Last week a Monolith reader did not enjoy my take on the Straight Edge movement and chose to reflect that opinion in the comments section. He did so in mostly caps, which gave the feeling that I was being shouted at, but his tone was rational, his spelling was clean, and he got straight to the point. He also said he hated me and called my face stupid, which I felt was a marvellously direct statement, tastefully devoid of hyperbole and obscenity.
The thing I liked about that comment is that it accurately conveyed that individual’s feelings without needing to lean on overused, inaccurate verbal sucker-punches. He didn’t speculate about my sexual orientation, or insinuate that I was somehow inferior due to a perceived membership or affiliation with certain racial demographics, and not once was I under the impression that he was voraciously slamming his open palms into his keyboard, mouth agape, spittle and froth spewing liberally onto his chin, jowls, and green lantern pajamas.
No, this was a concise and level headed statement of grievance with both my ability and purpose as a writer and my admittedly unintelligent visage, and I actually really appreciated it. I’m no stranger to criticism, and it would be inexcusably hypocritical of me to take issue with someone expressing their feelings on my weekly expression of feelings, so I took it on the chin, considered the point he had made, and thanked him for reading.
Of course, it changed nothing, and I’m certainly not going to stop ripping on things I find annoying or stupid any time soon, but I did stop myself for a moment and reflect on what he had said, and I think a large part of the reason for that is that he relayed everything he had wanted to say without sacrificing his meaning to vulgarity or making himself look devoid of cognitive reasoning in the process.
So in the spirit of bitching about stuff you don’t like with eloquence and good humour, I hereby dedicate this week’s Trendshredder to Tentaclesworth, and proudly introduce:
Casual Prejudice and why it makes you look like an imbecile
Whether you know it or not, you’ve encountered this before, I’m not talking about overt bigotry like the kind your grandfather used to mumble between sips of bourbon and puffs of pipe-tobacco; the world has undergone a long-needed and intrepidly refreshing change to that end, and such things are now socially unacceptable in most circles, and for the most part remain confined to awkward family dinners or drunken celebrity tirades.
There is nothing casual about this man’s prejudice
I’m talking about the kind of hatred that slips its way into everyday conversation so subtly that it’s barely even noticeable. We’ve all seen it, and most of us, myself included, have been to some extent guilty of it as well. I’ll elaborate more on that later, but for now I’d like to start by illustrating my point with a look into the origin and evolution of the word “faggot“.
‘Faggot’, derivative of the French word ‘fagot’, or possibly the Italian version ‘fagotto’, appeared in English as early as the 1300’s, originally meaning a bundle of sticks or twigs. As time drew on, the cumbersome nature of carrying bundles of sticks slowly gave way to the word taking on a negative connotation, subsequently leading it to become slang for a particularly unbearable or detestable woman.
Above: Nancy Grace; mother, television persona, total faggot.
Alright, that sort of makes sense. Bundles of sticks are difficult to lug around, I’d imagine, and I can see how some women can be a burden to bear in their own right. It’s an understandable comparison, if not completely sexist and misogynistic. But how did it go from the naming of a shrew to a derogatory term for “he who loves the cock”?
Well that’s pretty simple too actually, much like “fairy” and “queen”, “faggot” made the transition from girl-insult to boy-insult simply because one of the oldest methods used to insult a homosexual is to compare them with the gender they’ve expressed disinterest in fucking.
Yeah, call him girly. That’ll really cut him deep.
Other suspected origins of the term stem from the fuel used in burning homosexuals at the stake, which was, you guessed it, bundles of sticks. Also, ‘fag’ enjoyed a brief stint as an English slang term for someone who got stuck doing crappy jobs and was generally just lower class; likely because carrying bundles of sticks everywhere doesn’t rank very high on your average person’s list of ideal careers.
It all comes back to you, you filthy faggot!
So now that we’ve followed ‘faggot’ on its long journey from meaning ‘bundle of sticks’ to ‘fondler of dicks’, we can gain some perspective on what it’s used for today, namely, anyone you don’t like. A word that, while a bit of a whore context wise, has always held a specific meaning, is now an omni-insult for literally any individual towards which you harbor resentment. I don’t need to bust out any more linguistic history to explain why that’s not cool.
It goes beyond the simple fact that society is way past due on the deadline for letting go of antiquated biases on whom someone chooses to love; nowadays intolerance is universally regarded as the wackest-wackness among all but the most ignorant of bastards, and it’s about goddamn time.
It’s really more about the misuse of the term at this point. I take serious semantic issue with calling shitty things gay. Two men getting married is gay. Neil Patrick Harris is gay (and awesome). Semen on a moustache is super gay, but dropping your iPhone or being late for work? That’s just unfortunate.
The only unfortunate thing about being gay is how difficult it must be because of all the ignorant jerks who make your sexuality their business, and it’s a gross misappropriation of vocabulary to refer to anything bad as gay just because of the fast-shrinking social stigma behind homosexuality.
This is the point I’m making about casual prejudice in everyday speech. Not only has the majority of civilization moved on from using those words for their original, hateful intentions, but they’ve now devolved to a point where they don’t even mean anything anymore, it’s literally just all-purpose artificial sentence filler.
Using outdated racial and sexual epithets to berate or put-down an individual or concept you’re unhappy with is now officially on par with simply substituting the word in question with absolute gibberish. For instance, the next time someone pisses you off, instead of calling them gay, call them a 1984 Buick Skylark. It means just about as much, context wise, and you’re not bringing up painful and ugly memories of the long-standing persecution of Buick Skylarks in the process.
In a sense it’s a double edged sword, given that the less a word means, the less weight it will carry. I used the word “faggot” as an example, but the same applies to words like “nigger” as well. What used to be the sort of word that could bring silence to a noisy room is now a casual throwaway being used ad nauseam in passing chats and Xbox live multiplayer sessions the world over. This is bad because it spreads the mentality that such terms are socially acceptable, a notion that many people have long fought to erase, but good in the sense that if everyone’s being called fags and niggers, it might not sting the people for whom those words were once an exclusive verbal torture device quite so much.
Behold the sneering, prepubescent face of equality.
Of course, the latter point doesn’t hold much water. We can dilute the meanings all we want, the origins of those labels are truly something sinister and malicious, and no amount of trivialization will soften the blow to a satisfactory degree. The fact remains that spouting these terms, be they hatefully intended or not, is a low blow to a great many people who’ve suffered way more than their fair share of history’s low blows already.
If any words should have their true meanings neutered, it should be the terms of endearment used to address the affluent and privileged while everyone else was getting crapped on. Wouldn’t it be refreshing, or if nothing else much more amusing, to hear an angry argument taking place in the apartment above you in which the receiving end of the rage was being referred to as “a disgusting rich caucasian heterosexual male”?
I can’t believe she would call me that.
I think it’s high time everyone lay off the minorities when it comes to words for stuff we don’t like. Not only for the reasons outlined above, but because in doing so you lose a staggering amount of credibility. Like I mentioned at the start of this article about how the negative comment I received gave me some pause and actually had me considering what was said, I highly doubt I’d have had the same reaction if the comment in question consisted of the same two or three tired, worn out slang words for classes and demographics nobody who matters even dislikes anymore.
The whole point of making a comment on something is to have your opinion heard, and with a little luck, considered by the person with whom you disagreed with in the first place. So what’s the point of ham-fisted ignorance and stereotypical callous bigotry? What purpose does wearing your dated biases on your sleeve serve in a completely unrelated field of discussion? Are these people so obsessed with their abject hatred of homosexuals and racial minorities that they literally can’t help themselves from letting that opinion taint every other exchange they have regardless of validity or relevance, or is it because they simply don’t know any better, having been intellectually stunted by the era of Call of Duty and cell phone addiction?
It doesn’t really matter, because there’s no excuse for it. It’s an awful trend that has slowly bled into everyday circulation and is now unbelievably rampant in our culture to the point that few people even stop to question it. Well I did, and I’m certainly not the only one. Some clever internet folks thought about this same thing and came up with the novel idea to simply count how many times these words came up on twitter, and post the total on a webpage called Nohomophobes.com simply in the name of making everyone more aware that this whole thing seems to have spun out of control a bit.
To be fair, at least a few of those may have been references to bundles of sticks.
It’s not that everyone who uses those words is a bigot; in fact I mentioned earlier that I’ve been guilty of it at times myself, and I would never judge a person based on the colour of his skin or who he wants to marry.
But it’s true that I’ve been guilty of this. The entire basis on which I maintain my relationships with friends is on that of penis jokes and homoerotic innuendo, and many a time have I called the chronically late public transit system of Toronto a “hugely gay homosexual” for making me tardy for wherever I’m going, with full knowledge that in saying so I have besmirched the good name of hugely gay homosexuals everywhere, who are by all accounts a fastidiously punctual people.
And there is absolutely nothing fabulous about the Toronto Transit Commission.
So in summation, whether hatefully intended or not, misuse of incendiary language has effects on the social landscape around you, and can hinder the message you’re trying to get across by instantly labelling you an idiot, and therefore writing off any potentially valid points you might have made.
The English language is an absolute treasure chest of beautiful and sublime ways to express one’s displeasure with something, and it is a disservice to its limitless flexibilities and intricacies to dwell on a few boring old words that don’t even mean the things they’re used for anymore.
Also, using words incorrectly makes you look like a total 1984 Buick Skylark.