Creating Words and Redefining Words – Hidden Power of Words Series, #5

As a writer, I regularly find it necessary to create new words and occasionally to redefine existing ones. I have done this in my academic writing, creative writing, and online writing. I believe we are not only permitted to “play” with words but that we have a duty to do so. (See my article here for what I see as core elements of the scholar’s responsibilities.)

One of the ways in which history repeats itself (see this blog article for more details on this notion), is the way in which words and languages are constantly created, shifted, and pronounced dead. Naturally, too, in a given historical moment, one word or cluster of words will naturally have various meanings to each receiver. At the same time, it is our rough collective agreements on spoken languages and their corresponding written languages that allow us to communicate.

For more details about the philosophy and history of words, be sure to read Virginia Woolf’s “Craftsmanship.”  Here is an excerpt:

Perhaps that is their [i.e., words] most striking peculiarity – their need of change. It is because the truth they try to catch is many-sided, and they convey it by being many-sided, flashing first this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity, this power to mean different things to different people, that they survive. Perhaps then one reason why we have no great poet, novelist or critic writing today is that we refuse to allow words their liberty. We pin them down to one meaning, their useful meaning, the meaning which makes us catch the train, the meaning which makes us pass the examination. And when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die.

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I regularly add an “ized” to the end of words in order to specifically emphasize social, political, and economic processes. Scholars of “race” regularly use “racialized.” People are not Black; they are racialized as Black. We can also use this with words as follows:

sexualized -the process by which society defines people as either “male” or “female” – see this FAQ response for details on how “male” and “female” are social constructions 

geographicalized –the process by which people or nations define people according to their physical (political) location

classized –the process by which people are divided along economic lines in capitalistic societies – people are not “poor” – they are classed or classized as poor 

utopianized –the process of rewriting the past to make it idealistic
The possibilities are endless.

There is one new word that needs to be adopted en masse: United Statesians. People in the United States are NOT “Americans.” This term rightfully applies to everyone in North America and South America. The same way “African” or “European” or “Asian” popularly applies to everyone on those respective continents. Consider how mad most people in the United States would be if people in Italy homogenized everyone in North and South America! “American” is an imperialistic, egocentric, and hypocritical word as popularly used.

We, scholars in particular for this one, need a new term: Neo-Neo-Marxism. Marxism focuses on class and economics as the driving force that is everywhere in society, Neo-Marxism replaces class and economics with “race,” and, then, Neo-Neo-Marxism places popular culture at the center as the force which controls and guides society.

There is also one word that has been on my mind that needs to be redefined a bit or at least recognized for its full usefulness: trinary. Scholars regularly use the notion of a “binary” to analyze history. For example, “males” v. “females or “communism v. “capitalism.” What about forces that come in threes that are similarly at opposition with each other? The notion of a “trinary” allows us to recognize this. For example, consider the equally opposing forces between and yet interrelationship between politicians, professors, and the public OR between everyday life, high politics, and scientific research.

One final word is on my mind tonight: Actress.

Some consider the term “actress” to be sexist because it is a feminized word. They say that “actor” should be used without fully realizing that “actor” is likewise a masculinized word. Given the long history where women were prohibited from being performers or were more generally restricted to the private sphere, I think it is most appropriate to use “actress.” “Actress” specifically and overtly celebrates the accomplishments and roles of women.

So what do you think about words? What words do you improvise? 

See the full Hidden Power of Words Series postings, too!

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Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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12 replies

  1. Good discussion, AJP. In some sections you’re discussing the simple action of verbalizing nouns, which is increasingly common. I question the use of “United Statesians” but because of the argument you make (Canadians, Mexicans, et al,. are indeed all Americans), but because the word “Statesians” sounds much like “Alsatians” which in my head refers back to both dogs and a minority group of Frenchians. But the observation is a good one and we’ll have to consider discussing what someone from the USA might be called (we recall that the official name of our neighbor to the south is, in fact, “Estados Unidos Mexicanos”).

    One reason to support your idea of language is what we call in rhetoric “articulation theory,” where, essentially, language is used to effect a purpose (that’s grossly oversimplified, but linguists and rhetoricians grossly oversimplify everything unless writing a 400-page tome that repeats itself for 390 pages).

    Consider the use of Bush and his justification for “interrogation processes” in this articulation theory analysis: http://www.enculturation.net/arguing-for-torture

    BJM

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  2. Hey Bruce!
    Thanks for your comments.

    I wonder what other terms might work for people from the United States? “United Statesians” sounds a bit weird to me, too.

    Sounds like articulation theory is related (or can be) to propaganda? Or I guess we all, always use language in a certain regard to sway others.

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  3. “Can be” related to propaganda. As with any theory of rhetoric, it’s about purposing [sic!] communication for an audience, etc.

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  4. “purposing” – love it!

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  5. Great points Mr. Pegoda,

    Here’s another, people are not slaves – they are enslaved.

    Saying that people are slaves puts the burden on the enslaved, as if they have a choice. Saying that people are enslaved puts the burden on the enslaver, describing that the enslaver has a choice to not enslave.

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  6. WL Glenn has a great point — how affixes themselves turn rhetorical responsibly from the actor to the acted-upon. Burke says something to this effect in in _Grammar of Motives_.

    Great example.

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  7. Thanks!
    And absolutely! The “enslaved” v. “slave” was the first example of his process I learned. I almost NEVER use “slave” anymore. Haven’t in years. I also am an advocate of using “enslaver” instead of “master.”
    I’ll tweet you a picture of a great passage about one of the founders of the “enslaved” rhetoric.

    Bruce, thanks for that book ref. I’ll look at it now.

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  8. That’s a good comment re: enslaved and enslavers. I’ll do the same in my discussion of race in my rhetoric class.

    We should get about 30 people to go back to your Jackson Plantation “Plantation Days” site and ask questions about the enslavers. “Excuse me, what year did Mr. Jackson first enslave?” “Is this where the enslavers ate their meals?” “Are these the same cloth-making skills the enslavers used in their day?”

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  9. I’ve love to know more about how you discuss racialized discuses and realities -notice, I don’t use the word “race” either ;).

    I love your idea, but remember this event was in Lake Jackson. We’d be dismissed immediately for trying to insight a rebellion! lol 🙂

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  10. Great post. I’ve found myself having to coin new words and redefine old ones too. See for examples: https://1tawnystranger.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/some-notes-on-how-i-use-common-terms/
    Have a good day.

    Liked by 1 person

Trackbacks

  1. Creating Words and Redefining Words – Hidden Power of Words Series, #5 | Oppression Monitor
  2. 9 Words That Need to be Abolished – Hidden Power of Words Series, #6 « Andrew Joseph Pegoda, A.B.D.

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