    I heard the loud roar of an engine behind me and, deciding for the better part of better part of valour, pulled over. As the offending behemoth passed I pulled back into traffic. It was a Chevy Suburban, and for the next 4 blocks I got a front seat view of “How did our oil get under their sand?”

  3. #3 skeptifem
    December 1, 2009

    I was more suprised it took so damn long for people to notice what a cesspool of white dude privilege the dispatches blog is. I have been pretty mean about this issue, and it is because it isn’t an isolated incident and the excuses are sad.

    I don’t think what isis/cpp do or say makes anything ed says right or wrong. I don’t know why you inserted those links at all, really. (and just so you know, CPP has appologized for offending by mistake in the past on a radfem blog i frequent).

    then there is the part about how your anti-sexism activities are more important than calling out other people on the internet, and you let everyone know by calling them out on the internet. I guess it isn’t taking up all of your time either.

    All of us have had our turn being sarah, having those women only insults thrown our way. You have no idea what its like and you can’t, so having some respect for the anger it causes would be nice.

    (I’m sorry if I read your post wrong. let me know if I interpreted it incorrectly)

  4. #4 cromercrox
    December 1, 2009

    My favorite bumper sticker says ‘Reunite Gondwanaland’.

    When I was an undergrad I had to walk across the Med School car park to get to class. There was this beat up Ford Anglia there with a large, sparkly bumper sticker that read:

    This car is female; unreliable, full of broken promises, pretty to look at, but impossible to face.

    I saw this car every day, and often wondered what the driver was like. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I saw the car being driven off by four (female) nurses.

    The lesson is the same as the one about books and covers: that there’s no necessary correlation between bumper stickers and (one’s assumptions about) the views of the drivers. The stickers themselves are objectionable, but for all you know, your new neighbours just might be very nice people, with political views that don’t chime with yours. Why not give them the benefit of the doubt?

  5. #5 Zarquon
    December 1, 2009

    …neighbours just might be very nice people

    Very nice people don’t make jokes about rape.

  6. #6 Phillip IV
    December 1, 2009

    The simple truth is that not everyone knows about the shrew thing.

    As a non-native speaker, my first and strongest association of the word is actually with a cheesy 60ies horror movie, “The Killer Shrews”. That movie apparently didn’t have a very generous special effects budget, so the eponymous mutated shrews were depicted by mangy dogs outfitted with huge fake teeth, tails and ragged strips of extra fur.

    With that mental picture, I’d have said it’s an appropriate moniker for Sarah Palin, actually…

  7. #7 Paul Foord
    December 1, 2009

    You do not expect that your neighbours read your blog.

  8. #8 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    December 1, 2009

    While I wouldn’t have used the word “Shrew” to describe Sarah Palin (I associate the word with higher intelligence and manipulation,) I am disturbed that this whole discussion gets so personal quickly and totally dismisses Ed’s historical support for feminism from a libertarian perspective “Use all of our resources and don’t fuck it up by keeping women in their place” type of thing.

    Rather than discuss why Shrew is a word that offends people, the clique took it too personal, too fast and too nasty. And I think that “Goatfuckers” is highly appropriate while sexist in itself. The term “shrew” and the phrase “Get her drunk and get her done” are equally sexist because they diminish women as participants. “A shrewish should be summarily dismissed, because if you let her get too close, she would probably pussy-whip you.” While this does not reflect the Shakesepearean character, the attitude isn’t all that far from “If I get her drunk and fuck her, then I don’t have to deal with her emotional issues.”

    Rape is so easily justified by rapists because we live in a misogynist society and it is okay to hate uppity women.

    I can see why people were sensitive to it, but to BAM Ed for what he likely thought to be an offhand adjective, is rather than to open up a real discussion, well it just illustrates how the whole swarming attitude gets amplified by the blogging world.

    Do whatever you can, to educate people directly, of course. But don’t you secretly wish to vandalize that fucking truck?

  9. #9 Pen
    December 1, 2009

    I liked your post. Just wanted to add that The Taming of the Shrew can be seen as a way of exploring the strategies open to women for dealing with the fact that they have no actual power. Katharina’s sister, Bianca, has her own manipulative strategies, which possibly work better, and I have never seen a modern version of TTOFS where Katharina did not appear to win in the end, using the strategy of sarcasm. But when she was being a shrew, she was fighting against genuine oppression.

    I noted Ed’s use of the term and although it didn’t offend me, it struck me as archaic. Maybe it’s because I was raised on Shakespeare, but to me being a shrew means using a strategy open to females in societies where females have no real power or right to speak or direct their own lives. Kids use this strategy today, as many parents will know, but we are supposed to live in a society where adult females do have equal power with adult males. As such, it seems inappropriate to call a female like Palin shrewish. You can call her a raving idiot, if you like.

  10. #10 Bill James
    December 1, 2009

    I realize that Greg blogs drunk at times and rather suspect this be one such occasion but Kliqueons?

    At any rate after skimming god knows how many rambling paragraphs I wander over to see what all the hive minded buzzing is about since Greg just couldn’t come out and simply say that Eddie B has risked his Feminista Fellowship due disrespecting clubhouse tenets of appropriate gender neutrality speak having carelessly used the word “shrew” in partial description slash opinion pertaining to one quix-o-rotic Neocon pole dancer named Sarah Palin.

    Wasted time plumbing the depths of petty that. The new next door neighbors might hold some promise however.

  11. #11 Ahcuah
    December 1, 2009

    Greg wrote: “Katherina is a character in a play that is in turn wrapped in the meta-Shakespearian play “The Taming of the Shrew.” (Did you know “The Taming of the Shrew is a meta play? If not, I’m not sure if it is OK for you to have an opinion on it. Go read it and report back at a later time.)”.

    Huh?

    I admit it’s been a while since I read The Taming of the Shrew, but I recall no such play-within-a-play. Perhaps you are thinking about Kiss me, Kate, the broadway play that is a meta-play with The Taming of the Shrew embedded within it?

  12. #12 KristinMH
    December 1, 2009

    I saw a man on the subway once wearing a shirt that said “Find ‘em, f*ck ‘em, forget ‘em”.
    At least, that’s what it said on the back. I couldn’t see the front because he was holding a three-year-old girl.

    What kind of moron a) designs and produces that shirt, b) buys it, or c) wears it while on an outing with his little daughter?

    Regarding shrew-gate, I too was given pause by the use of the word, but as Greg correctly notes, words have different connotations to different people. For example, when I was a teenager I was convinced that the word “hammered” referred to having sex instead of getting drunk. Until I figured that one out, I was more than once made to feel very uncomfortable by peers and teachers making what I thought were sexual references to me. The feeling of discomfort was real, but based on my own idiosyncratic interpretation of a particular word, not the intent of those saying it.

    Yeah, I’m giving Ed the benefit of the doubt here.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Skeptifem: Yes, you may have. This post is the sort of writing project that would do very well with a second or third draft to be more clear.

    it took so damn long for people to notice what a cesspool of white dude privilege the dispatches blog is.

    That may well be true, I have no opinion on that. To be honest, most of Ed’s posts are short references to news items I had already seen and posted a few days earlier. I certainly have never read a whole comment thread on Dispatches. But a lot of people apparently do. That blog is an order of magnitude more read than mine. Maybe I should be more cess–poolish, just for the hits :-) … (not that popularity has anyththing to do with anything)

    I don’t know why you inserted those links at all, really.

    I’m not totally sure what links you mean but if you are referring to where Isis makes an utter fool of herself insulting a fellow person on the internet and remains silent about it, or CPP using a term that is clearly on Teh List, getting called on it, and remaining silent: I put them in there partly because it is very funny. Partly because I’m calling them both on a certain degree of hypocracy. The fact that CPP occassionally recognizes a mistake and notes it is not enough. He is a purist and demands that everyone else tote his line. Is it a big deal that Isis and CPP are imperfect? NO. Is it better to never point out these mistakes they’ve made as long as they are screaming at everyon else? I can do that. I would prefer to not be told that I can’t do that. Bullies have never been very effective at telling me that I can’t call them on their own rule breaking. The tactic of telling other people what to do, and when the other people object and point out valid irony or hypocrisy, telling them that they can’t do that is a middle school level bully tactic.

    your anti-sexism activities are more important than calling out other people on the internet, and you let everyone know by calling them out on the internet.

    I definitely did not mean to imply that. In the earlier part of my post, I note that CPP and Isis are doing something they want to do and that it may well be a good thing to do. I think that if they are going to rub everyone else with sandpaper hey have to grow up about how they react to people’s reactions, and so on, but that is not my point. The point I was making at the end of the post may well have been too obscure: This is a point I’ve made before, and when I made it the first time, that was actually the moment that Teh Klique formed, as a matter of face.

    My point is that this world has some real problems, some things that you (whoever ‘you’ may be in a given argument) only think are problems, and things that are technically problems but not quite as serious as the real problems. I’m calling out CPP for dicking around with stupid shit that is hardly worth it. His choice, of course. but there really, really is not a rule that says that Greg can’t critique Physioprof.

    Regarding your last paragraph: In my post I made it very clear that gendered insults such as “shrew” are bad and hurful. Therefore “…so having some respect for the anger it causes would be nice…” does not apply to what I wrote here. That shold be pretty clear, but perhaps it should be further emphasized.

  14. #14 becca
    December 1, 2009

    *So, so, thou common dog, didst thou disgorge thy glutton bosom?!

    *hahahaha. the funny thing about DuWayne’s fraternal love is that nobody called ed an asshole. a single person said he sounded like an asshole, and I called him a dickface :-) in another thread (albeit entirely facetiously).

    *“My biologist friends were thinking of the tiny insectivore, and nothing else at least when first asked. “ Bullshit. Your data collection method is highly questionable. Unless you can control for the “desire of leaving pithy comments” variable.
    INSECTIVORES OF UNUSUAL SIZE FTW!!!!
    I mean, how else are you going to get rid of the insects of unusual size?

    *Somehow I always think of “Kliqueons” as similar to those alien muppets.

    *Curse you for ruining my insect-cookie teaparty. CURSE YOU! *shakes fist*

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    cromercrox: I think having the bumper sticker itself is problematic but …. who knows? I do not want to prejudge anyone. For all I know the stickers came wit the car. We’ll see how that goes….

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Paul [7]: Good point, and it underscores a basic problem with writing commentary, and that is something that I’ve obviously thought about. There are times I wish I was a pseudo. But life can be challenging in some rather uncomfortable ways at times.

    Bill [10]: I’ve never blogged drunk, and I have not been drunk in a very very long time. Suggesting that I’d BE drunk while taking care of a three day old child is out of line, and you can take that particular comment and shove it so far up your ass that you have to repeat the whole thing to get it off your mind.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Ahcuah [11]: Your remark is sly, but not sly enough.

    And by sly I mean Sly. The guy from the play who sees the play.

    Becca: I admit that the data collection method was bullshit, but one of the three bio shrew comments was on facebook, one face to face in meatland, and one by private one-on-one email. In fact, the in person comment is what led me to post th question of facebook and send out a couple of emails, to see how widespread that phenomenon might be.

    I picture all of the Kliqueons as muppets. I can’t wait to meet them in North Carolina, and I will be really unhappy if they are not muppets.

    You are going to North Carolina, right?

  18. #18 marilove
    December 1, 2009

    This car is female; unreliable, full of broken promises, pretty to look at, but impossible to face.

    The lesson is the same as the one about books and covers: that there’s no necessary correlation between bumper stickers and (one’s assumptions about) the views of the drivers. The stickers themselves are objectionable, but for all you know, your new neighbours just might be very nice people, with political views that don’t chime with yours. Why not give them the benefit of the doubt?

    That’s called internalized misogyny, cromercrox. Being a woman doesn’t give you a free pass for such blatant, disgusting misogyny as that bumper sticker. Nor does being a nurse.

    Just look at Anne Coulter. She is the best example of internalized (and sometimes not-so-internalized misogyny). As is Palin, for that matter.

  19. #19 Stephanie Z
    December 1, 2009

    I don’t think what isis/cpp do or say makes anything ed says right or wrong. I don’t know why you inserted those links at all, really. (and just so you know, CPP has appologized for offending by mistake in the past on a radfem blog i frequent).

    Greg hasn’t said that Ed is right or wrong. In fact, he’s gone to a great deal of trouble to make sure people can make up their own minds about that. Likewise, what Ed does or doesn’t do has no bearing on whether Isis or CPP is being hypocritical in demanding behavior of others that they’re not willing to offer those same people themselves.

    When the point is equality and dignity for all, how you treat the people around you matters. When CPP only recognizes some places as appropriate to walk the walk, when Isis doesn’t bother to apologize for trying to beat down a brown woman by pointing out her “white male privilege” (cuz Isis assumes she’s a pasty d00d), it sends a message that feminism isn’t really about equality. It’s about having a big, unassailable stick you can use to help you get your way. That’s bad, by the way. That’s why those links matter.

    then there is the part about how your anti-sexism activities are more important than calling out other people on the internet, and you let everyone know by calling them out on the internet. I guess it isn’t taking up all of your time either.

    As for what’s taking up Greg’s time, he’s already told you. He has a six-day-old baby at home. And he’s saying that–if he can find someone suitable and willing to pick up his parental duties–addressing a world that turns out bumper stickers like his neighbor’s is more important than selfishly enjoying the family bonding time. That this definitely puts it ahead of poking people on the internet is something of a given.

    All of us have had our turn being sarah, having those women only insults thrown our way. You have no idea what its like and you can’t, so having some respect for the anger it causes would be nice.

    Bullshit he can’t. Greg is the only person who has ever pointed out to some guy that he was repeating my idea without crediting me, and his is the only blog on which I’ve ever seen the owner tell some dude, “Well, you’ve crossed the line. I’m going to enjoy watching how the women tear you and your argument to shreds.” Empathy isn’t perfect, but it’s not that hard either.

  20. #20 JefFlyingV
    December 1, 2009

    Whew, I’m glad Fishwife wasn’t used.

    Okay, you have a white trash neighbor and people under 30 lack literature education.

  21. #21 The Science Pundit
    December 1, 2009

    I picture all of the Kliqueons as muppets.

    Damn you! Now I can’t get this out of my head! ;-)

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    What she said.

  23. #23 Christophe Thill
    December 1, 2009

    As far as I know, the origin of the words “seminal” and “testify” have nothing to do with any element of male anatomy or physiology.

    Funny thing: my cat found shrews in the garden the other day. He was very puzzled, because they look quite a lot like mice, but aren’t. I read that cats hunt and kill shrews, but don’t eat them, as they don’t like the taste. And I’ve read that shrews eat some insects I don’t like too much, so I put them away to safety. By the way, they didn’t look especially unpleasant. Nervous, quick moving, yes, and squeaky too, but not agressive.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    BTW I love shrews because their cranial anatomy falsifies a hypothesis that I hate.

  25. #25 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 1, 2009

    This entire dispute seems pretty stupid. Insulting remarks general detract from civility. They should just be avoided generally. This also is useful because it means when one actually lobs an insult it will have much more force.

    Frankly, yes there are gendered insults in English, for both genders. That’s because English is a partially gendered language. There seem to be more gendered insults that refer to females rather than males. But that doesn’t make any specific use of one of them problematic. A better response is to simply use the gendered insults to refer to people regardless of gender (as Greg does above in regards to McCain (a claim I disagree with, but that’s an argument for another time)).

    Moreover, launching massive personal attacks over the use of a gendered insult is simply stupid: It is a classic example of emphasis on language and behavior over substantive results.

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Joshua, actually I was partly joking. McCain is a total Bitch. I’ve not figured out how to describe Palin yet.

  27. #27 marilove
    December 1, 2009

    But that doesn’t make any specific use of one of them problematic.

    Um, yes it does. When your society is inherently sexist and misogynist, it really, really does make it problematic to use sexist and misogynist language.

  28. #28 Irene
    December 1, 2009

    I feel obligated to point out that Greg did have a MALE baby, which is a highly misogynist act.

  29. #29 D. C. Sessions
    December 1, 2009

    I’ve not figured out how to describe Palin yet.

    I think I’ve already asked that question. “Shrewish” is a pretty good fit, but already rejected. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be another that’s both concise and anywhere near as good a fit.

    Otherwise, you’re left with a laundry list: “smugly ignorant,” “spiteful,” “petty,” etc.

  30. #30 catgirl
    December 1, 2009

    The simple truth is that not everyone knows about the shrew thing.

    I think this is actually the problem. People use words without the intention to be offensive, but they don’t know the historical context behind those words. When people use offensive words, my reaction is to explain that they are unintentionally doing something offensive, and they should take a minute to think about it. Saying “I didn’t know” just isn’t a great excuse with the internet available.

  31. #31 Stephanie Z
    December 1, 2009

    catgirl, it is also a problem that the difference between an explanation and an excuse is often to be found in the general local level of amity.

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Catgirl, I sort of agree, but not entirely. There are words that have simply fallen off the list because of changes in how we use them. This is why I bring up seminal. The seminal idea (and the comment above that it is not linked to male anatomy is simply wrong) is the key idea that gets everything stated. The intellectual history of everything is a series of seminal ideas. This is a male thing. Females need not apply, females have nothign really important to contribute, etc.

    But, would you say that in day to day language in, say, US English, the word “seminal” is on the list of sexist words? Most people say it is not. I think shrew is on the list. So there is potential difference of opinion.

    Also, just because a word is on the list of words you don’t say does not mean that one does not use those words. I am very uncomfortable with the idea that there is an a priori list of words you can’t say, even if there may be a list of words that have sexist or racist links. This is tricky, yes, but language is never that simple, really.

    The truth is that CPP probably did exactly the right thing, a simple note in a comment. The fact that this blew up into a major comment thread and a major blog post by Isis is what I was commenting on, not the use of “shrew” … the fact that a mud fight is being waged when we really have better things to do. But, having said that, I guess my priorities are just a bit different … we all have different priorities.

  33. #33 David
    December 1, 2009

    Kliqueon

    yet another use of a species-specific demeaning term that perpetuates the negative stereotypes that have been oppressing Klinglons since the early days of the Federation.

  34. #34 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Stephanie: Right. Which is probably why CPP’s somewhat moderated (compared to his usual approach) comment is a better than average response, for him. In his limited way.

    Just sayin’

  35. #35 marilove
    December 1, 2009

    But Greg, Shrew has never been used to describe a man. Ever. For most women, it is clearly a very sexist word.

  36. #36 cm
    December 1, 2009

    Ahcuah #11:

    I admit it’s been a while since I read The Taming of the Shrew, but I recall no such play-within-a-play. Perhaps you are thinking about Kiss me, Kate, the broadway play that is a meta-play with The Taming of the Shrew embedded within it?

    As you may have since looked up, The Taming of the Shrew is in fact a play (or at least story, acted out) within a play, the set-up–the outer “meta” level (called the “Induction” or framing device)–is rarely staged. I recently watched a version with John Cleese and they didn’t bother to stage it. Sort of too bad: it really gives an opportunity to see the play in a different light. It’s quite an interested exercise to question what viewpoint Shakespeare was taking with, considering how over-the-top the Petruchio’s dominance of Katherina is.

  37. #37 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 1, 2009

    Should we ban “sinister” and “dextrous” for their historical meaning as part of a right-handedness as correct or better?

  38. #38 cm
    December 1, 2009

    Marilove,

    But Greg, Shrew has never been used to describe a man. Ever. For most women, it is clearly a very sexist word.

    I agree that it is not applicable to a man, what do you mean by it being “sexist”? Seriously, explain to me what it means for “shrew” to be sexist, let alone very sexist.

  39. #39 Stephanie Z
    December 1, 2009

    marilove, Greg included “shrew” on his list of sexist words.

    Joshua, there is a difference between banning and being aware of subtext.

  40. #40 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Marilove, why are you trying to convince me that shrew is a sexist word???? Jeesh…

    cm: Interesting that the framing device is rarely staged. I did not know that. I’ve never seen the play, but only read it. That explains the confusion.

    cm (last comment): It is sexist simply because in Western dialog, we have a list of nasty insulting words that apply only to women that are often verbally violent or repressive and focus specifically on social, sexual, or political control and other objectives of the standard patriarchy. Collectively, this list of words makes up a sexist trope within our langauge.

    I really don’t like the idea of a list of words that are OK and a list of words that are not without any further consideration of the whats, whys, and hows. The whole linguistic process is complex and getting stupid about it does NOT lead to further understanding. But, there are words that are genrally known to be words that will invoke sexist (or racist or whatever) meanings when used.

  41. #41 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    again, what she (Stephanie) said.

  42. #42 KeithB
    December 1, 2009

    But what about “niggardly”? Or “picnic”?

  43. #43 marilove
    December 1, 2009

    Because I can’t read, Greg! “But, would you say that in day to day language in, say, US English, the word “seminal” is on the list of sexist words? Most people say it is not. I think shrew is on the list. So there is potential difference of opinion.”

    For some reason I read that as “isn’t on the list.”

    Reading is fundamental!

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    IMHO, niggardly is on the list (don’t say). It means stingy, BTW, for those not familiar with the term. If you want to use a big word, use “parsimonious”

    Picnic I don’t know why one should not say. So I’ll keep going on picnics until CPP tells me why I shouldn’t, I guess….

    But if we do something wrong please to not pick us up in a paddy wagon. K?

  45. #45 The Science Pundit
    December 1, 2009

    Since we’re asking about words, have hysteria and hysterical moved beyond their misogynistic roots, or are they on TEH LIST?

    And yes, this is a serious question. I try to avoid those words because of their sexist history, but I hear others nonchalantly use them all the time.

  46. #46 Jason Thibeault
    December 1, 2009

    KeithB @42: Wha? Picnic?? I’m aware of a stupid e-mail forward claiming it to be about lynchings, but here’s the real etymology. It’s French. And I know from French.

    http://en.allexperts.com/q/Etymology-Meaning-Words-1474/Origin-word-Picnic.htm

  47. #47 KeithB
    December 1, 2009

    But both niggardly and picnic are simply perceived to be rascist by some in the african american community. Can we let anyone just ban language they don’t like because it sounds like something else?

    Oh, for those who don’t know why I included picnic:
    http://www.snopes.com/language/offense/picnic.asp

  48. #48 Prometheus
    December 1, 2009

    “Did you know “The Taming of the Shrew is a meta play? If not, I’m not sure if it is OK for you to have an opinion on it. Go read it and report back at a later time.”

    Psssst. a metaplay is a play about a play or plays.

    The Taming of the Shrew is one of several examples in Shakespeare of a Play-Within-a Play, a common late 16th century literary device the acknowledged master of which is not Shakespeare but Cervantes.

    It is a natural descendant of the older device of a Story-Within-a-Story, for example, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and specific to the topic, the Epilogue of the Merchant’s Tale where having left the story within, the merchant describes his own wife as a labbying shrewe.

    All of these literary usages are references to a then defunct medieval criminal law against shrewery (women shouting or berating others in public) it was a legislation of:

    (1 Cor 14:34 NRSV) women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.

    The Penalty in England for Shrewerey was to be paraded around with an iron gag attached to a leash.

    The Germans used a kind of portable pillory with bells called a Halsgeige.

  49. #49 Stephanie Z
    December 1, 2009

    KeithB, again, this isn’t about banning. It’s about being aware that the words you use may draw reactions you don’t want. Or maybe you want them. Either way, knowing the language in all the ways it’s used is a good thing.

    Unless you’re a teabagger. Then you should continue to live in ignorance.

  50. #50 Jason Thibeault
    December 1, 2009

    Greg, I think KeithB was referring to this: http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/blpicnic.htm

  51. #51 KeithB
    December 1, 2009

    Jason:
    While *you* might consider it “stupid”, many others take it to heart as my link shows. Who gets to decide that some words are on the list and others aren’t?

  52. #52 KeithB
    December 1, 2009

    Stephanie Z:
    Fine, but in my link at snopes the organization could not use “picnic” because it “offended” blacks, nor could it use “outing” because it “offended” the LGBT community. They eventually dropped any noun!

  53. #53 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 1, 2009

    Stephanie, that’s fair, although having read what is being said to Ed Brayton, it does look like some people are very close to banning words. So I guess the question is, should we avoid using the word “sinister”? If not, how is it different?

  54. #54 Dacks
    December 1, 2009

    Many words have roots that pertain to one sex or the other (I mean, how could we avoid it?) but can be used in inoffensive ways – i.e. a seminal paper, mass hysteria.

    The point here is that certain insults have particular weight because of the direct linkage with one sex. “Bitch” derives its meaning from its sexual origin; same with “prick.” These words carry a lot of baggage, which is what makes them so juicy. I don’t believe in a ban on words, but you should get a (poetic?) license to use a loaded one.

  55. #55 cm
    December 1, 2009

    Greg,

    [“Shrew”] is sexist simply because in Western dialog, we have a list of nasty insulting words that apply only to women that are often verbally violent or repressive and focus specifically on social, sexual, or political control and other objectives of the standard patriarchy. Collectively, this list of words makes up a sexist trope within our langauge.

    I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic or not. I’ll assume you’re not.

    But I don’t buy this as an explanation why “shrew” is sexist. In fact, since it seems like you are begging the question: “Shrew is sexist because…shrew is sexist.” Instead, show why “shrew” necessarily must be used to paint all women with the same pejorative brush, and then I will buy it as sexist.

    Then you use an exaggeration/distortion of “verbally violent”.

    Instead, I would advocate “shrew” as simply an adjective. The use of “shrew”, however, can be sexist. If someone accuses Oprah Winfrey of being a shrew merely because she is a successful and powerful woman, that is outrageously sexist and reprehensible. However, if one knows a nasty, belligerent, ill-tempered woman and, in describing her to another, calls her a shrew, that is an apt use of the English language. Is calling her a shrew a put-down? You bet it is. Is that sexist? Not at all, no more than calling a set-in-his-ways elderly man a fogey or calling a miscreant teen a punk is ageist. It’s merely descriptive.

    If people have called just any female politician a shrew merely because she was a politician or was out-spoken, that is a sexist misuse of the word “shrew” and an abuse of English and should be rightly condemned on both counts.

    (By the way, so sorry about F-150 Man, I can’t tell you how much I relate…have a family of sloud criminals as my current neighbors)

  56. #56 Donna B.
    December 1, 2009

    Since semen generally requires a female component to develop, I really don’t see how you can say that it’s a word that implies females have nothing important to contribute. However, I can see where the word implies that the seed is the more important component.

    I would argue with that implication. But when the language was being developed, people could not see the egg so the idea that something grows from an egg would not necessarily be applied to mammals, would it? Otherwise, we’d have a word like “ovarimal” wouldn’t we?

    Can we? Maybe we do – I found one instance of “ovarianal” here:
    http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2006/07/22/she-blames-the-spice-girls/

    BUT… please explain how testify and testament are sexist — I really thought they were from a Latin root that means simply “witness”.

  57. #57 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    sp[45] I personally knew hysteria as a regular word for a long time …. I think it was part of the vocab as a kid …. that I actually have to stop myself from using it, and I’m not good at stopping myself . So I apologize in advance. But I think hysteria and forms thereof are on the list, IMO.

    KeithCan we let anyone just ban language they don’t like because it sounds like something else? Yes, pretty much. Wel, ban, no, but put on the list, yes. That’s how langauge works.

    But there is more than one list. Woman is not on my list because it has “man” in it, but it has been on some lists.

    I don’t know about picnic still. I don’t have time to assess these links.

    Prometh[48] “Psssst. a metaplay is a play about a play or plays”… as is Taming of the Shrew. Or at least, I’m comfortable with the term “meta” here.

    Stephanie[49] … wait. Isn’t teabagging on some list?

    Jason[51]: “Who gets to decide that some words are on the list and others aren’t?” The same way all meanings are decided. Negotiation and stuff.

    Joshua: Sinister is not on my list. The origin is too shrouded in darkness.

  58. #58 Stephanie Z
    December 1, 2009

    I think y’all are making this harder than it needs to be. It isn’t as though no one uses “offensive” words. You use them when you know your audience will understand or when you want to shake someone up a bit and are willing to deal with their reactions. If you can’t come up with a word that’s acceptable to your audience, make it their problem to give you one that does the same necessary work.

  59. #59 Carlie
    December 1, 2009

    The truth is that CPP probably did exactly the right thing, a simple note in a comment. The fact that this blew up into a major comment thread and a major blog post by Isis is what I was commenting on

    But the thing is, it’s usually not the people who point things like that out who blow it up and out of proportion. Every time I’ve seen (and been involved in) a blog fight over sexist language, it’s always started with someone basically saying “Whoa, that’s a sexist term, so would you mind not using that?” and then being piled on by a few dozen comments of “OH YOU’RE SUCH A FEMINAZI” and “OMG HE’S NOT SEXIST” and the like, then they get riled up in defense, and so on. If it would just stop with “Huh, never thought of it that way, you may have a point” then it wouldn’t get all blown up. Even if the person who used the term disagrees with it being called a sexist comment, taking it into consideration that it may be true that people interpret it differently than they do is a reasonable way to react. What’s not reasonable is to yell and scream that no I’m NOT A SEXIST PIG I’M NOT NOT NOT.

  60. #60 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    cm: Perhaps you are attributing to me intention that is not there Shrew is usually used in the way I described, and is part of the western patriarchal vocabulary. I am not kidding. But, as you point out, intention and context is relevant . Being on the list just means it is on the list.

    I have mixed feelings about accurately used gendered words. Those are fighting words no matter what, and as long as the user of the words is ready for that, then …. whenever. No one ever said writing or speaking was going to be a pi… oh, never mind….

  61. #61 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    The testify/testament link is an interesting one. ONE (but not the only) origin story for these words has to do with witness (the third party in a dispute, who watches). But there are other origin stories. This is not important if the words testes, testament, testify, and the practice of cupping the testicles and swearing an oath are linked culturally and historically, which they are. The fact that wikipedia (or whatever) has a simplified post-hoc explanation really is of no consequence. (See “picnic” above, I guess!)

    So the idea there would be that only men can swear, or bear witness. which is true, in many many systems.

    But do also bear in mind that I am not claiming that testify is on Teh List. I used it as an example of a term that could be by some arguments but is for all practical purposes not. It is an example of a word that if you know a lot about it you might want to put it on the list, but since few others know the reasons why it might be on the list, better leave it off the list.

    I also suggested seminal as such word.

  62. #62 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Donna… good point, but the origin of the word is linked to the idea that females are merely vessels. You know, the mammalian egg was only a theory until quite recently, and even then, the genetic contribution of females to reproduction (genetic in the generic sense) was actually debated. Unbelievable, but true.

  63. #63 cm
    December 1, 2009

    Greg:

    Shrew is usually used in the way I described, and is part of the western patriarchal vocabulary. I am not kidding.

    I have no good way of proving this at the ready, but I don’t think that’s right. “Shrew” is in no way synonymous with “woman” or “strong woman”, unless it is being rarely misused by people who have no business using the language. In fact, you yourself said few people are even familiar with its actual meaning.

    Here’s some Googleshrewing, through five pages of Google News (everything else was about the play or the animal):

    ———————-

    In considering marriage and divorce, I’m always reminded of my wife’s grandmother, who had a reputation as a bit of a shrew…

    There’s nothing funny about comedienne Mo’Nique’s depiction of this wretched, lazy shrew of woman,

    If I were Brian I’d be more worried about being married to a shrew of a wife.

    Sarah Palin is the peppy cheerleader in high school all the boys thought was so sweet but the girls knew was really a vicious shrew. …

    I never would have said that Pelosi was a shrew myself; I was talking about the way she can be perceived.

    Will’s wife is a narcissistic shrew,

    Sarah Palin is Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michelle Bachmann all rolled into one lying shrew.

    The wife is a foul-mouthed, slipper-tossing shrew who loves her kids but can’t stop screaming at them

  64. #64 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Stephanie [58]I think y’all are making this harder than it needs to be. It isn’t as though no one uses “offensive” words. You use them when you know your audience will understand or when you want to shake someone up a bit and are willing to deal with their reactions.

    Exactly, or if you simply don’t classify a word as sexist/racist/whateverist because it happens to not be on your own dynamic and possibly well or possibly not well defined list. And conflicts between people will now and then arise, and when they do, it does no little good for anyone to go all sanctimonious on everyone else.

    Carlie [59]: Exactly, however I don’t agree that once people have lined up to kick you in the head a couple of dozen times that “Oh, thanks for the info” is the only response. It might be idea, but it is not likely that actual humans will work that way most of the time. Usually you get what we got from Isis or CPP in the examples I cited (denial, or just walking away and prtending you didn’t just fuck up) or Ed and me (noting that you are not sexist pig and flipping off the more offensive pile-on-ers).

    this can be twisted and turned as many ways as possible. If the noter of the language wishes the notee to simply quietly acquiese and end it there, then the noter of the languge should just shut up when someone comes back at them, because that is just what humans do. Also, the argument that the notee (e.g. Ed in this case) needs to shut up and accept the critique when it is given means, in advance, that the critique is always correct. Sorry, but that is how bullies work. Bullies have the rule that they can make the rules and determinations and no one else is allowed to question them.

    I agree that Ed’s use of the word is potentially sexist, but I don’t think he should be told to shut up when he makes his argument that he’s anti-sexism and pro feminism or whatever. It is really really wrong to tell him to shut up. So shut up Carlie.

    (See, that does not feel good, does it???)

  65. #65 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    I have no good way of proving this at the ready, but I don’t think that’s right. “Shrew” is in no way synonymous with “woman” or “strong woman”,

    No, it is not. It is said to be used, and this is why it is on the list, to tell a strong woman to shut up. It does not mean strong woman. It means bitch who won’t stop telling you what to do.

    Or at least, that is how people think of the word generally.

  66. #66 D. C. Sessions
    December 1, 2009

    The seminal idea (and the comment above that it is not linked to male anatomy is simply wrong) is the key idea that gets everything stated.

    “Linked” is such a lovely word. Since the English word for male reproductive fluid is derived from the Latin word for the embryos of flowering plants, you can reasonably state that grass is also linked to male anatomy.

    Now, causality is a somewhat different question and I don’t pretend to be a scholar of Medieval French.

  67. #67 cm
    December 1, 2009

    No, it is not. It is said to be used, and this is why it is on the list, to tell a strong woman to shut up. It does not mean strong woman. It means bitch who won’t stop telling you what to do.

    Or at least, that is how people think of the word generally.

    How is it that we view this rather differently?

    First, from where do you take your sense of how people think of the word generally–particularly since you show that many people aren’t even familiar with this sense of the word at all!

    I take my sense of “shrew” from, in this order:

    1) Probably junior high-school vocabulary lessons.
    2) Shakespeare’s play
    3) Dictionary definitions.

    Other than that, I almost never hear or read the word. For these reasons, I have trouble buying your proclamation that this other sense is one people “really” think of when they think of “shrew”.

    But maybe you read a journal that has people putting down outspoken women as shrews all the time?

    On this count, would you say that “termagant” or “harridan” are sexist? Because, though they are synonyms with the dictionary definition of “shew”, surely almost no one uses these words, and so they can’t have much cultural baggage in 2009.

  68. #68 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    DC: Seminal vesicles. Seminal idea. That is a relevant link. Obscure origins no one knows are really important when speaking about modern meaning.

  69. #69 Carlie
    December 1, 2009

    Also, the argument that the notee (e.g. Ed in this case) needs to shut up and accept the critique when it is given means, in advance, that the critique is always correct.

    That’s not what I said, or what I meant. Taking what was said into consideration isn’t the same thing as shutting up, or the same thing as agreeing with it. It’s taking the action of acknowledging that the other person may have a point before getting defensively screamy. It’s reacting to the statement actually made: the one thing that comes up over and over and over again is “saying this is X doesn’t mean you are X”, because people almost always react to “that statement is X” with “I AM NOT X!” And usually, the name-calling from the other side (which is also not the right thing to do) comes only after frustration that the initial person keeps screaming defense about their own intent and fabulousness rather than addressing the point of whether that language itself was sexist or not. If you diagram every blog argument about sexist language they almost always fall into that same pattern. It would be incredibly refreshing to see a discussion on whether or not a term is sexist that didn’t have to slog through assertions of whether that person meant it that way and whether they’re a sexist and don’t you realize how much of an ally they are etc. first.

  70. #70 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    cm: I would put the Shakespeare source first. And yes it is archaic.

    Which. Is. My. Point.

    Language is dynamic across time and context. To quote myself.

    Shrew is on Teh List of my own. M spelling “Teh” isntead of “the” should show you some irony. Everybody’s got their own list, and we negotiate amongst ourselves. I prefer to do it with less self righteous screaming, as I’m sure you do as well.

    I don’t know of any examples of anyone calling any male a shrew, BTW.

  71. #71 Christophe Thill
    December 1, 2009

    The seminal idea (and the comment above that it is not linked to male anatomy is simply wrong) is the key idea that gets everything stated.

    Nitpickers’R’us:
    “Seminal” comes (apparently) from the identical French word, which itself comes from latin “semen”… which means, not the same thing as in today’s English, but the seed of a plant. So it definitely has to do with germination and flowering.

    Now, of course, I won’t claim that I know what people have in mind when they use the word today. But etymology is still etymology.

  72. #72 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 1, 2009

    Dacks,

    That’s an interesting point, but I’ve thought for a while that we should use a term other than “mass hysteria.” To me at least, hysteria’s historical connections are quite strong. (That said, it is a term I use partially because I’m not aware of any other term for the same thing).

    Greg, ok, but I’ve met at least one left-handed person who had a problem with “sinister.”

    And the response that we decide which ones are ok based on discussion and negotiation doesn’t really work. If such discussion/negotiation occurs we need to have some set of shared principles (no matter how vague) about how to decide which words are too connected and which words are not.

    There are words which are obviously not acceptable and there are others which are to most people clearly ok. Most of these drama-fests occur over things which are in some sort of grey zone. If we acknowledged the existence of a genuinely grey zone it might help matters. Reasonable people can disagree and have different contexts.

    Related to this, one thing I do is use different language on different blogs as appropriate. Some language is considered unacceptable on some blogs that is fine on others. Following the lead of what forum you are in seems like a good idea. But expecting to apply one’s own attitudes or one’s group attitudes in a universal fashion leads to conflict.

  73. #73 Mike Olson
    December 1, 2009

    “Candy is dandy but, liquor is quicker.” Some ideas have been around for a long time. The irony of course is that what might be seen as a reference to rape(getting someone drunk, seems to be) could be an over reaction. Did you ever consider that your truck driving neighbor might see a night at the honky-tonk as being similar to a date consisting of sampling cheese and wine? Is an idea better if it involves more refined foods or verbage? No one supports rape, ever. But, I come from a rural area and although I admit there is a great deal of ignorance, about science, politics, the world outside of a town of seven hundred, some things that academics get upset about are a matter of cultural group. Yeah, they have their problems and they don’t like me. Frankly, I find the bumper sticker offensive. But, is it really an advocation of rape? Probably not much more than the suggestion to “wine and dine” a romantic interest. Just more baldly, plainly stated in a fashion that offends those who see their senses as being more refined. The world just isn’t crawling with that many horrific people with ideas of commiting atrocities.

  74. #74 MarkusR
    December 1, 2009

    Just wanted to comment that until today I wasn’t even aware of this word.

    Learn something everyday.

  75. #75 Art
    December 1, 2009

    Yadda-Yadda-Yadda.

    T – I find your use of the term offensive and your not being in a category which the term is specifically applied I find it doubly offensive.

    M – Well I find it offensive but only when used by those not in the category it specifically applies to historically. But it works when I use it.

    K – I find your tone and pedantic persecution of people using said term to be offensive. It is a term that is in common usage.

    T – But we own the term and have the right to define the character, for good or bad, of anyone who uses it.

    K – Your being an ass.

    M – Well you know a lot about being an ass.

    T,M,K … So on and so forth.

    Somewhere along the line M,K and T either fall into a passionate embrace and pleasure each other; or they beat each other into subconsciousness with large, blunt objects.

    The one thing that is for certain is that the Yadda-Yadda-Yadda won’t stop. The argument, which has been waged in various guises for several thousand years over what is offensive to who, when, and under what conditions of use or user is not going to go away. The only thing that changes are, the words be fought over, the people doing the fighting, and the waistline of the people consuming popcorn watching the whole thing progress to the inevitable fuming resentment and non-conclusion.

  76. #76 cm
    December 1, 2009

    Shrew is on Teh List of my own. M spelling “Teh” isntead of “the” should show you some irony. Everybody’s got their own list, and we negotiate amongst ourselves. I prefer to do it with less self righteous screaming, as I’m sure you do as well….I don’t know of any examples of anyone calling any male a shrew, BTW.

    Yes, no self-righteous screaming from me. If you want to put “shrew” on your own “Teh List”, I’m cool with that. I just don’t have it on my own. My list has, near the top, calling an adult female a “girl”–James Watson does that one publicly and it is really irritating to me.

    And sure, males can’t be shrews–a shrew is a nasty woman only.

    English (and most languages, I’m sure) is like the iPhone…they say, “We’ve got an app for that”, and in English we can say, “We’ve got a word for that.” As with laws (and I’m no libertarian), I like to keep as few restrictions on the books as possible, only restrictions that I think can prevent justified social harm. For me, a word to mean a nasty, ill-tempered, scolding woman is a useful one to have in my vocabulary, because such creatures exist. But I’ll apply it only when apt. (For the record, I think Ed Brayton’s use of it or Palin was inapt; no female politician could survive as a public shrew).

  77. #77 D. C. Sessions
    December 1, 2009

    “Candy is dandy but, liquor is quicker.” Some ideas have been around for a long time.

    And from about the same time:

    I like to have a martini,
    Two at the very most.
    After three I’m under the table,
    after four I’m under my host.

  78. #78 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    There is another point that I think is obvious but looking back I realize has probably not been said. Sarah palin as a shrew, Hillary Clinton as on the rag, Madeline Albright as menopausal, Anne Coulter as Hysterical, etc. etc. are not just the pairings of women with terms in the patriorepressive category, but they are attacks on/insults of women for personal (real or not) attributes that are traditionally used to keep women “in their place” and that really, as a group, do not have male equivalents. In other words it is not just anti female, but it is reserving the personal attack for females.

    In the modern era this is certainly not strictly the issue. These days men are assailable at the personal level, for what that is worth, but that does not obviate what is pretty much an imbalance in this particular game of rhetoric and power.

  79. #79 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 1, 2009

    It is appropriate for Physioprof to demand that Ed apologize

    D00d, I never “demanded” anything of Ed. This is the entire content of my initial comment to Ed’s post (and my only comment that was directly addressed to Ed):

    Dude, you know I love you, but you gotta lay off the misogynist attacks on Palin. She is a despicable vicious ignorant nasty sick-fuck right-wing asshole, but the “shrew” shit does nothing but drag you down.

    (Let’s analyze “you gotta”!)

  80. #80 bcoppola
    December 1, 2009

    On this count, would you say that “termagant” or “harridan” are sexist? Because, though they are synonyms with the dictionary definition of “shew”, surely almost no one uses these words…

    Zounds, sirrah (if thou art a man)! Speak for thyself. Verily, I myself hath used the term “harridan” in reference to Phyllis Schlafly in a recent comment on Pharyngula. And none took me to task for that, but rather for mistakenly thinking her deceased.

  81. #81 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    CPP: Depends totally on your tone of voice, I suppose. As I said, you were actually oddly appropriate in your tone. Which made me think maybe you were a sock puppet of yourself.

  82. #82 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 1, 2009

    Inside out.

  83. #83 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    I don’t want to think about where that lint has been.

  84. #84 Stephanie Z
    December 1, 2009

    Joshua @72, it sounds like you’re describing negotiation to me.

    Mike @73, rape is indeed endorsed, as a military and torture tactic, in people crowing about what will happen to criminals in prison, and obliquely with such concepts as “asking for it.” And even if this bumper sticker doesn’t specifically speak to rape, it’s still got major problems, not because it’s about lower-class mating habits, but because it puts all the responsibility for the woman’s sexuality in the man’s hands.

    Art @75, I think you’re going to have to put away your popcorn. Sure, there are some misunderstandings, like Carlie thinking Greg is speaking in opposition to her point instead of agreeing and making a tangential point, but that’s not going to sell tickets. Everybody’s getting along pretty well, and a bunch of people are applying their brains to the situation.

    Greg, I think it’s also worth pointing out that while the male-specific insults get shot at women sometimes, the female-specific ones never get used on men.

  85. #85 Bill James
    December 1, 2009

    Drunkenness can be observed in many forms good sir.

  86. #86 cm
    December 1, 2009

    There is another point that I think is obvious but looking back I realize has probably not been said. Sarah palin as a shrew, Hillary Clinton as on the rag, Madeline Albright as menopausal, Anne Coulter as Hysterical, etc. etc. are not just the pairings of women with terms in the patriorepressive category, but they are attacks on/insults of women for personal (real or not) attributes that are traditionally used to keep women “in their place” and that really, as a group, do not have male equivalents. In other words it is not just anti female, but it is reserving the personal attack for females.

    That’s right, because men don’t menstruate/have uteri. But yes, garbage, all of those.

    Fwiw, here’s some male-only insults to politicians:

    • Good old boy
    • Tool (have you ever thought of a woman as a “tool”…maybe it’s sexist that I don’t?)
    • Neanderthal (essentially never applied to women)
    • Wimp
  87. #87 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 1, 2009

    Stephanie,

    Maybe. As you can probably tell I have very mixed/confused views on this matter. I think that acknowledging a grey area isn’t necessarily the same as negotiating. Moreover, respecting the host’s preference is by nature fundamentally not negotiating: It is using a convenient convention which changes what is acceptable under what circumstances. It also makes sense in the old “If you come to my house, don’t piss on my rug” (which is what I think John Wilkins said at one point in regards to civility at his blog).

    Also regarding your observation that the female specific insults don’t get used on men, I think there’s one noteworthy exception to that:I’ve seen them directed at gay men.

  88. #88 Paul
    December 1, 2009

    Also regarding your observation that the female specific insults don’t get used on men, I think there’s one noteworthy exception to that:I’ve seen them directed at gay men.

    Really, I was confused by Stephanie’s statement. Female-specific insults are directed at straight men too. Whether calling a man a ‘bitch’ or a ‘queen’ is meant to be insulting by implying that they are gay or otherwise feminine in nature/constitution/what have you, it is in no way uncommon to see female-specific insults applied to men. What you normally don’t see is male-specific insults directed at females (e.g. ‘prick’ or ‘bastard’, even though the later is not explicitly male-specific it generally is used that way). There are exceptions, of course, but in my experience using female-specific insults towards men is much more common than male-specific insults being directed towards women (although I am not sure that would hold up after normalizing for the greater number of female-specific insults).

  89. #89 D. C. Sessions
    December 1, 2009

    There are exceptions, of course, but in my experience using female-specific insults towards men is much more common than male-specific insults being directed towards women

    Well, pardon me but DUH!

    Using a feminine term of derision on a man is just doubling up: the term of derision itself, plus questioning his manhood. In contrast, calling a woman a “dick” is a mixed signal: it would be an insult to a man, but since she’s starting off from lower on the scale than a mere “dick” it’s actually a lame compliment.

  90. #90 Paul
    December 1, 2009

    Uh, D.C., thanks for being a condescending prick (see what I did there?), but Stephanie was the one that said that female-specific insults were not directed towards men. I wasn’t trying to say anything profound, I was pointing out that I didn’t think that made very much sense and it was contrary to my experience.

  91. #91 MTiffany
    December 1, 2009

    FWIW, I associate the word shrew with someone who is shrill, and I think many other people do as well. If that was the meaning to which Ed was alluding, I wholeheartedly agree. The resigned governor is also, in my opinion, a… well, never mind. What I was about to type was too sexist.

  92. #92 Irene
    December 1, 2009

    As D.C. points out, the use of a female-oriented ‘insult’ on a man is in fact an insult of a woman because the gendered nature of the term is what makes it a ‘better’ insult.

  93. #93 DNLee
    December 1, 2009

    I thought the saying “Get her drunk and get her done” was a message from God telling me to finish my dissertation, and have shot of patron to ease my nerves as I meet these deadlines.

  94. #94 Luna_the_cat
    December 1, 2009

    It is almost certainly not the case that this misogynistic sequence of events reflected the attitudes and behaviors overtly valued by the play-going classes of Elizabethan england, but rather, the misogyny reflected in this play was seen as such … misogynistic … by pre-enlightenment contemporary audiences.

    Ok, it’s been a few years since I was working on being a historian, but really…why on earth do you think this? Despite having a queen, Elizabethan English culture could be remarkably misogynistic. Remember, too, that this era was all about witch-hunting.

  95. #95 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Luna: Absolutely. But it has been suggested that this play was a rare example of a certain amount of reflection on this issue. This is what some historians say, and I’m not prepared to argue one way or another on it, really. Having read quite a bit of contemporary (in english) literature (well, quite a bit for someone whose field this is not, and mostly for the subsequent century) this does not surprize me a great deal, but if you have an argument against it (other than that it seems strange, which it admittedly does) then let’s hear it!

  96. #96 Mike Olson
    December 1, 2009

    @Stephanie#84: Yes, but when rape is used as torture it is gender non-specific. You might consider that one of the ways we tortured our prisoners(we are all culpable in this act as citizens of the U.S.) was to have female soldiers wipe what was purported to be menstrual blood on the prisoners. It violated their religion. Not rape, and I don’t agree with how their culture views women…but it does say alot about how different cultures view sexuality, gender and biological function. Further, in an odd way and again, I’m not supporting rape or arguing anyone was asking for it…if i get drunk and kill 37 people with an ax handle, I’ll be held accountable for my actions. When the suggestion is made that although someone said yes, because they had too much to drink, they were not competent to agree to sex…things get frightening really fast. If the woman’s B.A.C. is .012 and she is not competent to agree, although she said yes, is the man whose B.A.C is .018 guilty of rape when he was drunker and heard a definitive yes?

  97. #97 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 1, 2009

    Luna, the witch-trials are a bad example since many of the people acussed of witchcraft were men.

    Mike, regarding inebriation and sexual consent: these issues are complicated. What constitutes consent exactly under what circumstances is very difficult. In fact, in the hypothetical you gave whether or not it would have been rape varies by state.

  98. #98 Luna_the_cat
    December 1, 2009

    It’s after midnight here, which means I’m headed for sleep rather than discussion, but I would point first towards other contemporary literature, for example the popular poetry in Tottel’s Miscellany or the shite written by Andrew Marvell. This was entirely popular stuff, and the only two types of portrayal of women throughout this collection were as (a)somewhat mentally unstable, and (b)sexually unfaithful betrayers. There were also a huge number of popular books and pamphlets on how best to run households, strictly defining what women could and should do vs. couldn’t and mustn’t, and exhorting this as both the divine arrangement ordered by God, and natural — and this quite strongly delineated women as being properly only fit for marriage and subordinate to men. (There were a few pamphlets which kicked back against this; I’m aware of about 5, vs. dozens.) Given the combination of this kind of literature, the church sermons often given (references not to hand) and the fact of witch-hunting being very strongly oriented against women, and the widespread Elizabethan use and popular acceptance of humiliation as being a perfectly valid tool for social control, I have no reason to believe that the play wasn’t simply being true to the values of the day.

  99. #99 Luna_the_cat
    December 1, 2009

    Joshua: I refer you first to Brian P. Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, for good discussion of the, hm, “target demographic” of witch-hunts.

    Never meant to imply that men weren’t ever killed as witches, but there was a huge disparity in gender numbers, especially later on.

  100. #100 Oran Kelley
    December 1, 2009

    All of us have had our turn being sarah, having those women only insults thrown our way. You have no idea what its like and you can’t, so having some respect for the anger it causes would be nice.

    Really? We’ve all been local beauty queens and governor of Alaska and ran for vice president for while. Or at least those of us who are female? Sorry if I’m being a dickhead, but that sound like a load of hooey to me.

    And your response to something has no claim on me or anyone else unless they’ve chosen to make your feelings their business. You got angry. So what? Some guy’s angry and feels victimized in my town because his kid was forced to read about evolution. So what?

    Regarding your last paragraph: In my post I made it very clear that gendered insults such as “shrew” are bad and hurful. Therefore “…so having some respect for the anger it causes would be nice…” does not apply to what I wrote here. That shold be pretty clear, but perhaps it should be further emphasized.

    And so we should all bow down to the offense industry?

    No one really took up the question of why a gendered insult should be verboten when they are used pretty regularly by nearly everyone, I’m sure even by those claiming to be so hurt by anyone mentioning brown furry animals who eat lots of insects.

    In fact I expect a few to be directed at me now as the offense industry goes on the offense.

  101. #101 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Luna, I hope you don’t think that I’m suggesting that the late middle ages were all full of feminism and shit.

    I have no reason to believe that the play wasn’t simply being true to the values of the day.


    You are basing that on other literature of the time and then assuming a homogeneity that would be hard to support. But again, I’m not an expert on this, just mentioning what I’ve read about it.

    Regarding which hunting and women: I have been reading about this lately. About a fifth to a quarter of the witches killed from Elizabethan times through the early Enlightenment were men, but I do pretty much accept the idea that this was a largely misogynist (and anti-witch, of course) phenomenon.

  102. #102 Diane G.
    December 1, 2009

    Uh, MTiffany (@91)…”shrill” is on my list…as is “strident…”

    (Mostly kidding, but still…)

  103. #103 William
    December 1, 2009

    Does this whole thing boil down to the question of whether it is acceptable to use a term “unpleasant female person” versus a term “unpleasant person” who is known to be female? ( “insert your favorite epithet”)

    As long as one does not state or infer that the unpleasantness is associated with the femaleness, are the statements equally neutral with regard to gender equality?

  104. #104 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    William: that is part of it but only part of it. The catalog of gender specific female oriented terms is cognate with the catalog of female oriented misconceptions, stereotypes, and slurs. These are not simply insults, but rather, insults that reify an overall sex bias.

  105. #105 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    Shrill is totally listable. But I think putting strident on the list may be an act of hysteria.

  106. #106 wildlifer
    December 1, 2009

    Should these words be added to the list so the speech monitors won’t harangue us?:

    Frigid
    Cow
    cankles
    vixen
    fox
    muffin
    tart

    Are they tapped into the Patriot Act monitoring system?
    Is the list online?
    Is there an emergency number I can call if I need to check if a word’s okay?
    Dog forbid that I violate someone’s right to not be offended.

  107. #107 Stephanie Z
    December 1, 2009

    wildlifer, do you need to lie down for a bit? You’re getting overwrought, and this has already been discussed.

  108. #108 William
    December 1, 2009

    Yes…but, speaking theoretically, is it possible for a non-sexist person (such as Ed) to use a term such as “shrew” without causing harm in fact or intent? That misogyny exists outside the “universe” of the speaker and his intended audience need not constrain his use of language. Not that an internet posting is limited to a private universe but getting back to intent and the need for public correction.

    Also, does politically correct speech by non gender biased people positively affect the misogyny of others? I don’t know.

    Perhaps you are right. At least until the time when social norms do not recognize bias it is best to be hyper aware and avoid giving offense wherever possible. However, as you point out, there is a world of difference between the F-150 owner and the inadvertent use of a possibly gender biased idiom.

  109. #109 DuWayne
    December 1, 2009

    I would just like to point out that the problem arose on Ed’s blog, because rather than explaining why “shrew” was offensive, CPP just basically said that it is and you (Ed) should figure out why it is. I got pissed off at Isis’ blog, because while Isis basically just wrote a reasonably toned post to explain why it was offensive, commenters took the opportunity to go on an Ed bashing spree. While no one there actually called him a misogynist (or asshole, that was just implied in several comments, sorry becca, I will try ever so hard in the future to not say anything that isn’t absolutely factual and never ever engage in hyperbole) they called into question the validity of anything he has to say.

    I can absolutely assure you that he did not intend it to be sexist and is not sexist. And no, CPP wasn’t correct in his handling of it, because he just insisted to Ed that he was wrong for saying it and rather than actually responding substantively to Ed’s claim that he wasn’t actually wrong, he just insisted that he was wrong and that it was his responsibility to figure out why.

    But then both you and CPP have this bloody fucking irritating habit of insisting to people that they are wrong about something and instead of telling them why, insisting that the onus is on them to figure out why they are wrong. A tidy little hint about that tactic – it is not terribly effective, if the goal is to actually change someone’s attitude about something. Ed was actually quite receptive to someone actually explaining why what he said was offensive. He was not terribly receptive to basically being told that he was wrong because “I say so.”

  110. #110 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2009

    But then both you and CPP have this bloody fucking irritating habit of insisting to people that they are wrong about something and instead of telling them why, insisting that the onus is on them to figure out why they are wrong.

    You are totaly wrong about that, DuWayne. And besides, I totally agree with everything you said above this. But, since you decided that I was wrong, you will not proced to insist that I was wrong no matter what. I expect you to revert to full-pedant mode in 4 .. 3 … 2…

    Oh, wait, I’ll save you the trouble. I only read CPP’s first comment. I am unaware of any subsequent comments by him on Ed’s site. I therefore have no opinion about them and can not address that aspect of your comment, other than to say that I trust your analysis.

    As to the wrongness or not of using the word Shrew, I think I just wrote a 3,000 word post about that.

  111. #111 DuWayne
    December 1, 2009

    I wasn’t actually referring to this particular instance, when accusing you of refusing to explain why people are wrong when insisting they are. CPP did it in this case, you have done it in other situations.

    I agree with the use of the word shrew and other sorts of sexist/ableist insults, though I don’t tend to limit that to female gender specific insults. Not saying that I am the least bit good at avoiding using insults that can be construed as offensive to some group or another, just that I think it is wrong and am working on it. The only problem being, there aren’t a lot of neutral insults that don’t denigrate some group or another.

    I am afraid this may well mean that I will just have to stop using insults, which you may have noted might be rather hard for me to do.

  112. #112 Diane G.
    December 2, 2009

    The only problem being, there aren’t a lot of neutral insults that don’t denigrate some group or another. –DuWayne

    Well, and that’s precisely the problem. It’s really only an insult if one is denigrating something.

    Take for instance Isis’s rightful calling out of “retarded.” Probably most of us know that that’s rec’d very painfully by those to whom the original clinical definition applies, and their families. But that’s also where “fucktard,” “creatard,” etc., come from, and few pay any attention to those coinages or would want to give them up.

    The whole area’s a minefield, and indeed the “people-who-know-me-know-I’m-not-a-[fill in the ‘-ist’]” defense is something we commonly grant those we do know or believe not to be what they’re accused of. Even ourselves.

    One thing that would help, esp. when we feel that bad intent was not present, might be to contact the “offender” privately, thus giving him/her the opportunity to correct him/her-self first. (“It’s been called to my attention…”) But then the accusee would have its (I give up!) hands full trying to avoid the nonpology “if anyone was offended, I apologize…”

    As to some of the other proffered substitutes, “idiot,” “cretin,” & “moron” were merely the precursors to “retarded.” Probably the vast majority have no idea they were once as pejorative to the mentally, uh, differently abled, as “retarded” is today. But that’s just because they have a far weaker anti-discrimination lobby than women or most ethnic groups. (And no, I’m not at all arguing that we should put those terms back on Teh List. Just pointing out how convoluted the issue is.)

  113. #113 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    CPP did it in this case, you have done it in other situations.

    Are you referring to the time that you wrote a post insisting that I provide immediate responses to varoius questions you had cooked up and then I did not drop everything and do so instantly? If you go back and read the posts I wrote at that time (and comments) you will see that a clear explanation of what I was talking about was there all along. You kept insisting that I was saying something different than I was, then disagreeing with what I was saying, which is something I have little patience with. Of course, we are already so far into this paragraph that by now you are already writing your response ignoring what I’m saying, and telling me that I don’t make myself clear. So why do I even bother. In fact, now that I’m way down into this paragraph that I know you’ll never read all of, I should say some really interesting things that you would want to know but won’t because you are not paying close attention. That would be really cool in a passive aggressive kinda way. Like when I left a five dollar bill in a manuscript being reviewed by someone, with an note saying “call me when you get this.” Never did get that call.

  114. #114 DuWayne
    December 2, 2009

    Oh for fucks sake Greg, I don’t respond to things I haven’t read. It pisses me off when people do that to me, I don’t do it to others. Not sure why the hell you would think I wouldn’t read the entirety of a comment I am going to respond to, when I should think it is obvious that agreeing or not, I am a lot more thoughtful than that.

    And that was only one of several times you have done that. In that particular case, I only started misrepresenting what you were saying, because you insisted I was misrepresenting you early on – which it turned out I wasn’t. But that is far from the only time you have insisted that I (or someone else) was wrong because, “I say so.”

    Diane –

    That was actually where I was going with it. And it is unfortunately an area where I have a lot of reconsidering to do. I mean when it comes down to it, anything intended to denigrate someone’s intelligence is rather inherently denigrating to people who happen to have below average intelligence (at least as intelligence tends to be measured). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg really.

    When it comes down to it, I am increasingly thinking that being reduced to “what an unpleasant,” “what a mean,” what a rude” and the like, with person attached, may not be a bad lot to be left with, as far as pejoratives go. (says a person who is very keen on some rather nasty insults indeed)

  115. #115 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 2, 2009

    The only problem being, there aren’t a lot of neutral insults that don’t denigrate some group or another.

    Cockwad, fuckwit, doucheweasel, scuzmonkey, shitbag, offalscow, dirtbag, scumnut.

    Dude, Ed is a big boy, and your endless whining about this shit is getting tiresome. Regardless of your lack of imagination, no one is oppressing dudes *as dudes*, and that is why “shrew” is nothing like “dick”.

  116. #116 aratina cage
    December 2, 2009

    I really cannot agree with you on this, Greg. This is scienceblogs.com we are talking about. If you are going to use misogynistic language here among the educated, be prepared to be called out on it and be ready to apologize for it. Palin has said and done plenty of stupid things that could have been used to denigrate her without mentioning the word “shrew”. And don’t you dare call me a Kliqueon — I am properly a Vulcan rat: “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” (:P).

  117. #117 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    aratina, since the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, should Greg also be ready to apologize for mentioning he’s an atheist? How about for challenging common falsehoods?

    Yes, I’m being a bit absurd, but that’s a problem with hard and fast rules. They get a bit absurd when applied without thinking, based on emotion. In this case, because “need” is being used sloppily. Social transactions rarely rise to the level of need.

    As for the rest, what do you think Greg’s position is on this?

  118. #118 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    aratina: When you say you don’t agree with me, are you disagreeing with the idea that shrew is an inappropriate term? Because that is what I said.

    DyWayne, I am very far from the most obscure person on the internet. IN fact, I tend to be very direct. However, it sometimes occurs that people make leaps from what I (or anyone else) has said into new territory that was never intended. Intentionality does matter. You have the art of argument down pretty well, but you need to work on the art of communication. Before the argument can take off, there often has to be more communication so that what is intended can be known, what is meant can be understood.

  119. #119 DuWayne
    December 2, 2009

    Dude, Ed is a big boy, and your endless whining about this shit is getting tiresome.

    Dude, I couldn’t possibly care less that you find it tiresome. People find each other tiresome all the time. I usually just ignore them after a while.

    And it isn’t about Ed. It is about treating someone who makes a badly placed comment like they’re fucking evil, deserve nothing but scorn and deciding that because of that comment nothing they have to say has any validity any more. To be clear, I am not accusing you of doing that. But a whole lot of people are.

    It wouldn’t matter if we were talking about Joe Blow instead of Ed. Deciding that because someone unwittingly says something that is offensive, that they must be shunned and screamed at is not productive. All that generally manages is to alienate people, rather than changing their mind and convincing them that they really should be watching what they say.

    Regardless of your lack of imagination, no one is oppressing dudes *as dudes*, and that is why “shrew” is nothing like “dick”.

    Bullshit. That the oppression takes a different form and is largely an extension of chauvinism, doesn’t somehow mean that men aren’t oppressed. But that really isn’t the problem with using masculine gender specific insults. If the goal is to stop people from using feminine gender specific insults, then cutting out gender specific insults altogether makes a lot of sense.

    If we are actually going to work our way past gender oppression, we need to get out of the habit of making it all about women. Men are a part of the sexism equation. We can focus this all on women from now until the sun explodes and it isn’t going to change a fucking thing. Telling your average man on the street that he has to stop using gender specific insults, unless they are masculine gender specific isn’t going to get you very far. Telling your average man on the street that equality is important, except when it comes to men filling traditionally feminine roles, isn’t going to get you very far.

    Quite honestly, your constant hypocritical whining about feminine gender specific insults is rather tiresome. The constant whining that women are oppressed, while ignoring a fundamental aspect of that equation is tiresome. Pissing in the wind, rather than doing something productive is fucking tiresome.

  120. #120 Neuroskeptic
    December 2, 2009

    “and your endless whining about this shit is getting tiresome.”

    I bet the word “whining” has misogynistic roots if you go back far enough.

  121. #121 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    DuWayne: t is about treating someone who makes a badly placed comment like they’re fucking evil, deserve nothing but scorn and deciding that because of that comment nothing they have to say has any validity any more.

    I agree with this. But if I was a kliqueon I’d find a way to make the fact that you said this look really bad for you. I’m not sure how thaty do that but they are pretty good at it.

  122. #122 Prometheus
    December 2, 2009

    Look, this isn’t difficult. Take the seven deadly sins and the seven cardinal virtues and think of every non-scatological slang term that is related to the behavior or omission described. The older the slang the less likely the proposition is to be gender neutral because English hasn’t been gender neutral since 1066 duuuuuuuuh.

    scold = bully (and until recently rogue)
    fish wife or harridan = ruffian, brigand or cad
    shrew = blowhard, vaunt or sniveler

    The most prominent loaded male gender specific stereotypical derogatory epithet in as common a usage as ‘shrew’ at its height and in even more common usage today would be….Fool.

    There is lots of male gender specific historical slang associated with everything from wastefulness to criminality to venality.

    Weasel, Turncoat, Fop, Coxcomb, Braggart, Dupe, Sneak (from sneak thief, gender neutral only after 1880 and rouge’s galleries), Dullard, Oaf, Buffoon, Bum, Goldbrick, Hobo etc.

    The harsh reality is that a language is an organic proposition and you only get to change it by changing the society that uses it.

    I am fully aware Comrade PhysioProf and Isis Bombeck would prefer to skip the heavy lifting and issue some draconian imperial edicts but until they ascend the throne of English Language Land they can console themselves by blogging in Esperanto.

    I strongly recommend this course of action as I do not read Esperanto.

  123. #123 aratina cage
    December 2, 2009

    Stephanie Z, I was also being absurd and snarky with that quote since Greg had reached into Trek lore to coin the word “Kliqueon”. Still, the need of women for womanhood not to be a putdown does outweigh the need of a privileged male who casually let slip a misogynistic putdown to be allayed of being put down for doing so.

    This post seems to me to be saying that nobody should have called out Ed Brayton for labeling Palin an “unhinged shrew”, or more generally that it is morally acceptable to use misogynistic language as long as it doesn’t imply that rape of women is OK, and if it isn’t morally acceptable, then we also should mind our language about terms derived from or similar to male anatomy and used as putdowns. On the whole, it looks to me quite similar to the argument we hear from people complaining of “reverse racism”. This is what I don’t agree with: I do not think using “shrew” to describe a woman is morally acceptable and I do think Ed Brayton was rightly called out on it and that he should apologize for saying it. So I guess I lied earlier in that I do side with the Kliqueons to a large degree.

    Greg, I’m looking over it again and you start out labeling people who care and speak up about it as a clique, then you frame Ed’s brother’s defense of Ed as meaningless drivel, then you think back to a time when you said something misogynistic, you spin the calling out of misogyny as “being shat upon”, you reduce the caller-outers to nobodies and even goatfuckers, you bring in the historical perspective on the word “shrew”, then you get into a nuanced equating of derogatory anatomical terms with misogynistic terms though you deny it at the end, you reflect on the evolution of language, you spin non-putdowns as (misandristic) sexist terms, you make light of the fact that misogynistic terms exist, and then we find out that the real problem you are having is with the two people who called out Ed and you back in the day. The last bit addresses the title and the decal advocating rape of women (and what does that have to do with the issue at hand?) and how you will do the right thing there eventually and confront them on it, but it is also taken as a chance to use another misogynistic term in jest. Maybe I was too quick in considering the last paragraph a throwaway line to lighten the load?

    So, yes, I think I do disagree with the overall post and I wasn’t sure that you really did think “shrew” was misogynistic (because it appeared ambiguous in the snark), which you apparently do think. Did I take it all wrong? I do find it lyrical how you arrange these posts dealing with stereotypes and perhaps I should give that more weight. Hmm, I think these types of arguments for the male privilege side (which I would characterize this post as, perhaps wrongly) always come back to questioning the moral standing of others as a way of shifting the argument away from misogynistic language, as in, “Who are you to tell me what I should say?”. I don’t find that a reasonable approach when it is clear that the word under question is only a putdown if you find something about females revolting or if you find cute little shrews revolting.

  124. #124 wildlifer
    December 2, 2009

    Stephanie,

    I’m not sure which post “settled” the issue. Could you point it out for me?

    Yours in Political Incorrectness,
    wildlifer

  125. #125 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    aratina, read the comments. Seriously. That is, in fact, not what the post is saying. You’re injecting a great deal of oppositionalism that doesn’t exist in the post (as reflected by Greg and CPP agreeing in the comments).

    It’s a post about making smart decisions on how to use your clout and energy in dealing with a real problem. It may not come straight out and say so, but Greg usually gives his audience credit for being pretty smart. Nor does it say, anywhere, that Ed shouldn’t have the connotations and history of the word pointed out to him. It does do quite a bit of musing about what someone hearing “shrew” should expect the listener to know beforehand, but there is a difference between someone who’s unclear what they’re saying and someone who, like wildlifer here, is thumbing their nose at the idea of civilization and begging for a beatdown. No?

    Then spend some time thinking about why you assume that what Greg got smacked around for was misogynistic. What he did was tell Isis she was acting like one of the popular kids in high school when she tried to tell a South Asian woman what to do on this woman’s personal blog regarding perceived racism. It’s really not too far off calling Salty Current a privileged white d00d.

  126. #126 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    aratina cage: Wow, you certainly have a different take on what I said, on what the point of this post was, and certainly what my intention was. The first part of your comment seems very different than the second part, and you will find that reflected in my response:

    I assume you are you interested in exploring the differences between my intention and what you are getting out of this rather than being into the post structuralist thing where the text itself and the intent of the writer is not really important.

    The “clique” label was never applied. I never used that word. The label is “Kliqueon” and there is a history to that word of which you are perhaps unaware. The “clique” idea is part of that, but you are incorrect to assume that my reaction to the critique of Ed is to label the critiquois as a clique. They were already labeled as “kliqueons” and the conclusion you draw from this incorrect observation is also incorrect.

    I don’t frame DuWayne’s defense of Ed at all. I simply reproduce it in the post. This is probably a key place where your interpretation goes wrong, because one of my main points it to criticize the critique not because it is wrong (be clear: It is not wrong. The term “shrew was inappropriate, and this is the 15th time I’ve said that). The cirtique is worthy of criticism because it is being done in a counterproductive way, in my opinion.

    you reduce the caller-outers to nobodies and even goatfuckers

    Why are you making stuff up? Where do I say they are nobodies? WTF? They are totally famous bloggers and shit. Also, I don’t spin them as goatfuckers. This is their thing. Read CPP’s blogs. His whole approach is to be a goatfucker. Isis’s approach is to divide the world between those who suck up to her (muffins) and those who don’t (racists and mysogynists). that is a total goatfucking strategy. These folks have decided to be aggressive, abrasive, non-civil because that is what they believe works. Don’t tell me that I’m labeling them as something. I am simply passing on their explicit way of doing things. Furthermore, I state that this may well be a good thing, and that they are quite good at it.

    I love my fellow science bloggers!

    Regarding my take on misogynist terms, I can guess that the discussion was a bit to complex or nuanced and a second draft may be a good idea. Not sure. I will make my point again:

    The simplest way to describe a thoughtful approach to language is to claim that there is a list of terms/phrases/words that should be avoided for various reasons (which have been discussed at length above, but have to do with sexism, racism, etc.). I do not like the idea of “banning’ words but anyone who decides to use a word on this “list” should be aware of what they are doing. People may well mistakenly use words on the list because they don’t know (Paddy wagon comes to mind … a lot of people use that word not knowing that it is a racist term, once they learn this they change their usage).

    That’s the simple version. But there is a more complex reality at work as well. Many words have a history whereby an earlier usage would have put them on this list, but they are not really on that list now. Can words drop off the list as times chagne, or meanings change? Langauge is complex and dynamic. This list needs to be as well.

    There are entire groups of people who really don’t link a particular word to a particular meaning. Eskimo would be an example. Do you know that this is a racist term and should never be used? Unless of course you are a Native of Pt. Barrow, in which case you prefer to word Eskimo to refer to yourself. Anyone who wishes to speak of Inuit/Eskimo people or Pygmy/Efe or Bushman/Khoi-San/Ju/’hoansi people, etc needs to know quite a bit about the nuances, histories, and peoples’ preferences. In Botswana, the word “San” is an insult, and many “San” prefer “Bushman.” In South Africa (just over the border) “Bushman” is an insult, and San is preferred. Those are more obvious cases, but words like “seminal” and others discussed above may have differential meanings in different modes.

    So, that was another main point of this post: To discuss the complexity of this sort of issue. To note that since there really is not one list, but rather, a complex interconnected wholeness of listosity, you can’t just sit there on one part of the internet and snipe at others without expecting some … complexity … to arise in many cases.

    In the end, I don’t think we are disagreeing very much. I do think that one problem with communicating over these issues is the degree to which a particular writer assumes a baseline. I assume a baseline that it is important to “police” (probably a bad word choice) our language, to help each other in doing this. As another premise, but discussed somewhere in here, is that there are different approaches, and … here is the key point … if one is a purist about one of the multiple approaches, please don’t insist that everyone else likes your approach, responds as you wish to to your approach, and when they don’t (when Ed says “hey, I’m not a bad guy” or Ed’s brother says “Hey, he’s not such a bad guy”) think about the possibility that you’ve just tossed out an ally that you might have liked to have a better relationship with.

    The Kliqueons seem to believe that they have the responsibility to treat all transgressions they encounter with the same hammer, and they seem to expect that once whacked with this hammer that all whackees will thank them for it and learn Teh Way. What really happens is different, and this seems to shock and surprise them every time. And, when individual Kliqueons are called on their own shit, they sometimes do not respond as they vociferously insist everyone else responds. Which is both funny and disgusting.

    Also, the reason they are called Kilqueons is that they decide (often) who to attack and who to ally with based on social membership factors rather than what you say or do. This is well documented in the record. Which causes me to question their motivations. Which I do here in this post.

    In the end, the word shrew could be just a bad word choice, or it could reflect underlying mysogyny, because its full historical meaning is very negative and anti-female. Depnds. Shrews themselves are wonderful, as I’ve said above, because the bony structure of their skull falsifies the hypothesis that robust skulls are a feature of a fossorial lifeway, which is an ugly, horrible hypothesis according to Betsy and me. Also, of all the wild mammals that have ever attacked me (and in my line of work there have been quite a few by both number and speciosity) the shrew is the only one that ever got its teeth/tusk/horn into my flesh. So, I do have ambivalent feelings about them, I suppose.

  127. #127 becca
    December 2, 2009

    “DuWayne: it is about treating someone who makes a badly placed comment like they’re fucking evil, deserve nothing but scorn and deciding that because of that comment nothing they have to say has any validity any more.

    I agree with this. But if I was a kliqueon I’d find a way to make the fact that you said this look really bad for you. I’m not sure how thaty do that but they are pretty good at it. “
    What about…
    “What about treating someone who LIES like they are fucking evil, deserve nothing but scorn and deciding that because of that comment nothing they say can be trusted any more.”
    Because I think DuWayne has gone beyond hyperbole at this point…

    Although, I’ve never really been sure if I was a Kliqueon. A muppet, yes of course, but of the Kliqueon variety? Unknown.

    I am, however, reasonably good at making anything anybody says look rather bad for them. I can even do it to myself.

    Afterall, I’m really not *happy* to suggest to DuWayne that his portrayal of the situation might be less than 100% accurate, since I know that it is his particular fixation to denounce lying liars Yet, I cannot reconcile his description with my view of the situation, and I have been watching carefully from the beginning and do not have a vested interest in defending my brother (who taught me about equality) as a good person.
    But I mostly recategorize liars as “good people to know for fiction writing” rather than denouncing them, but I suspect it will sting DuWayne even if I don’t particularly associate it with being fucking harsh, and even if I do not mean it that way, and even if I am a good person, and even if it is accurate. But I say it anyway. Cause I’m a shrew.

  128. #128 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    wildlifer, my little faux iconoclast, had you the reading ability that God gave shrews (and yes, I’m an atheist), you’d have seen that your first comment was simply a rephrasing of the much-more-clever comment 37, spewed by you in the mistaken notion that being a naughty schoolchild smarting off to the teacher is funny, in much the same way that even a three-year-old understands that farts are funny because they’re taboo.

    Since you’re obviously incapable of following the thread, I refer you to the continuing discussion in comments 39, 47, 49, 52, 53, 54, 57, 58, 60, 64, 70, 72, 76, 79, 81, 84 and 87. Those are, of course, simply the ones you should have read before posting your first comment–presuming your intent wasn’t to look like someone who has nothing better to do than to sit in the parents’ basement trolling.

    To everyone else, I should correct my comment about cross-gendered insults. Only male-specific insults can be used for females without changing the implied gender of the insulted. I do indeed call my female friends “bastards” sometimes. After all, we can all inherit property these days.

  129. #129 Dr. Brain
    December 2, 2009

    Stephanie, you do realize that Salty Current was white and telling Isis how to write on a post about brown people in science, right?

  130. #130 Tsu Dho Nimh
    December 2, 2009

    I’m piling in late, but with the OED.

    Shrew: with cites from 1250
    A wicked, evil-disposed, or malignant man; a mischievous or vexatious person; a rascal or villain.

    Among many cites, the 1609 cite “Such as were shrewes to their wives” clearly indicates that at the time of the writing of The Taming of the Shrew, it was an equal-opportunity adjective.

    As a descriptor of a person given to scolding and ranting (and ruling the roost) it’s been mostly applied to women, but there is no connotation or denotation that such shrew needs to be put in her place. It’s a comment on her management style.

  131. #131 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    Tsu: Great info, thanks. This is why I cringe when people chime in on a meaning related issue with “but the origin of the word is/is not bla bla bla”. The word “Shrew” in the non-mammalian context comes to use pretty much entirely from The Taming Of…, and in that sense it comes to us as a package of our cultural understanding of the meaning of “shrew” from that play, not even directly from Shakespeare’s own mind. The fact that the word is initially cites in reference to “men” or “people” has three great meanings:

    1) What it means as observed. An interesting fact;

    2) As an example of the historical dynamism of language and thus of language’s dislike of Lists or knee-jerks; and

    3) As an example of the importance of how meaning is generated.

    Great stuff.

  132. #132 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 2, 2009

    Bullshit. That the oppression takes a different form and is largely an extension of chauvinism, doesn’t somehow mean that men aren’t oppressed.

    D00d, I never said “men aren’t oppressed”. Please try to read more carefully.

  133. #133 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    Dr. Brain, you do understand that Greg’s response was to tell Isis to grow up–in a comment, while Isis’s was to write a whole post condemning SC as privileged (the original blogger’s was to say, “No. I don’t have to just because you want it,” in a comment)? You also get the irony that Isis did so for exactly the same offense–telling someone their post didn’t educate–that she’s never apologized for?

    And no, I’d missed SC’s follow-up comment. Thanks for the information.

  134. #134 Elizabeth
    December 2, 2009

    Salty Current is a white girl who dedicates her life to the lifting of oppression of brown girls in Latin America. The irony atop irony is that Privileged Hispanic Girl Isis improves the lot of the world by mentoring Privileged Hispanic Girl Americans while Salty Current is saving lives. Salty Current is thus Brown in the same way Bill Clinton is Black, at least.

    I assumed that is what SZ meant.

  135. #135 DuWayne
    December 2, 2009

    Afterall, I’m really not *happy* to suggest to DuWayne that his portrayal of the situation might be less than 100% accurate, since I know that it is his particular fixation to denounce lying liars Yet, I cannot reconcile his description with my view of the situation, and I have been watching carefully from the beginning and do not have a vested interest in defending my brother (who taught me about equality) as a good person.

    By all means, feel free to point out my inaccuracies. For that matter, feel free to point out where I have a proclivity for denouncing liars.

    Were there not rather a lot of people on Isis blog trashing on Ed? Were there not people saying that they would no longer pay attention to what he has to say? Were there not people implying that Ed’s an asshole? What exactly is incorrect about my assessment? If you are going to level the charge that I am lying, I would appreciate knowing what exactly I am lying about.

  136. #136 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    Elizabeth, I’d love to claim that much credit, but I really stopped reading that thread when it became just people piling on Isis. I hate pile-ons. Like lots of things we’ve been discussing, they use up a lot of effort and don’t get much in the way of results.

  137. #137 DuWayne
    December 2, 2009

    I see, so men are oppressed, just not as men? That totally makes sense, how could I have misunderstood?

  138. #138 WMDKitty
    December 2, 2009

    DuWayne — insurance plans are more likely to cover Viagra than they are any form of hormonal (or surgical) birth control. And they’re run, guess what, by MEN, who care more about whether or not their fellow men can get it up, than they do about women’s reproductive health.

    As a woman, it’s really fucking offensive to be called a “shrew”. It’s belittling, and it -is- designed to keep you “in your place”. “Shrew” was just a precursor to -physical- enforcement of “my place”.

    I like Ed, I like Isis, and I’m not going to quit reading either one over a word.

  139. #139 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 2, 2009

    I see, so men are oppressed, just not as men? That totally makes sense, how could I have misunderstood?

    To the extent that men are oppressed in various contexts, it is almost never because they are men. In contrast, women are frequently oppressed because they are women. I am really surprised that this very basic concept is giving you such difficulty. You do get that we live in an extremely patriarchal society, right?

  140. #140 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    Generally speaking, and on balance, I think CPP is right, but I also think that African American and Hispanic men living in working class or low SES urban US neighborhoods are oppressed in ways that is colored by their gender. To put a finer point on it, the guys that are regularly busted and harassed are identified by the police as targets partly by their gender.

    However, having said that it is very important to note that most arguments about the oppression of men (gender bias-wise, not generally) are actually misogynist arguments designed to distract us from the reality of anti-female gender biased society.

    So I won’t say that first thing.

    But, having said THAT, I’d like to add THIS:

    There are several percentage points more men living in the non-Western world (i.e. outside of “our society” even in the most simplistic short hand way one might use the term on this blog comment thread). Why? Because the gender biased aspects we see in the form of words like “shrew” or decals like “Get her drunk then get her done” are NOTHING compared to the fuller implementation of that gender bias. Something like 1 in 3 American women are raped (or so, not sure of the current best statistic). For women in the Eastern Congo, fewer than 1 in three were NOT raped AND killed following a period of torture. Those “extra” men in the non Western world do not reflect a biased sex ratio at birth. It reflects the ‘disappearance’ of women world wide following their abuse.

    I put a link here to a book everyone should probably read:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/04/the_storm.php

  141. #141 becca
    December 2, 2009

    DuWayne- there is a world of layers of mean between the relatively mild “trashing” Ed that actually occurred and somebody and “treating him as evil”. Did you have any particular post in mind that made you feel like people were calling Ed evil? Because I just can’t see it at all.

    For that matter, was there anyone who said “I used to listen to Ed, but this is proof positive I should now disregard everything he says”?

    I see “Ed just lost major points”, “Ed wins bingo today!” (and earns puke on his shoes), “Ed really needs to backtrack his misplacement”, “I wish Ed had picked a gender-neutral insult”, (people who call Palin a shrew) “sound like assholes without a valid argument”.
    Which of those are objectionable criticisms? They all seem appropriate to me.

  142. #142 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 2, 2009

    Generally speaking, and on balance, I think CPP is right[.]

    Dude, you totally have to put that on your tombstone! I’ll pay for the engraving!

  143. #143 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    My tombstone? What about YOUR tombstone!

    Becca: This one is inappropriate: “Ed just lost major points” because it clearly states that someone feels the right to keep score over someone else’s correctitude. Also, do you have any idea what the origin of the word “points” is????? Do you?????

  144. #144 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 2, 2009

    My tombstone? What about YOUR tombstone!

    I’m donating my body for medical school gross anatomy dissection. I hope the students pull some funny pranks with my body parts, like cut off my hand and bring it to the cafeteria and use it to hand money to the cashier.

  145. #145 DuWayne
    December 2, 2009

    WMDKitty –

    I am not sure exactly what your point is. I like Ed and Isis a lot too. I think Ed made a mistake based in ignorance and Isis very reasonably explained it to him.

    CPP –

    But that is the problem. Men areoppressed for being men and it is largely because we live in a patriarchal society. I am surprised this concept seems to give you so much trouble. Men are a significant part of the equation that has us living in a patriarchal society. And men are victimized by it too.

    Let me give you an example of a problem that arose due to a situation in which men were part of the equation, but because the role of men in the equation was completely ignored for more than a century, it is only in the last decade, decade and a half that we figured it out.

    For well over a century, it has been taken as gospel that women experience depression at a significantly higher rate than men. Studies done just thirty years ago figured that in a cross cultural aggregate, the rate was more than two to one. In the same studies, it was determined that the rate in the U.S. was more than three to one. Over the course of the last sixty years or so, innumerable studies and millions upon millions of dollars have been spent trying to determine why this is. Is it biological? Cultural? What exactly was the problem?

    Turns out that the problem is that men express depression in significantly different ways than women do. Most men who suffer depression are unaware that that is what is going on. Men who have some inkling about what is happening rarely seek help and rarely admit that they feel something isn’t quite right. Why is this?

    This largely seems to be grounded in archetypal masculine gender constructs. In part at least, it is due to the very strict gender roles men subsist in and gender role conflicts.

    But there is still a huge segment of the psychology community who take it as gospel that women suffer higher rates of depression in men. Why? Because while women’s studies programs are huge and you can hardly find a university without one, there are few universities with men’s studies programs and not a one with a graduate program in men’s studies. Nobody seems too keen on figuring out how we can work with men to get past this bullshit.

    But I can give you a pretty obvious fucking starting place – lets consider that cutting out masculine gender specific insults, along with the feminine gender specific insults might not be a bad idea.

  146. #146 aratina cage
    December 2, 2009

    Stephanie Z and Greg,

    I’m taking your advice after my long spiel. I didn’t read all the comments, follow all the links (for instance, I went to see the “apology” by Greg and couldn’t understand how it was an apology, but I didn’t follow the link to the original comment to see that it was about race and not gender) or realize that the post was so thick with insider knowledge. My bad/my projection.

    And Greg, I am aware of the racism inherent in the word “Eskimo” — very much so. I also love many of the sciencebloggers, including Ed Brayton, and I agree almost 100% with the what you said after you expressed your love for the sciencebloggers in #126.

  147. #147 Spartan
    December 2, 2009

    As a woman, it’s really fucking offensive to be called a “shrew”. It’s belittling, and it -is- designed to keep you “in your place”.

    Any word can be used to put you in your place, but that meaning is not implicit in the definition of shrew. You can say that about ‘I find you to be a violent, ill-tempered woman’ (to be clear, I don’t) just by substituting in the actual definition of shrew, but that is a valid non-offensive-to-anyone-but-the-target criticism of violent, ill-tempered women. Comparisons between that and the ‘n’ word are off-the-mark; the definition of the ‘n’ word does not include negative qualifiers like ‘violent’ and ‘ill-tempered’.

    If it’s truly ‘really fucking offensive’, I find it strange that I can’t find a single reference in any dictionary even mentioning ‘derogatory’ for ‘shrew’. Nor can I find much documenting it’s usage historically ‘to put women in their place’ moreso than countless other words, including just plain ‘woman’ as in ‘you’re just a woman’. I’m just of the opinion that when a word does not clearly contain within it racist or sexist meanings, we are not free to assume them and take offense on that assumption, no matter how certain people may have intended them in the past.

  148. #148 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    Spartan, must be nice to be able to look at words as clean of any past usage, but that isn’t how language works for anyone else. Words have connotations, and while those connotations may be old, they’ve been embraced all too recently. It’s not really an accident that “The Taming of the Shrew” has had a much more high-profile recent (last century) production history than “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

  149. #149 Diane G.
    December 2, 2009

    The reason this is so difficult for everyone is because what we’re actually talking about is crippling (un-PC word on purpose)the usefulness of descriptive language. Despite the acknowledged history (and “currency”) of the oppressive use of gender-specific stereotypes, we all know damned well that stereotypes exist for a reason & language has tradtionally devised great shortcuts called words to conjure them up. When we get to the point that the colorful male-identified words can still be used but we’re left with nothing but “woman” for the other gender, we’re certainly PC but we’ve not only lost all the power of nuance, connotation, shorthand, etc., we’re completely dull & humorless to boot. Not to mention long-winded, having usually to resort to much longer descriptions to convey what “shrew,” say, conveys…And mind, I say this as one who is definitely sensitive to female-only pejoratives!There is really no possible one-size-fits-all solution…no way we’ll ever agree on one dictate. Sometimes we DO have to consider the source. (Have to admit I was quite startled at Dawkins’s recent use of “bitch” for an unwilling audience member…didn’t even want to see how that played out on his site…)

    When guys get righteously indignant about the issue, I recall feeling exactly the same when we learned that “articulate” was a no-no amongst African-Americans. “What?! But it’s a perfectly good word, & I NEVER mean anything racist by it…” But on reflection I did get it. Nevertheless, Obama IS extremely articulate by anyone’s standards…and what do you do if you’re black and like fried chicken? Female & like “girly” stuff (not me; but some of my friends…); Asian and a brainiac? Irish & like to drink? (trying to pick relatively innocuous or old-fashioned stereotypes…)

    Not to mention that different people have different connotations…in the desperate need to find a counterpart to the casual “guys,” (and now, “dudes,”) I’ve always preferred “gals.” Girl-derivative though it is, I don’t associate it with actual girl-aged girls; and find it much more acceptable than the “chicks” or “babes” that some women are embracing (albeit ironicly, usually) to meet the same need. But only a vanishingly small percentage of feminists agree with me…

    FWIW (not much), I get much more depressed over the casual lookist remarks that are frequently overlooked; and especially the unexpected reminders that women are “other.” I’ve never forgotten reading a Lewis Thomas essay in which he’s talking about the satisfaction of being a Woods Hole faculty member, describing its rewards in the 3rd person plural, and then comes “…, their wives blah blah blah.” That sudden jolt when I go from a “we” to a “they.” Happens all the time, often just by using the so-called “universal he.”

  150. #150 DuWayne
    December 2, 2009

    becca –

    numbers 1,4,10,18,29,31 and a whole lot of asshole from bikemonkey too. While you might find it terribly reasonable and productive to talk about puking on ones shoes and explain that someone isn’t credible not because he made a bad choice of words, but the assumption based on those words that he must have a bad attitude about women, I don’t. And while it is reasonable to disagree with someone elses interpretation of something, it is not terribly reasonable to imply they are a liar because you think they are wrong.

    But whatever…We needn’t have productive conversations – like actually trying to convince people to rethink something. It is much easier to lash out. And who needs to disagree? It is much easier to imply they are lying.

  151. #151 Spartan
    December 2, 2009

    Stephanie, it is nice, and I think it’s as worthwhile (and futile) a goal to get everyone to think this way in some distant future. Why has the really fucking offensiveness of ‘shrew’ eluded dictionary authors? It hasn’t eluded them on many other offensive words.

    I’m just not eager to keep adding to the mountain of epithets we already have, and would like to see most if not all of them defused over time. Shrew is so out-of-date that I think it’s already pretty much defused. I’d argue that there is a large percentage of women who if you were to call them a shrew, they would not know specifically what that meant. They’d look it up, and might be miffed that they were called violent and ill-tempered, but most likely not be incredibly offended. Unless they looked here, and maybe some other sources on the web that I can’t find, that indicates that this word actually is very offensive because of it’s history and how Shakespeare used it 400 years ago. Which just keeps the connotations, tenuous as I think they are today, alive. I don’t see any benefit to that; even if I grant that ‘shrew’ used to have all the connotations you say it had, let the meaning of shrew change, and let the sexists spell it out clearly if they think a woman is violent, ill-tempered, and needs to be put in her place.

  152. #152 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    Diane, comment 128 is, in part, a demonstration that we don’t have to lose the power of language simply by avoiding particular words. It may not be as concise, but it’s significantly more precise, which is the other criticism leveled at Ed in all this–his shorthand didn’t accurately describe Palin. She’s hypercritical, but not in the same micromanaging way that a shrew has generally been considered to be. She’s nothing if not vague.

    There is also the fact that if you almost never use a word, it has much more effect when you do. I mean, what does CPP do for emphasis?!?

  153. #153 Diane G.
    December 2, 2009

    Stephanie, lol. OTOH it’s hard to beat CPP’s contributions @ 115. :) I suppose we’ll know he’s gravely serious if he ever merits a G-rating.

    FWIW, my 1st thought vis-a-vis the original topic here was also that “shrew” does not really fit Palin. To me, she’s the epitome of “tool.” (Which I suppose follows your suggest to liberate male-associated terms…) (I also usually think “pricktease,” but, alas, that’s also impolitic…)

  154. #154 Diane G.
    December 2, 2009

    Speaking of ComradePP…I’m sure it goes without saying (or has already been said here a million times but my skimming missed it), but I’m gonna say it anyway–it’s just so amazingly helpful and supportive and appreciated when a dude bothers to be the first to point out sexism. I.e., thanks, CPP.

  155. #155 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    CPP: 144 “I’m donating my body for medical school gross anatomy dissection”

    That will be gross, yes!

    Spartan 147: You don’t find a dictionary definition that indicates that feminists are down on “shrew” but you will find this in Websters: “2 : an ill-tempered scolding woman”… which is why we are down on shrew. Op cit.

    But, again, this is language.

  156. #156 Spartan
    December 2, 2009

    an ill-tempered scolding woman”… which is why we are down on shrew.

    But aren’t you also down on shrew because of how some have used it historically? Isn’t that where ‘intended to put a woman in her place’ is emanating from? Is it equally offensive to call someone an ill-tempered, scolding woman because implicit in that is some hidden, grand, sexist statement about women’s role in society and how they should behave? I think that when you see the definition of shrew you read ill-tempered (insult) scolding (insult) woman (insult), and I read it as ill-tempered (insult) scolding(insult) woman (descriptor). Which just gets back to yea, you’re right, at some level it’s just language.

  157. #157 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    No, Spartan. We hear ill-tempered (not permissible in a woman), scolding (not permissible in a woman) woman (because you neither care nor complain about it if it’s a man).

  158. #158 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    Spartan,

    The point of this reflection on language is not to spar about the meanings, parse the definitions, or argue etymology. The point of this reflection on language is to acknowledge that language is a powerful tool kit and part of that toolkit is a specific item: The vocabulary of sex bias and misogyny. It is similar to the vocabulary of racism in that certain words are associated with certain broader social, economic, and power-related entities and actions. To call a young African American male “boy” is technically correct, because he is a young male, but it is derogatory because that word is part of the old Plantaion/Jim Crow/Slavery language. There is a whole set of words and a whole linguistic trope (“he is so articulate” …. “I was interested to find out that he knew about X” … “their kind” …. “Not all blacks are Y” … “This black guy was looking for you” … etc) that serves to reify (make real, make tangible, make non-theoretical, give power to) the circumscription of, definition of, maintenance of, and placement of individuals in a class of people who are traditionally manipulated, used, set aside, used and abused, controlled, etc. as needed by the status quo. We avoid those terms and phrases because we prefer in a modern progressive society to not give credence to that abusive arrangement.

    Similarly there are terms and tropes that exist primarily in relation to sexism, and one of the bright outcomes of 20th century feminist theory is to recognize that every day language is loaded with with this stuff, and to show how not being self critical of the use of language with respect to sexist themes dampens or even reverses our generally agreed upon progressive revision of culture. Obvious gendered language like “The Evolution of Man” instead of “The Evolution of Humans” are clear examples. Changing the marriage vows so the “Man” does not posess the “Wife” who in turn “Obeys” etc. is part of this change. But there is also the avoidance of gender biased (NOT merely gendered, but gender biased) language that collectively reifies female inferiority, susceptibility, irrationality, weakness, lack of intelligence, lack of moral character or development, liability to ownership, etc. etc.

  159. #159 becca
    December 2, 2009

    DuWayne-
    I am not implying you are lying, I am saying flat out that you have said something incorrect. You have to be a special kind of batshit paranoid to think anyone treated Ed as evil. That is simply NOT THERE. It is a falsehood to say that anyone did so.
    So either you are that special kind of crazy, or you are being deliberately disingenuous, or you are simply so offended you wrote carelessly something that was not true. I’d place good money on the later, but without you owning up to it I have to consider the former two possibilities.

    Let’s analyze the comments:
    1) Complains about d00dliness at dispatches. It actually doesn’t seem that this refers specifically to Ed, and could pertain exclusively to commenters. Granted, the fact that he *tolerates* the d00dly comments may annoy, but it’s not an attack on Ed at all. Also seems to perdominantly pertain to classifying Ed as a clueless d00d for using the “I’m not a misogynist so nothing I could say could possibly be misogynistic” faux defense.
    4) Saying “Ed lost major points” is simply *NOT* a serious insult. It’s not even “trashing”. It’s stating that they had a significantly higher opinion of Ed prior to that post. Ditto me. If it offends you to know that people might have lowered opinions of Ed, so be it, but it’s not a personal attack.
    10)see below
    14) Do you dispute that there *are* assholes that do not have valid arguments who would attack Palin using the word “shrew”? If so, I suggest you google “Oprah shrew”. It’s rare, but even a relatively well regarded, comparatively charming, and clearly intelligent powerful woman is called a shrew. Obviously there are good reasons to object to Palin, but given that almost ANY powerful woman sufficiently in the public spotlight seems to be called a shrew, I don’t think Ed comes across as sounding like a nice and reasonable anti-asshole when he uses it.
    29)Explictly states that “Nobody here is saying “Ed is misogynist”. This is the LAST post you should be citing to try to prove that anyone treated Ed as if he was evil- why on earth would they advocate focusing on getting him to examine and hopefully change his behavior if he were evil?
    31) Doesn’t deal with Ed as a person at all, but describes why his reaction was not considered “making nice”. Colorful language, sure. But not treating him as evil or dismissing everything he has to say on any topic.

    Bike monkey is a special kind of ass to everyone, but there’s no indication of ‘treating Ed as evil’ that I’ve read.

    Look, I’m not saying all the responses to Ed’s post are *productive*. I’m saying none of them pass into the realm of the gratuitiously cruel, and none come close to ‘treating him as evil’.
    “puking on someones shoes” is a sign of disgust; not a warding off motion like someone needs an exorcism. And I, for one, was a bit queasy about his word choice. So while shoe-puking is never *reasonable* in the sense of reason-based, this usage was ‘reasonable’ in the sense of well-within-the-range-of-that-particular-commenter’s-usual-commentary-and-reactions-the-type-of-stereotypical-d00dly-callousness-Ed-exhibited.

  160. #160 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    I love that we have comment numbering now.

  161. #161 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    Diane [154]: And my post is chopped liver?

  162. #162 Spartan
    December 2, 2009

    We hear ill-tempered (not permissible in a woman), scolding (not permissible in a woman) woman (because you neither care nor complain about it if it’s a man).

    Stephanie, I’m sorry, but I don’t think your interpretation is the only one, nor should it be the default. How the hell do you know that not I nor anyone else complains about ill-tempered scolding men; that is complete imaginary bullshit. Ill-tempered men and belly dancers and dogs all get complained about, and should be by definition. Ill-tempered and scolding are equally not permissible in a man.

    Greg, thanks for the explanation, I do see overall where you’re coming from. To me it does contradict a bit or I misinterpreted what you said earlier, “you will find this in Websters: “2 : an ill-tempered scolding woman”… which is why we are down on shrew.”; you just added a whole lot that’s not in Websters. I just don’t think that we should necessarily surrender words and phrases because of how they’ve been used by the worst assholes among us. Unless we’re trying to classify something as a slur or an epithet, then intent is everything, and I don’t think there is adequate evidence for shrew being a slur or epithet.

    This quote off another blog highlights the path that I want to avoid as I see no benefit to it: “Though I wonder, if whites cannot use the word “articulate” to praise a black person, what other compliments can be used. Intelligent? Successful? Wealthy? Don’t these words cause the same problem? And if so, is it racist when a black person calls a white “open-minded””. Potential confrontations on points like these just seems to me to add unneeded tension. I would prefer in modern progressive society for people to also not assume offense so easily, especially at words that I think have moved on like ‘hysterical’, and let words grow out of these shitty meanings and connotations if they’re already moving that way.

  163. #163 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    I just don’t think that we should necessarily surrender words and phrases because of how they’ve been used by the worst assholes among us.

    Shrew is not the best example to work with. I think you should feel very free to use the word with men that fit those definitions, and you takes your chances with other uses. But, unfortunately, certain words get used by the worst assholes among us and then they get ruined, sometimes sadly.

    “Though I wonder, if whites cannot use the word “articulate” to praise a black person, what other compliments can be used. Intelligent? Successful? Wealthy? Don’t these words cause the same problem? And if so, is it racist when a black person calls a white “open-minded””

    This is a misunderstanding, of course. The term “articulate” is specifically earmarked by this cultural phenomenon we are talking about here. This is not hard. Regarding the equivilance of “open-minded” … that is a false equivilant. This is not hard.

    I agree that people should probably not assume offense so easily, and I’d add to that that people should not … .oh never mind, my list is too long to go into right now.

  164. #164 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    Spartan, not the default, whether true or not, is not the same as “to be disregarded with impunity.” Unless, of course, you’d care to explain why my opinion doesn’t count.

  165. #165 Diane G.
    December 2, 2009

    161

    Diane [154]: And my post is chopped liver?

    Posted by: Greg Laden | December 2, 2009 9:09 PM

    [warm smile] Please include yourself as one of the uber good guys. #158 almost made me cry.

    I singled out CPP solely for his mild & early suggestion on DFCW. Which has certainly metastisized.

    No offense, cancer victims. Uh, survivors. Uh, cancerpersons? (Hat tip to Barbara Ehrenreich.)

  166. #166 Greg Laden
    December 2, 2009

    “apoptosis challenged”

  167. #167 zylph
    December 2, 2009

    I guess I still don’t understand why, if “Nobody here is saying Ed is a misogynist” that this matters at all. There are some words that are so obviously insulting that you can’t use them without imputing some misogynistic or racist sentiment. If it was clear from the very first that Ed was not being misogynistic when he wrote the word “shrew” then where does the offense come in? The word “shrew”, while having a basis in a misogynistic culture, clearly does not have misogynistic overtones if you can use it and people can still understand immediately that you’re not being a misogynist.

    Have the fortitude to call him a misogynist if that’s what you think he’s doing. People can act the part 99% of the time and, by the choice of their words, let it slip some of their more closely held beliefs. If Ed called Palin a shrew because he thought that women shouldn’t be powerful and arrogant, then call him a misogynist. If he did not mean any slight toward women with his comment, and literally everybody understands he’s not being a misogynist, then I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  168. #168 Stephanie Z
    December 2, 2009

    zylph, try reading comment 158 and actually thinking about it.

  169. #169 zylph
    December 3, 2009

    I don’t doubt the existence of language used for subjugation. When people say things like “Wow, Obama is so literate and articulate!”, they do actually betray something about themselves and the way they think the world works, or should work. That is, they’re at least a little bit racist. It may not even be self-acknowledged.

    But if you can use a word like “shrew” (I honestly have no intention to make this word part of the common discourse – I don’t think I’ve ever even thought of using it), and it’s immediately apparent to literally *everybody* that you have no intention of being misogynistic, or you’re not betraying some secret misogynistic tendencies, then that word may not actually be part of the language trope Greg spoke of.

    Language is, in the end, a means of communication. If the word is misogynistic all on its own – that is, you can use it without being a misogynist *at all*, it’s just code. It’s not really a part of language any more. If it’s still offensive after all that, it’s probably not the correct word to use around people you care about and don’t want to offend. But that doesn’t mean that they have any right to be offended if you use it. Because it apparently does not impart any meaningful information about you being a misogynist or not.

    And, really, that’s the reason to be offended by racist/misogynistic language – the person using it, consciously or not, is revealing that they think that you are less capable, less worthy, less human than they are.

  170. #170 Greg Laden
    December 3, 2009

    I don’t doubt the existence of language used for subjugation.

    BOING!!!! wamp wamp wamp wamp wawawawawmp …clunk.

    That was the sound of my brain flying out of my head and bouncing around on the floor before coming to a stop in the corner of the room.

    But seriously, you are making a grave and fatal error which is understandable if you know NOTHING about language and stuff. There IS a “language of subjugation” and there is a “culture of subjugation” and a person grows up to become part of and to participate in the culture of subjugation in part because of the linguist environment in which they are raised.

    Language is not something that is just tacked on externally as some kind of walkie talkie. It is part of our being.

  171. #171 zylph
    December 3, 2009

    “Language is not something that is just tacked on externally as some kind of walkie talkie.”

    Really? Because that’s *exactly* what I thought it was. It may have layers of subtlety, but in the end, it’s all about communicating what’s in your head to somebody else’s head. So yeah, an external walkie-talkie.

    Unless people have an actual problem with the phonemes of “shrew.” In which case I may actually know NOTHING about language and stuff.

    (and yes, I know that subcultures have ways of communicating that actively exclude the ‘other.’ That has nothing to do with language, per se. it’s part and package of the subculture. religion, recreation, all manner of consumer goods. they’re all about enforcing the ingroup. language is not unique in that regard)

  172. #172 Stephanie Z
    December 3, 2009

    zylph, spoken like someone who truly doesn’t understand that the mind is a plastic thing. As Greg points out, the brain is shaped by the language we use. The words we hear or read, the words we write or speak, change the structure of our brains. We think largely in language, which means that the thoughts we can think are limited by the languages we speak. It doesn’t suddenly become language when it hits the tongue.

    This is really basic stuff. Sheesh.

  173. #173 Greg Laden
    December 3, 2009

    Zylph: This debate has been going on for decades, but it is pretty much the case that scholars in linguistics, semiotics, various cognitive sciences, see the linguistic process as either mostly overlapping with or being the same thing as thought. So yeah, the stuff in your head is part and parcel with the stuff that comes out of your mouth.

  174. #174 Diane G.
    December 3, 2009

    Sorry if this comment is too OT–maybe it’s so late in the thread no one will read it, anyway. I’m moving on to non-inclusionary language, which I seem to see coming back into general use a lot more, lately…For years, since the early 80’s when I first read it, I’ve been buying up copies of The Handbook of Nonsexist Language, and giving them away as presents–mostly to the already convinced, of course–I know they’ll like it; and a few teachers here & there…
    ( http://tinyurl.com/y8dqgsw –safe Amazon link )
    It’s just so readable & full of examples & suggestions (not all of which I can buy, but the need for change is undeniable).

    And when I was fighting a battle on an atheist talk list about this subject, an unexpected lurker appeared with the following contribution, which just struck me as so heartfelt & compelling…and pretty much shut up my foes… ;-) :

    When I became aware of the whole inclusive language issue I was in my early twenties, still attending church as a somewhat ‘liberal’ believer, and agreed with many of those around me that all the fuss about this was really unnecessary, because as we all KNEW, Man, mankind, etc. were already inclusive, used in the context of literature, scripture, etc., and anyone with any degree of education would understand that. Attempts at changing language to reflect this concern of inclusivity often made for awkward flow in the language, some attempts were very ham-fisted and unwieldy. And I was sure that it made no difference in how I saw myself as a person of worth and value.

    About 20 years ago, in my early thirties, still attending church, I went to an event for women clergy and others in related ministries, and part of the focus was dealing with the ongoing struggle to make this change within the context of the liturgy. When the first seminar opened, we were asked to raise our hands to indicate whether or not we felt inclusive language needed to be addressed. About 3/4 of those present indicated that it was, at best, a minor issue. The next question was how many of us thought that the traditional usage had any effect on how we saw ourselves or our ability to learn, serve, teach, whatever. Again, about 3/4 of us indicated we felt there was no effect.

    For the next 40 minutes, the leader of that seminar did nothing but read passages from the Bible and from works of church scholars, changing man to woman, changing brothers to brothers and sisters, he to she, etc. etc. After 10 minutes you could have heard a pin drop. About 20 minutes on and through the rest of the session, continuous quiet sobbing. What clicked for me was a reading of Psalm 8–“What is woman that you are mindful of her? You have made her a little lower than the angels…” Horrid theology aside, being immersed in this simple change of language was enough to show me that I was indeed affected by this traditional usage, even if my head refused to acknowledge that. Looking back, I think that admitting being affected by this had seemed to me to be a kind of intellectual weakness, not allowing myself to acknowledge that at some deep level, something was being communicated to me that indicated that as a woman, I was of lesser worth, lesser value.

    While I am no longer a member of a church, no longer a believer, and what goes on within that context no longer concerns me directly as it has in the past, I remain convinced that trying to find a way to communicate in a way that does not assume that ‘things are understood’ to be inclusive is of primary importance. Language is a powerful tool, and while not easily lending itself to clarity, it’s what we’ve got, and I think we have to try to do the best we can with what we have. Too often concerns are dismissed by those not affected by the usages under consideration. I have to admit it’s hard for me to take seriously dismissal of inclusive language when it comes from a man. When you are not part of the group that is affected negatively by this usage, you really can have no idea how it feels to be always having to mentally insert yourself into texts (if that makes any sense–hope I’m clear there).

    It can easily still seem that way for “Women In Science,” a category my own husband occasionally drops into discussion… >:-[

    –Diane, who obviously can’t write without the emoticon crutch…

  175. #175 faithless
    December 3, 2009

    Has anybody pointed out that you couldn’t call a man ‘a shrew’?

    Isn’t the obvious reason for this that a woman – behaving as the most famous, Elizabethan, ‘shrew’ behaved – is doing so because she is disadvantaged and inhibited in an almost totally ‘male’ world – and therefore by extension, shrewish behaviour is indicative of such circumstances?

  176. #176 Prudence
    December 3, 2009

    In ref to Palin: I like “shrew”, I’d prefer “self-aggrandizing bint”, but that’s just me. And yes, I’m a woman.

    Sorry about your knuckle-dragging neighbour, Greg. Going on his bumper stickers, and past experience, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that he has a reeeeeeeeally tiny ween. And knows it.

  177. #177 DuWayne
    December 3, 2009

    becca –

    Not lying, just being disingenuous or crazy. Got it, makes it all right then. After all, I have been diagnosed as fucking crazy and hell, lets just throw disingenuous in there for good measure. Offended as well, because I was. Lets just apply them all then – offended, lying fucking loon. Because there is simply no way that one could take the commentary thrown out there as something of a personal attack that I exaggerated a little bit. I mean if you don’t see a personal attack in any of the commentary, then there is simply no way any reasonable person could.

    Zylph –

    If language were merely an external walkie talkie type deal, it simply would not exist and we would not have higher cognitive function. What is in your head to be communicated is language. This next bit is extremely important, because it really gets to the heart of this discussion.

    When you communicate what is in your head, your are not communicating what the language you are using describes. You are communicating the language itself. Because the association that I have with a particular word or set of words, may be and to some degree (whether a large degree or very small degree) absolutely is different from the association that you have with that same word or word set. If we are communicating face to face, that is complicated by non-verbal communication as well – subject to even more differences in association.

    Put it this way, if language were what you think it is, then if I were to describe something I have seen, someplace I have been to you, you would end up with the exact same image in your mind, that I have in mine.

    Language defines reality. Without it, we not only couldn’t communicate reality to each other, we couldn’t communicate reality to ourselves. It is the difference between you looking at a beautiful flower and being cognizant that it is a beautiful flower, versus a humming bird looking at a beautiful flower, seeing the bright colors and having the instinctual response that identifies said flower as a food source. The humming bird is not only not identifying that flower as beautiful, it isn’t particularly cognizant of it being food. At least not in the sense that you or I looking at a bowl of soup are cognizant that this is probably food.

  178. #178 becca
    December 3, 2009

    DuWayne- it’s reasonable to see a personal attack.
    It’s a matter of opinion if the attack even rises to the level of discourse set by the tone of the word “shrew” (which, for the record, is not incredibly offensive on my personal scale).
    It’s incorrect that it constitutes “treating him as evil” by any reasonable definition.
    Also, citing the posts that specifically state the point isn’t that he’s a bad guy, just that this was a bad move, as evidence of a “personal attack” demonstrates that you are not being 100% reasonable on this.

    Greg- you mean autophagy challenged. “Cancer patient” is generally one of the acceptable options. Yes, scientists in oncology do worry about this one.

    Zylph- here’s the problem. I think Ed is a misogynist. As are you, as am I. It’s a question of degrees. From what I know, Ed, generally, is a relatively egalitarian minded sort of person. I think (hope?) he’s even open minded enough to consider that societal bias against women may have colored his thinking (or at least his words) in this instance. However, he’s not willing to stop using the word just because it bugs people or because it aligns him overmuch with misogynists. And some of us would like him to consider that point extremely closely. Yes, I think it’s likely he’s got some relatively subtle/unconscious biases (as do we all), but really, the fact it bugs people itself, and the fact that it’s the kind of argument a misogynist would use, are good reasons to reconsider using it (either Ed’s bringing the misogynists up, or he’s bringing himself down).
    So yes, the behavior should be called out even if we’re all in agreement Ed isn’t a misogynist.

  179. #179 Oran Kelley
    December 3, 2009

    The point of this reflection on language is not to spar about the meanings, parse the definitions, or argue etymology. The point of this reflection on language is to acknowledge that language is a powerful tool kit and part of that toolkit is a specific item: The vocabulary of sex bias and misogyny. It is similar to the vocabulary of racism in that certain words are associated with certain broader social, economic, and power-related entities and actions. To call a young African American male “boy” is technically correct, because he is a young male, but it is derogatory because that word is part of the old Plantaion/Jim Crow/Slavery language. There is a whole set of words and a whole linguistic trope (“he is so articulate” …. “I was interested to find out that he knew about X” … “their kind” …. “Not all blacks are Y” … “This black guy was looking for you” … etc) that serves to reify (make real, make tangible, make non-theoretical, give power to) the circumscription of, definition of, maintenance of, and placement of individuals in a class of people who are traditionally manipulated, used, set aside, used and abused, controlled, etc. as needed by the status quo. We avoid those terms and phrases because we prefer in a modern progressive society to not give credence to that abusive arrangement.
    Similarly there are terms and tropes that exist primarily in relation to sexism, and one of the bright outcomes of 20th century feminist theory is to recognize that every day language is loaded with with this stuff, and to show how not being self critical of the use of language with respect to sexist themes dampens or even reverses our generally agreed upon progressive revision of culture. Obvious gendered language like “The Evolution of Man” instead of “The Evolution of Humans” are clear examples. Changing the marriage vows so the “Man” does not posess the “Wife” who in turn “Obeys” etc. is part of this change. But there is also the avoidance of gender biased (NOT merely gendered, but gender biased) language that collectively reifies female inferiority, susceptibility, irrationality, weakness, lack of intelligence, lack of moral character or development, liability to ownership, etc. etc.

    This just seems a blatantly unsophisticated figuration of how language works . . . and a very convenient one for a group of leftists who’d like to turn everyday language into a sort of jargon so that the sheep may be easily separated from the goats.

    “This black guy was looking for you?” What, precisely, is wrong with that? Skin color is a distinguishing feature, let’s not deny it, and blacks are a minority, a pretty small minority, in many social contexts, let’s not deny it.

    The role of language, in and of itself, to determine power relations (as opposed to carrying their legacy), is probably miniscule. And the context of language is not the context provided by experts of any kind–be they etymologists or avid historians of historic victimization. Experts are outliers by definition.

    The context is provided by *common* knowledge, which means ever-increasing ignorance of the historic context you keep insisting on as determining.

    And your definition of reification needs some honing: It is you who are reifying that vocabulary–taking words out of the human realm where *we* get to decide what they can mean and handing that over to something over which we have no control: history. So that now this human thing–a word–has indelible properties of its own, independent of us and our intentions.

    So instead of approaching this argument with the idea that certain folks have made a sort of reverse-shibboleth of this word–which can be legitimate–you approach it as if the word itself has some sort of power to not just make some recall that oppressive historic context but to actually invoke the oppression itself. There is no such magic any more than the laying on of hands can cure cancer–regardless of what some may believe.

    Where beliefs DO matter is the meaning and use of words. And that is all that’s being argued about here: different sets of belief about what words mean. And it may just be that words will take on new meanings and uses that you and your determining history have no control over, or, worse yet, will use that context in ways you can’t approve of.

  180. #180 Spartan
    December 3, 2009

    This is a misunderstanding, of course. The term “articulate” is specifically earmarked by this cultural phenomenon we are talking about here. This is not hard.

    The only reason it is hard is because it isn’t exactly logical. ‘Articulate’ is offensive because it can be interpreted as implying that it is unusual for a black person to be articulate, and it has been used historically to mean just that. The same logic then holds for ‘intelligent’, which I’d argue has been used far more prevalently historically in this form of statement than ‘articulate’ has (I don’t think you think that if I say ‘Obama is intelligent’ I have just reasonably or necessarily said something about this being unusual for black people). Which seems to leave us with, well, many black people do not like the word anyway even though intelligent is okay; the intent when using ‘intelligent’ is what is relevant but not so with ‘articulate’. I’m not saying to totally dismiss the fact that it bugs some black people, inconsistently or not, but I certainly think the logic behind why it does needs to be examined and potentially altered to be more in line with ascertaining the exact intent if it’s in question.

  181. #181 DuWayne
    December 3, 2009

    becca –

    A matter of opinion does not mean I am inherently wrong.

    And I wasn’t implying that every person was making the same sorts of attacks. I made a list of the sorts of attacks being made and I then made a partial list of the attacks themselves, as I saw it.

    Spartan –

    Articulate and intelligent are contextually dependent under the circumstances. It is not, in my mind, racist in the least to say that Obama is articulate, because as well as being brown skinned, he is also the president of the U.S., following a president who was assuredly not articulate.

  182. #182 Dave
    December 3, 2009

    “This black guy was looking for you?” What, precisely, is wrong with that? Skin color is a distinguishing feature, let’s not deny it, and blacks are a minority, a pretty small minority, in many social contexts, let’s not deny it.

    About 20 years ago, my roomate and I were both officers of a particular organization. An aquaintance came up to us and asked about, “that black girl” in the organization. Now he gave some additional characteristics to help us identify her, but we couldnt figure out who he was talking about, despite both having been involved with the organization for several years and believing we knew everyone. It bothered us that we didnt know, and spent some time talking about it afterwards. It was about eight hours later that following exchange occured: “Do you think he meant so-and-so?” “Thats right, so-and-so is black isnt she?” So-and-so was the President of the organization, whom we met with at least weekly, as well as a close friend of ours. (We are each still in touch with her 20 years later.)

    Im not sure what this says about referring to someone as “a black person” other than it may sometimes be ineffective. Its not to say that I am post-racial or post-gender or some other nonsense, in other circumstances I have been acutely aware of the race and gender of my co-workers. I suspect the friendship had more to do with it, but certainly familiarity is part of it. But in the end, the point is our acquaintance thought that “black” and “girl” were the two most distinguising features about her, but for my roomate and I, neither was a significant feature in our mental picture of her.

    To bring this back to Brayton’s use of shrew: I think it may be fair to point out that he had been blogging about Palin fairly regularly for a few days, and had just the day before, done a post about a quote by a woman, which had referred to Palin as a shrew. That it was done by a woman does not mean it wasnt misgynistic or sexist, but the fact that he had commented on such a quote the day before does suggest that the word didnt spring into his head unbidden. And the fact that he had been posting about Palin, as a deceitful and lunatic politician, may have made her gender a less focal point in his mind, similar to my experience above. (And may have had similar effects on many of his regular readers.)

  183. #183 Greg Laden
    December 3, 2009

    Becca I meant what I said but that 2

  184. #184 Greg Laden
    December 3, 2009

    Oran, I’m typine with a squirming baby on my lap so this will be brief: The “black guy” reference was short hand for the tendency to mention the “distinguishing characteristic” only if it is not white, and while often done innocently this is a VERY common and very problematic way of communicating

    The role of language, in and of itself, to determine power relations (as opposed to carrying their legacy), is probably miniscule.

    Shut up you fucker. I am now going to delete ur posy (ROFL)

    Experts are outliers by definition.

    Well, I’m kind of an expert on languge, so I guess I’ll just step aside and let your uninformed view prevail.

    NOT

    The context is provided by *common* knowledge, which means ever-increasing ignorance of the historic context you keep insisting on as determining….

    Yes, see OP

    And that is all that’s being argued about here: different sets of belief about what words mean

    That is not all being argued here, no.

  185. #185 becca
    December 3, 2009

    Greg- I know, but I loves me some autophagy like daedalus2u loves him some NO.
    DuWayne- the point is, NO ONE did what you said.

  186. #186 DuWayne
    December 3, 2009

    And my point becca, is that my disagreement with you on that count is obviously due to my dishonesty, that whatever inkling that I had about any of it was due to my being batshit fucking crazy and exaggerating to the extreme in an attempt to make a fucking point. We all get that now. That there is no possible way anyone the least bit reasonable could have interpreted the attitudes of the comments the way that I did. That, in point of fact the fact that I did means I am not the least bit reasonable.

    Good, glad we got that straight. Can we possibly move on now, or do you need to find some more ways of expressing the extreme wrongness of my perception of events? We could, if you like, focus more on the crazy. We can try to work out the pathology of disagreeing with becca and the unreasonableness of perceiving attacks on a person as attacks on a person. Or we can just go in for a more generalized how DuWayne is fucking nuts if you like. I am totally game here.

  187. #187 wildlifer
    December 3, 2009

    @125 Stephanie,
    Beggin’ for a beatdown I are…
    I’ve read nothing in this thread to dissuade me of the opinion “political correctness” isn’t the tool of tyrants or that listing words that are “verboten” isn’t any different from burning books.

  188. #188 DuWayne
    December 3, 2009

    wildlifer –

    No one is demanding you not use any words at all. All we are saying is that when you use certain language, some just in specific contexts, there will be people who will be offended. That isn’t tyranny in the least, especially in this society. Most of the words we are talking about aren’t exactly considered generally forbidden.

    As for having a list, you should keep in mind that everyone has a list like that. Is it akin to burning books to decide that it’s a bad idea to use terms like nigger, kike, spic, slant-eye, towel head, etc.? Or that in certain company/situations, it is not terribly reasonable to use words like fuck, shit, ass, dick, cunt, cock etc.?

    And this really isn’t about political correctness, it is about how we want to treat our fellow humans. If you don’t care how you make others feel, you are totally free to use words from the first list I made, should the feeling take you. You just need to understand that others are not likely to consider you a very reasonable person if you do and that in some situations, you may well get your ass beat down for doing so. And more important, you need to understand how your choosing to use such words makes other humans feel.

    I am trying to change how I use language not simply because I care what others think of me. While that is certainly a consideration, when I think I am right, my expressed opinion is not a popularity contest – I say what I think it right. The most important reason I am keen on changing how I use language is that I don’t want to inadvertently hurt other people. Because I want to reduce social stigmas and make my society a better place to live. While I would certainly appreciate it if you joined me in that effort, I believe even more strongly in your right to speak your mind.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean that if you use certain language, I won’t conclude you are a contemptible human being. Though for me to conclude that, would really take the implication that you actually believe contemptible things.

  189. #189 Stephanie Z
    December 3, 2009

    wildlifer, I’ve read nothing in this thread that indicates that “political correctness” is anything more than a bogeyman you cling to in order to feel each day that you’ve vanquished something in your little, out-of-control life.

    Now, that’s quite enough. If you still feel the need for abuse, pay a professional.

  190. #190 daedalus2u
    December 3, 2009

    I completely disagree with DuWayne that “language defines reality”. It doesn’t. Language is about the internal mental representation that the individual using that language has. Language is about communication, it may be a great deal about the communication of internal states to oneself, but it is about mental representations of reality, not about reality itself. Fundamentally the only representation of reality we can have is a mental representation, but we should not confuse that mental representation with reality.

    This does directly relate to my autism work, where I see the trade-off along the autism spectrum as a trade-off between a “theory of mind” and a “theory of reality”. In my formulation, a strong “theory of mind” forces people to think in anthropomorphic terms; they have particular sensitivity and facility at understanding and manipulating ideas when expressed in anthropomorphic terms, but a relative blindness to non-anthropomorphic aspects of things. People with a strong “theory of reality” don’t have as strong a default compulsion to see things in anthropomorphic terms, so they can (better) see things as they are without the anthropomorphic baggage.

    becca, I think apoptosis challenged fits better than autophagy challenged. I would characterize people with amyloidosis as being autophagy challenged. However since both apoptosis and autophagy are regulated by nitric oxide, people with either condition (or some others) can also be characterized as being nitric oxide challenged.

  191. #191 wildlifer
    December 3, 2009

    @189
    Stephanie,

    Project much?

  192. #192 Stephanie Z
    December 3, 2009

    @191: No.

  193. #193 becca
    December 3, 2009

    DuWayne- hey everyone is crazy. But the “ZOMG! Tehy are ATACKING MY KIN!” species of crazy is sometimes a very hazardous one (and quite common). Although, if you are so worried about using crazy as a derogatory term, why is “unhinged shrew” defensible?
    You actually are quite reasonable in a general sense- just not the least bit, on this topic.

    daedalus2u- yes, most people do think of apoptosis as more essential than autophagy, particularly for cancer. Indeed, autophagy in cancer is quite controversial. Just look at the chloroquine adjuvant stuff. But I loves me some Beclin1 haploinsufficient tumor suppressor. And I suspect the biggest reason everyone knows about apoptosis is that scientists have simply studied it more than autophagy. That said, I don’t know of much importance of apoptosis in amylodosis at all, and such conditions tend to just scream autophagy. I’m also pretty sure when we finally figure out what’s going on with aging in the broad sense, it’ll involve autophagy. Those calorie restriction studies and the mTOR pathway crosstalk is like a bright neon light flashing “autophagy!” to me. Just like *everything* is like a bright neon light flashing NO to you, ;-)

  194. #194 wildlifer
    December 3, 2009

    Sure you do. Who’s the one trying to control things here? You.

  195. #195 Stephanie Z
    December 3, 2009

    Oh, wildlifer. “Projection” may be a sloppy Freudian term, but do try to use it correctly.

    Projection would be if I were arguing with a position that no one here had espoused because my life was pathetic and out of control. What I’m actually doing is making educated guesses based on the last several people who have come along and been so upset by the idea that we might want to think about what effect our words will have that they can’t tell the difference between a little planning and being monitored by the government. In addition, I’m taking the opportunity to point out that language doesn’t have to lose its power if we do this, nor do we somehow need to stop insulting each other.

    On top of all that, I’m making people laugh. Of course, I have to give you some credit for that too. I LOLed when I saw, “Project much?” For some reason, I was still expecting better.

  196. #196 DuWayne
    December 3, 2009

    daedalus2u –

    I am not really seeing how the idea that language defines reality, lends itself to anthropomorphizing. And while I agree with you that we should not confuse our mental representation of reality with reality itself, the distinction’s only practical importance is in understanding that my perception of reality is not the same as someone else’s.

    It is a lot like the argument about free will. No, we don’t actually have free will, which is all fine and good. But it is largely irrelevant for practical purposes, because that doesn’t negate personal responsibility and the need to make good choices. While language defines our mental representation of reality, for most intents and purposes that is reality. It is what each of us has to work with and aside from recognizing that different people have different representations and intellectual exercising, there is no practical purpose to not recognizing our representation as being reality. We are operating and making decisions based on our perception of reality.

    becca –

    What the fuck am I not the least bit right about on this issue? I said that it was wrong to say what he did. I just also happened to think that the way it was approached with personal attacks was uncalled for and counterproductive. And it has nothing to do with Ed being my brother. If it were Joe fucking Blow, it is still counterproductive. If one is interested in changing minds, talk of puking on shoes, immaturity and a lack of credibility is not going to do it. Talk like that, while appropriate when talking about someone with a history of bigotry is one thing, but it is outright counterproductive when you are talking about someone who is not.

    Personal attacks alienate and destroy the credibility of the speaker. Calmly explaining to someone why what they said was wrong does not. The former is exceedingly unlikely to change minds. The latter may not, but at least has a possibility of working.

  197. #197 wildlifer
    December 3, 2009

    @195
    And you know that’s exactly what I meant (except for the erroneous assertion I wss arguing a position no one espoused – which I wasn’t). And if you didn’t, sorry if my short retort confused you.

    And I’m all for choosing the words with which we communicate carefully, but that’s not quite the same as putting words on a Do Not Ever Use list.

  198. #198 Stephanie Z
    December 3, 2009

    wildlifer, which part of what I said is trying to take control? Of what? You’re actually going to have to make an argument for this one, I think, because I’m not seeing any logic you may have. Please explain.

    Likewise, kindly point to the comment in which someone suggested putting any words on a Do Not Ever Use list. I’ve already pointed you to several in which the opposite argument is made, and I don’t see any making the argument you say people are making (i.e., arguing with a position no one espoused).

  199. #199 daedalus2u
    December 3, 2009

    DuWayne, I think you consider yourself to be a member of the “reality based community”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality-based_community

    The people who consider that their words and ideas actually create a reality do not. This is something that people who do not have a very strong “theory of mind” do not understand. The human “theory of mind” works in both directions; it can be used to understand someone else, it can be used to impose a delusional world view onto people. This is what charismatic leaders do, they use their “theory of mind” to impose their conceptualization of reality on their followers. Sometimes that leadership leads to good things, sometimes not. When charismatic leaders do not appreciate that there is an objective reality out there, different than the one they are tying to impose, there can be big problems with their followers. That is the source of many of the world’s problems. The war on drugs is based on the delusional world view that a military-type approach to drugs of abuse will be successful. The recidivism of incarcerated criminals is based on the delusional world view that harsh treatment in prison deters crime. The failure of abstinence only sex education is based on the delusion that young people don’t know and won’t think about sex. I haven’t even mentioned the YECs.

    Trying to impose a delusional world view is what the White House aid was doing when he chastised the reporter for being in the “reality based community”. I know that was not what you meant when you said that language created reality, but when there are people who literally believe that language does create reality (as the YECs believe the language in their book has done), one needs to be careful and precise in how one discusses such things.

    becca, apoptosis and autophagy are both 100% essential and there is much cross-talk between them. My preference for autophagy challenged for amyloidosis is based on the buildup of amyloid, which is a consequence of the dysregulation of autophagy (by low NO as it so happens).

    Cancer usually happens due to the loss of genes that trigger apoptosis, not due to a reduction in autophagy.

    I think you are right, that much of aging is due to reductions in autophagy, reductions that are brought about by insufficient NO. NO is increased in calorie restriction to increase mitochondria biogenesis to increase mitochondria number and so reduce slip and mitochondrial superoxide production. That increases the efficiency of ATP generation (more ATP per O2 reduced), a necessary feature when there are not enough calories to be wasteful. I think the increased NO of immune system stimulation also accelerates autophagy to turnover cell contents to get rid of unwanted guests and put the right antigens on the cell surface.

  200. #200 DuWayne
    December 3, 2009

    becca –

    Just wanted to be exceedingly clear, because for some reason you seem to think that I am defending anything Ed said.

    Although, if you are so worried about using crazy as a derogatory term, why is “unhinged shrew” defensible?

    Please feel totally free to point out where I at any point at all, defended Ed’s use of unhinged shrew. If you actually read a fucking thing I wrote about this whole debacle, I was exceedingly clear that what he said was wrong.

    As for using crazy as a derogatory term, I have used it and regret having done so. I have never really had many issues with having neurological issues. Other than being in denial earlier in life, it isn’t a problem for me. I haven’t the least bit of shame about my brain functioning the way that it does.

    But a lot of people do have problems with it. As I have delved into forums and dealt with people in the meat world, I have come to understand just how very harmful the stigmas attached to mental illness are. It is entirely sick and wrong that there are a whole hell of a lot of people who live in complete terror of people around them finding out they are on medication and/or in therapy. People who are ashamed of the way their brain works. Seriously – there are a lot of people ashamed of their fucking brains.

    And it is a little irksome that here, in a discussion about derogatory terms that denigrate whole groups of people, you would use it as a derogatory.

    daedulus2u –

    The people who consider that their words and ideas actually create a reality do not.

    Ok, we have found our lack of connection here. I do not believe in the least, that our words and ideas create reality. And that is not what I am saying, though I can see why you would get there from here.

    I am saying that language defines reality – not creating it, just defining it. Without language, reality still exists objectively – it does not however, have anything approaching the existence it has for any one of us. I.e. it doesn’t have a subjective existence. Without the symbols we use to identify things around us, most of what we see would have little to no meaning to us. The less language one has, the less meaning the world around them has.

    Raising a child is really quite illustrative of what I am saying. The infant that was squirming around in Greg’s lap earlier, aside from barely seeing anything at all yet, is unable to grasp that when something it sees disappears for a moment, that it still exists. As he grows and learns to associate certain rudimentary symbols, his grasp on reality will grow. He will learn that when mom puts his face to that soft roundish thing with a nipple, he will feel safe, warm, fill his belly and sleep. Just noting the body language of his mother (or Greg with a bottle of mommy milk) when he is about to be fed will be soothing to him.

    As he grows, the more language he has (not that he is able to express, just what he understands) the more reality will become real to him. That it simply doesn’t exist for him right now, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The fact that when Greg or Amanda leave his site, they cease to exist for him, doesn’t mean they don’t actually exist. That just means that they are suddenly no longer part of his reality. To Huxley, there is no reality, except what he can see and hear. (I will add that object permanence and the lack thereof, is loads of totally hilarious fun)

    Does that make what I am saying any clearer?

    To bring it circle round to the topic at hand, take what the reality of referring to a woman as a shrew means to me, versus what it means to becca. She apparently associates it with a movie called (I think this is right) Ten Things I Hate About You and someone I would assume is the main character of the movie. Whereas I associate it with John Wayne taking his (in the film McLintock!) wife over his knee, while his soon to be son in law takes their daughter over his knee and they both spank their respective partners with a coal shovel – I associate “shrew” with those two characters, especially Becky, the daughter.

    To me, the reality of shrew, what that means, is what is expressed in that movie, filtered through my experience. To becca, the reality of shrew, what that means, is what is expressed in that other movie, )one that is alas, after my time) filtered through her experience. I am not sure, but I would imagine that from my perspective, shrew may well be a site worse thing to call a woman. My perspective on it, is that of a rather nasty women who gets beaten into submission.

  201. #201 Russell Blackford
    December 4, 2009

    What? Does anyone seriously think “niggardly” is on “the list”? It’s a perfectly legitimate and well-known word that means something like “miserly”. It has a completely different etymology from the word you are thinking of. Only someone moronic (or at best very ignorant), could ever confuse the two or be motivated to create confusion about this. I’m sure you don’t confuse them, Greg, because you are not moronic. But I don’t see why you or I, or any other literate person, should pander to the false sensitivities of morons.

    As for “shrew”, of course it’s a sexist epithet. I don’t know what got into Ed when he used it. Again, anyone who is not a moron (Ed doesn’t have the excuse of being moronic) knows what it means when used as an insult towards women. Its application in that way endorses the idea that women should be quiet and subservient. If that’s not a sexist idea, what is?

  202. #202 Stephanie Z
    December 4, 2009

    Russell, Teh List is a list of words from which one expects a reaction. And frankly, given the poor education the U.S. has offered her citizens and all the reasons she has given her citizens for reacting emotionally, a little sympathy for that emotional reaction to an archaic word doesn’t seem out of place.

  203. #203 Joel
    December 4, 2009

    But I don’t see why you or I, or any other literate person, should pander to the false sensitivities of morons.

    That’s really the heart of the question, at least as I see it.

    Somehow, a clod like you who considers himself all that and a bag of chips thinks they can decide what is meaningful to people they don’t even know.

    Geez.

  204. #204 daedalus2u
    December 4, 2009

    DuWayne, I understand where you are coming from, and apparently for you, language is essential for thinking about the world. Language is not essential for me to think about the world and I think a lot in non-verbal and non-language terms. The mental concept has to come before the language term for the mental concept, otherwise there is no motivation to have a language term to denote it. People do lose language due to brain damage, yet are still able to think about things. People learn language; presumably they have a mental concept which they then associate a language term with. People who learn a second language don’t do so by learning an association and then always translating back and forth.

  205. #205 daedalus2u
    December 4, 2009

    Russell puts out a good example of a use of privilege, in this particular case the privilege of actually knowing the historic derivation of the word “niggardly” (which ultimately comes from the same Latin term for black, even if it went through a path where it did not refer to a person with black colored skin).

    By knowing the derivation, Russell can use the term so as to offend people with less knowledge of how the term is derived, and then can mock their offence further by pointing out their ignorance. Thus Russell gets to offend twice and can do so with intellectual arrogance (for a third shot at offending the “ignorant morons”).

    If your goal is to offend and assert your privilege by belittling other people, Russell has shown just how effective using words on teh list can be. Of course if your goal is to not offend people, one would use a different word.

    Those of us with the privilege of knowing that some people consider the term “niggardly” to be offensive can mock as insensitive people such as Russell who use the term anyway. It is difficult to gently correct people such as Russell without mocking them because they are already caught up in the zero-sum game of mock-or-be-mocked. In forming a social hierarchy, one can only move up, or down or not be a part of it. Trying to not be a part of a social hierarchy is pretty difficult, especially when one’s position on the social hierarchy is so important in how other people treat you.

  206. #206 Kate
    December 4, 2009

    Oh dear. It seems that there will always and forever be a legion of people ready to stand up on MY behalf, telling me what I ought to find offensive. Of course, not a single one of these pearl-clutching screamers will ever admit that they are complaining because THEY are the one who are offended. Instead they bleat and mewl about how it’s offensive to “women”.

    Well, I have some news for you guys: THAT ATTITUDE IS AS MISOGYNISTIC AS YOU CAN POSSIBLY GET.

    Women, you see, are actually PEOPLE. (Shocking, I know, but bear with me here.) We are not all one giant hive-mind. We are human beings in our own right, with the ability to voice our opinions and to decide for OURSELVES what we find offensive.

    If you find something offensive say so, but give the reasons YOU are offended. Don’t IMAGINE that *I* am offended and then take up the fight on my behalf without even bothering to see if that’s how I really feel. I don’t need you, or anyone, deciding for me what I want to see, hear, consume or say. I don’t need you to voice an opinion that you hold yourself, but feel you must attribute to me to make yourself look,feel or sound better or more enlightened or more “equality minded”.

    So, to those misogynistic idiots who are waving their arms about while crying to the heavens “But the WIMMINS! OH THE POOR, POOR, POOR, WEAK WIMMINS!”, I have only this to say:

    I find your attitude offensive. Deeply, terribly, sickeningly offensive.

  207. #207 DuWayne
    December 4, 2009

    daedalus2u –

    The problem with that, is that it is impossible to consider the world outside the context of language. Language is more than mere verbalization and words.

    Language is not essential for me to think about the world and I think a lot in non-verbal and non-language terms.

    And what are those terms, if not language? Can you describe those thoughts? Do you understand those thoughts? Those thoughts have no meaning, without language to give them meaning.

    The mental concept has to come before the language term for the mental concept, otherwise there is no motivation to have a language term to denote it.

    The language terms to describe things are mere simplifications of the many words we conceptualize that concept with. Take the conception of a beautiful flower. When you look at a beautiful flower, your mind very quickly races through a great deal of language that would describe that flower, before you come to the conception that it is beautiful. In less than a second, your brain has taken in the myriad descriptives that apply to that particular flower, the colors, the height, the setting, the scent etc. – all in an instant – you consciously ignore most of that and think it is beautiful, that it smells lovely. Your brain processes thousands of words every moment, for everything you see around you – things you don’t even consciously realize you see. Language drives those thought processes.

    People do lose language due to brain damage, yet are still able to think about things.

    And their thinking is limited to the language and symbols they still have left to them. If one is brain damaged to the point they have absolutely no capacity for language, even very basic symbology, they are a vegetable.

    People who learn a second language don’t do so by learning an association and then always translating back and forth.

    Where do you get that idea? Moreover, where would you get the idea that that is what I am describing? When one learns a second language, there are several mechanisms at work, learning associations being a primary one. They know what something is in their first language and learn to associate that with the language they are learning. Until they become extremely fluent in that second language and are capable of thinking in that language, cross-translating is exactly what they are doing.

    I think you are failing to grasp just how very quickly the brain is able to process information. Your unconscious mind is processing information in the form of words and symbols, which is what words are. If that were not the case, you would have absolutely zero ability to process peripheral information that becomes consciously relevant at a given point.

  208. #208 daedalus2u
    December 4, 2009

    DuWayne, you may be describing your experience, you are not describing my experience. I think a lot in terms that are not expressible in language. I do so consciously. I presume I also do so unconsciously.

    In terms of information processing, language is appropriate for communication. There is a lot of information processing that occurs in a non-language level. When you look at a flower, myriad retinal cells send coded signals down the optic nerve and to the visual cortex where that information is decoded, coded, and decoded also myriad times until you think of the term “flower”. What do you call the information processing that was going on before that information was processed into the term “flower”? Where do you draw the line between what you call “thinking” which you say is only done in “language” and non-thinking (which I presume are mental and neurological processes not occurring using language terms)? That line is arbitrary and to me drawing such a line doesn’t have any utility. Does the ANS think in terms of words? Does the term “throw a pitch” describe what a pitcher does? Can a pitcher describe in words a particular pitch sufficiently well that another pitcher could replicate it? If the pitcher is doing mental things that are not expressible in words, what basis do you have for asserting that those mental processes are occurring via words? I don’t think you have any basis for asserting that.

    Is the signal sent down the optic nerve “language”? No, it isn’t. If it were “language”, it would be expressible without a loss in information content. You can’t do that with the signal sent down your optic nerve to your visual cortex. I know I can’t do it for many conscious thoughts that I have. Language simply isn’t precise enough and doesn’t have the information capacity to express many of the thoughts that I am thinking.

  209. #209 wildlifer
    December 4, 2009

    Stephanie,
    I’ll need to work on my reading skills I guess, because I could have sworn there were several mentions of “words” and “lists” in the post and in the replies.

    I’ll add that Kate@206 sums up my position as well, and you can replace “WIMMINS” with any group you want – same thing.

    You can have the last word, as I’ve other projects on the burner.

  210. #210 Mike K.
    December 4, 2009

    “Russell puts out a good example of a use of privilege, in this particular case the privilege of actually knowing the historic derivation of the word “niggardly” (which ultimately comes from the same Latin term for black, even if it went through a path where it did not refer to a person with black colored skin).”

    According to Wikipedia (I know, it’s Wikipedia):

    Niggardly” (noun: “niggard”) is an adjective meaning “stingy” or “miserly”, perhaps related to the Old Norse verb nigla = “to fuss about small matters”. It is cognate with “niggling”, meaning “petty” or “unimportant”, as in “the niggling details”

    That said, I remember when my friends and I first heard the word mentioned in some story we were reading in high school. Of course we all thought it was HY-sterical to keep saying it to each other knowing full well the unspoken implications of it.

    Once I did a bit of research and saw the true meaning of it I was pretty much like “don’t blame me for you not understanding what it means.” Of course now that I’m older I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong with not using certain words that offend (even if you don’t use them in that way) others. Niggardly and shrew are 2 such words.

  211. #211 Stephanie Z
    December 4, 2009

    Wait. wildlifer, did you really just say that using the words “words” and “lists” in this thread, no matter what was actually said about them, makes us akin to those in favor of domestic spying? Oh, sweet burning irony, and I thought my lulz for the day was going to be seeing a particular science blogger’s offspring deliberately trolling on Facebook!

  212. #212 Greg Laden
    December 4, 2009

    I’ll need to work on my reading skills I guess, because I could have sworn there were several mentions of “words” and “lists” in the post and in the replies.

    Better reading skills would be good here. Do this: Look at all of my comments where I use the word “list” and read them and report back what I’m talking about!

    Mike: Once I did a bit of research and saw the true meaning of it I was pretty much like “don’t blame me for you not understanding what it means.”

    Milke, I see your point but this is the fallacy many people are working with here. If a word means “jump” in ancient greek but means “sit” today, and you say this word to someone and they jump, that does not mean they understood the true meaning of the word, and if another person in the same room sits that does not mean that they did not know the true meaning of the word.

    The historical pathway through which a word has travelled can be very complex, and when it is, earlier meanings are generally of no consequence at all. We see this all the time in fast-style contexts. A friend of mine just told me that something was “dope.” For me to think of that as a substance one paints on model airplanes or a stupid person or a joint would be wrong. It meant “cool” which in turn does not mean not warm, and so on.

    Meaning is what is generated in the individual recieving the process. That is the only true meaning. That might not be the intended meaning, and if they are different, that they are different is not necessarily the responsibility of the speaker or the listner (by default).. there are no rules governing the post hoc analysis of discordance. There are only negotiations regarding ongoing understanding and ongoing discordance. Everything else is the work of pedants and sophists.

  213. #213 wildlifer
    December 4, 2009

    Okay last one
    I see the problem now Stephanie.
    You might want to look up the differences between a question (I thought it was funny) and an assertion.

    Greg,
    I couldn’t tell if it was snark directed at the “muffin” (I can’t help but think of Aerosmith) lovin’ Kliqueons or you were really compiling a list.

  214. #214 Greg Laden
    December 4, 2009

    wildlifer: you are being obscure. You seem to have a problem with there being a list of words, perhaps because from any one perspective vs. another such a list would be arbitrary or even simply meaningless. I have gone through great pains to be very clear what a list really is and what a list really means, and that question is in fact a central theme, if not the central theme, of my post. And it is not what you think it is, I think!

  215. #215 Stephanie Z
    December 4, 2009

    Obscure’s a good word. I have no idea why I should look up two words that I never used in this thread.

  216. #216 wildlifer
    December 4, 2009

    Stephanie,
    I asked a question, I did not assert anything. I believed, at the time it was pointed toward some who were mentioned in the post, hence I was taken back a bit when you got so defensive.

    Greg,
    Perhaps your theme, as your irony is for some, is lost on me. But I do usually get your irony.

  217. #217 Greg Laden
    December 4, 2009

    This is not about irony, just about trying to logically understand a fairly complicated system.

  218. #218 Stephanie Z
    December 4, 2009

    wildlifer, if you’re going to ask a question of a blogger other than the blogger whose thread you’re commenting in, do everybody a favor and address your comment. Secondly, try to be aware of the general usage of “politically incorrect.” Namely, it most commonly means, “I don’t want to do the work required to be a decent citizen in a civilized society of equals. It’s not fair that you won’t give me all the privileges I would have had just for showing up male and white in the 1950s, so I’m going to claim oppression.”

  219. #219 DuWayne
    December 4, 2009

    Daedulus2u –

    I think a lot in terms that are not expressible in language.

    What exactly do you think those terms are? It is impossible to process information without at least utilizing some form of symbols. Language is more than words.

    In terms of information processing, language is appropriate for communication.

    Yes, and that includes intrapersonal communication. I.e. thinking.

    Where do you draw the line between what you call “thinking” which you say is only done in “language” and non-thinking (which I presume are mental and neurological processes not occurring using language terms)? That line is arbitrary and to me drawing such a line doesn’t have any utility.

    But the line isn’t the least bit arbitrary. As soon as information is outside the autonomic nervous systems and into the mind, it is translated as language of some sort or another.

    Does the ANS think in terms of words?

    The ANS isn’t thinking in any meaningful sense of the word. However, on a cellular level there is communication and I suppose that the impulses, types of neurotransmitters and the like could be construed as a sort of language. But for the intent of this discussion, I think we can definitely say there are no words involved.

    I would like to point out though, that you are asking the wrong question. Words are not the sum of language. Non-verbal communications are also language. It doesn’t matter whether that non-verbal communication is extrapersonal, interpersonal or intrapersonal, it is still language.

    Does the term “throw a pitch” describe what a pitcher does?

    Yes and no.

    Can a pitcher describe in words a particular pitch sufficiently well that another pitcher could replicate it?

    No. Neither can I describe my favorite cliff sufficiently well that you would have a mental picture of it.

    If the pitcher is doing mental things that are not expressible in words, what basis do you have for asserting that those mental processes are occurring via words?

    Not all language is words and not every mental process that occurs via words are expressible. The unconscious mind is constantly processing things that we are entirely unaware of at a given point, some with words, some with other symbols.

    I don’t think you have any basis for asserting that.

    Actually I do. We cannot think in terms that are not definable as language. The words and symbols we use to interpret the world around us are language, pure and simple. Language is the meaning we take from the world around us, even if that meaning only means something to us and cannot be expressed reasonably in a common language.

    What is love? What is sadness? What is joy? What is anger? At our core experience of what these words mean, we have only symbols that are simply impossible to express to someone else. That doesn’t make our processing of emotions any less language based.

    Is the signal sent down the optic nerve “language”?

    You’re right, it isn’t. But the moment it hits your brain it is converted to words and rudimentary symbols that interpret what you are seeing.

    No, it isn’t. If it were “language”, it would be expressible without a loss in information content.

    Actually, while the signal sent down the optic nerve isn’t language, your statement is in error. The information sent through the optic nerve will make it to the brain without any information loss, unless their is damage to the nerves after they leave the eye itself. The loss of information content does not occur, until it is converted to language. Even there, very little is lost until it gets to the conscious mind at which point only that which is relevant tends to get through.

    Language simply isn’t precise enough and doesn’t have the information capacity to express many of the thoughts that I am thinking.

    The fact that your shared capacity for language doesn’t have the information capacity to express your thoughts, does not mean those thoughts are not based on symbols that are language. Nor does it mean that some of those thoughts aren’t based on language that you could express and are simply unaware that you have. Given what you have expressed about yourself in the past, I would suspect that your unconscious has a far larger vocabulary than your conscious mind. Everybody has a larger vocabulary in their unconscious, than their conscious minds. I suspect that yours is probably rather larger than average, because you seem to be rather insatiably curious.

    We are only conscious of a very tiny fraction of what our brain is taking in at a given moment. Most of that information is gone within moments (except for people with a eidetic memory – things are very different for them), a smaller portion of that information is stored for a slightly longer period of time, but is gone within minutes, a considerably smaller portion of that information is stored for the long term and a tiny fraction of the information, that which is immediately relevant, is what you are conscious of. Things that you have read, things that you have heard, things that you have seen – these are often processed entirely unconsciously and are why you can have a larger unconscious vocabulary than your conscious vocabulary.

    And beyond that are the non-word based symbols that are nonetheless language. Like the language bees use to tell each other where to go for pollen sources. Not a word to be had anywhere, but the symbols are translated so precisely, that the bees observing the movements of the scout can follow the precise route that the scout is describing. That is information that words alone cannot impress upon people. Very rare indeed are people who can take the verbal instructions imparted as words and follow the described path precisely.

    If you are going to be stuck on the notion that language = words, we aren’t going to have a very fruitful discussion. Words are not the sum of language and often times the words aren’t even the most important aspect of language use in a given communication. The bottom line is that communication is absolutely impossible without language. Even when that communication is with oneself.

  220. #220 Greg Laden
    December 4, 2009

    daedalus2u

    Your thoughts are very interesting but they don’t really hold up against the research.

    To say that thought processes significantly overlap with linguistic processing is not to say that you think in words, and note that I used the term “overlap” not “equal to” for some of the reasons you cite. But language is not a walkie talkie sitting on the outside of the consciousness where some thought-thingies happen that are different. Putting it another way, your conscious processes do not append an external walkie-talkie (language) modality in order to communicate with the outside, nor do they exist uninfluenced by the linguist environment. Put still another way, the evolution of modern human consciousness and the evolution of modern human linguistic processes are the same story.

  221. #221 Oran Kelley
    December 4, 2009

    Oran, I’m typine with a squirming baby on my lap so this will be brief: The “black guy” reference was short hand for the tendency to mention the “distinguishing characteristic” only if it is not white, and while often done innocently this is a VERY common and very problematic way of communicating

    The role of language, in and of itself, to determine power relations (as opposed to carrying their legacy), is probably miniscule.

    Shut up you fucker. I am now going to delete ur posy (ROFL)

    Experts are outliers by definition.

    Well, I’m kind of an expert on languge, so I guess I’ll just step aside and let your uninformed view prevail.

    NOT

    The context is provided by *common* knowledge, which means ever-increasing ignorance of the historic context you keep insisting on as determining….

    Yes, see OP

    And that is all that’s being argued about here: different sets of belief about what words mean

    That is not all being argued here, no.

    I write this with a clawed cat on my ass, so please excus eany inadequacies and replace my deficient arguments and typing with ones that will make you go cower in a corner. thaks.

    Well aside from appealing to your male authority, how about making an actual argument on behalf of that assertion?

    You may be an authority on language, but here, frankly you look to be language mook–anything you say about language seems to me to be nothing but rationalization of your chosen political stance.

    And how about good ole reification . . . that seems to have lost its savor since its emerged that someone else actually knows what that word means, hmm?

  222. #222 Greg Laden
    December 4, 2009

    Oran, I simply can’t even begin to think of a way to deflect the fierce logic and empirical weight of your razer sharp argument. You win, man. You totally win.

  223. #223 becca
    December 4, 2009

    DuWayne- basically, I think we disagree on what constitutes “personal attacks” vs. “calmly explaining to someone why what they said was wrong might be a poor choice of words”. You apparently see most of those comments, even the ones that specifically noted nobody was saying Ed was a misogynist, as ‘personal attacks’. I see most of the comments, with one or two partial exceptions, as pertaining to what people thought about Ed’s choice of words not Ed himself, and think the overall tone was not excessively personal or antagonistic.

    (also, on the irksome use of crazy- I did think about this, and I tried to temper it by sharing my perspective that it’s pretty much the human condition to be crazy in some ways and we were talking about a very specific sort of crazy here, but yeah. It doesn’t ameliorate it completely, or maybe much at all for some people. I need more synonyms for ‘irrational’ and the like, I suppose. To distinguish “your generally rational mind is not behaving rationally” from “you are a crazy person”. Hmm. Could just as well have filled in ‘sexist’ for ‘irrational’ and ‘crazy’ for ‘misogynist’ there. It’s always hard to critique behavior not people. Anyway, I will try to do better in the future on this one.)

    (totally otherwise tangential aside: “Just noting the body language of his mother (or Greg with a bottle of mommy milk) when he is about to be fed will be soothing to him.”, yes, but it will take him a goodly amount of time since body language of mommy during early feedings may, if my experience is any indication, indicate he is about to cause major ouches and his caregivers may not be at their most sympathetic… but eventually, it does get to where you describe. Seriously though, I think babies would learn ‘reality’ quicker if their realities were more consistent. I can’t imagine learning to walk with my body weight changing by 1/10th of my weight at each feeding…)

    “Cancer usually happens due to the loss of genes that trigger apoptosis, not due to a reduction in autophagy. “
    Tell it to the Beclin-/+ mouse! Seriously though, yes, you must have deactivation of apoptotic pathways (albeit not necessarily on a gene-sequence level) for any cancer I am aware of. AFAIK autophagy inactivation is more optional.
    “I think the increased NO of immune system stimulation also accelerates autophagy to turnover cell contents to get rid of unwanted guests and put the right antigens on the cell surface.”
    Likely, but things get complicated in defining ‘autophagy’ in my favorite immune cells since there’s so much crosstalk and overlap between autophagy and phagocytosis signal transduction.

  224. #224 wildlifer
    December 4, 2009

    Stephanie,

    I don’t even fucking think like that and it’s pretty presumptuous of you to think so.

    My perspective? The only difference between “PC” and book burning is that there’s no matches involved. It has nothing to do with race or gender.

  225. #225 DuWayne
    December 4, 2009

    Ooh, Ooh – Daedalus, if you would like to actually grasp this concept from an evolutionary perspective with a really great book (that I haven’t actually gotten very far into yet, the end of the busiest part of the semester is coming ever closer), try Terrance Deacon’s, The Symbolic Species. Which was in fact recommended to me on this very shiny blog, by a colleague of Greg’s.

    I am not entirely sure how much of the basic psychology of linguistics he gets into, as I am not very far into it. But he is a neurobiologist and the book is about the evolution of language and the hominid brain. What I can totally vouch for, is it’s accessibility to a reasonably clever person.

    And as far as the basic psych involved, I have covered it here. Please understand that I have not just been talking out of my ass. This is what I am studying and what I have been saying is supported by a great deal of research and evidence. Like Greg said, the story of the evolution of human cognitive processes and the story of the evolution of language are the same. I am currently learning about the current state of affairs, but hope to get involved in studying the evolution of human cognition and language. Though I intend to focus on the evolution of psychopathologies (focused even further in on addiction).

    But it isn’t by accident that people getting involved with seriously studying evolutionary psych are strongly encouraged to spend some time studying linguistics.

  226. #227 Stephanie Z
    December 4, 2009

    wildlifer, that comment misses the entire point of this post and comment thread by so far that it passed funny and can’t even see it looking backward from the other side.

  227. #228 the real meme
    December 4, 2009

    You bastard! You…you…you little weiner! You fucker…you mother fucker…you impotent little man( both of these expressions are not mutually exclusive in the language of women)!

    What is your evidence that ‘dickhead’ and bastard didn’t emerge from matriarchal societies? How many times have you heard that ‘men think with their dicks’ from a woman? Is matriarchy exclusively a state of institutional arrangements where women are in visible seats of power–don’t the hidden ones count?

    And further, just like the noble word cunt, who says the word bastard always was derogatory? Even William the conqueror was a bastard! And I am sure many of his ‘conquests’ were glad for it.
    http://burningforbus.blogspot.com/2008/02/bastard-etymology.html

    I would posit that any negative reference to the penis is a direct reference to the neo-natal genital reference–as in the case of women from many societies infantalizing the penis; and further, that all children exist within the realm of a co-existent mini-matriarchy until the age of maturity, when matriarchal training kicks in and boys ‘act like boys’ in order to fight the wars that are necessary to feed the ‘girls who act like girls’ and have all the babies that feed the matriarchy–and its loyal supplicants– those old age social security checks.

    The patriarchy is merely a foil for conquesting matriarchs–many of whom carefully choose with whom they will conceive ‘bastards’.

    Oh, yeah: big fat Ed Brayton deserves the razzing he is getting now, that hypocritical fat fuck. On one hand labeling some folks as masseuserist, and now he can’t take a little back? What is he an ally of anyways–those rabid PC rhetoriticians? Oh, wait: is fat fuck a matriarchal or patriarchal term? After all, the gay community, the nations most popular cheerleaders, and even a feminista or two has been using it for centuries as a term of derision–and sometimes even ‘identity-owning affirmation’ too…

  228. #229 the real meme
    December 4, 2009

    On the notion of that bumper sticker: does it occur to anyone that the use of the word “her” as in “get her done” is the equivalent of saying “men are all rapists” without a negative context? I mean, in this case a “her” is GETTING something–we don’t know what that something is, but hypothetical “she” is “gaining” in the literal sense.There are several explanations for the use of this term:

    1) women derive benefits from male labor
    2) getting “her” done is a metaphor that all labor benefits women
    3) being drunk while doing this work means that males don’t feel the pain of busted knuckles, broken noses, frozen faces, etc., while attaining wealth for a “her”
    4)all work is thus for the benefit of a her, and being drunk doing such work is the only way to get it done–because lawd only knows we would all be out there raping her every day unless we were drunk, and kept busy working for specified and unspecified “hers”.
    5) work, then, as a metaphor, is actually the under-extension of the male phallus, and alcohol lessens the burden of remembering that phallic enslavement.

    Then again–naw, he is obviously a rapist in waiting.

    “We had a discussion around here lately about the word “seminal.” In my view, “seminal” is a sexist word”

    I think you have ‘given birth’ to an interesting idea…except that in so doing, you too have participated in a sexist act! The use of the word ‘birth’ is also a sexist act/word…

  229. #230 DuWayne
    December 5, 2009

    becca –

    yes, but it will take him a goodly amount of time since body language of mommy during early feedings may, if my experience is any indication, indicate he is about to cause major ouches and his caregivers may not be at their most sympathetic…

    By body language, I actually meant the motions you go through, not necessarily how sympathetic. And I wouldn’t count on getting there eventually – least ways not more than temporarily. When tiny starts cutting teeth, breast feeding becomes a whole new sort of hell. This is not, of course, direct personal experience of which I speak. But I have witnessed the phenom with the mother of my children and with other mommies.

  230. #231 daedalus2u
    December 5, 2009

    I am not trying to minimize the importance of language or suggest that no thinking occurs using language. I am trying to say that not all thinking occurs via manipulation of language, or even by the manipulation of symbols.

    Some amount of thinking is non-algorithmic (in the sense that Turing machines operate using algorithms). Yes, non-algorithmic neural networks can be simulated using algorithms, but that is not how the brain actually does the computations that are done while thinking.

    Symbolic manipulation is the essence of language. To manipulate a symbol, you need a symbol and a computation device that takes that symbol and does a cognitive transformation. The “symbol” is a representation of the “thing” so that the symbol can be manipulated instead of the “thing”.

    MCC had a blog post on unrepresentable numbers; that is numbers that cannot be represented by any means. It turns out that there uncountably infinitely many unrepresentable numbers, and there are only a finite number of representable numbers, that is numbers which can have a unique identifier attached to them.

    http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2009/05/you_cant_write_that_number_in.php

    To communicate, it is necessary for mental representations to be reduced to symbols and those symbols communicated via language, not necessarily via “words”, but by symbols which are necessarily a very simplified subset of possible mental concepts. These symbols then invoke the more complex mental concept via what I call the “theory of mind” of the individual.

    I don’t at all dispute that language is essential for communicating between entities. I do not agree that language is necessary for internal communication between different brain regions.

    There may be something “language-like”, but unless you come up with a pretty specific and precise definition of what “language-like” means our disagreement may hinge on semantics. Some of the disagreement here may be because I have Asperger’s and so don’t use language in the same ways that people who are NT do.

  231. #232 drama
    December 5, 2009

    Get her drunk and get her done

  232. #233 DuWayne
    December 5, 2009

    daedalus2u –

    For communication to take place, language is required. Not something language like, language itself. This really is a semantic issue, because you seem very stuck on a narrow conception of what language is. Language is quite literally any tool used for communication, including intrapersonal communication. Everything that communicates uses some form of language to do so. As early hominids advanced language – started using specific symbols to communicate abstract concepts (such as tool use and then tool making), the march towards human cognition as we understand it began.

    Our entire ability for abstraction is language based. Without language abstraction is impossible. That which we cannot identify through language is completely and utterly meaningless. This has nothing to do with how you use language or I use language – I am not an NT either and while I do not have aspergers, my brain probably operates more like yours does, than like an NT’s does. I am perfectly capable of having and utilizing ideas that I don’t have the words to fully communicate to myself, much less to others – it is exceedingly frustrating sometimes. That does not mean that I am not utilizing language to have and use those ideas. Indeed it is likely that I actually even have the vocabulary for some of those ideas, I am just unaware that it is there.

    Again, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that what you are saying is possible. There is, however, a great deal of evidence that human cognition is not possible without language – any human cognition. Regardless of atypical neurobiology, all human brains (with the rare significantly malformed and completely non-functional brain) are more similar than they are different. They function more similarly than they do differently.

    I would heartily suggest that you check out an introduction to cognitive linguistics. It should not only provide a very good explanation of what we are talking about, it should also provide a great deal of insight into human cognitive function.

    I am not trying to be a dick about this or argue from authority, but this is what I am going into and the reason I am going into it, is that it is universal to humans who are capable of abstraction. It is a cognitive thread that connects all of us, regardless of neuropathology. The understanding of language is actually making it easier to understand how my brain works, compared to how your brain works compared to how, say, Greg’s brain works.

    I really would recommend reading an intro to cognitive linguistics and would very seriously recommend reading The Symbolic Species. I really can’t make it a whole lot clearer, without writing way more than I have time for and would probably make mistakes along the way. I am still rather new to this all, my understanding is rather basic. But the Deacon book is definitely something that I think would make it a lot clearer and is very approachable.

  233. #234 Greg Laden
    December 5, 2009

    I am trying to say that not all thinking occurs via manipulation of language, or even by the manipulation of symbols.

    I’m sure that is true to some extent.

    The “symbol” is a representation of the “thing” so that the symbol can be manipulated instead of the “thing”.

    Nuh uh. You are thinking of something other than symbols here. A symbol is a meaning conveying thing where the meaning only exists by habitualized convention. You are speaking here of indexes and icons.

    I do not agree that language is necessary for internal communication between different brain regions.

    Language, no. But the linguistic process of which langauge is one manifestation is a a lot like, or even the same as, a lot of internal nerual processing, even processing that is not “meaning” or “symbol” or “whatever-whatever” related. Walking is a grammatical process, for instance.

  234. #235 Oran Kelley
    December 6, 2009

    The question of language and thought is entirely beside the point. The question is how does language work–over time and between different subcultures. And the model being held up by the blacklisters is just plain dumb from a linguistic perspective.

    They aren’t demanding a blacklist because they think language is powerful, they are demanding a blacklist because the list is something they have power over.

    The more or less simultaneous rise of linguistics and victimology in academia is pretty much a coincidence. The moment linguistics starts us on a path which means certain people *can’t* hook their career caboose up to the engine of “incorrect speech interdiction,” linguistics gets thrown out the window.

    Accepting the power of language does not mean accepting the blacklist and the tiresome people who claim to keep it. In fact, I’d argue, precisely the opposite.

  235. #236 Greg Laden
    December 6, 2009

    Oran, please indicate who has blacklisted the word “shrew”? A couple people may have. My point is that even if everyone can have their own blacklist (and many people who try to be thoughtful of other people’s feelings do) no two “blacklists” are going to be the same.

    I just want to make sure that point is not lost.

    (As you say, while language evolution and function etc is interesting and I’m glad it is being discussed, it is not really the point, although we have also seen how it has informed the discussion in a limited but potentially important way)

  236. #237 Oran Kelley
    December 6, 2009

    Well, I think the Kliqueons definitely think they’ve got Teh List, and I think once folks caught on to the . . .weird ambivalence? . . . of your original note, you got awful accommodating to their point of view. Which I think is a) primarily (not secondarily) self-aggrandizing and b) willfully simplistic. I really don’t think science bloggers ought to have much truck the ignorati, even if you do find their politics appealing.

    Beyond that: yes, we all have a list. But the list is necessarily conditional, and when you judge someone else’s list, it’s a matter of cases not a matter of absolutes or anything near.

    Personally, I thought Ed’s use of shrew was clearly just what he mistakenly hoped was a safe euphemism for the word he’d like to have used, bitch.

    Now that’s obviously a bad choice, NOT because no woman should ever be called a bitch in earnest, not because there’s no such thing, not because it magically invokes millennia of oppression . . . but because it is a word that is so often used as a mere reflex of resentful man regarding powerful and competent woman.

    And in fact THAT is what using words like that DENOTES at the moment: sexually-charged ressentiment on the part of the speaker.

    Which, I think, gives Palin way too much credit.

    And this is why you keep “a list.” NOT to avoid hurting the tender feelings of others, but to attend to your own self-presentation in a way that will allow you to convey signal to your intended audience without noise like this (what are his motives? is he a leftist laddy-boy? is palin the new Hillary, etc., etc.) arising.

    What I call “the Offense Industry” is not mostly a matter of hurt feelings, but a matter of raw territoriality that frankly has gotten completely out of control. It is the staunch enemy of reasoned conversation, turning absolutely any conversation about an object into a conversation about the identities and relative stati of the speakers and the ritual recognition thereof. (One of the goals of the offense industry, I am convinced, is that nothing else should ever be talked about.)

    I think this sort of thing ought to be actively discouraged in settings like this one.

  237. #238 DuWayne
    December 6, 2009

    Oran –

    Are you honestly going to try to claim that you don’t have a blacklist of words you wouldn’t use in a given conversation? I am almost certain that you do. That there are words that you would not ever consider using in the context of a derogative. I am just as certain that you probably have other lists of words that you would use in some circumstances, around certain people, that you would not use in others or around others.

    The question of language and thought is entirely beside the point. The question is how does language work–over time and between different subcultures.

    You are contradicting yourself right off the bat. Language is completely entangled with cognitive processes, which is why many of us are rather concerned about how language is used. Cognitive processes cross cultures and times. The power of language crosses cultures and times. Though the specific meanings given a specific word will change, the underlying power of language and cognition does not.

    I told daedalus that language is a cognitive thread that connects all of us, regardless of neuropathology. That is also true of the crossing of cultures, subcultures and time. Language and it’s impact on cognitive function is a thread that ties the modern human race together. Though if you go back far enough, I expect you might find some significant differences, among early homosapiens.

    They aren’t demanding a blacklist because they think language is powerful, they are demanding a blacklist because the list is something they have power over.

    Some of them might be. But others really are more concerned about the power of words. Using the word “crazy” and derivatives came up. There is a very good reason for that. Using those words in a derogatory fashion perpetuates stigmas about neurological issues and the people who have them. I have run across a lot of people who feel a great deal of shame, sometimes very deep seated shame, because of the way their brain works.

    And those stigmas are even damaging to people like me, people who accept who they are and how their brains work. The problem being that our society as a whole perceives these neurological issues as an inherent negative, instead of understanding that there are positive aspects to these neurological issues and negative aspects. Because of this, rather than trying to help people take the best advantage of the positives while accepting and helping people manage the negatives and their results, we try to “cure” people of their mental illnesses.

    We won’t even go into the stigmas attached to addictions.

    Language has power. In the case of using words like crazy, loon, nutjob and the like, the power is in the perpetuation of shame for those with neurological issues and the stagnation of society in perpetuating a positive response to atypical neurochemistry.

    Accepting the power of language does not mean accepting the blacklist and the tiresome people who claim to keep it. In fact, I’d argue, precisely the opposite.

    Not the opposite, but neither absolute acceptance. I think Greg made the comment earlier about language use being a negotiation. That is a very good description.

    You have every right to use whatever words you will. If you like, you can go into a gathering of Jews and refer to them all as “kikes,” refusing to describe them any other way. If you choose to do that however, you will be subject to various consequences. Top of the list, I would imagine, would be that everyone there would probably think you’re a pretty vile person. Some of them will probably get pretty pissed off and say or yell things back at you. You might get kicked out of wherever you happen to be or you might even get your ass kicked.

    It is entirely up to you to decide whether you want to use words that offend certain people or not. It is up to you to decide whether you care about offending the people who might be offended. It is up to you to decide whether or not you care about perpetuating the stigmas that using certain words in certain contexts will perpetuate. In short, it is up to you to decide whether or not you are comfortable with the consequences that using a given word will produce.

  238. #239 DuWayne
    December 6, 2009

    I think this sort of thing ought to be actively discouraged in settings like this one.

    And I think you’re dead wrong. This is a fascinating discussion and look where it has gone – here, in this thread.

    It would be one thing, if you weren’t engaging in hyperbole with your statement that this is what happens to any and every conversation about an object. It isn’t. It comes up occasionally, when someone uses a word that others find particularly charged and/or offensive. Claiming that that is a bad thing, is claiming that occasionally being reminded that language has power is a bad thing. Language does have power and we would all do well to remember that.

    No one is trying to control you. They are trying to convince you that language has power, that words have unintended connotations and sometimes even imply possible unexplored biases that one might not be aware they have. Mostly, they are trying to determine whether or not they should respect you – in accordance with their system of values.

  239. #240 Stephanie Z
    December 6, 2009

    Oran, you’re doing the same thing wildlifer was doing. You’re spending lots of time and energy fighting a political correctness that mostly doesn’t exist. Sure, there are a few people out there who have real must-not-use-EVAR word lists, but you can find a few people to espouse any position. These listies are far fewer in number than the people who believe we’ve been contacted by extraterrestrial intelligences, and their political influence is even smaller.

    Even here, you’ve decided the Kliqueons are the bad guys, so they must…probably…nearly…espouse the use of such lists. Of course, CPP was partaking in this thread and not disagreeing with Greg on the subject. But that doesn’t stop you from using this political myth for fear mongering. It doesn’t stop you from saying that Greg should watch his words on the subject and stop associating with the people of whom you don’t approve.

    Now who’s working to impose political control?

  240. #241 Oran Kelley
    December 6, 2009

    Stephanie: Mmmm. Maybe. That’s actually a line I sometimes take myself (for instance when gnxp’ers start lamenting mythic PC). But, obviously, I felt a bit differently about the drift of the conversation here.

    The “offense industry” I’m talking about isn’t coextensive with the PC-thing, to whatever extent it may exist. I see it as a much broader cultural phenomenon.

    I’ve been out of academia for a little while, so maybe I’m a bit too sensitive considering the current context. But I don’t feel I’m fearmongering.

    Also, I’m not suggestting that Greg not associate with anyone, only that the censoring impulse be a bit more enthusiastically challenged.

  241. #242 Greg Laden
    December 6, 2009

    OK[237]:Well, I think the Kliqueons definitely think they’ve got Teh List, and I think once folks caught on to the . . .weird ambivalence? . . . of your original note, you got awful accommodating to their point of view. Which I think is a) primarily (not secondarily) self-aggrandizing and b) willfully simplistic. I really don’t think science bloggers ought to have much truck the ignorati, even if you do find their politics appealing.

    They probably do, but I have been consistent like a laser beam from beginning to end.

    Strangely, I think you and I are in very close agreement on this list thing, but somehow you come into this needing to disagree with me because part of where I’m coming from is feminist theory and that is on your list of things to disdain. Am I wrong about that?

    Personally, I thought Ed’s use of shrew was clearly just what he mistakenly hoped was a safe euphemism for the word he’d like to have used, bitch.

    That thought had occurred to me as well.

    What I call “the Offense Industry” is not mostly a matter of hurt feelings, but a matter of raw territoriality that frankly has gotten completely out of control. It is the staunch enemy of reasoned conversation, turning absolutely any conversation about an object into a conversation about the identities and relative stati of the speakers and the ritual recognition thereof.

    Having spent decades in anthropology departments, I find there to be a lot of truth in this. Unfortunately. This does not mean, however, that there is not work to do here. The “Offense industry” is actually an important part of progressive social change. does the “offense industry” need … criticism? Yes. Can it handle criticism? Not as well as it can dish it out, but it is possible.

  242. #243 DuWayne
    December 6, 2009

    I’ve been out of academia for a little while, so maybe I’m a bit too sensitive considering the current context. But I don’t feel I’m fearmongering.

    That is very much how you are coming across, whether you’re feeling it or not.

    This is not to say that there isn’t a rather horrid movement that is taking postmodernism from the realm of a lot of important conversations to have, into the realm of religious fervor – there is. It is anti-science and reason, the hallmark being that nothing is knowable and scientific investigation is bourgeois. Quite unfortunately, rather than staying in philosophy, where they belong, this movement in infiltrating anthropology, psychology and sociology – firm in the belief that common sense should rule. I have had the great pleasure of pissing off some of their icons (in the context of animal rights extremism) and getting harassed by their minions (they have tried hard to hack my email and blog – amusing really, considering how little traffic I get).

    There are a lot of people who look at that and decide that everything to do with that movement is suspect and must be illegitimate. The problem with that approach, is that there are some very important discussions to be had from that context. Just because some folks take it to a religious fervor, doesn’t mean that there aren’t sane people who have very reasonable things to say about it. And of course it’s a spectrum. Some people like to get all up in arms about language use and assume all sorts of things about the people who use words that might be construed as offensive to some people. Others take a calmer sort of tact and just point out that using this word or that may well upset, offend or outright denigrate other people – help perpetuate stigmas – whatever.

    Take it or leave it – listen or ignore it. Very few people are really trying to shove it down anyone’s throat and those who are are easily ignored. Accept that yes, some people just get off on being offended. I really don’t think, however, that there is actually much of what you label an “offense industry.” Unless you really think that people who point out that using certain terminology perpetuates stigmas, or hurts or offends some people are somehow horribly wrong for doing so – in which case you could either respond to their arguments or ignore them as well.

    But I can tell you that people in that latter category, are not interested in playing power games. We’re mostly just interested in trying to find ways to make it easier for various people to accept and be content with who they are – whether their discomfort might be due to sex, gender, color of skin, neurochemistry, cultural identity, ethnic identity – etc. Based on the belief that people should not be stigmatized, should not have to feel inferior or ashamed of personal characteristics they have absolutely no control over. That is not the least bit about exerting some power over people, that is about respect and compassion.

  243. #244 Oran Kelley
    December 6, 2009

    DuWayne:

    No, I don’t claim not to have a list, just that I would like to emphasize a different set of motives for having one.

    I sympathize with what you say about stigma, but I have to disagree that trying to stamp out the general use of words like “crazy” does anyone any good. Raising awareness of people with mental illness, talking about their experiences–ranging from folks who are able to work through their challenges and be in no way apparently debilitated to those who cannot–this is great. Challenging what “crazy” might mean and how it should be applied–great. But . . .

    Trying to get people to stop using a whole set of words–crazy, mad, crippling, pathological (the list gets long)–isn’t going to get you anywhere in terms of advancing people’s understanding. All it’s going to do is make you seem annoying. (And there’s probably someone somewhere who doesn’t want me to use that word because there are people who can’t help being annoying.)

    And I’m not going to call my Jewish friends “Kike” out of some fancy of mine, but I’m n ot going to refrain from writing it here, either.

    Again, I sympathize, but I think policing words isn’t the way to go.

  244. #245 Oran Kelley
    December 6, 2009

    Strangely, I think you and I are in very close agreement on this list thing, but somehow you come into this needing to disagree with me because part of where I’m coming from is feminist theory and that is on your list of things to disdain. Am I wrong about that?

    Well it’s not a list ;-)

    I am somewhat combative by birth, I think. But also there are certain feminist themes that set me off, you’re right.

    Not to say they oughtn’t.

    As to the rest of what you say: you’ve completely disarmed me. Truly. I owe you a beer, or other roughly equivalent comestible that will serve in the “sponsoring” ritual so deeply imbued in me by my Irish forebears.

  245. #246 DuWayne
    December 6, 2009

    Oran –

    It’s not about stamping out use, it’s about convincing people that using words like that as an insult is not acceptable. Context is everything and I don’t think that anyone would suggest that very many words should actually be completely taboo. I mean hell, in the context of a conversation about history or one about words that are offensive, using words that are particularly offensive is contextually reasonable.

    I am certainly not suggesting that using words that depict people with specific problems is wrong. I refer to myself as crazy all the time, because I like to keep a reasonable perspective about myself. Insane has legitimate uses, as do all the words you listed. But there are also not so legitimate uses and using them to denigrate people is not. Reducing the use of such words as derogative is very effectively going to help reduce stigma.

    I would also note that I am not a selfrighteous ass about it, I am even prone to occasionally slipping and saying things that are not terribly reasonable. It is just something that I am sometimes inclined to point out to people who I suspect would be open.

  246. #247 Oran Kelley
    December 6, 2009

    DuWayne:

    I think I’m going to have to give your point a little thought. There seems to me to be something wrong about it and something right about it but I can’t tell one from the other presently.

    Anyhow, I’d gladly extend my sponsorship also to you and whoever else might still be at the bar, so to speak. (Stephanie). Hopefully we’ll all live to see me stand a round, which thusfar few people can claim to have done.

  247. #248 aratina cage
    December 7, 2009

    Oran Kelley,

    What I call “the Offense Industry” is not mostly a matter of hurt feelings, but a matter of raw territoriality that frankly has gotten completely out of control. -

    Not on scienceblogs it hasn’t. Other places thrive on censorship to the point where you can’t even say anything positive about a minority perspective lest your words be quarantined and purged for possibly offending someone, including yourself.

    Greg Laden,

    does the “offense industry” need … criticism? Yes. Can it handle criticism? Not as well as it can dish it out, but it is possible.

    Maybe a few people can’t handle the criticism, but mostly it is the rabid reaction to the “offense industry” by the patriarchy and its sympathizers and defenders which escalates the situation into a flamewar. A flaming isn’t really a criticism. On the other hand, why shouldn’t the same kind of ridicule and mocking be employed to counter misogynistic arrogance that is employed on Pharyngula to counter theistic arrogance? The belief that misogynistic language should get a free pass is practically the same kind of belief we see theists fall into with regard to their religious beliefs (cf. Bill Donohue). I wouldn’t be surprised if the reaction to the “offense industry” is nothing more than baby being told “no” for the first time in its life and throwing a tantrum over it; at least that’s how it comes across to me.

Current ye@r *