It’s hard not to ridicule some the language adopted by our lefty friends, and it can be fun! But it’s not just them. We hear it now from employers, schools, and otherwise sensible people too eager to signal their modernity and virtue. Lionel Shriver dissects some of this “Lefty Lingo” in an entertaining piece in Harper’s. It’s funny, but it aroused my contempt for the smugness of the “wokescenti” (a term Shriver attributes too Meghan Daum) and my pity for those “normals” simply desperate to project progressive sophistication.
Here are a few of Shriver’s observations:
“Privilege”: makes you incapable of understanding that which you criticize.
“Whereas a privilege can be acquired through merit—e.g., students with good grades got to go bowling with our teacher in sixth grade—privilege, sans the article, is implicitly unearned and undeserved. The designation neatly dispossesses those so stigmatized of any credit for their achievements while discounting as immaterial those hurdles an individual with a perceived leg up might still have had to overcome (an alcoholic parent, a stutter, even poverty). For privilege is a static state into which you are born, stained by original sin. Just as you can’t earn yourself into privilege, you can’t earn yourself out of it, either. … . it’s intriguing that the P-bomb is most frequently dropped by folks of European heritage, either to convey a posturing humility (“I acknowledge my privilege”) or to demonize the Bad White People, the better to distinguish themselves as the Good White People.
Meanwhile, it isn’t clear what an admission of privilege calls you to do, aside from cower. That tired injunction ‘Check your privilege’ translates simply to ‘S.T.F.U.’—and it’s telling that ‘Shut the fuck up’ is now a sufficiently commonplace imperative to have lodged in text-speak.”
“Cisgender”: “Cis-” is a linguistic shell game whereby the typical case is labelled cis-typical.
“Denoting, say, a woman born a woman who thinks she’s a woman, this freighted neologism deliberately peculiarizes being born a sex and placidly accepting your fate, and even suggests that there’s something a bit passive and conformist about complying with the arbitrary caprices of your mother’s doctor. Moreover, unless a discussion specifically regards transgenderism, in which case we might need to distinguish the rest of the population (‘non-trans’ would do nicely), we don’t really need this word, except as a banner for how gendercool we are. It’s no more necessary than words for ‘a dog that is not a cat,’ a ‘lamppost that is not a fire hydrant,’ or ‘a table that is actually a table.’ Presumably, in order to mark entities that are what they appear to be, we could append ‘cis’ to anything and everything. ‘Cisblue’ would mean blue and not yellow. ‘Cisboring’ would mean genuinely dull, and not secretly entertaining after all.”
“Microaggression“: Anything you say that bothers them, even a little.
“… a perverse concoction, implying that the offense in question is so minuscule as to be invisible to the naked eye, yet also that it’s terribly important. The word cultivates hypersensitivity.”
“_____-phobic”: the typical use of this suffix in identity politics stands “phobia” on its head. To be fair, however, it started with a presumption that people hate that which they fear. Maybe also that they fear and hate that which they don’t care for, but we’ll just focus on fear and hate. For example, there is the notion that men have deep fears about their own sexuality. Thus, the prototypical gay-basher in film is often compensating for his own repressed homosexual longings, you see. And now, the idea is that we always fear “otherness” and probably hate it too. Both assertions are tenuous. At least those narratives are rooted in “fear”, but it’s not quite the same phenomenon as hate, and yet “phobic” seems to have been redefined as odium:
“The ubiquitous ‘transphobic,’ ‘Islamophobic,’ and ‘homophobic’ are also eccentric, in that the reprobates so branded are not really being accused of fearfulness but hatred.”
“LGBTQ“: Lumping all these “types” together can be misleading, as they do not always speak in unison on public policy. But if we must, how about “Let’s Go Back To ‘Queer'”, as Shriver suggests. The LGBs I know don’t seem to mind it as a descriptor, but maybe that’s only when they say it. Not sure about the trannies. There is a great Libertarian economist who is transsexual ( Dierdre McCloskey), and somehow “queer” doesn’t seem quite right for her. Perhaps she’s just a great woman.
“The alphabet soup of ‘LGBTQ’ continues to add letters: LGBTQIAGNC, LGBTQQIP2SAA, or even LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA. A three-year-old bashing the keyboard would produce a more functional shorthand, and we already have a simpler locution: queer.”
“Problematic”, “Troubling” and “Inappropriate”: I’m sure some of what I’ve said above is all three. I must confess I’ve used these terms myself, and they are perfectly good words. It’s just funny when the Left uses them in the following ways.
“Rare instances of left-wing understatement, ‘problematic’ and ‘troubling’ are coyly nonspecific red flags for political transgression that obviate spelling out exactly what sin has been committed (thereby eliding the argument). Similarly, the all-purpose adjectival workhorse ‘inappropriate’ presumes a shared set of social norms that in the throes of the culture wars we conspicuously lack. This euphemistic tsk-tsk projects the prim censure of a mother alarmed that her daughter’s low-cut blouse is too revealing for church. ‘Inappropriate’ is laced with disgust, while once again skipping the argument. By conceit, the appalling nature of the misbehavior at issue is glaringly obvious to everyone, so what’s wrong with it goes without saying.”
Here are a few others among my favorites:
“Patriarchy“: This serves the same function as “privilege” but is directed more specifically at the privilege enjoyed by males. Usually white, heterosexual males. It seeks to preemptively discredit any argument a male might make, and often it is used to discredit Western political and economic thought generally. That’s because so much of it was the product of the patriarchy, don’t you know! And remember, it means that males are simply incapable of understanding the plight of females … and children, let alone queers! Apparently fathers are bad, especially if they’re still straight. Mothers are good, unless they stand with the patriarchy.
“Hate Speech“: This expression contributes nothing to our understanding of speech that is not protected by the Constitution. If anything its use is intended to deny certain kinds of protected speech. Sure, originally it was targeted at such aberrations as racist or anti-gay rhetoric, assuming that always meant “hate”, but even those are protected as long as they stop short of “fighting words”. There are many kinds of opinions that now seem to qualify as “hate speech” in the eyes of the Identitarian Left, even when not truly “hateful”, such as church teachings in disapproval of homosexuality. There is also a tendency to characterize certain policy positions as “hate speech”, such as limits on immigration and opposition to “living wage” laws. Hypersensitivity, once more.
“Sustainability“: What a virtue signal! It’s now a big game to characterize whatever you do as promoting “sustainability”. But let’s get one thing straight: an activity is sustainable only if its benefits exceed its resource costs. That is the outcome sought by voluntary participants in markets, or they do not trade. Benefits and costs “estimated” by government bureaucrats without the benefit of market prices are not reliable guides to sustainability. Nor is Lefty politics a reliable guide to sustainability. Subsidies for favored activities actually undermine that goal.
There are many other Lefty catch phrases and preferred ways of speaking. We didn’t even get to “safe space”, “social justice”, and the pronoun controversy. Shriver closes with some general thoughts on the lefty lingo. I’ll close by quoting one of those points:
“The whole lexicon is of a piece. Its usage advertises that one has bought into a set menu of opinions—about race, gender, climate change, abortion, tax policy, #MeToo, Trump, Brexit, Brett Kavanaugh, probably Israel, and a great deal else. Reflexive resort to this argot therefore implies not that you think the same way as others of your political disposition but that you don’t think. You have ordered the prix fixe; you’re not in the kitchen cooking dinner for yourself.”