Breaking Up With Words

A small sign with End sits atop a bigger sign with FRIENDSHIPHappy Chinese, er, Lunar New Year!

I still slip up on occasion because I’ve called it “Chinese New Year” for most of my life. When the mind reaches for words, it’s not surprising that the most familiar are the most accessible.

There’s more to this habit than wanting what’s familiar, though. I reach for words with emotional resonance. The phrase “Chinese New Year” moves me, reminds me, makes me happy, whereas the more inclusive “Lunar New Year” is merely syllables.

But what if the familiar becomes uncomfortable? Even though my heart prefers “Chinese New Year,” that phrase leaves out the Korean and Vietnamese cultures, among others, and no longer aligns with my intentions or world view. And although “Lunar New Year” is the clear winner, it feels like I’ve broken up with an old friend.

I suspect that a twinge of grief underlies certain shifts in language, for inclusive language in particular. Even wholehearted support of respectful, compassionate, and mindful “people words” might be accompanied by a feeling of loss. We’ve invested more in mother/father than parent, woman/man than person, wife/husband than spouse, and using the unbiased version can feel flat.

And it’s OK. It doesn’t mean we should run back to relationships which no longer serve us. Those words have already been given a chance, and look what they’ve done to us, to the world.

Form relationships with new words. Aim for equality and not just diversity. We need to evolve language so that more of us matter.

How has language been treating you?

In other news:
  • “Conscious Language at Work” Q&A Series: Our second interview in this series features pediatric social worker Mia Scanlon, who works with families whose child has a hematology or oncology diagnosis. Find out how she communicates mindfully to help people cope with illness and death, including her thoughts on euphemisms, cognitive distortions, and full disclosure.
  • ACES 2016: Yes, friends, I will be in Portland come March for the American Copy Editors Society conference. I’m on an amazing panel with lexicographer Kory Stamper (also the keynote speaker), ad rep Dilane Mitchell, and copy editor Colleen Barry, and we’ll be discussing “Sexist Creeps: How to Catch and Fix Sexist Language.” Rumor has it that we will be wearing aviators.
  • National Grammar Day: ACES has invited me to be a judge for this year’s National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest, which is happening around March 4. In 2012, I placed second with this haiku: “Tiny hyphen mark / marries words, charms editor. / Turns out to be lint.” It’s always a pleasure to see what fellow grammar-lovers come up with each year. Remember to use the hashtag #grammarday when you tweet your haiku.

With understanding,

Karen Yin
Founder

 

Photo by Tinou Bao used under CC BY 2.0

8 Sex Positive Things You Can Say to Your Kids That Have Nothing to Do With Sex | Romper

“It’s never too early to tell your kids, ‘Look, different people are made happy by different things. Different people believe in different things. And sometimes those things may seem strange to you…and that’s fine.'”

If Male Scientists Were Written About Like Female Scientists | BuzzFeed

“He had the body of an athlete and the face of a movie star. But Oliver Sacks chose science over glamour.”—@Daurmith

When White People Commit Outrageous Crimes, Let’s Use Appropriately Strong Language | The Times-Picayune

“My correspondents who call [Dylann] Roof ‘an idiot kid’ or, even worse, ‘a boob’ are, with their cutesy language, dismissing the seriousness of his crime and the value of his victims’ lives.”

The Violence Behind the Words “Be a Man” | Bitch Media

“The way masculinity is constructed and enforced hurts men—and women, and everyone else.”

Enduring Prejudices of Gender Woven Into Chinese Language | The New York Times

“What if ‘womanwomanwoman’ were the English word for rape, defilement, adultery?”

How Our Idea of “Strong Women” Unintentionally Hurts Female Leaders | Fast Company

“Gloria Steinem called this linguistic differential the ‘politics of the unnecessary adjective.'”

How We Label People With Mental Illness Influences Tolerance Toward Them | Medical News Today

“According to study coauthor Darcy Haag Granello, professor of educational studies at the Ohio State University, the findings suggest that language choice when referring to a person with a mental illness is not simply a matter of ‘political correctness.'”

Focus on Research: How “They” Is Causing Waves in Language and Society | Centre Daily Times

“With the singular they, today’s culture is saying through language that we must create space for more members of our society.”

6 Seemingly Harmless Phrases That Are Actually Ageist | The Huffington Post

“One of the worst parts of aging is actually having to deal with incorrect stereotypes about older people.”

The CDC Still Isn’t Counting Bisexuality Correctly | The Verge

“More Americans than ever identify as bisexual, according to a report released by the CDC yesterday. But that’s not just changing social norms; it may be due to the way the US government is phrasing the question.”

What Cis People Say to Trans People vs. What We Hear | BuzzFeed

Intent vs. impact.

6 Subtle Forms of Mansplaining That Women Encounter Each Day | Bustle

“When a man ‘mansplains’ something to a woman, he interrupts or speaks over her to explain something that she already knows—indeed, something in which she may already be an expert—on the assumption that he must know more than she does.”

The Simple Secret to Winning Any Argument, According to a Harvard Psychologist | Mic

Part of conscious language is knowing when to say nothing.

Sexism Row Prompts Oxford Dictionaries to Review Language Used in Definitions | The Guardian

“Why does the Oxford Dictionary of English portray women as ‘rabid feminists’ with mysterious ‘psyches’ speaking in ‘shrill voices’ who can’t do research or hold a PhD but can do ‘all the housework’?”—Canadian anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan

Twitter Tackles the Free Speech Conundrum | The Guardian

“You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.”—Twitter

Don’t Code Me, Bro: Gendered Language Markers | This Ain’t Livin’

“A woman who is clear and concise is ‘brusque’ or ‘rude,’ while a man who uses exactly the same kind of framing is just efficient and getting things done. If a woman doesn’t use ‘softening language’ to apologise for her very existence, she’s a bitch, a harridan. This has profound effects for professional women….”

Ageism, Attitude and Health | U.S. News & World Report

“Becca Levy, an associate professor of both epidemiology and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health, and colleagues are compiling evidence on the physical fallout of ageism. In study after study, they connect negative stereotypes of old age to worse health outcomes.”

I Might Be Gay, but Please Don’t Call Me Your “Gay Best Friend” | MTV News

“Stereotypes are damaging when they are used to turn people into props.”

New Chrome App Helps Women Stop Saying “Just” and “Sorry” in Emails | Slate

“The Just Not Sorry extension…underlines self-demeaning phrases like ‘I’m no expert’ and qualifying words like ‘actually’ in red in Gmail like they’re spelling errors.”

Should We Name Workplace Predators Online? | The Cut

“A problem that is this deep and widespread practically demands a slow-burn response, not a short-term flame war.”

Every Single-Occupancy Restroom in California Could Be Labeled “All Gender” | Time

“By making single-user restrooms accessible to all genders, this law will make life easier for everyone and reduce the harassment regularly experienced by transgender people and others who don’t match people’s stereotypes of what it looks like to be a man or a woman.”—Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center

6 Alternatives to Sexist Language, Because “Grow Some Balls” Does More Harm Than You Think | Bustle

“Devising new ways of communicating old ideas is an effective way to get people thinking, but it takes some creativity to work around the ways we’re used to speaking.”

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 .

White type on sky-blue background.

KEEP LEARNING.

Get news, articles, updates, and offers from Conscious Style Guide in your in-box. Our newsletter rounds up the best writing from the world of conscious language and is the only publication of its kind.

We care about your privacy. Opt out anytime.

Thank you for subscribing!

Pin It on Pinterest