N is for Nineteen Eighty-Four

Unknown-1Can you believe that I didn’t read 1984 in high school?  Wasn’t pretty much everyone else assigned that book?


I struggled the first time I tried to read this book.  I got to a certain point and put it down, intending to pick it back up.  But then I didn’t for another four years.

The second time I tried to read it, I must have been in a different place mentally, because I loved it.  I won’t say that I sped through it; it still took me about two weeks, but I enjoyed it.

The whole book is frightening; I can’t stand the thought of having my freedom restricted, especially not to such a degree that it is in this novel.  The idea that someone is watching me, that I’m not even supposed to have thoughts of my own, is horrifying.

The book begins with the main character completing a subversive act.  He’s bought a journal, and intends to write in it.  I can’t imagine what it would be like if I couldn’t write my thoughts down, if I didn’t know that I could keep certain thoughts private, and say anything I like publicly.  Whether or not anyone reads this blog, I have the right to post my thoughts and opinions.  People are free to agree or disagree.

One of the things that happens in the book is that government officials are destroying words.  Instead of being able to choose from amazing, wonderful, awesome, good, and terrific, the replacements are good, plusgood, and plusplusgood.  Imagine, not having a variety of words to choose from!

My personality is reflected by the words I choose.  I’m not a fan of censorship in any form (other than personal censorship by choosing not to read or listen to something).  Controlling thoughts begins with controlling language.

This book gave me a much deeper understanding of how important language is to personal freedom.  It’s a slippery slope, once we start valuing some words more than others, putting some words on the approved list, and kicking others off.

Think about it: words are just letters put together.  The sounds they make are meaningless, until we ascribe meaning to them.  And those meanings can change over time.

I love to read horror novels, and this isn’t one.  But honestly, this might be the scariest book on this list.

Philosophy Class and the He/ She Conundrum

Berry Springs Park, TX Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Berry Springs Park, TX
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

When I was in college, I took a lot of philosophy courses.  It was primarily because my school had a history requirement that could be fulfilled by philosophy classes.  Now, I hate history (well, I used to), but I’ve always loved philosophy.

I had one particularly philosophy professor more than once.  I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that we butted heads frequently.  You see, he was insistent that in our papers, we use “gender neutral” language, or the dreaded he/ she.  I hated writing he/ she in my papers, and felt it was cumbersome and unnecessary.  I much preferred using “he,” as it was grammatically correct and easier to read.

This professor marked me down in my papers for my use of gender specific language.  I don’t remember if I gave in and wrote it the way he wanted, or if I stayed stubborn.  I do remember arguing about it in class, and that as far as I was concerned, he never gave a compelling argument for why I should use that language.

Language is important, and how we use language definitely influences our thinking.  I try to talk in a positive way, and I think the way I talk to myself and others makes it easier for me to stay positive.  That being said, I think “gender neutral” goes too far.

I don’t want gender neutrality.  I’m okay with being a woman and being part of mankind.  I don’t think it diminishes me in anyway or oppresses me to be part of mankind, and to use the general “he” in formal papers.  I think that gender neutrality is overrated.  I want to be different, not just as a woman, but as a person.  But I don’t think that writing he/ she is going to change the way women are viewed in society.

If I had to take the class today, I would roll my eyes but write the papers the way he wanted me to.  I’m more relaxed about things like that, and I no longer need to be right about everything.  (Yes, friends, you read that correctly.  I no longer need to be right.  Just because I usually am doesn’t mean it’s a necessity.)

It was my job to be open minded about learning, but it was also his job to teach.  If you’re going to teach me, give me a better argument than the party line.  Tell me why gender neutrality is important.  I may not agree, but if you can make a compelling argument, I’ll at least respect what you say.

Looking back, I find it ironic that a philosophy professor got upset because I was trying to argue a philosophical point with him.  The rest of the class found it hilarious, but my professor looked like he was going to pop a blood vessel in his head.

Recently, I’ve seen people switch back and forth between he and she when they write, using them interchangeably.  I find that way more acceptable than he/ she.  Psychology writing preference is just to use plurals, so instead of saying “The way a person uses language shows the way he/ she things,” I would say, “The way people use language shows the way they think.”  Honestly, if my professor had showed me the plural trick, I would have jumped on board with that!  It’s a way around gender neutral language (although “they” still contains “he,” so is it really neutral?).

Where do you weigh in on gender neutral language?


Arlington National Cemetery; Photo Credit Doree Weller

Arlington National Cemetery; Photo Credit Doree Weller

I’m not a fan of euphemisms and political correctness.  As George Carlin said, euphemism use the language to disguise what’s there instead of enlighten.  I think that both written and spoken language should make things clearer, not more obscure.

Cursing is an interesting example.  There are people who don’t curse at all.  Most people use some sort of word in place of expletives if they don’t curse.  For example, on the TV show, Battlestar Galactica, they made up the word “frack.”  We all knew what it replaced.  So the word means the same thing but isn’t the same thing so it’s somehow different?

Penn and Teller, in their TV show Bullsh*t, explain that they can call people all sorts of names (mostly expletives) and that’s okay, but they could get sued if they called them “charlatans,” “scam artists,” or “liars.”  Again, they explain this to us up front, but don’t say the actual words… so somehow it means something else?  In their case, they deliberately used cursing to obscure their real meaning.

In my groups during my day job, I curse and allow my group members to curse.  It doesn’t get out of hand and everyone still treats one another with respect.  Why?  Because that’s how I expect everyone to treat one another.  It’s our group norm.  Use whatever language you feel fits the situation, be you, and don’t censor yourself.  The words are only “bad words” because society has deemed them “bad.”  Really, there a series of letters put together with a particular meaning. Is saying “f**k you” any more offensive than “I hate you”?  Personally, I’d rather be cursed at…  And I’d rather people say exactly what they mean.  Choose your words wisely, and please make sure you’re using the “right” ones.

Land of Confusion

When I was 13, my uncle was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany, and I was lucky enough to tag along with my grandparents and be able to visit him for a month.  I didn’t appreciate Germany nearly as much as I would have if I had gone as an adult, but I did enjoy myself.  I remember loving the cobblestone roads, and knowing, even then, that they had way more character than our paved roads.  Of course, the cobblestone roads are narrow, which made driving difficult, but they were pretty.

One time, my grandfather was cooking something, and they sent me to the store for mayonnaise.  It was no big deal because almost everyone speaks at least some English (and I didn’t speak a word of German).  When I went to the store, I couldn’t find the mayo anywhere, so I asked someone.

The word doesn’t translate, and I eventually figured out that they don’t have mayonnaise in Germany, or at least they didn’t back then.  I remember going to the store and feeling like it was a big adventure, but then being so frustrated when I couldn’t seem to make myself understood.  That was my first taste of what it felt like not to speak the language, and it was a humbling experience.

Prompt brought to you by the Daily Post.

Grammar Police

Juneau, AK; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Juneau, AK; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Dear Facebook Friends,

I try not to correct your spelling, your incorrect use of you’re/your and they’re/their/there.  I try to live and let live, tell myself that you’re being artistic, in a hurry, or that spelling/ grammar isn’t your priority, as going to the gym isn’t mine.  Sometimes, however, when I see you go on a mostly incoherent rant about others, I think about how much more effective that rant would be with commas, correct spelling, and good grammar.  You see, then I could fully appreciate your rant, rather than having to decipher everything you’ve written down.  I could follow along, sharing your pain and indignation, rather than having to wonder where the periods should go.

I promise, this isn’t directed at any one person.  If it were, I would just tell that person.  I’m not trying to be passive aggressive.  Rather, this is a general response to what I see as the general laziness of the Internet.  Just because I know what “u” means, doesn’t mean you have to skip the other two perfectly useful letters.  In text form, I get it.  Ever since I watched the TED talk by linguist John McWhorter, it makes perfect sense to me that texting is a completely different language, and not really a written language.  However, text talk is only appropriate to use when communicating with someone else who speaks text.  I don’t.  Therefore using anything other than the most obvious abbreviations goes over my head.  Facebook is a general means of communicating with all your “friends.”  Doesn’t it make sense, then, to communicate in the language everyone speaks, and not “text”?

I get passionate about grammar, spelling, and punctuation, not because I think everyone should be a wonderful writer, but because I think it’s important for people to at least know the basics.  Oral communication is being replaced, somewhat, by written communication.  (Which I find ironic.)  I don’t talk on the phone the way I did when I was 16, and I don’t think 16 year olds much use the phone to “talk” anymore.  They text, they Facebook, Snapchat, and a million other things that I’m too old and was never cool enough to understand.  Most of those have a written element to them.

Now, more than ever, isn’t it important to know the fundamentals of language?  Should we correct people who make mistakes, or is it more important to be polite?

In any case, thank you for taking the time to read my rant.



T is for Texting

100_1859I admit it… I spell out all the words and use correct punctuation and grammar when I text.  Initially when texting became available, I thought it was stupid.  “Well, if I have something to say, I’ll just call them.”  Now, I’m the exact opposite; I’d rather text than call someone.  When I talk on the phone, I have to observe social niceties like asking how the person is doing and listening to them for what is always longer than 5 minutes.  With texting, I get to skip over all that and get to the point.  Phone calls are nicer and more social, while texting is way more efficient.

I recently watched something called a TED talk.  Linguist John McWhorter encourages us to look at texting less as something written than as “fingered speech.”  When I watched the talk and began to look at texting that way, with its own rules and grammar, it shifted my perspective on it.  Maybe it isn’t that the younger generation is butchering basic rules of language, but rather learning a new and complex language that people my are are just a little mystified by.

It’s a great talk, and can be found here.  It’s less than 15 minutes long, but very interesting.

New Words Added to the Dictionary!

One of my favorite things about language is it’s fluidity.  It evolves and changes along with people.  As people change, language changes with us.  In many ways this is good, as long as we’re not talking about the “dumbing down” of language.  

Merriam-Webster has added a bunch of new words, including flexitarian (that’s me!), game changer, geocaching, and… F-bomb!  Of course, these aren’t all the words being added, so feel free to take a look at the actual list.

When I was younger, my favorite word was “troglodyte.”  It’s fun to say, and was even more fun to call people, since few knew what it meant.  Nowadays I don’t really have a favorite word.  I’m more fond of how they all go together than just one in particular.  Still, the addition of more words means more choices for writers, and that’s never a bad thing!