Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I say what I say

We're in the silly season, aren't we -- getting ready to elect a president. And no one can say what they really mean. People are terrified that anything they say about Obama might be construed as racist. Whether he wants it or not, simply being African-American means that the racist card is in play (I call it the Spike Lee defense. Anytime anyone criticizes one of Spike Lee's films, Mr. Lee notes that the criticizer is a racist).

But that's not what I want to talk about. What I need to do is unburden myself on precision in speech, writing, listening, and reading. It is important that speakers and writers be precise. But it is equally important that readers and listeners be aware of precision. For instance, there is a significant difference between
"You are doing something stupid," and
"You are stupid."
Yet, if you say the first sentence to someone, they will very often say, "You are accusing me of being stupid." Given that response, they may well be stupid, yet you didn't say any such thing.

Remember the big flap over "niggardly"? Some one used it in a speech, and was roundly accused of being racist. Yet "niggardly," and ugly term though it is, is not even remotely racist. So, whose fault was it? Here I'm going to have to go with the idiots who react without knowledge. Use the dictionary, dolts.

Korzybski, the founder of general semantics, said, "I say what I say. I do not say what I do not say" Granted that's an oversimplification, it's still a good rule for both speaker and listener.

1 comment:

bekkieann said...

Exactly right. Criticize the sin, not the sinner. Although I am in favor of diplomacy in speech (often also called Political Correctness), I regret that some words are no longer usable in all their meanings. Gay, for example. Language can be exquisite, and it's a shame to limit our use of it.

(I know, I'm leaving myself wide open with that "diplomacy in speech" remark, since I often stray from that goal.)