Thursday, July 12, 2012

Words are not Wordz

Lately I find I often grapple with the words to describe things.

For example, I worked long and hard on this sentence:  "The idyllic days of youth are more closely strung together whilst in our elder years the moments are."

I intended the quoted sentence to be a central theme to a blog post and I guess it is but not in the way I had originally jotted down my thoughts.

And that's the gist of this post.  Words are often not used as they were originally intended.  This post is going to be about two particular words that are pervasive in our culture and have acquired meaning beyond their original one.  I am not going to name them as yet because I'd like my thoughts to be digested before evoking a reaction from you, dear reader.

When Daughter was around six years of age we had our first meaningful sex education moment.  I think she already knew the birds and the bees (or birds and birds or bees and bees, I've been quite liberal in my approach to these issues, much to her chagrin as she got older).  I think she had probably just discovered, on her own, the pleasures of touching yourself 'down there' and she was doing this around me, at home.  I think she was doing it over her clothes...and perhaps even subconsciously, I don't really recollect the specifics.  At any rate, once I was certain of my observations I said to her that she needed to stop doing that in public because yes, it feels good, but there are things that we do in private and this was one of them.  I told her that what she was doing was called masturbation and it was a very pleasurable activity, yes, but it was something that each of us did in private.

The clearest part of my memory of this rather ordinary yet quite significant parenting moment is that her eyes widened at some point during my mini-lecture and she said, with incredulity in her voice:  "There's a word for that?  Wow!".

Hopefully you'll think that story was as cute as a button because that's what she was, in that moment, to me.  Absolute innocence.  It is also a stark reminder of the power we parents have, eh?

When people talk of their maiden names I always wonder (and sometimes voice) whether they were a virgin before they got married.  Not so long ago, women were property and men married virgins as unspoiled property and calling yourself a maiden harkens back to that time.  So why do most women still do this whole name changing thing again?  It truly baffles me the number of people that do and refer to themselves as maidens.

Anyways.  Back to words.  They have power.  Using the words masturbation or maiden in 2012 is, for the most part, uncontroversial despite my hatred of the word maiden due to the patriarchal culture it reinforces.

But these other words, the words I have in mind, used to be ones that caused no controversy and yet in the last week one of them has been tossed out into our cultural landscape without regard to the legions of mostly silent people that are most offended by it's use.

Have you guessed them yet?  Before I let them out of the hat let me talk about a speaker I heard at TEDxStJohns, Philip Riteman (pictured below).  In the photo I've posted from the event he is holding up his arm to show the audience something.  His Auschwitz tattoo.  His permanent reminder of the horror of losing each member of his immediate and most of his extended family.  His tale was powerful.  It took him forty years to tell his story, the pain was that great.  He choked up numerous times during his talk and it humbled each of us in attendance, I'm sure.  He put it best:  "Each of you live in heaven."

Now imagine Mr. Riteman attending a stand up comedy show and the comedien saying "some very generalizing and declarative statements about nazis always being funny."  Imagine Mr. Riteman then shouting out from the audience: "Actually, nazi jokes are never funny."  Would the comedian responding with "Wouldn't it be funny if that guy got taken by nazis.  Like right now.  And his whole family too." get a laugh out of the crowd?

Is that funny?  To anyone?  Would it be funny if he was not a holocaust survivor?  Why?  

A comedian in the States thought that using the word rape in almost the exact same context this week was appropriate and his attack was met with laughter. Note that I have no idea if the person who shouted out from the crowd has been a rape victim.  And I don't care.  I applaud her actions and hope that I would be as brave in a similar situation.  The ensuing 'controversy' over this guy's remarks (and the number of supporters he has) has made my head hurt.  Note that he has apologized.

So suffice it to say that these two words:  rape and nazi, are words whose uses are almost sacred to me and to many people that it has affected either directly or indirectly.  I dream of an age where these words will just be ancient relics of a barbaric society that also used terms like maiden to describe a human being with a high market value.

Today's culture is full of mostly wordz it seems and it saddens me to think that after the events that went down this week, rape is one of the new wordz on our radar joining other ones like nazi and feminist and maiden.  Do you have any others to add?

Holocaust survivor Philip Riteman showing his Auschwitz tattoo.
Click on the photo to go to the TEDxStJohns fb page where this was originally posted.


  1. I've never understood people who laugh at misogyny, rape, genocide, racism et al. Never. It is so unfunny as to make me leave. I applaud the woman who stood and walked out having said her piece. More about it here:


    1. is the new url for that post.

      I didn't follow the twitter controversy but there was a facebook thread that got me pondering the whole mess last night and this morning.

      I've hooked up on twitter with the Shakesville woman. She's awesome, thx :) xo


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