Words matter. They influence thinking. Our attention was drawn recently to the term “committed suicide” by Mike Jempson, head of the UK-based charity Mediawise that works in ethics and journalism. Please avoid ‘committed suicide’ (crime? sin?) and use the more accurate ‘killed themselves or took their own lives’. We agree. All too often we use words and phrases without the slightest thought about how it lands on the other side. Here are some common examples.
In addition to the nauseous comparison to a disease in dogs (rabies), the term is tantamount to saying she is half pregnant. You either believe in equality for women or you do not – you may be at different stages of that journey by choice or lack of it, but the last stop is not rabidity. Rabid feminist implies that women without the adjective are somehow serious interlocutors. He or she holds ‘extreme’ views will do nicely – lets keep other nonsense out.
Now what on earth does that mean? When two adults have sex, obviously it is consensual. Everything else is rape – forced at gunpoint, forced when lady or man is inebriated, gang rape, public humiliation etc. Unless of course you agree with the Saudi diplomat who fled India after saying he accidentally penetrated a member of his staff when he fell. That is a subject for the UN to discuss. We are only a small website.
Intriguing noun that. Ultra nationalist. Ultra conservative. Ultra liberal. Ultra modern. Where do nationalist, conservative and liberals stop for the ultra to begin? Do the soldiers who guard India’s borders at minus 50 degrees Celsius qualify? Does someone who defends freedom of information by beating others up make the cut? Is verbal abuse ultra modern or ultra liberal? What is the adjective to be used if you are fiscally conservative and social liberal? Ultra complicated this – what say?
Couldn’t let this one pass. We are intolerant of the LGBT community. We are intolerant of Muslims. We are intolerant of Hindus. We are intolerant of food habits. We are tolerant about poverty. We are tolerant about disease. We are tolerant about corruption and we are tolerant about child abuse.
Seriously. Activist should suffice as it speaks to a mental maturity, a thought process that takes on injustice and oppression logically with arguments that are undeniable. Police brutality is a reality, child abuse is a reality, extrajudicial killings are a reality. When you need a gun to make your point, especially in the social and economic context, you’ve lost the war, the battle and self-respect.
In a country where politicians are called Stalin, what’s a thing or two about the Holocaust that exterminated the lives of 6 million Jews, right? How easily we use terms like concentration camps, final solution, Apartheid without any empathy or sensitivity to what people have suffered. What is this urge to belittle death and destruction? We were wondering why no one in India calls someone Mussolini – any idea?
Careful next time you think you are insulting someone – you are most probably describing yourself. And put the donkey last – it’s not I and my friend, it’s my friend and I.