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Weaponizing word games with no winners

 F. LaGard Smith
Courtesy of F. LaGard Smith

It’s official now.  America has lost its collective mind.  In the newly-adopted House Rules for the incoming 117th Congress, gender-neutral language has been mandated, with gendered pronouns being banished, along with (fasten your seat belt) titles such as “father,” “son,” “mother,” and “daughter.”  The innate absurdity of such political correctness was quickly exposed when Nancy Pelosi, herself, resorted to common sense in her impassioned plea for a second impeachment of, well, you know who he (sorry) IT is.  “I stand before you as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter,” said Pelosi, “a daughter whose father proudly served in this Congress.”  If gendered terms are sufficiently offensive as to require removal from the House Rules, themselves, how can it be acceptable to use those same terms when speaking on the House floor?   (My house, my rules…?)  Then again, how long can it be before that, too, is banned?

By now, of course, we’ve been conditioned into accepting gender-neutral terms along a broad front.  More menacing is the ever-changing racial wokeness that leaves us breathlessly trying to keep pace with what words are offensive, or demanded.  Dare I let slip that we have “plantation shutters” in our “master bedroom?”  Hyper-sensitive people of color are now objecting to anything having even a whiff of anything slavery-related.  Nor are some blacks happy any longer with references to “people of color” — once a term of pride, but now too inclusive of other minorities and not exclusive to blacks.  As if to underscore that exclusivity, only “Black” is to be capitalized, not “brown.”  And did I say “minorities”?  In the eyes of racial zealots, even that word is discriminatory now!

Why all the fuss over terminology?  Apart from changing language to rectify some perceived social injustice, weaponizing words is the easiest shortcut to changing culture, from which official action quickly follows.  Best example?  The brilliantly orchestrated shift from “homosexual” to “gay,” instantly destigmatizing once-unacceptable conduct by substituting a benign — even celebratory — word.  If only all the language wars were as legitimate as with the “N” word.  Having grown up in the South, I know how that was used.  It needed to go!   

There’s nothing new about weaponizing words.  In the civil war between Gilead and Ephraim (Judges 12:4-6), the men of Gilead captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim.  If someone from Ephraim asked to cross over, he was forced to say the word “Shibboleth,” a word that Ephraimites could only pronounce as “Sibboleth.”  Say “Sibboleth,” and you were dead!  (As was said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”)  So, how do you say it: “A woman’s choice,” or “Killing a baby?”  How do you say it: “Republicans,” or “Far-right racists?”  Language so easily betrays and divides us, and not just Gershwin’s “You like tomato, and I like tomahto,” leading (momentarily) to “Let’s call the whole thing off!”         

In the language wars, there are no winners.  Those indulgently trying to please militant wordmongers can never keep up with constantly-moving goal posts.  And the language bullies themselves are never satisfied.  If the cowering masses quit using today’s offensive trigger words, how can one continue to be victimized without finding something new to be offended by? 

Yet, I have to confess that I, too, am offended by certain trigger words, like the swearing version of “Jesus Christ!” (or even more vulgar variants), and the ubiquitous “Oh, my God!” (OMG!), now thoughtlessly uttered even by believers.  And then there’s the problem of perfectly good words being rejected, none more consequential than rejection of the very first Word — the One in the beginning (Jn. 1:1) — who was not an “It,” but the Son of his divine Father.  When culture takes offense at that Father and Son, how can language be anything but divisive, chaotic babble?   

F. LaGard Smith is a retired law school professor (Pepperdine, Liberty, and Faulkner law schools), and is the author of some 35 books, touching on law, faith, and social issues.  He is the compiler and narrator of The Daily Bible (the NIV and NLT arranged in chronological order), and posts weekly devotionals on Facebook, drawing spiritual applications from current events.

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