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Tag Archives: Language

Racism & Bigotry Aren’t Quite the Same

I wrote the following four paragraphs a couple of days ago. Today (8/19/17) I ran them through the Hemingway app, which informed me the text’s readability score was 11th grade. It also pointed out numerous issues to address and suggested I aim for a readability score of 9th grade. I then worked to remove all the issues (well, as many as I thought made sense to me) and was able to bring the score down to 7th grade . . . in Hemingway’s algorithms. It still says three of the 14 sentences are hard to read. I’m adding the second version for readers to judge which they find more readable. Hemingway seems a little harsh. I suppose, if I were writing for the general public, it might make sense to shoot for 9th grade readability, but I’m not convinced it’s what I want to do. What do you think?


Readability score = 11th grade

In May of 1973 I traveled to Cuba with the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. I spent two months, mostly just outside Havana, working and learning as a guest of the Cuban government.

Prior to our departure, we were required to undergo some pretty extensive training in history, cultural chauvinism, and the roots of racism and bigotry. Some of these classes were led by members of both the Brown Berets and the Black Panthers.

One thing I remember well from this training was the difference between racism, which we were taught is systemic and insidious, and bigotry, which is personal and obvious. I have occasionally posted about these differences, but I’m coming to the conclusion that current usage has blurred the distinction between the two. I have also decided maybe I should stop bucking the trend, as I find myself using them somewhat interchangeably as well.

It’s a bit disturbing, as it is ingrained in me that racism is embedded in our laws, institutions, and normative cultural behavior, while bigotry is evidenced by individual prejudices and hatred or fear of the other. Nevertheless, just about everyone I read uses racism for what I would call bigotry. I think I’ve decided to give up worrying about the distinction, though I find it important. Carry on!


Readability score = 7th grade

In May of 1973 I traveled to Cuba with the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. I spent two months outside Havana, working and learning as a guest of the Cuban government.

Before our departure, we received training in history, cultural chauvinism, and the roots of racism and bigotry. Leading some of these classes were members of both the Brown Berets and the Black Panthers.

They taught us racism is systemic and insidious, while bigotry is personal and obvious. I have posted about these differences, but am concluding current usage blurs the distinction between the two. I have also decided I should stop bucking the trend, as I find I use them as well.

It’s a bit disturbing. I know racism infuses our laws, institutions, and normative cultural behavior. Bigotry involves individual prejudices and hatred or fear of the other. Even so, most everyone I read uses racism for what I would call bigotry. I’ve decided to give up worrying about the distinction, though I find it important. Carry on!

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But, I Thought you Meant . . .

Why do some people seem to think that language can be treated like art . . . always? Language, of course, frequently finds its expression in art; witness poetry, musical lyrics, etc., but it is not – by itself – a pure art form. Language exists, surely in the context of business and economics, philosophy and religion, as an endeavor of some precision in communication and, dare I use the word, collaboration. People can’t share what they know, or work together on a project for which the outcome they seek is collectively desirous, without having the ability to communicate absent misunderstanding or, at the very least, with a minimum of misunderstanding.

Mathematics is a form of language. Imagine if someone argued that an expression might be used sort of willy-nilly, depending on how one was feeling at the moment. Imagine someone saying, when confronted with the misuse of a mathematical expression, “well, you know what I meant.” Yet, people do this with language all the time. As for my real peeve here, it seems I am often accused of being too “lawyer-like” when I insist on the accurate use of words. I just don’t understand this. Why do people think dictionaries or thesauri exist? For entertainment purposes?

I am not here talking about the incorrect use of “to”, “too”, and “two” or “your” and “you’re”, maddening as those may be. I am more interested in the misuse of synonyms, especially when there are crucial differences – subtle as they may be – between one word and another. There’s a reason those words exists and it is directly related to those differences. For instance, let’s look at the differences between the words “lucky”, “privileged”, and “promising” – all three synonymous according to Merriam-Webster online. “Lucky” means “having good luck”. It could easily refer to one instance, however small the result, or an entire lifetime. “Privileged” means having or enjoying a special capability or position based either on happenstance (which would be lucky) or through hard work and successful endeavors. “Promising” means one might become privileged at some point, or successful, but there is no guarantee and it looks to the future, not some result of the past. Both “privileged” and “promising” may contain elements of luck, but they aren’t proper substitutes for the word “lucky”. They are somewhat imprecise synonyms for it.

Now, lest I be accused of a level of curmudgeonliness far exceeding that I am actually guilty of, I am merely attempting to point out how cavalier some can be with language and, when they’re called on it, how adamant I have found some to be in defending what is, in my opinion, an indefensible position. Call me a member of the language police if you will, but I like as much precision in my discussions as possible.

PS – This post was “incited” by a conversation with my wife; a conversation that recurs every now and again 🙂 Do you think I’m too sensitive? Do you think I used the word “incited” improperly; that I should have used “instigated” or “stimulated” or maybe even “inspired”? Just wondering.


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