Posts Tagged ‘blogging’
Back in October of 2005, Livejournaler Heather Cooze posted in the Toronto Livejournal community a complaint about the steeped tea sold by Canada-founded chain Tim Horton’s. This post has since been revised, apparently in response to criticism the author received, but in the original version she said that the decision of Tim Horton’s to sell tea without including teabags–an option added, it should be noted, alongside their–was like rape. Also, it was something that the Nazis would have done.
The post got quite a lot of criticism. A petition that Cooze had started was taken down, as she complained people were taking her choice of language too seriously. A common opinion in the Toronto community, and in my Livejournal as well, was that the language she used was irresponsible. How, exactly, is selling steeped tea like rape? Why would it be something that the Nazis would do? The language used, evoking violence and even genocide, was ridiculously at odds with the actual subject matter. The people who said that a person who had only this to complain about was lucky were right.
I’ve been thinking of this misguided post more and more recently, as I’ve seen language get misused in similar ways in online forums and mainstream journalism and public life generally. Too often, words are used without regard to their actual meaning. “Colonialism” describes a specific set of circumstances, say, as does “fascism”, as does “racism”. Using terms like these as catch-all phrases to describe situations that a speaker does not like, without providing actual evidence for these terms’ real-world relevance, conveys only that the speaker does not like a situation. That’s it.
What do we lose through the misuse of the language? We lose an ability to actually understand what is going on. (Greece in 2015, for all of its travails, is going through nothing like Haiti’s experience of slavery-driven colonialism.) We certainly demonstrate our profound lack of understanding of the situation that has been mistaken to provide the incendiary analogy. (The sale of steeped tea is nothing like sexual assault.) Ultimately, we lose an ability to actually talk about things. How can we, if words with established meanings are taken to mean anything at all?
What do you think about this? Is there any way we can fight against this misuse? (Fighting against specific examples of misuse, perhaps?)