I’ve wanted to write about this one for a few months now. Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy or not, this one is important to me. The fact that so much of our discourse in traditional media, social media and everyday conversation remains so much more about cliché commentary than about any exploration of the meaning behind the words we say.
I’ve already looked at the laziness that a monopolized media has created in the world of journalism (see my recent post “The Make-Believe Media” from earlier this month). But this is about more than the “both sides do it” media world. It’s about the contradictions between the style in which we use our words and the substance within. The reality behind our words, then, becomes buried, and has made us all a little bit more ignorant in the process.
For me, three random examples stand out:1. “I’m a strong woman” – This could also be “I’m a smart woman,” or “I’m a bitch,” or “I’m a tough woman,” or a hundred other phrases I see every day on Twitter or hear in our public discourse. Even if this is meant to show some sort of feminist solidarity, it seems trite to proclaim strength as part of a conversation about gender (or any other topic, for that matter). I learned my lesson more than thirty years ago, courtesy of Crush #1, at the ripe old age of twelve, to not spend so much of my time telling people how smart I was (see my “Was I Really In Love In 7th Grade?” post from March ’12).
Really, how weird would it sound for me at six-three and 230 pounds to say that “I’m a strong man?” Or in commenting about all the abuse I survived, that “I’m a tough man?” I think that most of us can recognize a strong, tough, intelligent woman without the use of underwhelming language. I think most of us regardless of gender genuinely admire women who are who they are without saying the words all day and every day. To slightly misquote the name of the foundation that Lance Armstrong just stepped down from, just live strong, be strong and stay strong, and tell others females (and occasionally males) to do the same.
2. “Interracial/multiracial marriages are on the rise” = a less racist/post-racial America – Yeah, if there hadn’t been a long history of grossly unequal interracial relationships in this country for the previous two hundred years prior to the late ’80s. This isn’t to say that the average American citizen isn’t less bigoted or racist than they would’ve been thirty years ago. But a sexual or even marital bond doesn’t automatically mean a lack of prejudice. It certainly doesn’t mean a massive empathy for and participation in social justice and other human rights causes. Just like with any relationship or marriage, people from different ethnic backgrounds can also come together for all the wrong reasons, can be abusive, and can even be racist.
Making an exception for a few Whites, Blacks, Latinos or Asians as an individual doesn’t mean that one doesn’t generally view Whites as racist, Blacks as intellectually inferior, Latinos as “illegals” or Asians as “model minorities.” The fact that interracial marriages have been on the rise for nearly thirty years merely proves that the taboo against these marriages has broken down, not that the nation isn’t divided around the issue of race.
3. The growing use of impact as a verb and an adverb: Whether “impact,” “impacted,” “impacting,” or “impactful,” most of the time, this term is used incorrectly, especially in terms of politics. Take the use of impact during the 2012 Presidential Election cycle. “Nothing has impacted the 2012 race more than Romney’s 47% tape.” Really? Did someone take the recording and literally hit Mitt Romney in the head with it until he was rendered unconscious? If that didn’t occur, then the correct sentence would be “Nothing has had more of an impact on the 2012 race than Romney’s 47% tape.”
It’s as if journalists, reporters, pundits, commentators, intellectuals and scholars have forgotten that there are other, better words in the English language to use than impact. Like “affect,” or “effect,” or “influence,” or “sway,” or “transform,” or “change.” There are NFL color commentators and WWE announcers who use the word impact more correctly than most in the news and social media worlds. But this incorrect overuse is apparently here to stay, affecting and infecting our already ignorant use of language.
All of these uses of language irk me, because if we are to ever have real discussions of serious issues, we need our language to have real substance to it. Not just platitudes and clichés that wouldn’t survive Fashion Avenue if they took the form of a dress.