Six point eight pounds. Three and a half inches. Twenty-seven items. What's that? The stack of catalogs* I have received in the past two(ish) months.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Six point eight pounds. Three and a half inches. Twenty-seven items. What's that? The stack of catalogs* I have received in the past two(ish) months.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
- 62 tiny super-strong neodymium magnets
- some plates that weren't even mine to begin with (continuing the streak of selling off things prior residents left in the apartment, which began with a bed, a rolling hanging rack, a computer chair...after I sold all that stuff I had a net profit on my move!)
- some ridiculously kitschy wooden German Christmas ornaments (which, as it turned out, I should have asked for at least twice what I did as they sold on eBay in a mere eight hours and then someone else messaged me to ask if I had anymore lurking anywhere because that was such a great deal)
- a pair of 5-pound dumbbells (way too light)
- a pair of 15-pound dumbbells (slightly too heavy; also I always had the fear lurking in my mind that I would run into them in the dark or when not paying attention and break my toes)
- a set of 10 Delft-looking dresser knobs from like eight years ago when I had a blue-and-white room
- six books
- 10-ish DVDs
- one CD
- one Wii game (No, I don't own a Wii. You can see why I would want to get rid of this. To be fair, I did live in the same house as a Wii until August.)
- a black pencil skirt (too big, tags still attached *sigh*)
- a dress that I got (tags still attached) several years ago from a friend who was moving, never ended up wearing, and sold today with the tags still attached
Saturday, October 9, 2010
So anyway, I have decided to become a minimalist, though I'm sure I'm using the term so loosely most the bloggers I've been reading would barely recognize it. I am bothered by how much stuff I have. Excess stuff sitting around distracts the attention and weighs on the mind if it's visible, but even if I manage to keep all my junk nicely hidden away, it still takes up psychological space. I know it's there. It's like I feel responsible for it, for caring for it and managing it. Plus I still have to cart it around every time I move, which I have done 13 times in the past seven years (counting moves to and from college each year, to Oxford, to Marburg, and my annual moves since). I have to spend a lot of time sorting stuff, picking it up, moving it around, putting it away, etc. So I definitely want to have less stuff—much less stuff. And, as I said, I want everything I have to be something I like having and use regularly. I'm tired of feeling obligated to my stuff. It's entirely irrational. Just because I've owned a thing for six years does not mean its feelings will get hurt if I get rid of it! Just because I paid $50 for a thing does not mean I'm getting my money's worth from simply having it sitting around for two years any more than I would if I just got rid of it. Just because my eccentric aunt gave me a thing does not mean she really thinks it's something that should be a central part of my life (at least I hope that's not her intent or she's much more eccentric than previously thought), and she probably won't give that thing one thought after she gets my thank-you note, so it's pointless feeling obligated to keep it around.
I decided a reasonable but definitely doable challenge would be to get rid of half my stuff. This presents me with a conundrum as well, however, as I definitely don't think just chucking everything into 20 trash bags and putting it out on the curb is a legitimate way of dealing with things. Of course it's easy to just tie things up and cut them out of your life in one fell swoop, but I feel like doing that isn't deliberate enough and just leaves you open to letting more stuff come in to fill its spot. Plus, obviously, it's no more responsible to fill the landfills with your things than to fill your house with your things, so as much as possible, things need to be actually dealt with. So clothes and books and things should obviously be sold or donated, but what about all that stuff? One thing I realized lately is I have a gallon bag full of 3-ounce toiletry bottles from traveling. I have recently found an amazing travel toiletry set, however (the bottles are all like 0.5 and 1 and 1.5 ounces so you can take small amounts of like 12 things instead of 3 ounces of like three products, of which you generally only use a third or half each), so I'm never going to actually use any of these for traveling again. So, yes, I'm going to spend the next month or so using up tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner and such at what I am sure will feel like an agonizingly slow pace. But this reduces waste, and, perhaps even more importantly, it forces me to be mindful of my purchases, to attend to the lifespan of each, to find a way to release them from my life naturally. I'm guessing (hoping) this will make me less likely to mindlessly acquire new things, since I'm aware of what a pain it is to deal with them. If you buy something knowing that when you're tired of it, you'll just throw it away, then money is pretty much the only impediment to acquisition.
sifterone set measuring cupstwo sets measuring spoonspastry cuttersmall silicone mats (2)electric mixerstrainerwhite plastic bowl with lidsmall springform pansilicone muffin cupssmall cutting boardmedium cutting boardscoop cutting boardcookie sheets (2)large plastic storage containers (2 rectangular, 1 square)grippy things (3)veggie scrub brushkitchen towels (2)vegetable peelers (1 normal, 1 palm-held)cheese slicercan openergarlic pressplastic bin for composttoaster ovenblenderfood processortoasterwaffle ironmini George Foreman
That being said, I was horrified by a lot of categories. For instance: 104 pairs of underwear. What?! And of course I only wear like a third of them on anything approaching a regular basis. Actually, yeah, clothes are most of what appalled me. Seven swimsuits (four of which don't even fit). Twenty-two bras that are too big for me (!!), not counting the ones that fit (of which there is some subsection I actually wear). [I feel the need to defend myself. I have lost a lot of weight, in fits and starts and with fluctuations, over the past two years. So this, like several other areas of my wardrobe, reflects a good three- or four- or five-size range. And bras aren't cheap, so I held on to them in case I gained ten pounds back again or whatever. No need to give things away for free and then spend $100 to replace them in three months! However, this is actually ridiculous (they were in four locations, so I didn't realize I had held onto that many), so I'm getting rid of all but a couple. Plus, holding onto fat clothes is one of those big no-nos if you read dieting articles, because then it's like mental permission to get lazy and creep back up again. I'm not sure I buy that entirely, but whatever, it's a consideration.] Sixty-nine and a half pairs of socks. (Thirty are white tube socks or ankle socks that I actually do wear regularly, and that are actually often the limiting factor in determining when it's laundry time. Fifteen are knee socks, which, yeah, are not. Six are fuzzy house socks, which I'm pretty sure I did not myself purchase a single pair of. And obviously the lone, unmated sock is doing nobody any good.)
Monday, August 16, 2010
1) The bathroom, kitchen cabinets, and fridge in my new apartment are full of half-used toiletries and food belonging to previous residents already departed. Whenever I can waylay both of the other current residents more or less simultaneously, we're going to cull the collection. Obviously the environmentally (and fiscally and otherwise, I suppose) responsible thing to do would be not to simply throw everything out but to spend the next few months living off the two varieties of Herbal Essences shampoos (extra moisturizing and anti-frizz, both of which, conveniently, my hair could benefit from), the duplicate bottle of my face wash, and the myriad body washes left behind (and eating lots and lots of soy sauce and mustard?) so as not to allow huge quantities of perfectly good products to go to waste. And I likely will do this (at least for the bathroom supplies—using an unseen person's leftover shampoo seems a lot less gross than their leftover food, plus the food stuff isn't stuff I'll eat, or at least not quickly enough for it to benefit the stuffed level of the fridge with any alacrity).
But then what to do with the unwanted dregs? I'm a compulsive recycler (I've been known to fish roommates' bottles out of the trash, rinse them, and put them in the bin), but I know that the plastic recycling process isn't actually all that efficient, that the water wastage required in rinsing out a container (especially one containing body wash or something that foams seemingly eternally) is a nontrivial factor in this equation, and that—oh wait—washing loads of liquid pollutants (which is what toiletries basically are when you get down to it) down the drain where they eventually end up contaminating rivers and groundwater and such probably isn't the best of ideas. So, do I simply toss the whole thing—bottle, contents, and all—into the trash, hoping the bottle will remain intact enough to keep the contents from spilling out into our (eventual) water supply, and not wasting the water to endlessly rinse it, or do I spend an afternoon rinsing out bottles of Worcestershire sauce and conditioner, wasting untold gallons of water?
See, what I need to know: Exactly how inefficient is plastic recycling? (I'm sure this is publicly available if I really looked.) How much water is required to rinse out a shampoo bottle? (I'm sure I could figure this out on my own.) But then, how much water wasted counteracts the beneficial effects of recycling? (This is possibly close enough, given the inefficient nature of plastics recycling, to be significant.) What are the environmental effects of pouring bath products down the drain? (I am aware we do this daily anyway as our daily doses of shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, shaving gel, toothpaste, mouthwash, and whatever gels, pomades, or mousses are already in our hair wash out and down the drain, but just because we already do it to some extent doesn't mean it's a problem. Peeing out all the drugs we take is doing awful things to fish, frogs, and other animals, including leaving them hermaphroditic thanks to 12 million American women's birth control pills.) Does anything thrown away in its container actually remain contained after being crushed and compacted and tossed in the landfill?
2) Since I always use my flip & tumble bags at the grocery store, CVS, etc., I'm finding that I actually have a dearth of paper and plastic bags around my house. In my area, paper recycling has to be either put into a paper bag to separate it from the other recycling, or tied neatly into a coherent package with twine. The latter sounds nigh impossible (only a small percentage of my paper recycling is regularly-sized and -shaped paper—what to do about all the receipts?!), but it seems beyond ridiculous to be sure to get paper bags at the grocery store for the sole purpose of restraining my paper recycling. (This is less a cost-benefit thing than just an annoyance thing.) Until recently I was making it by on the occasional Whole Foods bag the roommate would bring home (he's slightly less perpetually armed with reusable bags since he doesn't carry a purse), the small bags his beer comes home in, and then (a windfall!), somewhat embarrassingly, a stash of paper bags I filched out of a neighbor's recycling bin one day. But now? Nothing. I appear to be the only person in this apartment who cooks, so apparently I'm the only one who ever buys anything at the grocery store. (Odd.)
Plastic gives me an even worse conundrum. The other day I went to empty the bathroom trash, but then I realized I didn't actually have any plastic grocery bags to replace the bag with. (I would just dump the trash into the kitchen trashcan, leaving the bag there, but our toilet has a weird leak that the trashcan has been living under to catch, so everything was kind of soggy and gross, and the bag actually needed replacing.) So when I went over to the old place to swap out some stuff I'd unwittingly taken for some stuff I'd unwittingly left, I also grabbed a substantial portion of the stash of plastic bags we had accumulated over the past two years in our kitchen closet. (Of course, over half of them are the somewhat less conveniently sized bags that you get when you buy clothes or something somewhere slightly fancier than the grocery store.) But someday, these too will run out, and then what? It's ridiculous to buy trash bags, at least for that size trash can. (Seriously. How thoroughly stupid is it that stuff is manufactured—and we spend money on it—the sole purpose of which is to throw away?!) But again, is it much less stupid to refrain from using my reusable bags once or twice to build up my supply of plastic grocery bags to line the trash with?
3) Composting brings me to a problem in a similar vein. I had decided once I moved I would resume collecting my vegetable peels and such to take to the compost dump. (Another point entirely is that the compost site is only for residents of my old city, but that I live much closer to it now that I've moved across city lines. I'm going to just do it anyway, since I only composted for maybe two months of the time I lived there, so they owe me a good thirty-odd months of accepting my food waste on principle. Not that they check resident status at the entrance...) But I refuse to simply use my plastic bin unlined by anything else, because as the waste accumulates, it liquifies, starting to smell and leaking putrid liquid in my bag as I carry it. So here we are again—I can line with a plastic bag, which I not only have a dearth of, but I don't enjoy doing because then I'm still stuck with the now-disgusting bag to dispose of later, or I can line with a paper bag, except I don't have any of those either. Is it better or worse to purchase paper lunch sacks to contain the veggie refuse (introducing waste, including water waste in the manufacturing process) to prevent all my biodegradable waste from entering the landfill, where it is no longer to actually decompose due to lack of oxygen and thus absence of the bacteria that break it down? (An apple core only rots measurably faster than a styrofoam cup when you bury them in your backyard for science class, not when you throw both of them away—shrouded in a plastic bag, no less!—to enter a landfill.)
Gah, I need numbers! I need data! (Better yet, I need someone else to gather the numbers and data and make a nice little website telling me what to do!)
My other option—and don't think I haven't already done this to some level on light-waste weeks!—is to sneak my paper to be recycled into an unsuspecting neighbor's under-stuffed paper bag. I'm pretty sure that's technically illegal, though, not to mention embarrassing if I they catch you. And it doesn't help with my bathroom trashcan!
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
I really, truly, honestly do not understand what people mean they thank our troops "for fighting for our freedoms!" Sarah Palin (I know, I know) tweeted this yesterday [edited to add spaces because my blog is not limited to 140 characters]: "VETERANS, not reporters, give freedom of the press. VETS, not politicians, give freedom to vote. VETS, not campus radicals, give freedom to assemble." Normally I would write this off as Palin being Palin, but I have heard the exact sentiment (though perhaps not those specific examples) every Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and many Fourths of July of my life from real-life, normal people I know. (At church, it was always "...who gave their lives for us to have the right to sit right here today and worship as we see fit.")
I just don't get it. I'm not trying to make a political statement abut war or the military or mock Sarah Palin for being an idiot (shocking, I'm sure) or decry the American habit of fetishizing our troops or imply that our troops aren't nice, honorable people or anything; I legitimately do not understand. (So if you can explain it in a way that seems at all coherent, please do.)
The general "fighting for our freedoms" formulation seems to imply that had we not fought in any or all of the wars we had, our country would have been taken over by our enemy or our government would have been overthrown or something catastrophic would have happened that would result in a totalitarian regime that would control our lives in unprecedented ways, banning religious expression and free speech, censoring the press, and doing who knows what other evil things. That's just plain untrue. In World War II, we weren't fighting for the freedom of American citizens, we were fighting to prevent Germany's gaining European hegemony. (The Pacific theater might provide more of a case since Japan actually did attack American soil, but again, had we not retaliated, I don't think anyone actually means to suggest that Japan would have rolled tanks into Washington and abolished freedom of speech.) If I remember correctly, World War I had even less to do with the U.S. Vietnam and Korea, though part of the general communist threat to the dominance of democracy and freedom in some grand sense, didn't have anything to do with fighting for U.S. citizens' rights.
Obviously the Revolutionary War was fought for the principles of democracy and freedom (though actually not the ones Palin or anyone else mentions since those tend to be part of the Bill of Rights, which didn't come until later). The War of 1812 seems a legitimate case of fighting in defense of the country and thus, by extension, the freedom of its citizens. Even the Civil War was legitimately about protecting a way of life in the United States (each side would have that perspective, even, though obviously they disagreed about which way of life deserved protection). But nobody still living knows anyone who fought in any of these wars, so presumably those aren't the people actually being thanked (which is a pity, really, because Memorial Day seems to be turning into Veterans Day part 2 or a Military Appreciation Day or something instead of a day of remembrance for those who have died).
So how about the current wars? I mean, I know we were attacked, but even so, and even despite the fact that it was indeed intended to be an attack on the American way of life and presumably on democracy and freedom, the terrorist groups we're talking about simply don't have the power to take away our freedoms. They're not big enough or strong enough to keep you from exercising your freedom of speech in this country. They're not in a position to tell you you can or can't worship as you please. And really, the 9/11 attack has nothing to do with Iraq at all, though I suppose had it turned out Hussein actually possessed WMDs, those would have posed a legitimate threat to America or Americans (depending on what he would be planning to do with them). Of course, even so, I'm still not sure anyone's ability to blow up chunks of the country in any way gives them a chance to deprive us of our freedoms unless they are able to then take over the country and replace the government.
So I wouldn't find it nonsensical if people thanked the military for "fighting for freedom" or "fighting for democracy" or even "fighting to protect our interests"—one or the other of those is actually applicable in every conflict we have gotten involved in. But fighting for our—Americans'—freedoms, especially fighting for specific freedoms like those of free speech, press, and assembly? I think that necessitates a deliberate (and inaccurate) reframing of the entire narrative of the American military's actions.
Regarding Palin's statement specifically, I do agree that reporters are not who guarantee or protect freedom of the press, politicians are not who bestow suffrage upon us, and protesters are not the source of the right of assembly. But neither are vets of any war in the past 300 years responsible for the granting of those rights (obviously) or even the protection of them in any literal sense. It's not veterans who give us the right to assemble peacefully, it's the first amendment to the Constitution. Barring an invading force of extreme power, the only way for our freedoms to be abridged is through the United States government itself in concert with a lack of attention or political will on the part of the citizenry.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Far be it from me to imply the language doesn't change and slang can't change the meaning of a word for good. My mother and I used to argue "that sucks" with me taking that very tack. ("But Lauren, do you know what that means?") I argued that if blowjobs were actually the etymology of "sucks," which I wasn't convinced of at the time, the word had long ago branched out from that meaning and the usage synonymous with "that stinks" should have no horrifying connotations to anyone. If oral sex wasn't in the mind of those who used the expression or those who heard it thus used (my mother excluded, apparently), then in some quite meaningful sense (yay for postmodernism), it didn't mean that anymore.
So I can certainly see the appeal of an argument from postmodernism, that the word "gay" has a new meaning ((3) stupid) in addition to (1) happy and frolicsome and (2) homosexual. However, I think it's clear that, whatever connotations definition three theoretically doesn't have now, it definitely arrived in the lexicon through pejorative application of gay definition number two. (This is where the previous post becomes relevant!) It's apparent we lack imagination or a sufficient vocabulary in English (and probably every other language, but I'll stick to what I know) and so constantly lift from descriptors of other groups of people we don't like or (ding, ding, ding!) don't respect to describe anyone or anything negatively. ("Don't be retarded," "how lame," "I was gypped," "what a spaz," "she totally freaked.") So while the 14-year-olds saying "that's gay" probably truly aren't at that moment actually intending to offend or even comment on anyone who is gay and legitimately aren't considering that use of the word in this context, people who are gay or who have friends who are gay (or who are just old and so aren't desensitized to this usage yet) often can't help but sense the traces of its etymology. (It's significant to me that I have never actually heard anyone who is gay say "that's so gay" in any sense other than the obviously directly derivative sense that that's something so ridiculously sparkly and fabulous that only super-stereotypically feminine gay men would like it, so obviously not everyone thinks it's a word entirely without connotation in this sense.)
(I know it's super-cheesy, but I love this PSA.)
So now we come to the crux of the matter: do people have a responsibility to avoid saying things that offend others if they don't think they're anything that should offend anyone? On the one hand, you never know what might offend someone; virtually anything you could possibly say would offend someone for some (probably initially bewildering) reason. (Stupid example: if, as I age, anyone younger than me ever refers to me as "this young lady" in that slightly-ironic-to-be-nice way (because heaven knows being old is an unspeakable horror best ignored by exaggeration in the opposite direction), I'm going to clock them.) I do, however, think political correctness can go too far, and it's probably not a worthwhile use of one's time to bend over backward trying to keep from the slightest possibility of offending anyone. However, I do think it's very important to think about how the words you use came to have the meanings you impute to them, and especially if someone tells you they find something offensive, you should seek to eliminate it (at the very least in their presence).
One friend of mine in particular often argues the other side of this point to me. He'll say something sexist that I get offended by and then spends half an hour explaining why either he's not being sexist or why I'm too easily offended. Similarly with "that's gay"—he thinks people are being overly sensitive and it's not his job to be sure not to offend someone who's 'looking' to be offended. It seems to me he and others are taking the Eleanor Roosevelt approach ("No one can make you feel inferior without your consent"), which I've always found to be terribly annoying and entirely untrue (or, if possibly true, to place an undue burden on the person feeling inferior). To a significant extent, it doesn't really matter if you understand why someone is offended; if they are, they are, and if you like them, stop!—even if you think they're being overly sensitive.
I think the reason people try to justify things they're told are offensive is simply because nobody thinks they're sexist or racist (or ageist or ableist or prejudiced in any other way), so when it's brought to their attention that someone does find something they said offensive in some way, they are so horrified or uncomfortable that someone thinks they're that sort of person that they feel the need to explain how they're not really. Cut your losses; you cannot win this one. Nobody's going to think you're incorrigible if they say, "That's offensive" and you say, "Really, how? Oh, wow, I didn't think of that"—the end. Being increasingly offensive as you explain how you're not actually being offensive or how it's their own fault they're offended, however, won't win you any friends.
There was a Motherlode post/discussion a while back (because, yes, I'm ridiculous and read a parenting blog despite having no intention of procreating for some time, if ever) that I found quite germane to this discussion. It's about classroom assignments (in particular, that one where you make charts with traits from your parents and yourself to learn about heritability—you know, if you can curl your tongue; whether your earlobes are free-hanging or connected to your head, etc.) that are potentially awkward or discriminatory (in this case, to adopted kids...or those conceived through donor sperm or eggs or anyone who otherwise doesn't have access to both biological parents). I thought the post to be quite interesting, as I'd never really thought about that problem, and it seems plain to me that if there are things we as a society are doing that make people feel bad about themselves (or unable to participate!), if there's any reasonable way to avoid that, we should. (It should be noted the post offered other options with the same educational value that could be easily substituted.) Many of the commenters seemed less charitable:
"[A]doptive families are by far the exception, not the rule. So you're demanding to change the system entirely, just to satisfy a small minority?"
"My gosh, if I got frustrated and angry over one of my Kid's homework assignments because it didn't pander to my special situation, I wouldn't make it as a parent."
"Goodness gracious the things we manage to find problems with in our society. Count yourself lucky the issue you have to write about is a genetic work sheet your elementary aged child fills out. So much complaining so few real problems."
I think all too often people like these commenters miss the point. It's not the case that (most) people just sit around looking for things that an argument could be made discriminate against some specific situation they are in or quality they have in order to cause a stink and get special attention and pity. In most cases people are truly saddened/disturbed/hurt by whatever everyone else is assuming is universal and bring it up because they assume nobody's trying to hurt anyone's feelings, that the apparent blitheness with which they're being disregarded is simply because everyone else, not being in that particular situation, is simply unaware that they're hurting anyone. (Which discussion unfortunately too often triggers the "But I'm a nice person!" defensiveness and rationalization...) Nobody's asking that the sensibilities of the smallest minorities be allowed to dictate the majority's actions but just that people show some awareness of the fact that not everybody is like them. Presumably since we're not all ogres, they would then have some willingness to adjust if the adjustment wasn't onerous. Obviously nobody is aware of every possible potential offense they could give anyone else, but that's exactly why people do and should inform others of things that make them feel slighted.
Back to language, though: my question is whether all words that were ever offensively intended should be off limits forever after or if there's a sort of statute of limitations of offensiveness. "That's gay" and "what a retard" are definitely still too loaded to touch for those of us who don't want to offend, but what about "moron"? My inclination is that since that word hasn't been used to refer to an actual medical condition in my decades, it's officially decoupled and is thus acceptable (same with "lunatic," "idiot," etc.—of course, I may lean toward their acceptability simply because they're words I regularly use and I'm being defensive). I remember my mom getting mad about my use of "spaz" (see: spasticity), which was the first time I was made aware of an offensive aspect of a term I regularly used. Then (only a few years ago) my brother called me out on "gypped," which is obviously (in retrospect!) a reference to gypsies. Nobody has actually said anything to me about "lame," but it is certainly also offensive. I guess my problem is that I started using all these words solely in their slang senses and at a relatively young age and either never thought of their original meanings until years later or was simply unaware of the etymology at all (I'm pretty sure that conversation with my mom was the first time I ever heard the word "spasticity"; I had no idea it was a real thing). So I feel that since my speech developed using them in an innocent sense, it's somehow acceptable for me to keep using them. But this is exactly the point! I'm sure that's how teenage guys feel about "that's gay": if they don't mean to be saying anything about homosexuality and are possibly actually entirely oblivious of the connection, we should just ignore the offensive overtones.
It's immensely annoying how few legitimate words the English language has for certain concepts. ("Good" and "bad" are especially bereft. "Fantastic" doesn't mean "good," it means unbelievable, a fantasy. "Great"? It means big. "Awesome"? Inspiring of awe (/terror)—in fact, basically the same as "awful." Similarly, "terrible"? Inducing terror. "Horrible"? A horror. None of these words actually mean "good" or "bad" in varying degrees; they mean different concepts entirely.) It seems the ideas of "stupid" (whether expressed as "lame," "gay"—or, you know, "stupid") and of an unpleasant or unthinking person are actually impossible to express directly, without loaded reference to groups like those already described. People often disparage cursing, saying it shows a lack of creativity in vocabulary, but is it actually possible to use an extensive vocabulary to replace all vulgarisms? I'm starting to think not, and that's utterly depressing.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
I find the evolution of insults rather fascinating. Not so much the evolution from "misbegotten half-faced hedge-pig" (purportedly one of the ever-popular Shakespearean insults) to "you jerk," but the evolution of the meanings of "fag" or "moron" or whatever throughout time.
As is commonly known, "fag" (also meaning "cigarette") comes from "faggot" which at one time referred to a bundle of sticks or wood. Less commonly known (at least to me, until Wikipedia came along to enlighten me), "faggot" in reference to people likely originated as a term for the poor old women, usually widows, who gathered such bundles to sell as firewood. (The general habit of denigrating gay or effeminate men with terms originally used to describe women is particularly offensive in my mind, now from both directions though it was likely only intended to be offensive from the point of view of the man so impugned.)
In addition to slandering men by insinuating they might be as bad as—the horror!—a woman, slandering people by association with the less mentally gifted members of society is a perennial favorite. I find this evolution to be particularly interesting as it seems the medical establishment is constantly playing a game of linguistic whack-a-mole to replace terms that have been coopted as insults with more politically correct, less loaded terms...which are themselves coopted in short order. (Though, to be fair, it seems the medical establishment was not selecting labels with neutral connotations to begin with, as most of their terms have been in use in various derogatory senses for hundreds of years.) "Moron," "imbecile," and "idiot," though coming into the English language at different times, shared a period of time as part of a classification scheme for the mentally deficient (in order of increasing deficiency). "Cretin" at least started out with some degree of sympathy enshrined in its usage; literally it means "Christian," reminding one that this poor creature crippled by a thyroid disorder and low mental capacity was still, after all, "human despite physical deformities." So after every term already in use for the mentally handicapped becomes corrupted, on comes "retarded." As a term, I'm sure it originally seemed rather nice, implying simple delay or a slower pace. Of course, we all know how that worked out. Then there are the terms derived from the mentally ill segment of society: lunatic, deranged, crazy, insane, mental.
Gendered insults are fascinating. Basically any gender-specific body part is up for grabs, though often used in a less tidily gendered fashion. (This is where I get completely subjective and start going entirely off my own connotations.) Though of late there is more cross-pollination, in general I think terms dealing with male genitalia are only applicable to men (or at least started out that way): dick, cock, prick, jerk (well, the etymology of that one is slightly less clear), cocksucker (in an interesting turn of events, apparently cock-sucking isn't offensive to a woman who does it—nice to be given a pass for once). "Asshole" seems also to be primarily applied to men, though it's getting more equal opportunity these days. Women's anatomy seems up for grabs, though; "cunt" and "twat" seem like they were used probably more to describe women, though "cunt" at least is shifting man-ward. "Pussy" has, I'm pretty sure, always been directed at men. (Because, you see, women can't be expected to be courageous, so by a simultaneous usage of analogy and synecdoche, wimpy men are pussies. I was about to use "wussy" instead of "wimpy," but then the internet informs me the two likely etymologies for "wuss" are "pussy wussy" (as referring to a cat) or a portmanteau of "wimp" and "pussy." Well, there we go again.)
Then there are the blatantly misogynistic terms, all applied to women, of course (bitch, whore, slut—and yes, I know, "bitch" is becoming equally applicable these days, but when it's used for guys, it generally seems to be taking all the negative female aspects of the term and applying it to the guy for a double whammy of insultingness: a female bitch is mean or crabby or overly assertive; a male bitch is whiny or wussy or whipped, or he's someone's bitch, a loss of power not really implied with the female version). "Bastard" and "son of a bitch," though rarely used in their literal senses anymore, in those senses would deprecate the woman/mother more than the man being so designated. ("Motherfucker," however, would actually seem to only impugn the man...of course, dare I suggest it's because the mother is either already assumed to be depraved or because she is obviously powerless and without agency?)
And now, to my favorite (in some strange sense of the term): "douche" or "douchebag." Though obviously the intent is to insult a man by calling him something associated with the vilest of vile, the very dross of a woman, surprisingly, I have absolutely no (gender-associated, feminist) problem with this one (the word in general I find grating, but that's a different issue). Firstly, the implied action just doesn't have the same kind of weight. (What, you're so gross/insignificant/disgusting that you could be the thing to clean a woman's vagina!? Doesn't seem quite so intuitive as most of the rest of them. (And wouldn't a clean vagina be seen as a positive thing by the sorts of people who start using these words, anyway?)) But best of all, (though this is an appeal to modern thought, so it goes slightly against my general literal, historical, and semantic arguments elsewhere) douches are no longer seen as a good thing! Women (generally) accept their vaginas as healthy and clean the way they are. Douches are decried by doctors and even women's magazines as a good way to upset one's natural balance and cause infections and all sorts of lovely things. Modern enlightened women find them repulsive and more than a little oppressive (especially when taken in tandem with the past habit of using Lysol as a douching agent—yeowch). So if you want to insult a man with a term related to a woman, "douche" is your word! It's not offensive to women exactly because douches are themselves offensive to women, so who could argue with applying their label to people who offend? Or that's my take, anyway, and apparently one in which I'm not alone.
Some day I would be interested in being able to compare people's definitions of jerks, bitches, assholes, douches, etc. In my estimation it's clear they aren't simply used to fill in the blank when an insult is desired; they each apply to distinct groups of people. I imagine one man's "douche" is another man's "asshole," though.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Especially if the misunderstanding involves sex, death, reproduction, or religion, probably the reason they hold such quaint misunderstood notions is because you did a really bad job of explaining it the first time around. If your kid says something 'cute' based off a baby being in someone's stomach, that's because someone was too squeamish to explain a uterus (or didn't even bother with the distinction of "a special compartment inside of Mommy"). When a kid worries a watermelon might grow in their stomach, dollars to donuts that's because some uncle or friend of the family told them not to swallow seeds or that's what would happen. How is a child supposed to not hold a warped view of reality when people insist on telling children out-and-out lies (Santa Claus, storks, boogey men who will steal you away if you don't stop crying) or oversimplifying the truth to a degree that it's no longer even slightly accurate? Your child is only going to know what you tell them (until school age, but even then, what the larger pool of adults tell them), so if they don't understand something, it's not cute, it means you're failing them. (It should be embarrassing for you to tell your friends how poorly you must have explained reproduction for your child to come out with that doozy.)
We do all agree that a parent's primary job is basically to turn their child into a real person, right? You're supposed to teach your child, help your child negotiate relationships, show your child how to do things, model behavior, etc. All too often I feel like adults think "having a baby" is a decision about them and what they want out of life, about liking pre-rational children and thinking they're adorable and wanting to have one for their very own. Well, that's not quite how it works. You're not making the decision to have a cute little baby, you're making the decision to bring a person into the world. Let's act like they're actually a person with (to varying degrees depending on their level of development, but almost always more so than they're given credit for) their own legitimate goals and not just an accessory or a lifestyle choice or something to give you meaning and purpose and make you happy and fulfilled.
At the very least, if you're going to laugh about your child's misguided notions, don't do it in front of them. I'm sure parents don't think they do this, but they totally do. Even if they don't tell the "cute" think Child A said today when Child A is in the room, they'll talk about a cute thing another child who's not present did. (Children aren't stupid. They know if you talk about their sibling or your friend's children with your friend, you talk about them too.) Or they'll tell the story when the child is in another room playing and ostensibly oblivious. Children hear. And if they're anything like me as a child, they're mortified. Children can tell that "cute" is code for "stupid," even if that's not what you think you mean. Why else would everybody be laughing merely from hearing the thing the kid said repeated with absolutely no build-up or context? It's humiliating to have your parents tell a story about you thinking something that you have since been told is not the case solely for the amusement of others. It's humiliating and bewildering to hear them tell the story of what you said and hear people laugh and still not know why it's funny. You were simply trying to clarify something about the world, and all they can do is squeal about how precious you are. Children don't want to be precious, they want to understand.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Lest that sound conceited, let me hasten to explain I see this as a bad thing. (And perhaps I should rephrase: I place too much stock in the tenets of civilized interactions. Or: I rely too heavily on civilization.)
I thrive, insomuch as I do thrive, on order and predictability. My natural instincts seem based upon other people behaving as I would expect in a given situation (by which I think I mean as society expects, but probably the rest of society doesn't really). I become distinctly uncomfortable when people don't play by what I perceive to be the rules of social contact: random strangers asking for money for themselves or to save the environment or for gay rights, the gymno-dancing guys on the train who demand your attention and appreciation and try to demand your money, children too small to recognize that they're in your personal space, teenagers and their inherent unpredictability, and the like. I don't even like participatory theatre because I feel they are breaking the "rules" of theatre and violating the fourth wall. My ire is activated most strongly by people behaving as they like despite rules to the contrary, rules that enhance the flow of life in all its efficiency: people riding their bikes on the sidewalks despite the "no bikes" symbol emblazoned at every crossroad, people who stand on the left side of the escalator clogging everyone else's progress, people who walk four abreast on the sidewalk with a stroller and a dog so they're impossible to pass. Cutting in line, not waiting one's turn, demanding attention and special treatment—all the gravest of sins in my world. The vast majority of things I get angry or concerned about have nothing to do with anything real and inherently wrong; they are simply triggered by people failing to follow the laws (yes, as I perceive them) of polite civilization.
In addition, I have very bad instincts and poor judgment when forced to react quickly. Take the predictable nature of my life out of the equation, and I just simply die. I'm only still alive because the only split-second life-or-death decisions I ever need to make involve traffic, and luckily everyone else is paying attention and trying not to kill me as well. (I'm the kind of person who would die in a fire despite the fire alarm going off simply because no one else seems to think it's a real fire and aren't panicking and running out. I'm not going to be the first one to shrug off the dignity of normal life to break for the exits.)
So what happens when I suddenly find myself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland or (for those of you who prefer less absurd thought experiments) an extended natural disaster situation? After hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, I somehow doubt people wait patiently in line for what they are aware is insufficient food or medical supplies. Generally the laws of society break down and people are left to fend for themselves, doing whatever is necessary to do so. I can just see myself refusing to make a pain of myself and thus failing to make it onto evacuation buses or getting the dregs of whatever supplies are being passed out because everyone takes more than they actually need or, again, goes before their turn. (Now, in true cases of immediate life or death, I imagine I would overcome my natural tendencies and push and shove with the best of them, but in only moderately dangerous situations—situations where the social order has broken down due to whatever event but where we're not actually in danger of imminent death—I would be at a severe disadvantage since my tendencies toward order and such would be less quickly eroded than others'.)
This is only made worse by my absolute distaste for guns. It is generally thought that in case of any event in which your basement stockpile of canned goods, bottled water, and gold bars might be needed, a gun is as well. (It has been brought to my attention that New Englanders may be unfamiliar with this idea. I suppose that means I have chosen my location well and that in the case of the rapture, belated Y2K disaster, or nuclear holocaust, I will be surrounded by fellow dazed and overly-civilized New Englanders and will perhaps not be taken advantage of.) I'm not entirely sure of the reasons most people would prefer to have a gun in the case of some sort of situation in which the government has collapsed or is simply too busy or too understaffed to deal with the general lawlessness (e.g., Katrina), but I would imagine it is seen mostly as a tool to ensure you don't get pushed around and taken advantage of by other less scrupulous people. There's also shooting squirrels for food and such, I guess, but that only matters once you've run out of tuna fish.
So it seems most people think that in the case of social collapse, people need weapons to protect themselves from people attempting to steal their food/water/supplies (seems reasonable) or looting for other items (though obviously this depends on the disaster; the end times don't seem like a particularly useful time to collect 18 televisions). There is also the idea that there may be roaming gangs with guns (probably, again, primarily to collect food and such from others, but given the situation, they could also simply be having fun terrorizing everyone else or, given a particularly severe and presumably permanent disaster, could be setting themselves up as the new powers that be—I mean, seriously, would you want to have to rely on a sketchy right-wing militia in an emergency situation?), though I have been mocked for this idea as well. (Again, I am particularly thankful to find myself currently situated surrounded by people who find such ideas absurd. I am sure were I still living in Georgia, it would sound much less outlandish in context.)
OK, so as a not particularly strong or intimidating woman with an extreme distaste for guns and unreasonably strong beliefs in civilization and its attendant rules who thus is obviously ill-prepared for the collapse of civilization, what happens to me in such a situation? My food all gets stolen, maybe I get forcibly kicked out of my house or wherever I'm holed up if someone with a gun thinks it's a better base of operations than wherever they are currently, I go out and collect food only to have it taken by someone with a gun who thinks they would benefit from it more than I, I go out to barter for something I need only to be ripped off with no recourse. There is pretty much no way for me to demand adherence to the laws of humanity and justice from from those I encounter without a sizable population (or just a powerful one in form of the government and its police force) backing me up and enforcing such rules.
(And all this is ignoring the more devastating results of a breakdown of society: rapes, hate crimes, torture... People are vicious, and when they feel threatened they will do all manner of abhorrent things to feel in control. When they're the only ones with weapons, they feel strong and like showing off their absolute power and taking advantage of those who are powerless. Once the balance of power has shifted and the rules of polite society and the restraint and civility that come along with them have vanished, I would sure hate to be a gay guy in the middle of, say, Oklahoma. Actually, I'd hate to be a woman much of anywhere. People only have rights because of civilization; take that away, and suddenly people are less concerned about equal rights or being PC. [That's not to say I think everyone secretly hates women and gays and racial minorities, but some people certainly do, and they're more likely to be the ones with guns... Plus, it only takes one.])
So, cheery thoughts this morning. I guess I can either just trust that civilization will never fall, at least for more than a day or two wherever I may be at the time, or I can suck it up and buy a gun. I find it pretty stupid to assume nothing like that could ever happen here and to me, but I don't want to be the kind of person who owns a gun in the interim, so I guess I'll just die if things ever get terrifically bad.
Incidentally, I read an article a few months ago that laid out the difference between moral transgressions and societal transgressions (killing someone versus failing to adhere to the rules of etiquette) and said that psychopaths tend not to make such distinctions. I started to get concerned, as I've long been aware that I tend to find social violations (the gross misuse of homophones, strangers on the street telling me to smile, riding bikes on the sidewalk) to be nearly as significant as actual moral violations (being mean to people, hurting people, being unfair). Apparently psychopaths fail to make the distinction and thus don't find their moral transgressions to be any more significant than the average person finds the transgression of using the wrong fork. I fail to make the distinction and thus find violations of etiquette and manners to be nearly as significant as the average person finds moral transgressions. I am unsure whether this puts me on par with the psychopath or makes me the anti-psychopath.