While writing my recently published book, Machete Moments, I felt a need to take a break from the serious topics I was addressing. The result of that need is the following R rated excerpt.
I’m reminded of an exercise some friends and I went through recently at our after-tennis beer drinking session. The core of this group has played tennis together about three times a week for forty years. And for forty years on Wednesday evenings, we have gone out for a couple of beers afterwards. (Actually, it used to be more than a couple, but age and punishments for getting caught have changed our lifestyles. That woman who founded MADD should get more credit than she does for driving a significant change for the better throughout our entire society.) We discuss many topics, some deep and some absurd. Sometimes our conversations are spontaneous; sometimes one of the guys puts forth an agenda topic by email before the gathering. More and more, we travel down memory lane, but I think that is caused by a combination of not creating many new memories and our faltering short-term memories.
On the evening I’m talking about, I suggested an agenda item that had been on my mind for some time. I wanted the group to define and differentiate among derogatory terms we apply to those we don’t like or respect. As the discussion evolved, four terms bubbled to the top—prick, dick, jerk, and asshole. It was important to define those terms so that, at least among ourselves, we could be clear about our opinion of someone. Here are the results of that study.
You paid for the book, so you have permission to use them as your own. We have deliberately not copyrighted our findings, choosing instead to place them in the public domain. If we get the word out among a large enough segment of the population, we can all relate to one another’s feelings. Maybe we can even have them translated into multiple languages or make a candid-camera type video showing real-life examples of each. Here you go.
- A prick is one who is deliberately mean-sprited toward some individual (s) or group(s). It requires some amount of intelligence and skill to be a prick. We all agreed we can respect him for his ability even though we don’t want to associate with him. We can even laugh at his comments and actions as long as his prickishness is not directed at us. A prick is often successful, by his own standards, at one or more facets of his life.
- A dick is a watered down version of a prick. In fact, one of the guys vehemently contended that dick is a sub category of prick and does not deserve its own category. At that point, someone ordered another round, and the conversation reverted to reminiscences of matches played in our lost youth. We never actually reached consensus on the dick the issue.
- A jerk is usually unintentional in his flaws but seems to do and say the wrong thing much of the time. He is usually not mean-spirited. For the most part, he just doesn’t get it.
- An asshole is, well, an asshole. He has few redeeming virtues and is always capable of saying or doing the wrong thing in a mean-spirited manner. He is generally not as intelligent as a prick.
Finally, in a demonstration of our commitment to equality, we decided that all of the terms can apply to either gender.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Machete Moments.
Words and Beliefs That I Just Don’t Understand
I would never want to insult anyone because of the terminology I use. However, in America, we have diluted the English language, in the name of political correctness, to such an extent that often I don’t know what the speaker is talking about. Many of the changes are totally artificial. I think the primary reasons to change a traditionally understood term would be to avoid hurt feelings or to be more accurate. Many of the changes we have had thrust upon our population do neither. Here are a few examples of changes to which I see no point.
- Drink to hydrate
- Secretary to administrative assistant
- Husband/wife to spouse
- Angry to upset
- Arguing to being defensive
- Die to pass
- Religious to faith-based
The ones I’ve mentioned so far are pretty harmless, driven by pretentiousness or by the much overpopulated advertising world. Other than to be irritating, they don’t affect my life one way or another. Although relatively benign, they provide the slippery slope from which the language is diluted where it matters.
Here are some changes that do make a difference because I face them in day-to-day life. They are examples of political correctness gone berserk.
- Mexican to Hispanic (This is a term that was invented by the U.S. government for the 1980 census. It is a convenient term that Americans created to make it easier to complete forms. There is not total agreement among those to whom we apply this label as to whether Hispanic or Latino is better. Or would they rather be attached to their country of origin? There is nothing wrong with referring to a person as a Mexican or a Cuban. If I am in another country, I prefer to be called an American—not a Caucasian from the Western Hemisphere.)
- Poor to socially marginalized or vulnerable
- Mentally ill to emotionally impaired
And then there are some that have gone through so many changes that you need a scorecard so that you use the right term.
- Retarded to slow to intellectually disabled (I agree that we needed to find an alternative to the word retarded because it has been misused so frequently as an insult. What I don’t understand is that the national advocacy organization, which used to be called the Association of Retarded Citizens, is now called ARC. If they want to do away with the term, how can it still be part of their acronym?)
- Shell shock (WWII) to battle fatigue (Korea) to operational exhaustion (Viet Nam) to post-traumatic stress disorder (today)Illegal aliens to undocumented to unauthorized (I was in a meeting with 30 people the first time I heard that last term. Not one of us knew the meaning. Everyone wondered “authorized to do what?”)
- Slum to ghetto to inner city
There is a tremendous amount of work to be done in human services and education—more than we can complete if we work 24 hours a day for life. Time spent in making irrelevant changes to terminology is wasted and absurd. We should simplify our speech and writing so that it can be understood by those who don’t work with the subject in their day-to-day lives. Does anyone actually believe that a poor person feels any better being called socially marginalized or vulnerable? She’s poor—not stupid. All of the original terms on the list bring a clear picture immediately to mind. That is what good words do; they have impact. The reason we have words is to communicate a clear picture of the subject, thought, or action. Why do we want to dilute any emotional or logical impact by making up words that don’t describe the subject in a simple way that is understandable to all? The new words bring absolutely no emotional reaction to me and do not stir me to action.
While I’m ranting over the use of our language, when did the polite people start calling everything they disagree with inappropriate? If you disagree with someone’s comment, have the balls to own your disagreement. Then you and the speaker can fight about it. To say that someone is inappropriate disarms the speaker. You have made a unilateral judgment to which there is no reply. Appropriate and inappropriate don’t mean the same to everyone and have different connotations depending on the crowd and setting. I’ve been in places with people who had no objection to my saying to someone, “What the f… are you talking about?” This is most likely to happen when they are prattling on with no real point to make and with no end of the prattling in sight. In fact, it happens on a fairly regular basis. On the other hand, even I would not stand up in a town meeting and say that. (Usually not—there could be exceptions.) If you grew up in a church atmosphere, different things are inappropriate to you than if you grew up in a locker room environment. I will close on this subject with the summary comment that it is inappropriate for us to judge one another as inappropriate just because we disagree.