Calibrating Terminology

Calibration. This is what I’ve been pondering over my holiday break.

In Philosophy 101, we learn that, to engage in effective discourse, we must first define our terms. By understanding—and agreeing on—what certain words mean, we are calibrating with one another. Then it becomes easier to communicate, converse, connect.

But what if we, as a society, struggle or refuse to calibrate our terms? Why should people who have been hurt by language be forced to use the same language? This is what that word means. No, that is what that word means. And then we stack meanings on top of those meanings until we are speaking different languages. For example, competing meanings of transgender make it possible for us to be cis and trans at the same time. The pansexual identity competes with the bisexual identity though they are two words for the same thing (i.e., inclusive of all genders, not just two).

As a longtime editor, I use my judgment in knowing when to hold the line and when to let the line change shape—but it is important to let the latter happen. There are ways to mitigate the confusion, such as choosing which terminology to clarify for which audience, how, and when.

No matter how confusing, amazing, bewildering, or enthralling language becomes, I applaud its evolution. I must, because I’m not interested in trying to control anybody. I offer this reference site only for people who are curious or serious about conscious language, for those of us who are shopping around for thoughtful words.

We are all stakeholders in language. All this analysis, debate, and animosity over words, I appreciate it because it means we care about calibrating, about seeing eye to eye and inviting others to share our points of view. Even when it doesn’t seem to be happening, it’s important that we try.

In other news:

  • We’ve launched our “Conscious Language at Work” Q&A Series. The first Q&A features accessibility analyst and copy editor Ashley Bischoff, who discusses people-first language, the relationship between plain language and accessibility, and being mindful of ableist language.
  • Conscious Style Guide’s age-related terminology is now available online as well, with terms for the other categories to follow.

Happy New Year!

Thoughtfully yours,

Karen Yin

The Year in Words 2015: One Pronoun to Rule Them All? | Visual Thesaurus

“One new development has been the use of they for a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person who rejects the traditional gender binary of ‘he’ and ‘she.’ And in the pronoun paradigm of singular ‘they,’ the reflexive form often appears not as ‘themselves’ but ‘themselves.'”

Stop Saying “Sorry” If You Want to Say Thank You: A Seriously Insightful Cartoon | Bright Side

On transforming attitude and intention.

What It’s Like Explaining Depression to Your Asian Parents | BuzzFeed

How to respond with compassion and understanding.

A Doctor Discovers an Important Question Patients Should Be Asked | The Washington Post

“I remember a visiting palliative-care physician’s words about caring for the fragile elderly: ‘We forget to ask patients what they want from their care. What are their goals?’”

Is This What Causes so Many Kids to Be Brats? | Creative With Kids

“We’re not raising brats or angels. We’re raising whole people—not perfect, but perfectly suited to teach us that calling names is not a solution nor an inspiration to do better…”

Here’s How to Respectfully Talk About HIV | Mic

Mic shares the terminology from its style guide for covering HIV.

We Shouldn’t Need a Guide on Staying Safer Online | RH Reality Check

“Another thing [Jaclyn Friedman, founder of Women, Action & the Media] pointed out is the false distinction between harassment online and off the Internet: ‘It’s a really dangerous distinction…that serves to downplay what we’re talking about. Online harassment is harassment. Online abuse is abuse,’ she said.”

The Trouble With American Views of Female Genital Cutting | The Society Pages

“Mutilation is, perhaps by definition, the opposite of healing and of what physicians are called to do. Defining [female genital cutting] this way allows, and even demands, that we wholly condemn the practices, take a zero tolerance stance, and refuse to entertain any other point of view. Paradoxically, this has been devastating for efforts to reduce genital cutting.”

LGBT Glossary Bridges Linguistic Gap Across Cultures | Oakland North

“Correct terms can tell them that we’re not going to judge them, that we’re going to be welcoming, no matter what they tell us.”—Dr. Kerry Kay, Frank Kiang Medical Center

Facebook Announces Improvements to “Names Policy” | GLAAD

“The improvements come following outcry from many people in the LGBT community—and specifically, many in the transgender and drag performer communities—whose profiles were suspended because they were not using their ‘real’ names on Facebook.”

Mother of Indian Gang Rape Victim Urges Country to Use Her Daughter’s Real Name | The World Post

“‘My daughter’s name was Jyoti Singh and I am not ashamed to name her,’ Asha Devi, Singh’s mother, said in Hindi. ‘Those who commit heinous crimes like rape, their heads should hang in shame, not the victims or their families.'”

The Word “Cisgender” Is Anti-Trans | Technology and Language

On how the word “cisgender” promotes a narrow definition of “transgender” and excludes the wider trans community.

From “Her” to “Bitch”: How Gendered Language Teaches Us Women Are Objects to Be Controlled | RH Reality Check

“Gendering objects not only harmfully impacts cisgender women, but also transgender and gender-nonconforming people, individuals with a gender identity and expression that fits outside of the gender binary.”

Latina/o/x | Inside Higher Ed

“These Latinx students are the same group who would, a year ago, have been grouped under the terms ‘Latina,’ ‘Latino’ or, commonly, ‘Latino/a’ (or even ‘Latin@’). But, in order to escape the implicit gender binary there and include all possible gender and sexual identities, the final gender-determining syllable is increasingly being replaced with an X.”

Transgender Bolivians Gain Right to Change Gender on ID Cards | Telesur

“The Law of Gender Identity, which affects transgender people above the age of 18, will affect more than 1,500 self-identified trans people in Bolivia…”

I Named My Rapist on Facebook. I Wasn’t Prepared for What Happened Next. | Ravishly

“For the first time, I stopped talking around his name and I actually typed it into the piece—Bill.”

Siri Has an Awesome Response When You Ask About Talking to People With Disabilities | Mic

Apple’s Tim Cook and Siri join “an initiative that aims to eliminate the unnecessary awkwardness many folks feel when it comes to meeting people with disabilities.”

The Conscious Style Guide newsletter rounds up the best news and blog posts from the world of kind, compassionate, mindful, empowering, respectful, and inclusive language. Note: Spotlighting an opinion is not intended as an endorsement. Please send news tips to moc.e1527078893diuge1527078893lytss1527078893uoics1527078893noc@e1527078893vol1527078893.

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