The Power Of Language

If the San Fransisco Board of Supervisors have their way, the words “felon,” “offender,” “convict,” “addict” and “juvenile delinquent” will be part of the past in official San Francisco parlance under their new “person first” language guidelines.

“Going forward, what was once called a convicted felon or an offender released from jail will be a ‘formerly incarcerated person,’ or a ‘justice-involved’ person or simply a ‘returning resident.’

Parolees and people on criminal probation will be referred to as a ‘person on parole,’ or ‘person under supervision.’

A juvenile ‘delinquent’ will become a ‘young person with justice system involvement,’ or a ‘young person impacted by the juvenile justice system.’

And drug addicts or substance abusers will become ‘a person with a history of substance use.'”

Cue the protestations of political correctness. The intent, however, is quite noble. Matt Haney, one of the Supervisors says, “We don’t want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done.” Imminently sensible.

Tyler Cowen has a concern worthy of serious consideration:

“. . . here is my worry.  It is we who decide how powerful language is going to be.  The more we regulate language, the more we communicate a social consensus that it has great power.  And in return the more actual power we grant to those linguistic ‘slips’ and infelicities which remain.  It is better to use norms to regulate the very worst speech terms, but not all of them.  By regulating too many parts of speech, and injecting speech with too much power, we actually grant more influence to the people and ideas we are trying to stop.”

My worry is different. I fear the proposals open the floodgate to an unprecedented wordiness. Case in point, from the San Fransisco Chronicle article:

“The language resolution makes no mention of terms for victims of crime, but using the new terminology someone whose car has been broken into could well be: ‘A person who has come in contact with a returning resident who was involved with the justice system and who is currently under supervision with a history of substance use.'”

If that level of wordiness becomes the new normal, I will not survive this world for long.

Merkel’s Favorite English Language Curse Word

From the BBC:

Germany’s standard dictionary has included a vulgar English term, used by Chancellor Angela Merkel among others, as an acceptable German word.

Duden, the equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary in the UK, said it was reflecting the common use of the word “shitstorm” among Germans.

The word, which is used in German to denote a public outcry, seems to have caught on during the eurozone crisis.

German language experts voted it “Anglicism of the year” in 2012.

One of them, Michael Mann, explained in that the English word conveyed a “new kind of protest… clearly different in kind and degree from what could be expected in the past in response to a statement or action”.

In the past there have been controversies over German usage of words like “download”, “job-hopping” or “eye-catcher”.

The new word has crept into the language, imported by people who heard its use primarily in American English, he says.

It is used by the highest and lowest in the land and when Chancellor Merkel used it at a public meeting, nobody batted an eyelid, our correspondent adds.

Thanks Angela. I now feel freed up to use it liberally.

• I didn’t expect my suggestion that we have veggie burgers for dinner to cause such a shitstorm.

• Temps in the 90s always create a shitstorm in Washington State.

• “What a shitstorm of a season,” said dejected M fans after watching their team lose two of three to the Cubbies.

• “This year’s Wimbledon is a complete shitstorm of a tournament,” said the television executive.

• “All engineers. . . oh wait, I don’t want to cause another shitstorm.”

Bonus points for using it in a comment.

images