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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Scrambled Semantics


                                                                     Image result for tower of babel                                     

We Americans are like a reverse Tower of Babel. The words we say are the same but the meanings are entirely different. We talk past each other with neither side understanding what the other is trying to say, almost as if we are speaking two different languages. If this keeps up, good old Webster is going to have to start printing a conservative dictionary and a liberal dictionary.

For instance, the Paris bombings. At the Democratic debate the moderator questioned the candidates about their reluctance to use the term "radical Islam". This, of course, is something that incenses the right who accuse Democrats of being soft on terrorism because they prefer to say radical jihadism instead. They criticize President Obama because to them, he pussyfoots around and won't call a spade a spade.

Democrats don't like the radical Islam characterization because they believe it paints with far too broad a brush, in effect, putting an entire religion under suspicion. There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. They make up 22 percent of the world's population. They are .8 percent of America.

The vast majority of Muslims are not radical jihadists or radical Islamists, however you want to phrase it. In fact, as reported by Think Progress, "Muslims around the world condemn Paris bombings." So to imply, as the Republicans seem to, that we are at war with Islam itself is not helpful. Muslim countries are our partners in fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda. Muslim Americans are soldiers in our military. The Republicans make a mistake to try to turn this into a Christian versus Muslim holy war. We need the moderate Muslims in our battle against terrorism. Let's not allow our own fear and intolerance turn them away.

Three other simple words that get people passionately aroused are Black Lives Matter. Did the people who coined the phrase mean to say that only black lives matter or that black lives matter also. As a liberal, it seems clear those words should be defined as - "we want to be treated like everyone else."

We want our sons to walk down the street or play in the park and not be killed because, to whites, they look like thugs. We want to be sentenced to the same punishment as whites who commit the same offenses. We want to be treated with the same respect by police and other authorities, not shot because we're having a heart attack or tasered to death in jail because we're having a seizure. We want to be hired or not based on our qualifications and not our skin color.

But the American right has taken Black Lives Matter as a call to arms by African-Americans who want special rights. They deny that blacks are treated in a lesser manner. They pooh-pooh the idea of White Privilege. Although they've most likely benefited from it their entire lives, they simply can't see it for what it is because it feels so natural to them. Black Lives Matter protesters are simply violent criminals as far as they are concerned.

Gun control is another code phrase. Ask a liberal what gun control means to them and they'll probably first say, background checks and closing gun show loopholes and stricter penalties for straw sales. Indeed, some of them might very well say a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. But I don't know a single liberal who wants to rescind the Second Amendment. Many who support stricter gun regulations are gun owners themselves.

Ask a conservative what gun control means to them and nine times out of ten, they'll say gun confiscation. All the rest is simply trying to get the camel's nose under the tent, prior to banning all of the over 270 million guns in the United States. You can't talk them out of it no matter how hard you try.

Political correctness is another idea that puts us in a muddle. I'm not even sure exactly what it means in 2015. It began as an effort to be aware of the feelings of people not like us. How hard was it to quit calling African-Americans the "n" word if they found it offensive? Or Mexicans wet-backs? Or gays queers?

As time went on, it became a little more difficult to color between the lines of political correctness. Was it wrong to name our sports teams after Indians? A tribe name like Seminoles doesn't sound so bad but Redskins, which used to be a pejorative term for Native Americans, maybe so. Is the Confederate flag offensive to black people. Yeah, I expect it probably is.

Is it offensive to conservatives to be told Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. I guess it must be. I used to send out Christmas cards without giving it a thought. I just took the next one in the box for whoever was on my list. It might be a cute little mouse or Santa or a manger scene or silver bells. It was the thought that counted, right? Then I discovered that I might have been unknowingly upsetting people so I quit sending cards.

Both sides are constantly horrified by what they consider the other's political correctness. And truthfully, both carry PCness to idiotic extremes. Little boys should not be expelled from school for eating their sandwich into the shape of a gun. Little girls should not be expelled from school for wearing a sleeveless blouse.

How did we reach the point of being convinced that we have a "right" not to be offended anyway?  We all need to toughen up. None of us get through life without experiencing hurt feelings but let's save our indignation for serious injustices.

I often listen to political talk radio on my commute. I constantly hear conservative talk show host pontificate about me - "liberals say...." or "liberals believe...."  My silent response is "hey, wait a minute, I never say that," or "That's not at all what I believe."

Presumably, conservatives believe liberals make the same wrong assertions about them.

Maybe we should try to get together and talk about it.


Sunday, November 08, 2015

And You Call Yourself a Wordsmith!

                                      

I'm a writer. I think of myself as something of a wordsmith. Who would have thought I'd have been mortified by a word?

My birthstone - August - is a peridot. My birthstone has been a peridot for 69 years.

Two weeks ago, my friend, Brenda, and I went to Decatur, Indiana. There is a store there that buys estate jewelry all year long, then during the month of October, they have a huge sale. I thought it would be a fun trip although I wasn't in the market for any jewelry.

Then I saw a peridot ring I simply had to have - a rather large peridot with diamond chips pave set into the band on each side. It wasn't simply that I thought the ring was beautiful, though I did. Rather it recalled a sweet memory. My first husband bought me a peridot ring for my 18th birthday - a 19-year-old who bought a ring he couldn't comfortably afford for his girlfriend. I remember how happy he was when he gave it to me and how happy I was to receive it.

When the son born from that marriage was a teenager, he went through a rebellious, delinquent stage. He stole the ring to sell for, I don't know, cigarettes or gas or weed. He never owned up to the theft until several years later when he apologized. I just thought I'd lost it.

So this ring made me think of that ring and of a time in my life when I was young and loved and in love.

When I took it up to the clerk (who was also the store owner), I told her that story. She looked at me rather pityingly and said, "oh, my dear, it isn't a periDOT, it is a periDOUGH."

I had been mispronouncing the name of my birthstone for almost 70 years. Did no one not want to embarrass me by correcting me? Or do most people, like me, not realize the a word spelled P.E.R.I.D.O.T.  doesn't end with a .DOT but a .DOUGH?

How can you call yourself a wordsmith when you can't correctly pronounce the name of your birthstone and continue to make the same mistake for 69 years?