CPAC Blogging: Starved for Attention Edition

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So, I didn't think Ann Coulter's remarks at CPAC merited a post of their own, but apparently various other bloggers are disappointed in her reference to Muslims as "ragheads". I'm not sure why. In a sane universe, Coutler would be the third-string backup for the guy who warms up the audience for the guy who warms up the audience for Leno. Whatever weird cosmic whimsy requires me to know who Richard Simmons is has briefly given her a national profile, but her schtick must wear thin even for die-hard conservatives after a few iterations, and she's passed the age where she can count on College Republicans conjuring up her bony visage in the shower as a marketing hook. So now she's resorting to crude racial epithets to stir up a few minutes worth of blogospheric conversation? Shocking. Wake me when she's on season five of The Surreal Life with the dude who played Joey on Blossom.

NEXT: Don't Let 'Em Take Away the Laughter!

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  1. Excellent, Julian. Maybe next she’ll be doing a Reality show with George Galloway.

  2. Wow, harsh.

    Also, well-deserved on Coulter’s part. I’m convinced she’s a tongue in cheek caricature of herself when she’s writing or on stage, but still, it gets old.

  3. Agreed – maybe she says some nasty stuff whenever she’s on camera, but just think about how much fun it would be to get paid for being a complete asshole in front of a national audience any chance you got!

    The only reason I don’t think she’s faking it is that there hasn’t been an expose in People magazine leaked by some of her friends. If I was faking it, I’d have to let my buddies in on the joke.

  4. I’m sure some conservatives find her over-the-top shtick amusing I just can’t see how anyone finds her attractive. If her image floated into my mind in the shower, it would be like running out of hot water.

  5. So now she’s resorting to crude racial epithets

    Sigh. Seriously, to which “race” was she referring?

    It’s not “racist” to call people who wear rags on their heads “ragheads” any more than it is to call fat people “fat.”

    “These jobs are all racist against people without skills.”

    Jeezus.

  6. I’m 42, and she’s a couple years older than I am. She’s a good 15 years too old for the Malibu Barbie hairstyle. It’s bad enough that she’s a screeching wingnut, but to add bad taste on top of that is really too much.

  7. OK, let’s have the “racism” semantic discussion once and for all:

    Obviously, the literal meaning of racism only refers to race. And ethnicity is not race, nor is religion or culture. In fact, many people would argue that race is too crude of a term to describe human beings.

    That said, there’s a difference between literal meaning and common usage. The word “racism” is now commonly used to describe irrational prejudice based on racial, ethnic, or cultural background.

    You can, if you wish, remind us that the common usage is not literally correct. Great. Have fun. You’ll be annoying the hell out of us. At some point, if a usage becomes common enough, then for all practical purposes that is the new meaning. Deal with it. Nobody runs around reminding us that the word “gay” used to just mean “happy.” One way or another, the word took on a new meaning. Stuff happens.

    You don’t notice any professors of Latin running around telling Italians that they’re speaking incorrectly. They’d tell you to a shutta the fucka up. Capisce?

    It’s all fine and dandy to complain about non-standard usages. Non-standard usages impede communication. But complaining that the standard usage is inconsistent with the root of the word is just annoying, and even a hindrance to communication. You’ll get lots of “What do you mean this isn’t racism?” questions, rather than a discussion of the original subject.

    That’s all I have to say about that.

  8. “Sigh. Seriously, to which “race” was she referring?”

    The term racist is commonly applied to comments about religious groups as well as racial or ethnic groups (from dictionary.com – “discriminatory especially on the basis of race or religion”).

    “It’s not ‘racist’ to call people who wear rags on their heads ‘ragheads’ any more than it is to call fat people ‘fat.'”

    No, it’s more like calling fat people “bloated lardasses,” or calling Mexican immigrants “wetbacks.” “Raghead” is clearly meant as a pejorative.

    I saw Ann Coulter talk a few years ago, and she’s absolutely fucking insane (or at least her persona is). Someone asked her if there was anything she liked or respected about Islam, and her answer was essentially “they also hate homos.” Classy, classy stuff.

  9. Amen, Mr. Sanchez.

    I’m not the kind of guy who thinks that problems will go away if you ignore them. …but Ann Coulter is an exception to the general rule.

    She’s the journalistic equivalent of a troll and if we ignore her, she will just go away.

    DFTT

  10. What bugs me about the Coulter thing is not so much Coulter herself (she is at best a third-string Joe Pyne knockoff), but the number of people who treat her like she actually has something worthwhile to say. Were there no fools the knaves would starve…

  11. I see your point, thoreau, but still come down with PC=Wimpy. Simply because a highly-charged word like “racist” is commonly misused (and thus diluted) is no excuse for misusing it in this case. To do so is to perpetuate the sort of sloppy thinking and unhelpful name-calling that makes civil political discussion difficult. And yes, I consider “raghead” unhelpful name-calling.

    In other political-linguistic clarifications, George Bush isn’t a “fascist,” the Clintons aren’t “communists,” regretting the sex you had last night doesn’t make it “rape,” and opposing gay marriage isn’t necessarily “homophobia.”

  12. a highly-charged word like “racist” is commonly misused

    Is the word “misused,” or is its meaning evolving over time? The word “slut” originally meant “a woman who is a bad housekeeper” (even now, in some parts of the South you’ll hear the term ‘slut’s wool’ used to describe dust bunnies), but see what happens if you call a chaste-but-sloppy woman a “slut” and then try to explain that the only reason she’s offended is because, darn it, she just doesn’t understand the proper meaning of the word.

    Do it. I dare you.

  13. Bony.
    Blond.
    Joey.
    Whoa!

  14. Jennifer, your example is a bit different. There’s nothing inherent about the word “slut” that would tell someone unfamiliar with it but familiar with the English language what the word means. In contrast, the word “racist” is made up of the root word “race,” and no matter how culturally constructed a concept “race” is, everyone still knows what you’re talking about- the color of someone’s skin (or the folds of skin over their eyes, or their hair, etc.). Towels on the head do not fall under this discription, and therefore a better word should be chosen when talking about prejudice based on this attribute. “Bigoted” is a good possibility. “Ethnocentric” may even be better.

  15. Papaya, I think “racist” is different than the examples you give because the “misuse” is a widely accepted definition, whereas your uses of fascist, communists, and rape aren’t consistent with the widely accepted definitions of those words. Also, even if racist didn’t initially or doesn’t technically apply to ethnicity or religion, the moral/logical mistake is the same in each case, which makes the evolution of the word into its current common usage seem pretty understandable and reasonable, to me at least.

  16. In contrast, the word “racist” is made up of the root word “race,” and no matter how culturally constructed a concept “race” is, everyone still knows what you’re talking about- the color of someone’s skin (or the folds of skin over their eyes, or their hair, etc.).

    But again, the meaning of the word is changing over time, regardless of what the root of the word is. Or rather, the word is picking up different nuances over time; it keeps its original meaning but also has additional meanings added to it.

    We don’t have a word like “culturalist” or “religionist” to describe what Ann Coulter was being when she said “raghead” (well, there’s always “bigoted bitch,” but it doesn’t capture the full flavor of what she is).

    You can argue over semantic hairsplitting all you want, but if someone says “That guy hates all Arabs and Muslims because he’s a racist,” is there any English speaker of average-or-better intelligence who won’t understand exactly what “that guy’s” attitude is?

    Lots of English words have different meanings depending upon the context in which they are used. “Racist” may not always have been one such word, but it is now.

  17. In her most recent op-ed about the cartoon kerfuffle, Coulter actually wrote these words and apparently expected people to believe them:

    Catholics aren?t short on rules, but they couldn?t care less if non-Catholics use birth control.

    Uh . . . yeah. Not so much. And they spend thousands of dollars lobbying to prove it.

  18. Excuse me for just a fuck second, Julian and the rest of you for whom definitions apparently don’t count for much.
    “Racist” means a person who passes some sort of judgment, usually negative, on a person based solely on his/her race.
    It is therefore not — I repeat, NOT — racist to refer to a Muslim as a “raghead.” It’s a bit crude, like saying “just a fuck second” on a blog, but it’s not racist — by definition.
    Definitions count. In today’s world, more than ever.

  19. I thought “raghead” was supposed to be a slur for Arabs, not Muslims.

    Granted, the people who habitually use the word aren’t likely to know the difference.

  20. “Definitions count.”

    They also change. Then the new ones count. Then at some point they may change too. Language is a bitch that way.

  21. In a broader sense, too, it’s tribalist/racist to claim personal pride in the accomplishments of one’s ancestors. It all boils down to falsifying reality, since value is determined and achieved by individuals. To claim value or nonvalue based on blood or skin is racist/tribalist/collectivist bullshit, but to poke fun at (in my view) silly religious customs is not.

  22. Wrong, Ned. Think of a new word, but don’t lazily apply the original to any set of circumstances you see fit.

  23. “Irish Pride” parades are racist, too. And I say that as a drunken, corn-beef-eating Irishman.

  24. To those who like to think that “racist” doesn’t necessarily refer to race because some PC dweebs recently said that it doesn’t – help yourself to the further wisdom of Luanne Platter.

    Personally, since Muslims claim that I, along with my family and most everyone I know, should be murdered for not believing in their asinine religion, I prefer more accurate terms, such as “barbaric assholes” to inaccurate, light-hearted, amusing terms like “raghead.”

    Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. – G. Orwell.

  25. Shiva H. Vishnu, are we actually having a goddamned fucking PRESCRIPTIVIST V. DESCRIPTIVIST DEBATE AGAIN??? Jeeeeezus. Unbelievable.

    Mr. Le Mur, none of the Muslims I know want you or your family dead. They don’t even know you, so get over your big, bad self.

  26. Phil, Julian started it. For shit’s sake.

  27. Jamie Kelly, why do definitions count in today’s world more than ever?

  28. “Wrong, Ned.”

    No, I’m pretty obviously right about that. Definitions do change over time, and the fact that you seem to find that deeply offensive isn’t going to change the reality of it.

    I’m not actually personally responsible for the change in the common usage of the word “racist,” I just acknowledge that it’s happening, and I don’t have a big problem with it. That’s partly because I think its application to religions bears so much similarity to its application to race that the slight loss of precision doesn’t strike me a big deal (I feel the same way about its application to ethnicity instead of race, as you used it in your 5:24 post).

    It’s also partly because the whole notion of race upon which a strict definition of racism would be based is so amorphous and poorly defined. It’s not true, as andy said above, that “everyone still knows what you’re talking about” when you refer to a specific race, or to race in general. As someone who feels so strongly about the importance of definitions, aren’t you a bit bothered by that?

  29. “the meaning of the word is changing over time …”

    Word meanings don’t change themselves, like some predestined inevitability, Jennifer. Ask yourself who’s changing the definitions, and then ask yourself why. If the PC monsters get their goddamned way, then criticizing anyone’s beliefs will eventually be construed as “racist.”

  30. I’m willing to place a fairly decent bet on the fact that, when someone uses the word “Muslim” –especially the kind of person who might be inclined to follow it with “raghead,” “camel jockey” or “sand nigger” — the image that appears in their head when they do it looks a lot more like Yassir Arafat or Osama Bin Laden than it does Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Swarthy, big nose, bushy beard, etc. So on that basis, yeah, I thnk “racist” is a close-enough-for-rock-and-roll proxy for describing the outlook of someone who busts out “raghead.”

  31. Regardless of whether or not “raghead” is specifically a racist, ethnocentric, or religious insult, she obviously intended it as a dimwitted provacation. It boggles my mind that conservatives, who supposedly believe in universal and permanent standards of behavior, continue to support that ill-mannered toad. Actually, change that to “ill-mannered cockroach.” Toads have some merit, unlike Ms. Coulter.

  32. “I think its application to religions bears so much similarity to its application to race that the slight loss of precision doesn’t strike me a big deal”

    I don’t care if it doesn’t “strike” you. It’s lazy and inaccurate, and its application to religion — a system of beliefs and customs — is a smear tactic that attempts to squelch dissent, even if the dissent is crude and bigoted.
    I believe the pope wears a funny hat, and that people who unthinkingly bow to anything the funny-hat-wearer says are idiots.
    RACIST! RACIST! RACIST! RACIST!

  33. “dimwitted provacation”

    Perfect. So much more accurate and eloquent than “racist.” Bravo, Karen Cox.

  34. Of course the definitions and usage of words can change naturally over time, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to acquiesce to every politically-motivated redefinition. That’s my problem with it.

    Within my memory (and I’m not too old), “racism” meant something far more specific than “any comment any ethnic group finds insulting.” The leftist/PC tactic (which has clearly been successful based on Julian’s use and some of these comments) of enlarging the definition is simply a means of giving themselves a bigger brush with which to tar their political opponents by labeling them as “too extreme for serious consideration.” The fact that it dilutes the word to near-meaninglessness doesn’t concern them. (If Ann Coulter is a “racist,” what are Nazis? “Super-duper racists”?)

    And the fact that this misuse is now common is a weak argument. Libertarians, who are commonly referred to as “anarchists” or “right-wing nuts,” and who often have to explain the difference between a “democracy” and a “constitutional republic,” shouldn’t have any trouble understanding this.

  35. Jamie Kelly, why do definitions count in today’s world more than ever?

    Because we have to be clear what and who is and is NOT dangerous to civilization, and we have to cut through the muddled mess of lazy language in order to do that. We have to have zero fear of being referred to as a “racist” when we confront the irrational ideas of the pigs who ram planes into buildings, who cut the clits off of women, and who generally wish everyone not like them dead.

  36. “I believe the pope wears a funny hat, and that people who unthinkingly bow to anything the funny-hat-wearer says are idiots.”

    And you’re clearly an idiot if your notion of Catholics is people who “unthinkingly bow to anything the funny-hat-wearer says.” But back to the matter at hand. When you used the word racist above to describe an event centered around an ethnic group, and not a race, were you just being sloppy with your definitions? Was it a “smear tactic”? Was it some sort of attempt at ironic humor that fell flat?

    And I was hoping you’d address the last part of my 5:53 post – are you troubled by the fact that race itself is so poorly defined? That even if it is applied only to race (not religion or ethnicity), there would still be (and is) a lot of ambiguity over what exactly is racist, leading to even more fodder for those goddamned PC monsters?

  37. I didn’t say “Catholic.” I said “people who unthinkingly bow to anything the funny-hat-wearer says.” Are those people Catholics? Yes. Are all Catholics those people? Clearly not. I was attempting to be … oh, what’s the word? Oh yes, “accurate,” while making a point about the irrational beliefs of some people who happen to be Catholic. I’d do it to the Muslims too, but I’m too fucking bored and tired. You somehow read into my brief screed that all Catholics are unthinking followers of the pope. Then again, for someone who isn’t bothered by the application of “racist” to religion, I’m not surprised one bit.
    As to the second part of your post, the fact that there is ambiguity when it comes to racial lines and definitions doesn’t mute the point that people who make judgments about people based solely on (any) skin color or bloodline are by definition “racist.” You take personal pride in your Irish heritage? You’re a racist. Don’t like the guy next door because his skin is olive-tinted? You’re a racist.
    Racism grants value (or nonvalue) to a person (including oneself) based on skin color and/or bloodline. How is that not clear to you?

  38. “Within my memory (and I’m not too old), “racism” meant something far more specific than ‘any comment any ethnic group finds insulting.'”

    That’s not how the word is being used here. “Raghead” is not simply a word that Muslims find insulting – it’s intended to be insulting by its user. It’s the Muslim equivalent of “kike” (or at least was intended that way by Coulter, although as Jesse mentioned it’s usually applied to Arabs, not Muslims). The word is being used to ascribe a single set of attitudes, qualities, etc. to a large, diverse group of people – in this case the notion that Muslims all want to destroy our way of life, etc. The moral/logical mistake is the same as it would be if she were making blanket statements about black people.

    “What are Nazis? “Super-duper racists”?”

    No, by a strict (race-based) definition of racist, the Nazis policies generally weren’t racist. They were largely focused on religious, ethnic, and behavioral groups. You and Jamie both seem pretty sloppy with your uses of the word, which I find odd.

  39. “The Nazis policies generally weren’t racist.”

    Yeah, that attempt to establish a pure Aryan state through wholesale death and eugenics was just a publicity stunt. And have you ever watched that rarely viewed footage of Hitler giving Jesse Owens a butt-pat?

  40. We have to have zero fear of being referred to as a “racist” when we confront the irrational ideas of the pigs who ram planes into buildings, who cut the clits off of women, and who generally wish everyone not like them dead.

    Generally, even among people who use the term ‘racist’ in the manner you disapprove of, they generally make a distinction between “people who dislike the fundamentalist Islam that’s been inspiring terrorism and oppressive governments,” and “people who dislike Muslims” or “people who dislike Arabs.”

    More importantly, Jamie, if you are going to discuss any sort of principle that certain people will find unpopular, you need to “have zero fear” of being referred to as ANYTHING insulting, because you WILL be insulted. Numerous times. Guaranteed. Especially considering the climate of modern political discourse.

  41. The dilution of the word racist is my fault. I went through a period where anytime someone would say, “I hate [insert subject here].” whether it be homosexuals, jocks, robots, pandas, books, so on and so forth, I would then respond, with my straightest face, “Why ya gotta be such a racist?”

    Sorry.

  42. “I was attempting to be … oh, what’s the word?”

    No, I think the word you’re looking for is “misrepresentative.” Or perhaps “dissembling.” A useful phrase to describe you would be “a waste of my time.” Have a nice night.

  43. “Muslims all want us dead” is not racist. It’s bigoted and clearly wrong.
    Muslims come in all shapes and sizes and colors. By saying it, I am saying that Muhammed Ali wants me dead. I am not saying that black people want me dead. One is bigoted, the other racist.
    “MAN, I’m tired of being right!” — Ace Ventura

  44. Ned: by a strict (race-based) definition of racist, the Nazis policies generally weren’t racist. They were largely focused on religious, ethnic, and behavioral groups.

    Jamie: “The Nazis policies generally weren’t racist.” Yeah, that attempt to establish a pure Aryan state through wholesale death and eugenics was just a publicity stunt. And have you ever watched that rarely viewed footage of Hitler giving Jesse Owens a butt-pat?

    Jamie, if you are going to be nit-picky about the meaning of ‘racism,’ shouldn’t you be consistent in your complaints about the misuse of the word? The Nazis went after mainly Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other groups of people who were not separate non-Caucasian races. So by your standards we can’t say the Nazis were racist–what descriptive term should we use?

  45. Ned, come back! Ned! I have a lollipop for you! Ned! *whimpers* … Oh, my Neddie …

  46. So by your standards we can’t say the Nazis were racist–what descriptive term should we use?

    Eracists?

  47. Jennifer:
    I’ve said it before: Racism applies to bloodline and skin color; that a human’s value is not in his mind, but in the raw assemblage of the body. The Nazis believed Jews had “dirty” blood, and that the uberman was the carrier of the pure “Aryan” blood; gypsies, Catholics and homosexuals aside, their policy of eradicating Jews was clearly “racist.”

  48. “Raghead” has nothing to do with the assemblage of the human body. It’s not racist. It’s dumb. Dumb and lazy and bigoted.

  49. See, if one agrees that it’s dumb and bigoted to call Arabs ragheads, well, why go around arguing that it isn’t racism? You agree that it’s a bigoted and offensive term used to slur an ethnic group. That is consistent with the contemporary usage of the word. Period.

    What if an angry Hutu said some nasty shit about Tutsis (or vice versa) and somebody called the diatribe “racist”? Would you go off on a spiel about how it’s nasty, offensive, bigoted, and unacceptable, but it should be called “ethnocentric” rather than “racist”? That would just be silly.

    Anyway, about the usage of the word “slut”:

    I have a cousin who, according to the standard usage of the word “slut”, would definitely be considered a “slut.” 4 babies by 4 men, she cheated on the only decent guy that she ever dated, cheated on lots of other guys too, etc. And, fwiw, she’d fit the old definition as well: Lazy as all hell, so a bad housekeeper.

    So about 10 years ago I was in a long, meandering conversation with some other people in my dorm. At some point I said that my cousin is a “slut.” I don’t remember why, it was just one of those long conversations that you have in college. Anyway, another person said “No she isn’t!” And I’m like “huh? I just told you about her lifestyle. And this person’s just like “That doesn’t make her a slut!”

    So, we argue back and forth for a while, and finally I discover that this person’s accustomed to a different usage: She’s only heard the word “slut” used to describe prostitutes. (Don’t ask me where this person was from, I honestly don’t recall.) So her whole thing was “He never said that she’s a prostitute, so where does he get away with calling her a slut?” But we both had to pull teeth to discover that we were using two different definitions.

    That’s my favorite example of a dumb dictionary debate.

  50. That is consistent with the contemporary usage of the word. Period.

    Perhaps true, but I expect more than that from a Reason writer. There were more accurate words he could have used, as the many examples above show.

  51. What is so PC about using the word “racism” to describe a stupd and offensive slur against an ethnic group? It’s consistent with common usage but I don’t see it as PC.

    Maybe the staff of Reason should use Elizabethan English, just so they can’t be accused of selling out to modern conventions.

    Aye, tis most injurious to mine ear when Ann of Coulter hurls rash and intemperate words at the fair-tempered Moors.

    Of course, somebody would probably come along and insist that Elizabethan English was distorted for political purposes, and Reasonable people should aim higher and use the language of Beowulf. And then somebody will explain that Beowulf served an agenda…

    Linear B all the way, baby!

  52. “In a sane universe, Coutler..

    Julian, not to take away from a patently excellent blog entry, but you misspelled “Coulter.”

  53. It’s noteworthy that no one has tried to refute Papaya’s point from 6:17:

    “The leftist/PC tactic (which has clearly been successful based on Julian’s use and some of these comments) of enlarging the definition is simply a means of giving themselves a bigger brush with which to tar their political opponents by labeling them as “too extreme for serious consideration.”

    I think this in fact sums it up. We cannot allow language to be distorted for political purposes, even if certain populists (not to name names) don’t see the problem. These changes don’t happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean their consequences are less harmful. We must frame the debate in a manner that doesn’t necessarily cede to the baser linguistic trends of the general populace. “Oh, yer jist nitpikkin’… Everyone thinks “raghead” is racist, so it is!”

    To quote Orwell again:

    “It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

  54. thoreau,

    The dilution of such terms as racism, totalitarianism, etc. is a threat to rational thought just as would the dilution of terms found in physics. Moreover, it is a threat to a liberty and an opening for sophistic demagogues. Now you can identify racism, totalitarianism, etc. by whatever terminology you would like, but to claim that melding concepts together so that important distinctions are ignored is no big deal is a pretty damn dumb thing. Then again, I’ve never been terribly impressed by your analytical skills in any area outside of science.

    ..why go around arguing that it isn’t racism?

    Because how words are used have practical consequences you dumbass. Imagine in your own field of study if people just willy-nilly used words … imagine what sort of nightmare that would end up being.

    PapayaSF,

    Excellent analysis of the problems posed by using terminology in a lazy way.

    Ned,

    …because the “misuse” is a widely accepted definition…

    That’s what we call an appeal to popularity, and its exactly this sort of popular confusion that demagogues try to exploit.

    They also change. Then the new ones count. Then at some point they may change too. Language is a bitch that way.

    Which in no way tells you whether that change is a good thing or not. Ideas lead to practical outcomes after all.

    Jennifer,

    But again, the meaning of the word is changing over time, regardless of what the root of the word is.

    And sometimes that is a very bad thing. Merely because words change in meaning over time doesn’t mean that is necessarily either a positive thing or even a neutral thing.

  55. andy,

    Hannah Arendt argued similarly about the popular confusion over terms like totalitarianism.

    thoreau,

    Its nice to see you slipping into linguistic solipsism – you and Dave W. should partner up and go on the road.

  56. andy,

    Indeed, as she argues (in a rather prescient way to defeat the rather silly arguments of people like thoreau) merely because you know the term (like totalitarianism) refers to negative things isn’t enough, since that mere emotional response can be easily manipulated. So its not enough to know that “racism” refers to negative attitudes, behavior, etc., since a word emptied of why this is so can lead to its use by demagogues to mean the exact opposite of what learned person would understand them to mean.

  57. Jennifer & thoreau’s reaction are good example of how structuralism and post-structuralism in the hands of untutored people lead to all sorts of problems.

  58. What is so PC about using the word “racism” to describe a stupd and offensive slur against an ethnic group? It’s consistent with common usage but I don’t see it as PC.

    thoreau,

    I’m wisk my wimble off and wack you with it if you belabor your point any further.

  59. We might consider distinguishing between what a word ‘means’ (that is, what information it is intended to convey) with what other work the sentence in which it is uttered is doing. Thus, saying “X is racist” involves more than ascribing certain beliefs to X, it is deciding X is no longer worthy of being considered or of participating in the conversation.

  60. Hakluyt,

    Isn’t it funny how Thoreau and Jennifer, two self-described libertarians (that is, people who actively and confidently advocate causes that range anywhere from those that are relatively unpopular to those that most people consider batshit insane), are so eager to aquiesce to sloppy populist redefinitions of words that are of extreme social importance?

    While we can acknowledge the most common vernacular used in social discussions, by no means should we feel compelled to regurgitate it for the intellectually lazy.

  61. If I were to denounce Coulter’s use of the word “raghead” as “ethnocentrism” rather than “racism” would anybody here still want to quarrel with it and argue that she isn’t making dumb and bigoted statements?

    BTW, I don’t think Coulter is dumb. I think she says dumb things to make money.

    And adherence to linguistic conventions is hardly incompatible with holding unpopular opinions, as I do. You are welcome to say whatever you want, you are even free to lambast me for not using words in the same way that you do. But if you are interested in a two-way communication rather than one-way sneering, you may find it more convenient to accept linguistic norms.

    You have every right to remain aloof, uncommunicative, and smug in your own superior understanding. If that’s your chosen approach, the LP would like to talk to you about running for office on their ticket. BTW, I speak as one who’s been there: I was totally obnoxious about these sorts of things for a couple years in high school.

    As to PapayaSF’s post at 6:17 pm:
    Within my memory (and I’m not too old), “racism” meant something far more specific than “any comment any ethnic group finds insulting.”

    I don’t think anybody in this thread has set such a low bar for the use of the word “racist.”

    (If Ann Coulter is a “racist,” what are Nazis? “Super-duper racists”?)

    The Nazis were mass murderers in addition to being racists. There’s the difference. It’s an important one.

  62. “If I were to denounce Coulter’s use of the word “raghead” as “ethnocentrism” rather than “racism” would anybody here still want to quarrel with it and argue that she isn’t making dumb and bigoted statements?”

    No one here, that I know of, argued that she wasn’t making dumb and bigoted comments. That she was is prima facie here. But that’s beside the point. This isn’t an argument over Ann Coulter, it’s an argument about the usage of certain words, “racist” in particular.

    “But if you are interested in a two-way communication rather than one-way sneering, you may find it more convenient to accept linguistic norms.”

    I accept the fact that there are certain linguistic norms. I don’t accept the norms themselves, and apparently you do. I’m sure you figure that a “pragmatic” approach is better than a semantic one, but I don’t think that’s a good idea (as I’ve already elaborated upon).

    “You have every right to remain aloof, uncommunicative, and smug in your own superior understanding.”

    If that’s the way you see me, all I can say is that it’s better than buying into the latest linguistic fads. Like Hakluyt asked, why do you think that you can afford to buy into any clumsy linguistic norms when talking about things like this when you certainly would insist on accuracy in your own field of expertise?

  63. Typically, these sorts of disputes arise among people whose sense of what does or should count as the proper use of a word is either descriptive (people just do use the word this way, therefore using it this way is proper) or prescriptive (there is a more or less definite standard established by prior use or authority, and that is the only proper use).

    But there is another sort of prescriptivism: the sort that says “Yes, I understand that “racist” (or whatever) has historically been defined as such and such and not as so and so, but look at this situation and see that what is meaningful and useful about the concept of racisism applies here. Not exactly, of course, but with a striking enough family resemblance between this case and many of the accepted cases that we really ought to consider this situation to fall within the ambit of the term or concept.”

    Now, this latter case may offend linguistic ‘strict constructionists,’ but it can’t be said that it is a per se illegitimate gambit. And, indeed, though this usually happens without deliberate intent, language does change that way all the time. That is to say, if the proposed extension of a concept is not useful or insightful it doesn’t take hold. Another way of approaching this is to say that we are asking not so much for a discovery by reference to an agreed upon standard but a decision about whether to apply the standard in a borderline case.

  64. thoreau,

    The only one here sneering is you, what with your silly, populist rhetoric.

    You have every right to remain aloof, uncommunicative, and smug in your own superior understanding.

    Your attempt to justify your thoughts based on mere popularity is fallacious. Perhaps we should base all decisions in science on mere popularity of opinion as opposed to say such stalwarts of the scientific process as replication.

    andy,

    You gutted thoreau. Good work.

    D.A. Ridgely,

    It really has nothing to do with what you argue. I am perfectly aware that language changes, etc. However, thoreau, etc. are arguing something quite different – that the change is self-justified and should be accepted merely on its terms. Clearly this is a rather stupid position and leaves one open for all sort of mischief from the silver-tongued.

  65. I don’t care if it doesn’t “strike” you. It’s lazy and inaccurate, and its application to religion — a system of beliefs and customs — is a smear tactic that attempts to squelch dissent, even if the dissent is crude and bigoted.

    Speaking of lazy and inaccurate, read your post for an example. The word “raghead” does not refer to a “religion.” It refers to an ethnic group. And, of course, since “Race” isn’t a scientific concept, there’s no real reason to use a different word to distinguish between race and ethnic groups for these purposes.

    “Ethnocentric” is not a useful alternative, because ethnocentrism does not carry the connotation of hatred that “racist” does.

  66. thoreau,

    If I were to denounce Coulter’s use of the word “raghead” as “ethnocentrism” rather than “racism” would anybody here still want to quarrel with it and argue that she isn’t making dumb and bigoted statements?

    As usual, you continue to miss the point.

  67. They’d tell you to a shutta the fucka up. Capisce?

    Be careful, Thoreau. You don’t want to get these guys after you.

  68. David Nieporent,

    Well, it would be better to abandon the term “race” altogether.

    As to the proper terminology, its clearly an ethnic slur and its best to call it that. Muddying the waters with the term “race” (which does in the common parlance refer to some biological trait(s) and/or concept(s)) indeed does lead to a heck of a lot of confusion and propels various ethnic identities into the realm of human biology. Once that happens people begin to think of various ethnicities as a race, as a biologically-determined group in other words, when in fact an ethnicity is a culturally-created group of people.

  69. thoreau,

    You don’t notice any professors of Latin running around telling Italians that they’re speaking incorrectly. They’d tell you to a shutta the fucka up. Capisce?

    Because Latin professors aren’t interested in Italian in this way. Honestly, your analogy only further illustrates your wilfully obtuse behavior.

  70. why do you think that you can afford to buy into any clumsy linguistic norms when talking about things like this when you certainly would insist on accuracy in your own field of expertise?

    The most effective scientific communicators find out how their audience uses a word rather than insisting on going against the grain. When I’m preparing a paper for submission to a journal, I don’t consult a reference book and examine root words to select the right word for a subtle situation. Rather, I consult other papers published in that journal, to find out what the most commonly accepted terminology is among the intended audience.

  71. thoreau,

    Rather, I consult other papers published in that journal, to find out what the most commonly accepted terminology is among the intended audience.

    And what happens when that usage is illogical or otherwise leads to error? Sorry, but really, my incredulity meter is going off the charts in light of the load of bullshit you just dumped here. Its too bad you’re not intellectually courageous enough to admit that you are wrong and move on.

  72. thoreau,

    I do have to admit that groupthink fits you though.

  73. Are race and ethnicity really so clearly defined and separate? Perhaps to social scientists. Not being one, I couldn’t say.

    I understand that some people intentionally advance the broadening of some terms and concepts for ideological purposes and I agree that such practice should often be resisted.

    On the other hand, it seems to me that “common parlance,” without there being any underlying deliberate conspiracy to make this happen, does often blur race and ethnicity and that the distinction between biology and culture is more aspirational than actual in that usage.

  74. D.A. Ridgely,

    Well, as a person who understands that “race” is a highly problematic (dare I say erroneous?) concept, there seems little good reason to allow for an expansion of its meaning, or rather retrenchment of its meaning. More specifically, in the 19th century the term was used to differentiate the “innate,” that is “biological,” characteristics of French people, Germans and the Scots. The way the term is being conflated today we risk heading back to that point, and thoreau, being the groupthink slave of what is popular, has no problem with such.

  75. Certainly, also, there is a real and important difference between natural language and the artificial, official vocabulary of an academic discipline. Irrational numbers are not unreasonable. Realism, as opposed to nominalism, means something quite different to a methphysician than, say, to a parent trying to disuade his son from majoring in philosophy as opposed to accounting. That isn’t what this dispute is about.

  76. D.A. Ridgely,

    …to a parent trying to disuade his son from majoring in philosophy as opposed to accounting.

    That’s what I call child abuse. πŸ™‚

    Anyway, in this case we’re not discussing an academic meaning, but a popular one (popular imagination or thought or memory if you will), and as citizens it would serve us well to resist any effort to expand its meaning (for the reasons I argue above).

  77. D.A. Ridgely,

    As a means of explanation note how the term “jazz” has expanded in its meaning (the sort of music it applies to) over time. I take no umbrage at such because though I love jazz I do not see any expansion in its meaning as a threat to liberty. On the other hand, with a term like totalitarianism, if it is indeed emptied of its meaning, or expanded to mean things which we would otherwise think of its opposite today, then I’d say we have a problem.

  78. D.A. Ridgely,

    Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to get back to listening to Miles Davis. πŸ™‚

    Cheers

  79. I don’t much care for or about the ad hominim elements of the discussion. It hasn’t been the 19th century for some time now and I see little prospect of a return to 19th century science, so what we’re back to is the ideological implications of the conflation of the terms which I have already agreed can do mischief and should be resisted. But not always or necessarily.

    That is, I don’t see that agenda here. If anything, I see more evidence of the irrational denial of biological determinants and the insistence that culture is the sole determinant of human beings in contemporary intellectual circles.

    I agree that “race” is problematic to the point where, sensibly understood, it denotes practically nothing objectively worth denoting. (One possible and highly limited exception might be genetic medicine.) But, having said that, I can’t see how the informal conflation of race and ethnicity is worth such consternation.

  80. Well, for your sake, I can only hope it’s pre-Bitch’s Brew Miles.

  81. “The word “raghead” does not refer to a “religion.” It refers to an ethnic group.”

    That’s highly debatable, to say the least. I’d say it refers to a number ethnic groups (Jordanian muslims are different from Indonesian muslims are different from Nigerian muslims.). It’s virtually impossible to talk about any of these outside of the context of religion. Their religion and their ethnicity are inextricably linked, so it doesn’t make sense to talk about their ethnic groups without also talking about their religion.

    “And, of course, since “Race” isn’t a scientific concept, there’s no real reason to use a different word to distinguish between race and ethnic groups for these purposes.”

    “Race” may just be a figment of people’s imaginations, but racism is as real as ever, and there’s plenty of people who think that ethnicity and genetics are inherently related. That’s something we obviously want to try to avoid. By broadening the definition of “racism” it blurs actual racism (a prejudice which is obviously absurd, with no basis in reality) and mere ethnocentrism (a prejudice that, while often ridiculous, is based on actual cultural differences.) To accuse Ms. Coulter of racism (prejudice due to superficial, immutable differences) when she criticizes an ethnicity/religion (significant, cultural inventions) is obviously fallacious.

  82. D.A. Ridgely,

    I am a fan of both sides of that spectrum. I am listening to Kind of Blue. I was listening to Blue Haze.

  83. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to get back to listening to Miles Davis. :)”

    If you wanna talk about racists… πŸ˜‰

  84. D.A. Ridgely, I tried to get into what you’re talking about in my 6:03 pm but didn’t make the point I was trying to, apparently, when I wrote:

    I’m willing to place a fairly decent bet on the fact that, when someone uses the word “Muslim” –especially the kind of person who might be inclined to follow it with “raghead,” “camel jockey” or “sand nigger” — the image that appears in their head when they do it looks a lot more like Yassir Arafat or Osama Bin Laden than it does Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Swarthy, big nose, bushy beard, etc. So on that basis, yeah, I thnk “racist” is a close-enough-for-rock-and-roll proxy for describing the outlook of someone who busts out “raghead.”

    The word “Muslim” is tied closely into a concept of what most Americans would think of as a group of racial characteristics in ways that “Christian” and even “Jew” are not. If you say “Muslim,” the average American is not going to immediately think of Caucasian, British-born Cat Stevens. He is going to think of Muhammad Ali or Malcolm X.

    This is exactly why we see things like Sikhs being the target of of post-9/11 oppropbrium and violence. Because they match the cultural and racial markers that people think of when they hear “Muslim.”

  85. Good lord this is silly. Ok, here’s what I had in mind: While in context, it was clear Coulter was talking about Muslim, the *term* “raghead” actually doesn’t apply specifically to Muslims; it’s a kind of catchall slur that typically encompasses a whole bunch of ethnic groups with roots in the Middle East, from Arabs to Sikhs. So it’s not really a religiously targeted term, but an ethnic one. I think that makes it reasonable to call it a “racial epithet.” But if not, hey, pretend I just said “slur” and let’s move on.

  86. Actually, Mr. Sanchez, I think the meta-conversation is interesting and important, ignoring much of the intramural personal attacks and whatnot. Of course, it wasn’t what you were talking about, but it is nonetheless worth talking about.

    As I noted in my original comment, stating or implying that someone is racist or deliberately engaged in racist behavior (and I think we can reasonably conclude that Coulter’s comments are deliberate) serves to do more than dispassionately characterize that person. It has become a way of disqualifying that person from further serious consideration. Now, Coulter may be worthy of disqualification from your or anyone else’s serious consideration for any number of reasons (and I think you’ve made yourself clear enough on that count), but once it is established that racism is one of those reasons no further evidence is required. (Again, please understand that my comments here are not intended as an attack on you.)

    So there is a sense, it seems to me, in which the psychological and social fallout of being labeled a racist is more drastic and damning than ‘mere’ prejudice expressed against a religious group (“I hate those damned Episcopalians!”) or even an ethnic group (“I hate those damned Hawaiians!”). It is the de facto trump card of exclusion even among libertarians who would be loath to permit or condone speech codes or hate crime laws to prohibit racist speech. I think that is a part of Hakluyt’s argument.

    On the other hand, as thoreau observes, from a purely dispassionate and analytical point of view irrational prejudice of one sort is just as bad as irrational prejudice of any other sort, words in ordinary language do not admit of precise definition however much some of us might wish they did and, given all this, a reasonable case can be made that Coulter’s comments could accurately be described as racist.

    Hakluyt observes further that there is real danger in not raising objections to the loose or lazy use of such terms because, among other concerns, that plays into certain suspect ideological agendas. (We’ve all witnessed, for example, the terminological battles over the ethics and politics of abortion.) Fair enough. However, I don’t see any evidence that you or thoreau, etc. were engaged in any such axe grinding here and I said as much.

    Without taking any particular stand in that dispute, however, I think pointing out how people use and abuse language, intentionally or not, can serve to illuminate the underlying issues. I also think it is worthwhile to point out how their understanding of what constitutes the proper use of words has its own weaknesses and unintended consequences.

    Admittedly, this forum and your topic wasn’t about the philosophy of language, but I don’t think it follows that the ensuing discussion was silly.

  87. Let’s take all the people who insist that you can’t be racist towards Arabs, because Arab isn’t a race…

    Lock them in a room with all the people who insist that Arabs can’t be anti-Semitic, because Arabs are Semites…

    Throw away the key, and set the building on fire.

    Flipping eejits, the lot o you.

  88. The fact that the majority of comments on this board are about semantics and language usage and not about the tranny* wench really says it all. S(he) speaks more to fearful bigots and far-left loonies (s(he) personifies the latters preconceived notions about conservatives) then to anyone with more then two brain cells to rub together.

    *I mean no disrespect to any of the hard working and thoughtful transvestites who visit this board from time to time.

  89. D. A. Ridgely-

    I agree that diluting the term “racist” can be a dangerous thing if the term still retains the connotation of “so far beyond the pale that this person need not be taken seriously.” However, not every expansion of the term is a harmful dilution of the term.

    If the word “racist” is expanded to include ethnic groups in addition to racial groups, but still applies only to unfair, irrational, hateful slurs, then I don’t see any harm. I see no real harm in placing in the same category, say, a white guy who hates all blacks and a Hutu who hates all Tutsis. If anything, placing them in the same category provides a lesson on the universal dangers of bigotry.

    OTOH, I oppose those who try to characterize, say, any opposition to affirmative action as “racist.” Why? I have no problem with language evolving, but as long as the word “racist” retains the connotation “so far beyond the pale that we need not take this person seriously” I’d say that calling an affirmative action opponent “racist” (based solely on that stance) is inconsistent with the common connotation.

    See, if an expansive use of the term gives deceptive statements that are inconsistent with common usage then I consider that an inappropriate use of the word “racist.” Changing the language to deceive people is bad. Changing the language by using the same word to refer to a number of very similar things (e.g. racial bigotry and ethnic bigotry) is fine.

    Now, the term “raghead” is usually an ethnic slur. The fact that Coulter used an ethnic slur to refer to a religious group (albeit a religious group that overlaps strongly with the ethnic group in question) doesn’t change the fact that she’s spewing bigoted slurs.

    BTW, I have no idea whether Coulter harbors any specific animosity toward various ethnic, racial, and religious groups. For all I know she hates pretty much everybody and just spouts whatever crazy bullshit will get her the most attention (and money).

  90. Joe,

    Do you remember that thread a few weeks back where people insisted it wasn’t racist to hate Hispanics, either?

    The thing I’m not getting here is how many people seem to think that the meaning of words is something absolute and eternally unyielding, rather than something invented by people. Phil’s earlier comment about “descriptive” versus “prescriptive” hit the nail on the head–whatever a word originally meant, if it is now being used differently by the majority of people speaking the language, do you go along with common usage for communication, or dig your heels in like the French Academy and cling to meanings which are becoming outdated?

    Hell, if words with multiple meanings in different contexts offend you so damned much, buy a Newspeak dictionary. No nuances or multiple meanings there, nor any chance that even the supidest of people can misunderstand what a particular word means.

  91. I think some people would prefer that languages be intelligently designed rather than allowed to evolve…

  92. thoreau:

    I largely agree and did not intend previously to suggest or imply that you (or Mr. Sanchez) were “playing the race card.” I do think, however, that an accusation of racism harbors more emotive force at least in contemporary American society than accusations of other sorts of bigotry and thus requires more caution. In any case, I was trying more to contextualize your (and Hakluyt’s) comments than to oppose them.

    I have no window into Coulter’s non-public soul, either. I sometimes find something she says amusing, sometimes outrageous and beyond the pale, etc. Beyond that, I don’t much care.

    Of course, language is intelligently designed, but not as the strict prescriptivists would have it. Rather, (and, yes, I know you were being droll) it is the intelligence behind the collective market for language that shifts the meaning of “slut” or, dare I add, even “liberal” over time. That is, the ‘evolutionary’ change in language over time is intentional in a way merely biological adaptation is not, albeit the intentionality of individuals collectively engaged in the use(s) of language. (Hence, my dislike of the concept of ‘memes.’) A quibble over a quip, I admit, but there it is.

  93. Ouch, Jennifer. Playing the French card. Touche.

    Er, I mean, “Freedom poke.”

  94. Joe, outside of Newspeak (which is fictional), the French Academy is the only example I can think of regarding an authoritative organizaton whose sole function is to try and regulate language, or rather, try and preserve a language in amber, and make sure it never, ever changes.

  95. Truly nice discussion guys
    (imagine ACoulter trying to follow it)
    Jennifer and Thoreau and cohorts are more accurate in their description of language evolution and the nature of semantics. Hak and company need to read some more contemporary linguistics (works by Joan Bybee, Len Talmy, or Dan Sperber might be a good place to start…or that leftie George Lakoff… although I wonder if they would give a new viewpoint a fair shake).

    As an outsider here,it is not surprising to me that in a group that includes people who strongly believe in “natural law,” and “natural rights” you will find some who see semantic meaning as an absolute immutable precise characteristic of a word. You get arguments from prescriptionists over “precise usage” of words for the same reason you get arguments over the “precise” definition of rights. Meaning and rights, however, are more accurately described as negotiated within a context upon application for a purpose. This doesn’t make the concepts MEANING or RIGHTS any less real, it is just a better characteristic of the process that creates them than saying they are inherent, innate, or absolutely knowable.

  96. I know. I was just joshin’.

    I use the French Academy to argue against making English the official language.

    “Official Language? You mean, the government deciding what the right way to speak is? What is this, France?”

    Red blooded, red state nativists get the most amusing looks on their faces when you say that to them.

  97. But in all fairness, Joe, even those yahoos who want to make English the “official language” don’t usually go so far as to say “furthermore, English must always be spoken exactly as it is today, and the meanings of words must never, ever be allowed to change. Linguistic evolution stops now.”

  98. that is , um “a better characterization”

  99. You youngsters have totally bastardized the language that we created for you. Even worse, you’ve splintered it into hundreds of mutually unintelligible tongues! If you ungrateful offspring had just stuck to the language that we created for you, rather than taking so many liberties with it, everybody from India to Ireland would be speaking the same language. Goddamned Tower of Babel you guys turned your ancestral tongue into!

    Back in the good old days…

  100. Jennifer,

    The thing I’m not getting here is how many people seem to think that the meaning of words is something absolute and eternally unyielding, rather than something invented by people.

    Really, just how clueless are you? Are you even paying attention to the conversation being had here? Apparently not.

    …the French Academy is the only example I can think of regarding an authoritative organizaton whose sole function is to try and regulate language…

    The Spanish also have an official, state-sponsored dictionary.

    science,

    …absolute immutable precise characteristic of a word.

    I’ve not argued for such. See why statement on the term jazz above.

    thoreau,

    I think some people would prefer that languages be intelligently designed rather than allowed to evolve…

    Its too bad you’d rather create a strawman than address mine and andy’s points. D.A. Ridgely can do it, why can’t you?

    ____________

    Let me rather blunt about this so that the intellectually vacuous like joe, thoreau and Jennifer can’t attempt to improperly frame my statements. I don’t believe that language is immutable; I don’t believe any particular word is natural or divinely created; and I certainly have no problem in general with the change in word meaning over time. However, when particular words are expanded in particular ways so that they are hollowed out and thus can be readily used by demagogues, I do have a problem with that.

  101. D.A. Ridgely,

    Thankyou for being intellectually open enough to understand my position, instead of creating a strawman as joe, Jennifer and thoreau have.

  102. Pedantic Proto Indo-European,

    That would be a funny statement if any had indeed taken an anti-destruction of Tower of Babylon line. But as no one has actually taken such a position, so it isn’t funny.

  103. joe, thoreau and Jennifer,

    BTW, yours is a good example of what is known as jumping to an unwarranted and unsubstantiated conclusion.

  104. Phil,

    This is exactly why we see things like Sikhs being the target of of post-9/11 oppropbrium and violence. Because they match the cultural and racial markers that people think of when they hear “Muslim.”

    And you want to encourage such conflation for what reason? If the popular understanding is as confused as you state (and I have no reason to argue with that point), why make it even worse by going along with it? Are you suggesting popular understading become some unchallengeable wisdom?

    Jennifer,

    BTW, for someone who is a self-proclaimed misanthrope you certainly are a slave to popular understanding. I’ll repeat what I wrote in an earlier statement – you don’t know what you are.

  105. Sorry Hak,

    If I mischaracterized your position, that is, with my off the cuff post…

    Semantics is far more like jazz than classical music.

    You did seem to be arguing for the idea that there are proper meanings for words and against the idea that language change is “self-justified and should be accepted merely on its terms.” As if there were a choice in the matter.

    You argued that appeals to popular usage were not justifications for using a particular word in a particular context. This seems to indicate that you think there is another way that words mean something. It indicates to me that you believe the meaning of the word is inherent in the word itself rather than in its particular instance of use in a particular context as negotiated by a language community. Meaning does not reside in words in such a straight-forward fashion.

    Trying to resist language change with an argument that the new usage is less precise than the old misunderstands where the meaning resides (it is in the usage, not the word).

    You are correct to implicate shifts in the way people think about concepts as the root of the new usage, it is just fruitless to resist that shift.

  106. “A word means what I say it means; no more, no less.”
    –Lewis Carroll, writing as the Red Queen speaking to Alice

  107. science,

    You did seem to be arguing for the idea that there are proper meanings for words and against the idea that language change is “self-justified and should be accepted merely on its terms.” As if there were a choice in the matter.

    There are rational meanings for words, ones which reflect some measure of the real world we are able to appreciate. And of course there is choice in the matter; even the argument that all word change is neutral admits that choice exists. The changes in meaning aren’t deterministic after all, they are undertaken by humans creating the meaning in the first place.

    …it is just fruitless to resist that shift.

    Some shifts are worth resisting even if they are fruitless efforts (though I don’t think that they are). Before and during WWII the Nazis and ordinary Germans (including the likes of such intellectuals as Heidegger, Scmitt and Kittel) undertook at first an underground and then an above ground campaign to associate the word Juden with all manner of negative concepts; to empty of any positive meaning and fill it with every possible negative connotation. I’m pretty sure that such an effort was worthy of resistance even if it was popular.

  108. And Hak,

    If this is your argument:

    “However, when particular words are expanded in particular ways so that they are hollowed out and thus can be readily used by demagogues, I do have a problem with that.”

    You indicate that you think words have precise meanings that can be “hollowed out.” Still leaning towards a Platonic semantics, I’d say.

  109. “undertook at first an underground and then an above ground campaign to associate the word Juden with all manner of negative concepts; to empty of any positive meaning and fill it with every possible negative connotation. I’m pretty sure that such an effort was worthy of resistance even if it was popular.”

    Maybe, but it is the ideas that went behind the attempt, not the word usage that mattered. “Fag” and “gay” are words that were used pejoratively by bigoted idiots, and then were embraced by the targets to gain a positive meaning for that language community. The same debate is currently going on over the appropriate use of “nigga.” (See the Boondock’s vs Al Sharpton). The creation of the new meaning comes through its usage… and the popularity of that usage over millions of usages.

  110. science,

    It indicates to me that you believe the meaning of the word is inherent…

    Quite the contrary, it indicates that I acknowledge that words can be misused for great ill not that they have some inherent meaning. If tomorrow we started to call what we call today dogs something else entirely (say, I dunno, corn syrup) I wouldn’t argue that we must not call them corn syrup.

    Trying to resist language change with an argument that the new usage is less precise than the old misunderstands where the meaning resides (it is in the usage, not the word).

    If you had read my comments, or alternatively understood them, you’d realize that its the usage that I am concerned with. The word, as a word, doesn’t mean squat to me; call the concept we call today race something else and it wouldn’t matter to me (call it “etcomark” if you will), its the usage of that term that concerns, not the term itself. I cannot make myself anymore clear.

  111. science,

    You indicate that you think words have precise meanings that can be “hollowed out.” Still leaning towards a Platonic semantics, I’d say.

    Oh bullshit. Words are signs. They represent something. If in popular understanding they represent something which isn’t true, and that falsity is dangerous to the political weal, then we have a problem.

    Maybe, but it is the ideas that went behind the attempt, not the word usage that mattered.

    I see, so the word usage didn’t matter at all? To be blunt this sounds a bit odd given that it was only through the word’s use in a specific fashion that the problem arose.

  112. science,

    The creation of the new meaning comes through its usage… and the popularity of that usage over millions of usages.

    You seem to be now acknowledging that word usage does matter. Which is it?

  113. science,

    You seem to be negatiging the power of advertising, propaganda, indoctrination, etc. to think in specific ways based on mere words.

  114. science,

    BTW, if you have a problem with characterizing a word as a sign which represents (amongst other things) concepts then so be it. But the fact remains that is what they do, and words can indeed be hollowed out to represent different concepts – and sometimes this can be quite dangerous if not resisted.

  115. Hak,

    We keep cross posting. Part of the reason it is difficult for us to discourse here. I am sure if we were in the same room, we could get on the same page quicker.

    To be fair, I read your posts awhile back, and probably lumped you in with Joe and some others, but…

    You are doing just as good a job of misunderstanding me as I am of misunderstanding you.

    I am,mostly, commenting on your particular claim, when you criticized Thoreau, that an appeal to popular usage was dangerous because it leads to misuse of words. But since meaning is negotiated between communicative partners across a language community (i.e. readers of a particular science journal), rather than residing in the words they use, using a term to convey a particular meaning will be most efficient if the particular meaning you want to convey is closest to the most commonly used meaning. The “rational” meaning that we can come up with outside of pragmatic language use is not a justification for using or not using a particular word in a particular context. Insisting on the “rational” definition just makes it harder for you to communicate.

  116. And “bullshit” is not an argument.
    It is the same vacuous lack of argument you accuse others of.

    Get a grip.

  117. science,

    If bullshit were the only thing I had stated you’d have a point.

    I am, mostly, commenting on your particular claim, when you criticized Thoreau, that an appeal to popular usage was dangerous because it leads to misuse of words.

    That’s a mischaracterization of my statement. thoreau claims that popular usage by itself is enough to justify the linkage of a word to a particular concept, but that clearly isn’t true.

    Insisting on the “rational” definition just makes it harder for you to communicate.

    Not if you clearly state why you are doing what you are doing. People have a choice in the words that they use and in how those words relate to particular concepts.

  118. “I am sure if we were in the same room, we could get on the same page quicker.”

    If you two were in the same room y’all probably’d be scrappin’! LOL

    “Insisting on the “rational” definition just makes it harder for you to communicate.”

    Why can’t one use the more popular definition for clarity’s purpose and then go on to state the word that one thinks would be better and why? Obviously, one is not going to be able to do this in just any situation, but when one is able to, I think it’s better than just mindlessly going with the “accepted” usage.

  119. science,

    After a while yours becomes a fallacious argument from popularity and that ultimately lumps you in with thoreau.

  120. andy,

    Remember, what is popular or common is what is correct. πŸ™‚

  121. andy,

    … in all circumstances that is.

  122. Why can’t one use the more popular definition for clarity’s purpose and then go on to state the word that one thinks would be better and why? Obviously, one is not going to be able to do this in just any situation, but when one is able to, I think it’s better than just mindlessly going with the “accepted” usage.

    That’s a reasonable stance.

  123. “A word means what I say it means; no more, no less.”
    –Lewis Carroll, writing as the Red Queen speaking to Alice

    Jennifer, was that really the Red Queen? I thought it was Humpty Dumpty, and I’m afraid I don’t have my Alice books handy to check.

  124. D.A. Ridgely–

    Maybe you’re right. I don’t have my copy of the book handy, either.

  125. Hak,

    “After a while yours becomes a fallacious argument from popularity and that ultimately lumps you in with thoreau.”

    I think I already lumped myself in with Thoreau. I have no problem with that. His more Darwinian notion of the nature of communication is more sophisticated than yours (I know that seems impossible from your perspective).

    Again, you need to do some reading on semantic theory. I have suggested some authors in a previous post. There is no appeal to authority (i.e. popularity) in anything I am saying. The process of aggregate change that shapes the semantic impact of words across time is far more complex than a popularity contest. It involves underlying analogical processes that allow language to work in the first place. For most of the process you do not have direct meta-cognitive awareness of what you are doing… instead your meta-cognitive choices involve how you wish to construe the concepts you are hoping to communicate. The degree to which your construal and my understanding overlap determines the degree to which your communication attempt will be successful. Andy’s suggestion about overt clarification of word definitions works fine in many cases. But an insistence that a word doesn’t (or shouldn’t) mean what most people think it means is the fallacious claim, and a desire to resist the power of the process by which words come to create meaning for language communities through sheer force of will is, like I’ve said before, fruitless. It will happen or not depending on its utility for the language community in meeting pragmatic communication needs.

    Like I said in my first post. It is in this sense that word meanings are like “natural rights.” They will be determined by a process involving negotiation in the context of application rather than through some sense that one argument is more “rational” than another.

  126. “But an insistence that a word doesn’t (or shouldn’t) mean what most people think it means is the fallacious claim”

    Insisting that a word doesn’t mean what most people believe it to is obviously foolish, but it doesn’t follow that trying to convince people of the classical definition is fallacious. It might be extremely difficult, but how is it fallacious?

    “and a desire to resist the power of the process by which words come to create meaning for language communities through sheer force of will is, like I’ve said before, fruitless”

    Language communities are made up of people. Linguistic norms are nothing more than the sum of each individual’s choice of words. If no one chose to be lazy in their speech, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. By your logic, trying to change anything the collective does is fruitless. It may certainly be difficult, but that’s no reason to do one’s part, even if it’s a very small part.

  127. D.A. Ridgely,

    Well, its also not an exact quote either.

    ____________________________________________

    But if that flower with base infection meet,
    The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
    For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
    Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
    — Shakespeare, Sonnet 97

    Science,

    His more Darwinian notion of the nature of communication is more sophisticated than yours (I know that seems impossible from your perspective).

    His approach isn’t Darwinian and neither is yours. More properly viewed it is better described as deterministic, and determinism is downright anti-Darwinian.

    Again, you need to do some reading on semantic theory. I have suggested some authors in a previous post.

    And I have read them all and you completely mischaracterize their arguments.

    There is no appeal to authority (i.e. popularity) in anything I am saying.

    Actually, that is all you are doing. Another fallacious tactic on your part that amounts to card-stacking.

    The process of aggregate change that shapes the semantic impact of words across time is far more complex than a popularity contest.

    No shit. But all you have been arguing up to this is that it is a popularity contest. Now you’ve switched to something new.

    But an insistence that a word doesn’t (or shouldn’t) mean what most people think it means is the fallacious claim…

    A claim which no one here has so far made.

    …and a desire to resist the power of the process by which words come to create meaning for language communities through sheer force of will is, like I’ve said before, fruitless.

    Given your trumpeting of Darwinism this claim is again downright anti-Darwinian.

    They will be determined by a process involving negotiation in the context of application rather than through some sense that one argument is more “rational” than another.

    Negotiation which just a few sentences ago you said was impossible. Which is it? You need to come up with a consistent argument before I can take you seriously.

  128. Science,

    But an insistence that a word doesn’t (or shouldn’t) mean what most people think it means is the fallacious claim…

    BTW, I have to ask, how is negotiation and the like to take place unless someone simply states that the use of this particular to mean X concept is boneheaded, impractical, etc.? You claim that your approach is Darwinian, but it seems to me that you deny a central part of the process involved in the actual development of language, that is people actively involved in using language. This is why your argument is ultimately inconsistent and comes out denying what you claim it states. And I echo Andy when I state that what is bizarre is someone arguing that language is Darwinian while also arguing that any argument over how language or words is used is fallacious. If you can explain this conundrum please do, because you can’t be taken seriously until you do.

  129. andy,

    No, you see according to science language isn’t made up of people; it sits outside the stream of history and people as individuals or groups can’t change it. Or maybe they can since he claims that language is Darwinian. One just can’t tell because the argument is so poorly constructed and so self-contradictory.

  130. “For most of the process you do not have direct meta-cognitive awareness of what you are doing… instead your meta-cognitive choices involve how you wish to construe the concepts you are hoping to communicate.”

    This is a pretty deterministic viewpoint, isn’t it?

  131. andy,

    As I am making my dinner I seized upon what science is saying – language changes, its Darwinian in how it changes and we have no control over it. But this really makes little sense, since language is a cultural construct and not a biological agent, which means that the Darwinian analogy falls falt on its face. Thus divorcing language from human choice as science would do amounts to all so much hogwash.

  132. Taylor-

    Thanks, that was interesting.

    I mean it just seems to me, um, most libertarians ? and some of my best friends are libertarians? perhaps you?re not one of them ? but most just seem too chicken to call themselves conservative and most people don?t know what ita libertarian is and it sounds like liberal and they get right into legalizing pot. so i?ve got to tell you: if you?re going to be a conservative in America you can?t be a pussy.

    Somehow I doubt she has libertarian friends, or she wouldn’t be so clearly demonstrate that she doesn’t understand what the term means. She tries really hard with that statement to steer everybody to the old lame idea that all political philosophy is some flavor of the dichotomy that rules her head.

  133. dead elvis,

    Sounds about right.

  134. Well, the quote I had in mind was:

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master–that’s all.”

    But the Red Queen may have said something similar.

  135. Hak,

    You see contradiction where none exists.
    Don’t miscontrue your shifting understanding of my positions as a result of my positions shifting.

    I have not mischaracterized the arguments of Bybee, Talmy, Lakoff, or Sperber since I haven’t characterized them at all. I have just suggested you read them. If you have, and have understood them, then I am confused by your stance as characterized by this statement:

    “Language communities are made up of people. Linguistic norms are nothing more than the sum of each individual’s choice of words. If no one chose to be lazy in their speech, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

    Focus on the last part of this. Laziness is your characterization of the semantic bleaching process that permeates language. But it happens no matter how much effort people put into constructing language. It is part of the process. That bleaching, to a significant degree, allows the language to work as it results in new ways to think about and communicate about concepts as analogic extensions of linguistic constructions are applied to new conversations.

    If you think it is deterministic to believe that there are processes that govern the behavior of complex adaptive systems like language communities, then I guess a process oriented view is deterministic. Darwin saw processes that shaped the development of new species… processes that involved the aggregated behavior of individual animals in interaction with their environment.

    By your logic, of course, they could have resisted these powerful processes and preserved the integrity of the original species had they only not been so lazy in their interactions (will you say that animals don’t interact intentionally with their environments, and that that makes language different… I wonder?).

    The process of negotiation occurs in language via the medium of communicative impact. It happens through explicit discussions of the meanings of words, for sure, but it happens far more frequently, and far more powerfully through the impact that use in non-controversial ways produces.

    It is truly challenging to have a civil conversation with you Hak. A useless side comment, I know, but golly gee you seem so mad.

  136. “Language communities are made up of people. Linguistic norms are nothing more than the sum of each individual’s choice of words. If no one chose to be lazy in their speech, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

    Ummm… I said that, not Hakluyt.

  137. And since I haven’t read any of those authors, nor have I claimed to, I don’t know if you still want to present the same argument to me, but I’ll refute it just the same:

    “the semantic bleaching process that permeates language… happens no matter how much effort people put into constructing language. It is part of the process. That bleaching, to a significant degree, allows the language to work as it results in new ways to think about and communicate about concepts as analogic extensions of linguistic constructions are applied to new conversations”

    True, language evolves, but nothing precludes vigilance in its adaptations. We should still try to consciously assess new linguistic constructions.

    “If you think it is deterministic to believe that there are processes that govern the behavior of complex adaptive systems like language communities, then I guess a process oriented view is deterministic”

    There are processes, but many, if not all, of the changes fall under the realm of awareness. A given person may not always be aware of changes in their meta-cognitive processes, but other people can, and are free, to point these changes out to them.

    “will you say that animals don’t interact intentionally with their environments, and that that makes language different… I wonder?)”

    Whether other species interact “intentionally” with their environments is another argument altogether. I think they do, frequently in a manner unrecognizable to us, but that’s beside the point.

    “It happens through explicit discussions of the meanings of words, for sure, but it happens far more frequently, and far more powerfully through the impact that use in non-controversial ways produces.”

    Maybe so, but I think that’s because most people don’t think about the metaphysics of language. I’m arguing that if we all make more of a conscious effort to do so, then changes in the meanings of words won’t be able to so much harm.

  138. I think from now on I’ll try to refrain from using the word “racism” on Hit and Run. Instead I’ll say “bigotry.” I know that the handful of people still arguing are interested in making a linguistic point. But I have a hunch that at least one or two people earlier in the thread had other objections. Of course, I could be totally wrong on that. We’ll find out if they also object to the word “bigotry” as an adjective for statements similar to Coulter’s.

  139. Holy crap how did this thread get go long, especially since thoreau said early on “let’s not have another silly debate over the exact meaning of..”. I mean, with just a LITTLE amount of work we can all see each others point and get past this, right? Thoreau, Jennifer, et al.’s point seems to me to be that Ann Coulter used a deliberately provocative overgeneralization which borders on or is squarely an epithet. Jamie’s point is that racist should not be applied to religions because religions are belief systems, ideas that are fair game. All this makes sense to me. Now, Coulter IS an idiot, if only because she, at BEST was denouncing the belief system of Islam but she would never dare denounce or offend the Christian medevial fundamentalist who support her work, dream of her in the shower, and then go into a frenzy of orgiastic self-flagellation to punish their sinfulness…

  140. Andy,

    Indeed, I miss attributed, apologies all around.

    Hak said,

    “But this really makes little sense, since language is a cultural construct and not a biological agent, which means that the Darwinian analogy falls falt on its face. Thus divorcing language from human choice as science would do amounts to all so much hogwash.”

    This amounts to the same laziness argument, however.
    As for Darwinian principles not applying to language change, an analogy always falls apart at exactly that point where it falls apart, but the distinction between cultural construct and biological agent is not relevant.

    Thoreau,
    Coulter’s statement was racists. Easily a correct characterization of both her intent and her usage of “raghead,” obtuse semantic arguments aside (even falling back on rationalistic definitions of the word race since part of its dictionary definition includes ” A distinguishing or characteristic quality, such as the flavor of a wine”).

  141. What I said before that was censored, on a libertarian blog, no less (the “C” word with a “ler” on the end).

    Then they went on and on about freedom of cartooning, hehey.

    I was right again. Ho hum.

  142. “What I said before that was censored, on a libertarian blog, no less”

    Hi. Reason’s blog is hosted on a server that is private property. The owners of this blog are free to do anything they like with it.

    Censorship is only capable of being instituted by a government. If you don’t like the policies here, you’re certainly free to go spout off on any of literally millions of other blogs, forums, websites, or chat rooms.

  143. After all of this semantic bickering, I finally thought to check the formal definition of racist. According to Princeton University’s WordNet, by way of Dictionary.com, it is as follows (emphasis mine):

    racist adj 1: based on racial intolerance; “racist remarks” 2: discriminatory especially on the basis of race or religion

  144. So anti-muslim insults cool. Anti-hatemongering-racist-wing-nut insults, not so cool.

    Yep seems consistent to me, never mind.

  145. This whole conversation is so ironic.

  146. “Hi. Reason’s blog is hosted on a server that is private property. The owners of this blog are free to do anything they like with it.

    Censorship is only capable of being instituted by a government. If you don’t like the policies here, you’re certainly free to go spout off on any of literally millions of other blogs, forums, websites, or chat rooms.”

    Typical libertarian fallacy: “Entity X should be able to do Y, therefore, it’s ok if entity X does Y.”

    I know you didn’t explicitly state that last part, but it seems obvious from your post.

  147. Point taken. Hehey.

    Libertarians do not really believe in liberty.

  148. Jennifer,

    “After all of this semantic bickering, I finally thought to check the formal definition of racist…racist adj 1: based on racial intolerance; “racist remarks” 2: discriminatory especially on the basis of race or religion”

    This is just one definition, formed by people with their own agenda. Prejudice against religion and racism should not be lumped together.

    The reason I keep driving this point home is this: Actual racism is, as Ayn Rand said, the most primitive form of collectivism. It discriminates against someone based on features that are simultaneously superficial (skin tone, hair type, etc.) and immutable. Prejudice against religion is prejudice against something both very significant and artificial. This prejudice may be irrational (“all muslims are killers”, “all christians are busybodies”), but even in its most extreme form it is still based off of tangible, significant differences (worldviews). One can call Coulter out for overgeneralizations, but in the end there’s still a huge difference between criticizing a group for its ideas and criticizing a group for its genes.

  149. “Libertarians do not really believe in liberty”

    Some of us actually do.

  150. 1) I have no idea what’s wrong with the words “bigot”, “bigoted”, or “bigotry”. But some people clumsily reach for “racist”, “racist”, or “racism” (all describing a special case) first.
    2) It’s not linguistic evolution to simply get it wrong.’
    2b) For all the people who say that this is linguistic evolution, why not accept that the pedants are part of linguistic natural selection?
    3) One day, someone will call someone else a racist for mocking vegetarians.

  151. Jennifer,

    But Hak will contend that you are just using an appeal to authority, always a fallacious argument.

    See, the dictionary definition isn’t rational, it just reports the winner of the popularity contest.

    I do believe that this particular thread could make a Ph.d thesis for some communications researcher. Thank god I won’t have to sit on that committee (conflict of interest and all).

    πŸ˜‰

  152. Damn,
    Andy beat me to it. I knew someone would do it.

  153. science,

    Maybe you should figure out who are responding to before you make a comment. Is your entire schtick to either mischaracterize peoples’ arguments or attribute to them arguments they didn’t make?

    This amounts to the same laziness argument, however.

    No it does not. If you deny human choice in the formation of language then you are clearly a determinist and you’ve simply argued away everything you’ve stated about language coming about by human interaction. Either human interaction is involved and there is human choice or it isn’t. Its a rather binary consideration even if the former example all sorts of filters are involved.

    But Hak will contend that you are just using an appeal to authority, always a fallacious argument.

    In light of her earlier comments its a rather contradictory action on her part. And as I have stated numerous times I don’t have an issue with popularity itself, though I do find the idea that something which is merely popular is worthy of praise merely because it is popular. You keep on defending the latter concept to your own personal detriment I am afraid.

    See, the dictionary definition isn’t rational, it just reports the winner of the popularity contest.

    Since you are a determinist who eschews human choice, why does popularity matter at all?

    Jennifer,

    After all of this semantic bickering, I finally thought to check the formal definition of racist…racist adj 1: based on racial intolerance; “racist remarks” 2: discriminatory especially on the basis of race or religion

    Let me get this straight. You slam the French for having an official, state-sponsored body for the French language and then you appeal to a dictionary? Heh.

  154. andy,

    From what I can tell science takes single comments which he can most bend to an interpretation he can attack, which is why he never addresses the entire statement of an individual. If he had to address statements as a whole he couldn’t create a complete narrative out of whole clothe.

  155. science,

    You have as yet to tell me why the most popular position is the automatically normative one. You keep on avoiding this query, arguing (if one rightly reads between the lines) that it is self-evident.

  156. andy,

    Though no fan of Ayn Rand I will admit that she has something over science when she argued that concepts and ideas have real world consequences.

  157. 12 OZ MOUSE!!! 12 OZ MOUSE!!

  158. Skillet is a libertarian. The mouse is an anarchist. That’s what eye think.

  159. Hak says…

    “From what I can tell science takes single comments which he can most bend to an interpretation he can attack, which is why he never addresses the entire statement of an individual. If he had to address statements as a whole he couldn’t create a complete narrative out of whole clothe.”

    Read through your posts on this thread again Hak consider if you do something different (particularly the bending others argument thing). A debate involves the points of contention. Why address those points we agree on.

    “You have as yet to tell me why the most popular position is the automatically normative one. You keep on avoiding this query, arguing (if one rightly reads between the lines) that it is self-evident”

    I do believe that has been the point of the discussion . The point we disagree on. It is the normative one, to use your terminology… because usage patterns across language communities is what we are talking about when we discuss what a word means. The dominant (i.e. normative) meaning will be the one that is used most, tautology I think they call that in certain circles. Whether or not a particular usage is appropriate in a particular context will depend upon whether it meets the communicative functions of the discourse partners at the moment of usage.

    As for this:

    “No it does not. If you deny human choice in the formation of language then you are clearly a determinist and you’ve simply argued away everything you’ve stated about language coming about by human interaction. Either human interaction is involved and there is human choice or it isn’t. Its a rather binary consideration even if the former example all sorts of filters are involved.”

    It does. It claims that individual humans somehow allow the semantic bleaching in language to occur because they don’t stick to their definitions. When, in fact, it is the very process of semantic bleaching that has helped them to develop a language to use at all. The semantic bleaching is a result of human choice that occurs the way it does largely as a result of the nature of our cognitive capacities. Can’t change those cognitive capacities much through force of will.

    Since you claim to have read Sperber. I will say that it seems you are still stuck believing in the code model of linguistic interaction (and you should recall why that is a problem… it is a model which is clearly unable to explain our ability to communicate linguistically). Can’t tell for sure, but you also seem to be operating under some sort of truth-conditional semantics, something Talmy has clearly shown to be insufficient (I don’t need to elaborate I hope).

  160. science,

    A debate involves the points of contention. Why address those points we agree on.

    Since you claim that I am wholely erroneous one would think that you’d be attacking the bulk of my arguments.

    The dominant (i.e. normative)…

    While we’re arguing over words, normative refers to an “ought” statement and need not be dominant. The anti-gay crowds makes normative statements and claims all the time (for example) that don’t depend on them being “dominant” from the position of popularity.

    Whether or not a particular usage is appropriate in a particular context will depend upon whether it meets the communicative functions of the discourse partners at the moment of usage.

    Which marries up fairly well with what andy and I are arguing. We’ve come full circle apparently and now you finally appear to agree with us.

    The semantic bleaching is a result of human choice that occurs the way it does largely as a result of the nature of our cognitive capacities.

    You want to deny human choice while also arguing that it exists. That lies at the heart of your confusion.

    Can’t change those cognitive capacities much through force of will.

    Then its strange how memes are created through the force of will that we know as advertising or propaganda. History is replete with examples of individuals changing the use of language or introducing new words or changes in a word’s meaning merely through their own efforts.

    …code model of linguistic interaction…

    Actually it seems that you are the person who has this problem.

    Can’t tell for sure…

    You can’t tell anything for sure, which is why you ascribe arguments to me that were made by others, etc.

  161. Hak,

    “Though no fan of Ayn Rand I will admit that she has something over science when she argued that concepts and ideas have real world consequences.”

    There you go again. Attributing to me something I never said and then refuting it. It’s easy when you are on-line, huh? Snipe, Snipe, Snipe.

    Concepts and ideas have real world consequences. So do linguistic choices. We just disagree on the process by which they come have their impact.

    So for fun. Tell me about how a pendantic discussion like the one we are involved will change the way people use the word “racism?” And please explain again what the word “really” means, and how that differs from the new hollowed out version.

  162. science,

    BTW, I’ll note at this point you have seemingly flip-flopped, since before you argued that maintaining that single individuals can successfully change word meanings and now you are arguing that they can’t be changed much. If there is a bright red line that runs through your commentary it is confusion and self-contradiction.

  163. science,

    As far as I can tell you’ve never argued that have any actual effect.

  164. Hek
    “The semantic bleaching is a result of human choice that occurs the way it does largely as a result of the nature of our cognitive capacities.

    You want to deny human choice while also arguing that it exists. That lies at the heart of your confusion.”

    Actually it lies at the heart of your confusion. If you can find a denial of human choice in that statement, you are clearly confused. We are talking about the limits of that choice, not its existence.

    As for normative, “ought”
    well… there we are back at the point of contention. What criteria determines what usage is appropriate? What one ought to mean when one says something is determined by______________? If you eschew a process view of how that decision is made, you are relying on some sort of rationalist semantics.

    “…code model of linguistic interaction…Actually it seems that you are the person who has this problem.”

    hmm….????

  165. “change word meanings”

    There is that code model creeping in again.

    Not a flip-flop here.

    I claimed that an individual would have a hard time resisting a change that was accepted by the group. That it would be fruitless to resist a change in a word’s meaning that had become or was becoming dominant. This is because, if you stick with a definition that eveyone else has lost, then your communicative effect will be minimal. You can’t flip that argument around. I can create an extension of a words meaning that others find effective and it might become dominant. No problem. No contradiction there.

  166. science,

    If you can find a denial of human choice…

    Heh. You’re arguing for a form of biological determinism so of course you’re arguing against human choice. That’s what the entire argument about cognitive capacities is about right? Its an appeal to the biology of the brain and an argument that the works in such a fashion as to deny human choice.

    What criteria determines what usage is appropriate?

    As far as I can tell you are using the term normative in a way that is non-standard. Its at this point that we get to argue about whether that is appropriate. You’d rather simply drop the argument altogether, short circuit any discussion on the matter, and simply state that what is popular is what is appropriate.

    What one ought to mean when one says something is determined by______________?

    According to you popular usage, no matter how psychotic or otherwise destructive, is the appropriate gauge. You know what my gauge is.

  167. “What one ought to mean when one says something is determined by______________?

    According to you popular usage, no matter how psychotic or otherwise destructive, is the appropriate gauge. You know what my gauge is. ”

    Actually I don’t think I do. Please explain.

  168. “You’re arguing for a form of biological determinism so of course you’re arguing against human choice…Its an appeal to the biology of the brain and an argument that the works in such a fashion as to deny human choice.”

    Do you really believe that even the biological realities of your brain don’t limit your choices in some way? Wow…

  169. I keep checking this thread primarily to see whether the flogging of the equine carcus has yet ceased. Apparently not. I suppose I should apologize or at least feel a bit guilty for my role in perpetuating this debate, but — what the hell! — maybe we can set some sort of Winter Olympic record for pole vaulting over mouse droppings.

    In that spirit, I note that andy wrote:

    Prejudice against religion is prejudice against something both very significant and artificial. This prejudice may be irrational….

    Now, I would have thought that prejudice, as commonly understood, is always and necessarily irrational. I have checked no dictionary (either of the prescriptive, e.g., Webster’s 2nd Unabridged, or descriptive, e.g., just about any dictionary published subsequently, variety), but it seems to me that the core import of “prejudice” is that it ascribes of a person that he holds a belief that is unsound in that either his premises are false or his reasoning is invalid or both, usually as a case of false generalization or faulty induction.

    That is, isn’t the typical case one in which A believes or asserts “All X’s are Y” where we know or have reason to believe that there are X’s that are not Y or, at the very least, that A’s data base for his assertion is insufficient? (E.g., he has met only two or three X’s, all of whom just happened to be a Y.)

    Now, insofar as this is at all significant, it is because I now suspect that part of the underlying dispute is the largely unstated premise on the part of some people that racism is, in fact, a more offensive sort of prejudice than religious prejudice. Others have perhaps assumed that, at least insofar as it is indeed prejudice we are talking about (that is, an irrational bias against X, whatever X may be), all prejudices are in principle equally bad.

    Then again, maybe I’m just stirring the pot again.

  170. Damn, Science, who would have thought that people would actually be arguing “If you want to know what a word means, don’t look in the dictionary”?

  171. From now on, if I want to know what a word means I will consult the most obnoxious people in the thread and clear my phrasing with them before I post. That way we can avoid these flame wars over linguistics.

    And where is the poster known as linguist anyway?

  172. Perhaps he was too cunning to stick his tongue out?

  173. From now on, if I want to know what a word means I will consult the most obnoxious people in the thread and clear my phrasing with them before I post.

    Just so long as you don’t rely on a dictionary, Thoreau.

  174. Jennifer-

    I’ll do like the old school fortune tellers, and consult the entrails of a hunter shot by Dick Cheney.

  175. Andy,

    I can grok the point that criticizing the tenets of a belief system is more respectable than criticizing someone’s race, because the superiority of ideas is a legitimate topic, while the superiority of races is not.

    However, when Coulter refered to Muslims as “ragheads,” she made the jump from the former (criticizing ideas) to the latter (criticizing people because of their racial/ethnic/cultural background).

    Calling someone a “raghead” is not a criticism of this or that belief or idea. It’s a slur hurled at people from the greater Middle East. Would you be defending a speaker calling Jewish people “kikes,” on the grounds that you disagree with Leviticus, or with the practice of circumcision?

  176. “Would you be defending a speaker calling Jewish people “kikes,” on the grounds that you disagree with Leviticus, or with the practice of circumcision?”

    No, I wouldn’t. I might defend the speaker calling jews “snippers” though… πŸ˜‰

    Seriously, though, I’ll admit that Coulter crossed the line (when doesn’t she?). However, cultures and ethnicities are not out of the realm of criticism either. They both involve “ideas,” oftentimes shaped from religion. While acknowledging that Coulter is over the top and offensive, we should not dismiss criticisms of ethnicities and cultures offhand, like we should criticisms of “race.” The problem is that there’s a lot of people who do see any criticism of cultures and ethnicities as necessarily just as irrational as criticisms of “race.” I think that’s a very dangerous trend.

  177. So Hak bowed out as soon as he was asked to provide a different basis for word meaning than the consensus of the language community as instantiated through the dominant usage of the word.

    Andy,
    You are putting forth a reasonable concern, however I think the danger is to judge cultures instead of particular behaviors of particular members of cultures.

  178. “You are putting forth a reasonable concern, however I think the danger is to judge cultures instead of particular behaviors of particular members of cultures.”

    While one certainly needs to be extremely cautious when making such criticisms, it’s obvious that some cultures are more conducive to particular behaviors than other cultures. How many mainstream Westerners chop the clits off of all their little girls and sew up their vaginas, or force their women to be subservient in every respect? While no culture is perfect, nor is any culture devoid of positive aspects, some cultures are far more pathological than others.

  179. Why are so many people racist against Ann Coulter?

    Q: Why did the blonde call the welfare office?
    A: She wanted to know how to cook food stamps.
    (I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you, by the insensitivity of that racist joke!)

    When the minions of the U.S. gov’t implement and practice actual, real racism they call it “affirmative action.” That way you know that practicing actual, real racism is doubleplus good, but making dumb wisecracks is thoughtcrime.

  180. How many mainstream Westerners chop the clits off of all their little girls and sew up their vaginas, or force their women to be subservient in every respect? While no culture is perfect, nor is any culture devoid of positive aspects, some cultures are far more pathological than others.

    Indeed. So why not insult the way they sew up their daughter’s vaginas, rather than insult the way some of them wrap pieces of cloth around their heads? If Ann Coulter had made some comment about “despising those people who force their women to wear burkas,” I don’t think this brouhaha would have ever occurred.

  181. “some cultures are far more pathological than others”

    The trouble is deciding upon a standard with which to judge pathological when applying it to such a complex entity as a culture. It is better to stick to the particular practice or idea, rather than treating the culture and its members as a unitary group. Otherwise you are making the same mistake that people make when they lump together people by biology or heritage. It is this common error that has led to the extension of the term that sparked this whole debate. The trick is to distinguish between making judgments about ideas, and making judgments about a group that includes a sub-set of people that ascribe to that idea.

  182. “How many mainstream Westerners chop the clits off of all their little girls and sew up their vaginas, or force their women to be subservient in every respect?”

    Probably roughly the same as the number of western Chinese, Bangladeshis, and Turks who engage in those behaviors: zero, or approaching zero.

    The point of referring to Muslims as “ragheads” is to erase the distinction between progressive, moderate, modern Muslims and violant fundies. If your target is the set of people who engage in these abhorrent practices, why deliberately conflate those people with others who do not engage in those practices? The answer, obviously, is that her target was not that set of people, but Muslims as a whole.

  183. (I apologize for this as it refers to stuff many posts ago, but I was asked in another thread to contribute a professional opinion on this topic so I’ll copy it here.)

    Andy,

    Don’t have time to read all 183 comments right now but from what I saw it was an interesting discussion.

    You’re right. So is Jennifer.

    And whoever said this about definitions or semantic meaning has got it down pat:
    “They also change. Then the new ones count. Then at some point they may change too. Language is a bitch that way.”

    An interesting case (which touches on racism) is the continuing morphing of race identity terms in America. First Negro, then Black, then African-American, to Americans of African Descent, and so on. Likewise we’ve gone from ghetto to inner-city to underprivileged area and, now, are heading back toward ghetto (or so I’ve read).

    Literal semantic meaning and contextual semantic meaning will change rapidly in highly-publicized societal debates. Even more so when people intentionally try to shift the context by shifting the term.

    So can “racist” be used to refer to a cultural bias? Sure! Why? Because it is!

  184. “If Ann Coulter had made some comment about “despising those people who force their women to wear burkas,” I don’t think this brouhaha would have ever occurred.”

    “The trick is to distinguish between making judgments about ideas, and making judgments about a group that includes a sub-set of people that ascribe to that idea.”

    You both make very good points, I’ll admit, but science, what if that sub-set includes virtually everyone in that group? It’s hard to not think that one’s dealing with just a plain old sick culture, especially if the behavior is odious enough.

  185. I give up… you all win!

  186. linguist the racist wrote:
    So can “racist” be used to refer to a cultural bias? Sure! Why? Because it is!

    That’s racist against people whose culture includes thinking and communicating clearly.

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