Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 3

Is-lam-o-pho-bi-a noun,
a hatred or fear of Islam or Muslims, especially when feared as a political force.

As in my last post about homophobia, the above word is another example of wordsmithing in one of its most clever and effective forms: victimology. As one of its exceptionally potent weapons, the left in this country has used victimology to great success for many decades. In his brilliant book, Radical Son, David Horowitz tells his story of being raised by committed Stalinist parents who were both teachers in the New York public school system, and as one of many "red diaper babies" (children of the Stalinists who inundated the ranks of teachers in the New York public schools), walked in protest marches against racial discrimination as he was growing up. Black racial issues were, from the beginning of the Communist Party movement in the United States, a cause celebre for the left, not as a matter of genuine concern, but as a method of discrediting the United States government and diminishing its moral legitimacy. And of course in the case of racial discrimination it was all too true that the United States failed appallingly to live up to its principles as stated in its founding documents, and the "better angels of our nature."

Spreading out from that stone of authentic victimhood that Stalinists used to their advantage are concentric ripples of ever increasing absurdities co-opted by various constituents of identity politics. Mark Steyn, in his simultaneously hilarious and terrifying book, America Alone points out a delicious example of leftists victimology, with it's attendant wordsmithing, run amok:

For example, Iqbal Sacranie is a Muslim of such exemplary "moderation" he's been knighted by the Queen. Around the time Brokeback Mountain opened, Sir Iqbal, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, was on the BBC and expressed the view that homosexuality was "immoral," "not acceptable," "spreads disease," and "damaged the very foundations of society." A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard's "community safety unit" which deals with "hate crimes" and "homophobia."

Independently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay And Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a "barmy doctrine" growing "like a canker" and deeply "homophobic." In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for "Islamophobia."

Got that? If a Muslim says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, he can be investigated for homophobia; but if a gay says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, he can be investigated for Islamophobia.

Oddly enough, the one group in the United States of which it is perfectly acceptable to revile in any way and by any medium is Christians. There are literally hundreds of books presently for sale on the shelves whose premise is the danger, bigotry, intolerance, conspiracies to take over government, and a host of other horrors attributed to Christianity.

As an evangelical Christian myself, and therefore targeted by this tidal wave of vitriol, I occasionally find myself wondering if we should invent a victimology word of our own to deploy in our defense: Christophobia? Christianophobia? Evangelicophobia? Well, they don't exactly roll off the tongue, do they?

So, I guess not. Better to do what Jesus himself advised: turn the other cheek.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 2

The word homophobe does not appear in my 1975 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary. My computer dictonary, however, defines it as: "an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people." The word as so defined was first coined by clinical psycologist George Weinberg in 1969. As such, there can be no doubt that it was an invented word with an ideological purpose. But as ideologically charged as the word was from its origins, it's interesting to see how its usage has changed over time.

My best recollection is that the word was first commonly used to describe the truly irrational practice of "gay bashing" , where, usually, young thugs would prowl the inner city streets and target soliciting homosexuals for mugging. The accepted rationale for this phenomenon was the thugs' raging hatred of homosexuals. This certainly fit with gay rights activist's agenda of promoting greater social tolerance of homosexual behavior. I'm unaware, however, if a study was ever done to ascertain whether the motive, in the majority of such cases, was really hatred of homosexuals, or the perception on the part of the muggers of soliciting gays as effeminate, making them unlikely to resist and thereby easy victims of violence or robbery.

These days the word homophobe, and its derivatives, homophobic & homophobia are used like scatter-shot from a blunderbuss, an all-purpse accusation to silence not just any argument concerning the morality or respectability of homosexual practice, but also to punish and socially condemn anyone who refuses to celebrate the beauty and virtue of another variety of expression of human love. The fact that popular culture--academia, public schools, mainstream news media, and even television situation comedies--has so thoroughly embraced this idea, all in less than a single generation, perhaps explains why those of us who are advocates of traditional and religious morality are at a loss to come up with a vocabulary with which to argue our side. But of course the genius of this wordsmithing strategy by the gay lobby is that even if we had a lexicon for our argument, we wouldn't be able to use it. No matter how reasoned, dispassionate and authoritative our case, it would not be acceptable; it would not be viewed as a legitimate debate, but rather the ravings of the mentally unstable. To gay advocacy, disagreement with them, or refusal to socially endorse and even celebrate the legitimacy of homosexual practice is not fair argument: it's neurosis.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Smith, the most common surname in the English language, was originally a job title. A smith was a metal worker--hence, blacksmith (for a worker of black iron). The modern meaning of the noun from which I have derived the verb of my title, wordsmith, is simply "a prolific writer", but I'm implying something a bit different here, rather the molding of words to suit the user's purpose. One of the most blatant examples of this is the way--through very careful and cynical manipulation--the word gender has supplanted the word sex in contemporary speech.

This sort of thing happens naturally in language, but it tends to take quite a long time, and it happens organically. For instance, the word gentleman at one time in England specifically spoke of a man's social ranking as defined by the amount of property he owned. Over an indeterminate amount of time, the meaning changed such that it now holds no connotation whatever to property ownership, but rather denotes a fellow of gallant and polite character. But what has happened with gender, is something quite different. We have seen this change in just a few short years, and for very political reasons.

I first encountered this misusage of the word back in the 80's at a writer's workshop conducted in the house of writer and editor Damon Knight. A young woman, an extreme feminist (as were Damon and his wife, Kate Wilhelm, who co-hosted the workshop, by the way) used gender in lieu of sex in reference to someone, and Damon immediately corrected her. "Words have gender, people have sex," he said. Whatever Damon's politics, he had too much respect for language to indulge its misuse. And of course he was right. Gender is an attribute of words, most commonly in Latin-derived languages. So, in Spanish, words ending in "o"--hermano, mucho, luego,--are of masculine gender, and words ending in "a"--hermana, puerta, hasta--are of feminine gender. Arnold Schwarzenneger's famous line in Terminator II, "No problemo," was incorrect, because the word is actually feminine. He should have said, "No problema." People, however, are of the male or female sex. Sex denotes biology. And here lies the crux of why this change in usage has been engineered.

Proponents of identity politics--most specifically BGLT activists (BGLT, in case you're wondering, stands for Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transsexual)--want to remove the connection between biology and sexual identity. In universities all across the country the long-standing American custom of bathrooms designated by sex is being challenged. The underlying goal is to allow an individual's "feelings" about his or her sexual identity to determine social conventions rather than his or her biology. According to this way of thinking, if an individual endowed with male sexual organs nevertheless "feels" he is instead a woman, he should be allowed, not only to identify himself as such by wearing woman's clothing and adopting a female name, but also to relieve himself in the presence of biological women in bathrooms marked "women".

I'm not sure to what degree the bathroom controversy has been successful for the self-proclaimed "progressives" in our cultural milieu, but in the area of replacing sex with gender, they have definitely won the day. It's depressing to me to hear normally carefully spoken conservatives such as Michael Medved regularly indulge in this misusage. Let me here plead with my fellow conservatives: the next time you are tempted to use gender instead of sex with reference to human beings, please stop and consider that in doing so you will be participating in the destruction of the meaning of what it is to be a man or woman in our culture.