The new language
Walter E. Williams
8/15/2001 12:00:00 AM - Walter E. Williams
No one invented language -- it simply spontaneously evolved as a system that enables us to communicate with one another. Language is never static because in the process of progress, new words emerge for new tools and concepts. Some of today's new language, like cosmetics, conceal and confuse. Since I've been on earth a sufficient interval of time to see some of this, let's look at it.
Back in the '40s, there were flophouses where bums and hobos hung out. Urban renewal (removal) accounts for the disappearance of flophouses, but what happened to America's bums and hobos?
You might think they've also disappeared because we never hear of them. They're still with us. We call them homeless people. Linguistically, that puts bums in the same category as people who are homeless because of fires, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes. That means there's moral equivalency between flood victims and bums. After all, who can be morally judgmental about someone who's lost his home?
The new millennium finds other missing persons. What happened to insane people, stutterers, crippled people, deaf and dumb people, and slow learners? Today we refer to them as being challenged or disabled one way or another, and sometimes even exceptional.
Also, back in the '40s, I used to love Tarzan movies featuring him swinging through the jungles or trekking through the swamps chasing bad guys. Like bums and hobos, jungles and swamps have disappeared as well. Today's political agenda has given them new names. They're now rainforests and wetlands. After all, who can get worked up about saving jungles and mosquito-infested swamps but, ah!, rainforests and wetlands are a different matter.
Today, it has become fashionable to refer to me as an African-American. I protest. One reason is that I risk being confused with an American of Egyptian or Afrikaner ancestry, since both can legitimately be called African-Americans. Another reason is that I'm simply tired and worn out -- not to mention the confusion for white people. Being 65, I've gone through a number of name changes that range from derogative names such as coon and nigger, to colored, person of color, Negro, Afro-American and black. I refuse to change again, and I'm going to leave this world as a black man.
Then there's sex, and then there's gender. Gender is a grammatical term that refers to the classification by which nouns are grouped and inflected. Sex refers to the divisions into which people, male and female, or animals and plants, are divided with reference to their reproductive functions. I have no idea why it's politically more correct to use the term gender rather than sex, or use gender interchangeably with sex, but it'd sure sound strange if one were overhead saying, "I was having gender with my wife last night when the phone rang."
I've been the chairman of the Economics Department at George Mason University for six years. A minor ongoing struggle with some colleagues, especially the touchy-feely among them, has been to get them to address or refer to me as chairman instead of the politically correct chair. Referring to one as chair conceals valuable information.
For example, if a colleague says, "A chair is in the next room," I wouldn't know whether or not it's an inanimate object, a man or a woman -- where I'd have to clean up my language. Some of my colleagues rightfully think it's silly to refer to someone as a chair, so they say chairperson. I still object and on occasion have suggested that I can present unambiguous evidence that I am a chairman.
By the way, whether to call me a chair, chairperson or chairman is a moot issue since as of July 31 this year, I've retired from the chairmanship and returned to simply teaching economics.