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Word Choices: do they matter?

In case there's any interest.  (I modified my other post to limit the amount of debate on my beloved diva thread.)

From the Diva thread:

There are no bad words, just overly sensitive people.

I wholely disagree that, for example, racial slurs are fine, people just need to be less overly sensitive.

I don't think there are bad "words," per se, but words are what we make them. There are definitely negative connotations/uses, and a word can mean something very different to someone else (and be hurtful).

AND/BUT we as humans can be overly sensitive and defensive, sometimes, but that doesn't make it ok to invalidate someone's feelings.

Some words hold more weight/might be offensive to me, but not to another. Can another person always know this? No, but we can be more mindful of how we speak to one another. Plus, we can work on not being so defensive at times.

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Yes, word choices matter, but then again there are some people who are quite sensitive. Even further, I avoid saying things like "overly sensitive" or "too sensitive," as I hear this usually in a pretty abusive context  :-X I'm not saying the phrase is inherently abusive, but it's just how I've learned to associate it ("stop crying! you're too sensitive!" etc).

I think as long as words have any connotation (or any meaning at all), it's reasonable to take offense to some. Like calling someone a "bitch" means that they're being unreasonably angry/etc, and that person may believe they're being totally reasonable. Moreover, "bitch" has connotations of misogyny and speciesism. So... there.  :)

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I agree with both of you.  I don't think words themselves are bad, but sometimes the meaning/context is.  And meaning/context is socially derived.  So some words are meant to be derisive.

I think as long as words have any connotation (or any meaning at all), it's reasonable to take offense to some. Like calling someone a "bitch" means that they're being unreasonably angry/etc, and that person may believe they're being totally reasonable. Moreover, "bitch" has connotations of misogyny and speciesism. So... there.  :)

In grade school, after we made a really good point, we'd lick the tip of our pointer finger and then stick our hip out and touch our butt/hip and make a sizzle sound.

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I was JUST having this discussion with K.  We are like polar opposites on this issue.

I'm on your side, hh and AC.  I'm not really interested in using words that I know will hurt people--I generally believe when people tell you something makes them feel bad, you have to take that as sincere and respect it.  Life's too short to go around saying things that will hurt lots of people--just for the sake of being self-righteous--even if you disagree with those people or don't like them.

K was disagreeing with me and saying that people are generally too politically-correct and that we need to speak our minds more.  I said yes, everyone is free to speak her mind, but there is ALWAYS a way of doing that respectfully in a way that will not hurt people.  I used myself as an example.  I disagree with practically 100% of the people I interact with on a daily basis in a very fundamental way--you know, that whole vegan business.  And yeah, I could go around saying that people are murderers, but that would not be very respectful or productive and would probably hurt people and alienate me.  I think words are very important.

We also used n***a and faggot as two other examples.  Like, guaranteed, no black person wants to hear the n-word coming out of my mouth.  And, not being black, I have to respect that their reasons for feeling this way are sincere.  I'm not going to go around say, "Boo hoo, you're just being sensitive."  Same with faggot--even those people who think being gay is a bad "choice" need to respect that as human beings, gay people likely find it offensive when that word is used in derogatory ways.

I think the more we respect that certain words are hurtful to others, the more likely we are to understand each other and reach some sort of workable peace in spite of our differences.  You don't have to agree with everyone, but you don't have to spew vitriol to assert your beliefs.  

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Yes, word choices matter, but then again there are some people who are quite sensitive. Even further, I avoid saying things like "overly sensitive" or "too sensitive," as I hear this usually in a pretty abusive context  :-X I'm not saying the phrase is inherently abusive, but it's just how I've learned to associate it ("stop crying! you're too sensitive!" etc).

Yes!  I think it's the worst thing ever to deny that someone has a right to feel a certain way.  Feelings are feelings, people don't really control them.  They just control how they act because of them.

Yes, context is everything.  Context, audience, etc. 

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Yes, word choices matter, but then again there are some people who are quite sensitive. Even further, I avoid saying things like "overly sensitive" or "too sensitive," as I hear this usually in a pretty abusive context  :-X I'm not saying the phrase is inherently abusive, but it's just how I've learned to associate it ("stop crying! you're too sensitive!" etc).

Yes!  I think it's the worst thing ever to deny that someone has a right to feel a certain way.  Feelings are feelings, people don't really control them.  They just control how they act because of them.

Yes, context is everything.  Context, audience, etc. 

This. As a translator I can tell you that context, audience and intention are key. When translating (particularly simultaneous oral translation, live) something you disagree with (for example religion, philosophy, etc.) it is a translator's duty to translate exactly what is said, the way it is said. Because the words you choose (and in simultaneous, your facial expression and intonation) can colour the meaning of what you say. You can totally denigrate or ridicule someone's ideas by the words you use. And it IS possible to be so very courteous that it's insulting. I have done it. You don't have to be openly hostile if you choose your words carefully.
When working as an interpreter for something I disliked/disagreed with, I always told myself: You're not paid to have an opinion. You're paid to tell the audience exactly what this person says. And if they make an idiot of themselves, the audience has a right to know it. But let them do the "making", not you.

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At one time in my life I worked with this guy who was a master at the underhand slam. He would come up and start a civil conversation and two minutes in to it he would call me any number of things in this sneaky underhanded way. Think along the lines of "yes that woman in the news was a stupid whore, guess you can identify with that Gabrielle" and I would just get so upset. He always managed to slam me somehow. Anyway I read a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt "No one can make you embarrassed or humiliated without your permission." I couldn't stop this guy from his little digs but I could change my reaction to them so after that he would take a swipe and I would sigh and look at him with pity and just walk away. It really ruined his day. He would get so frusterated trying to make me tear up.

Before I came up with my pity him plan, me and a girl I worked with tried a "take the sting out of it technique" where we would randomly call each other bitches and sluts and the like in a nice way. So now when someone calls me a bitch my first reaction is "aw thanks" and then a few awkward seconds later I am like "wait a minute..........". Anyway, Madison, my partner in operation toughen up, called me a cunt constantly and if I objected she would say "there are no bad words, just overly sensitive people" and I would start thinking of a way to set her up immediately. So yeah my comment was kind of whack but it applied to me in a rather isolated way. I was only being glib, not trying to imply anyone should just accept derision.

So I take back my comment and say wholeheartedly that you shouldn't use words to hurt peoples feelings and racial slurs are always bad. However when your in a situation where a mean person is slurring you it is possible to decide not to be upset by it. Especially possible if you have a friend to practice with.

***On a side note the guy who did this slur thing. Well he is 40 now and still single and still a jerk and he got mononucleosis last year. He looked at me all sad and says "I have been sick for a month and I don't have anyone to take care of me" and I swear to you I felt sorry for him and though I am going to make him some soup. I restrained myself but damn, the man called me every lame thing in the book for years. Why, WHY, would I make him soup??????

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This. As a translator I can tell you that context, audience and intention are key. When translating (particularly simultaneous oral translation, live) something you disagree with (for example religion, philosophy, etc.) it is a translator's duty to translate exactly what is said, the way it is said. Because the words you choose (and in simultaneous, your facial expression and intonation) can colour the meaning of what you say. You can totally denigrate or ridicule someone's ideas by the words you use. And it IS possible to be so very courteous that it's insulting. I have done it. You don't have to be openly hostile if you choose your words carefully.
When working as an interpreter for something I disliked/disagreed with, I always told myself: You're not paid to have an opinion. You're paid to tell the audience exactly what this person says. And if they make an idiot of themselves, the audience has a right to know it. But let them do the "making", not you.

+1. I've just started learning the fine art of translation this year and it's so hard not to colour a text with your own meaning. But words have so much power that it's absolutely imperative that you're aware of every nuance and meaning possible in order to make an accurate and unbiased translation. Our tutor basically told us, "It doesn't matter what the text is about. Your opinion does not matter. Think of yourself as a machine."

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Yup, and what you translate is confidential unless it's already published.

If you can get the book "The Interpreter" by Suzanne Glass (Arrow Books), do so. (The movie sucketh and has zilch nada to do with the book.) The book is a masterpiece, and what she says about being an interpreter, the process itself, is spot on. Also, the profs at our local university are all mad on finding "sexual metaphors" where there are none (they're all obsessed) but there is one whee of a sexual metaphor in that book where she is describing her boyfriend watching her work from outside "the fishbowl."

Anyway, you'll really enjoy the book. I'd send you my copy but someone stole it...ie borrowed it and not only never returned it, they denied that I'd lent it to them. I hate that. Why is it a person who would never consider shoplifting, will steal books or CDs from their friends with impunity?

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This. As a translator I can tell you that context, audience and intention are key. When translating (particularly simultaneous oral translation, live) something you disagree with (for example religion, philosophy, etc.) it is a translator's duty to translate exactly what is said, the way it is said. Because the words you choose (and in simultaneous, your facial expression and intonation) can colour the meaning of what you say. You can totally denigrate or ridicule someone's ideas by the words you use. And it IS possible to be so very courteous that it's insulting. I have done it. You don't have to be openly hostile if you choose your words carefully.
When working as an interpreter for something I disliked/disagreed with, I always told myself: You're not paid to have an opinion. You're paid to tell the audience exactly what this person says. And if they make an idiot of themselves, the audience has a right to know it. But let them do the "making", not you.

+1. I've just started learning the fine art of translation this year and it's so hard not to colour a text with your own meaning. But words have so much power that it's absolutely imperative that you're aware of every nuance and meaning possible in order to make an accurate and unbiased translation. Our tutor basically told us, "It doesn't matter what the text is about. Your opinion does not matter. Think of yourself as a machine."

Did you have to read that Walter Benjamin essay on translation yet? Yeep!

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Of course word choices matter. That's why there are so many of them.

(This streamlined opinion is brought to you by The Council For Occam's Razor, who are never sure if even they are using it correctly.)

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Of course word choices matter. That's why there are so many of them.

You just made me giggle.

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Of course word choices matter. That's why there are so many of them.

You just made me giggle.

I live to serve.  :)

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Of course word choices matter. That's why there are so many of them.

(This streamlined opinion is brought to you by The Council For Occam's Razor, who are never sure if even they are using it correctly.)

I totally  :)>>> you, AIS. And I envy your kids for having such cool rents. Good to see you posting again.

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Of course word choices matter. That's why there are so many of them.

(This streamlined opinion is brought to you by The Council For Occam's Razor, who are never sure if even they are using it correctly.)

I totally  :)>>> you, AIS. And I envy your kids for having such cool rents. Good to see you posting again.

The fame, the fortune, the adulation... this is why I always return!

Seriously though, thank you. That was awfully nice.

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I had to come back to this to just to say this. Um I the sentence quoted to start this debate was a part, a component of my response to someone elses posting. So if you were to go back and read it you can pretty clearly see that I wasn't making a blanket statement that people should just not react to "bad words". I was only trying to be socialable.

So yeah, to have my words taken out of context and presented like they were a sum total feels kinda weird. Especially when I meant no harm and especially when it's a "do words matter" debate. Of course words matter.......this whole forum is words.

Anyway I just wanted to say that. Peace

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I had to come back to this to just to say this. Um I the sentence quoted to start this debate was a part, a component of my response to someone elses posting. So if you were to go back and read it you can pretty clearly see that I wasn't making a blanket statement that people should just not react to "bad words". I was only trying to be socialable.

So yeah, to have my words taken out of context and presented like they were a sum total feels kinda weird. Especially when I meant no harm and especially when it's a "do words matter" debate. Of course words matter.......this whole forum is words.

Anyway I just wanted to say that. Peace

I don't want you to feel like we were attacking you or something; I think we were all just debating the idea. I hear that sentiment (how PC should we get, if people are too sensitive) outside of vegweb.

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I had to come back to this to just to say this. Um I the sentence quoted to start this debate was a part, a component of my response to someone elses posting. So if you were to go back and read it you can pretty clearly see that I wasn't making a blanket statement that people should just not react to "bad words". I was only trying to be socialable.

So yeah, to have my words taken out of context and presented like they were a sum total feels kinda weird. Especially when I meant no harm and especially when it's a "do words matter" debate. Of course words matter.......this whole forum is words.

Anyway I just wanted to say that. Peace

I think you explained what you meant very well, in your first post (in this thread). No worries.

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I'd say they definitely do...it can be hard to get your point across in the first place, but using words that don't quite illustrate what you're saying can cause some problems (or at least confusion).

One thing that irks me is when animal advocates use the phrase "farm animals". I didn't use to think about it, but now that I have, it sort of implies that certain animals' purpose is to be farmed, which we all know is untrue. I've started saying farmed animals, in hopes that people will think of them a bit differently. I would love if organizations like Farm Sanctuary stopped saying "farm animals", but it's clear what their feelings are on the subject, so it isn't really a big deal I guess.

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I hadn't thought of "farm" animals.  Probably because I only know some animals in context of use by humans.  You're totally right.  Now I'm going to notice it and I'm definitely going to switched to "farmed" animals.  Very insightful!

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