« get your damn dirty swoosh off of my sneakers! | Main | and still, the silence »

the shrinking language

Once upon a time there was a woman womyn. She was a short, plump perfectly average looking womyn who lived in a small farm town a big city the mountains a town in America. She had a daughter named Molly who liked to play with dolls play Career Choice Barbie and a son named Michael, a strong, athletic an emotionally open boy.

And so would begin a benign little story about a family if the people who control our textbooks had their way.

Iíve finished reading The Language Police. I donít think a book has ever left me feeling so horrified. By trying to make our children pleasant little creatures living in a homogenized world, far left liberals are, in effect, dumbing our youth down and stripping away the English Language.

Steven Denbeste wrote a bit about this sort of thing yesterday and I emailed him with my thoughts on The Language Police (mistakenly thinking that I would be on blog vacation for the rest of the week and wouldnít be writing about it).

It's a tenet of some leftists that "free speech is censorship." For instance, criticism is censorship. Permitting all viewpoints equal time is censorship. And it's actually a principle espoused by some on the left that active censorship is a good thing in order to prevent censorship. (Yup! This was originally proposed by Herbert Marcuse in a book titled Repressive Toleration.)

Steven then says at the end of his post:

Orwell wrote his dystopian book [1984] as a warning. America's leftists are using it as a training manual.

It's interesting to note that the quote that opens the second chapter of TLP is this:

Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year? -- George Orwell, 1984

The irony here is that it's normally the mantra of the left to complain that America has become an Orwellian society, and here they are making Orwell's words so very prescient.

Yes, our language is getting smaller, and we have the left to thank for that. Every year new lists crop up from the boiler rooms of liberal universities, where language cops hunker down and go through textbooks and pamphlets and tests, making sure that there is not a single word on any piece of paper that would make anyone feel slighted, confused, left out, insulted or put upon. And every year the list grows longer and our language - whether in our school systems or in the media - grows smaller.

In the back of TLP, there is a glossary of banned words, usages, stereotypes and topics. The reviewing committees that control what goes into our schools have deemed over 25 pages worth of words and phrases to be stricken from our vocabulary, "collated from various bias guidelines that editors, writers and illustrators use when preparing textbooks and tests." Lest you think this list is used just for schools, try reading through some newspapers and magazines to see how the shrinking of our language has crept into other facets of our lives as well.

Let's peruse the glossary, shall we? I'm just going to throw out a bunch of lists and phrases. With some of them, it will be apparent why they are banned. With others, it won't be so obvious. In fact, it will be beyond all reason.

Adam and Eve (replace with the phrase Eve and Adam to demonstrate that males do not take priority over females.) Backward country,Barbarian, Birth defect, Black (banned as adjective meaning evil), Bookworm, Coed, Courageous (banned as patronizing when referring to a person with disabilities), Crotchety, Dark Continent, Devil, Dissenter, Elderly, Fellowship (Friendship of the Ring, anyone?), Hell, Huts, Jungle, Man-made, Overcoming a disability, Sissy, Soda (regional bias), Snowman, Stickball (regional bias).

Do not compare humans to animals (e.g., swift as a deer)

Avoid stereotyped images and illustrations, such as females wearing aprons, mother vaccuming, women finding acheivement in motherhood, women as teachers, women in jobs with less power than men, men as capable leaders, men playing sports, men as lawyers, boys playing sports, mother comforting children, boys as curious, people of color as athletic, people of color sharing a common heritage such as dance or music, older people with gray hair, older people who are retired.

Avoid topics such as anthropomorphism in non-fiction, bodily functions, brand names, conflict with authority, crime, drugs, controversial people such as Malcom X, guns, fighting, winter holidays, bacon, butter, cake, coffee, pretzels, tea, whipped cream, blizzards, aspirin, cancer, natural catastrophes, fossils, divorce, Christmas, junk bonds, pregnancy, masks, magic, typhoons, sports, rats, mice, rap music.

And that was just a tiny sampling.

So what have we left? What possible story could you put on a test for reading comprehension that would avoid all of the above? What could you talk about in history or science textbooks?

When the language police get their way, we lose our history and language. We lose, as a whole, part of our culture. We revise history and make our world bland and one dimensional.

The left is supposed to be all about tolerance and accepting each other as humanhumyn beings, yet by stripping away everything that makes us unique, we are doing just the opposite. The only way our children learn to accept people who are different from them - whether it be a religious, cultural or physical difference - is to learn about them. Now, thanks to liberals who think they know what's best for everyone, that won't happen. Because in their world, everyone is the same height and weight and lives in the same region in identical houses. There is no rich or poor, no fat or skinny, no black and white, no mountains or oceans. There's just a flat existence where descriptive words and phrases are silenced.

Orwellian, indeed. Welcome to our version of Newspeak.

[addendum: I know that the Religious Right is responsible for a good portion of banning words and whole books as well, and that will be a whole different essay when Banned Books Week approaches]

TrackBack

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference the shrinking language:

» Bedtime story from Modern Life is Rubbish
I'm too sleepy to write anything of my own today, but this is a good read (the link takes you to an online version of a short story by Kurt Vonnegut Jr called Harrison Bergeron). It's an eerily insightful tale... [Read More]

Comments

Let's not just blame the left on the textbook problems illuminated in Langauge Police.

As Ravitch herself points out: textbook publishing has been "corrupted by a bizarre de facto alliance of the far left and the far right."

Say it again slowly, the far left AND the far right. Gives me the shivers, as both ends of that spectrum are certifiably insane.

i saw the author on the daily show, but she freaked me out too much for me to read the book. she said they couldn't mention a blind man who climbed mt everest, because mentioning it would imply that he's courageous and unusual. whimper hello, home schooling.

It's even worse than just dumbing down; it's just plain lying! Yes, they no longer tell the truth to the kids. Truth is not always pretty, sweet, or kind.

I keep running into more and more people who are fed up with PC behavior. I had been building to it for a while, but when I started reading Tongue Tied I began to realize that the "utopia" the left is trying to create to ensure that no child will ever feel "bad" is becoming the worst sort of repression - the repression of thought and the language used to express those thoughts.

What started as a movement to get people to understand each other's differences (a noble concept) has now gotten drastically out of control.

Soda??? Soda????

Ok, it's great to be outraged, and my attention has been grabbed.

Now what can we do about it?

This strikes me as a terrifyingly secure little perversion. Even if you eliminate all the censors, the book sellers will resort to opinion polls to do the work, They want to sell books so they don't want to offend anyone...

What to do?

Again, it's not just the left.

The right-wingers control content, eg, nothing about abortion, evolution, divorce or crime while the left controls language.

Ravitch:"The pressure groups of left and right have important points of convergence. Both right-wingers and left-wingers demand that publishers shield children from words and ideas that contain what they deem the 'wrong' models for living. Both assume that by limiting what children read, they can change society to reflect their worldview."

BTW I work in the textbook publishing biz and can tell you it's pretty crazy.

At times like this, I think we need to spread the word:

Everybody read Harrison Bergeron.

http://penguinppc.org/~hollis/personal/bergeron.shtml

If you haven't chanced across Harrison Bergeron yet, it's a short story by Kurt Vonnegut. Go ahead. It won't take too long to read. I'll start you off with the first paragraph:

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Ok, fine, so people on all ends of the spectrum censor language. Don't make it into a "But your party is bad too" argument if you want to solve anything.

My suggestion: Buy all the books you can that contain the 'offensive' language. Use the words with your friends. Tell school boards that you will stick up for textbooks that contain actual words, and not just euphemisms.

I had Diane on the program a few weeks ago and read her book beforehand. You're right, it's sickening that the 5% that represent the far left and the 5% that represent the far right are screwing up education for the 90% of us in between.

"Tell school boards that you will stick up for textbooks that contain actual words, and not just euphemisms."

That might be effective if and only if you live in one of the key districts in Texas or California. They pretty determine what everyone else ends up getting.

Here's another look at the textbook biz from an author's point of view.

"Rule #1: Original ideas are messy for students, teachers, editors, and writers. No one really wants them, only the appearance of them..."

http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i43/43b00501.htm

Wow, scary. Looks like this book goes onto the long list of must-reads.

Having no children yet, and being of an age where I've been out of the school system for more than a decade, I'd not noticed these things,

How on earth will history textbooks properly depict the ugliness of slavery and the Holocaust?

hln

The left AND THE RIGHT!!!

Say ity louder-it still won't really stick well. Ravitch is replete with instances of left-wing censorship and PC but when she tries to cross the line the examples all start to get a bit hazier--

They don't want--they don't like--they try to make--

On the right side of the equation are efforts that are derided in the media and in academia, efforts that generally fail.

On the right side the efforts are generally private--individuals and church organizations--not legislatures, school boards and public employess unions.

On the right, the 'banning' often is nothing more than parents questioning the age appropriateness--there is no widespread attempt to eliminate words.

All censorship is wrong. But trying to make it seem that the mostly ineffectual private censorship of the 'right' is equal to the established, state powered, leftist censorship that has been so effective in warping our national dialogue to the point at which we must parse each word we utter lest we face the accusation of oppression is ludicrous.

Hey last time I checked the right wing has its own share of censorships within religious and government institutions. Their moral elitistm is just as powerful a force of censorship and control as the lefts idealistic utopia.

Thankfully I grew up in a school district that (though primarly right wing and actually for censorship...I know I went ot the schoolboard meetings) listened to the TEACHERs and not so much the parents. Because of that we got good textbooks that weren't just PC bullshit. Yes, we lost alot of funding from the state/feds because of that. Too bad more districts don't do that, but then most districts can't afford to. They don't get the funding from the government to be able to.

I find this whole effort not to offend any parents highly amusing, especially as the "stereotype" avoidance is futile, considering most of their precious children can't help but notice that their grandparents have grey or white hair, that most of the sports shows feature men and in some sports mainly black men, that they know women who are housewives, that almost all their elementary school teachers are women....

Unless, of course, the children are idiots and believe what they read more than what they see.

What is this TLP study guide on improving your language? And where can I get one cheap?

Seriously, what is the title & ISBN for this book. My vocabulary needs expansion.

I generally avoid commenting on the political posts here, but I had to say something about this:

Steven Denbeste wrote a bit about this sort of thing...

Steven DenBeste doesn't write "a bit" about anything. Nobody in history has needed an editor more than that boy.

So, we've got people out there screaming themselves hoarse for diversity.....

...and then they come up with crap like this so we can all look, act, feel, and be the same.

That makes so much sense [/sarcasm]

There's a great article and interview with the author on Salon.com in the archives about the horrors of this book. There's a silent majority of people who need to stand up and say NO!

The most horrifying thing to me I learned in the Salon.com interview is that in school textbooks you can not refer to an American as an AMERICAN! Our national identity is negated because Canadians, Mexicans and people who live in South America would be offended. WHAT THE FUCK.

thlayli wrote...
Steven DenBeste doesn't write "a bit" about anything. Nobody in history has needed an editor more than that boy.

While true in general, the item we're talking about is short and to the point.

"convergence of left and right"

No kidding. Pat Buchanan ran on the same platform as a communist (can't remember her name)

JohnAshcroft was ridiculed for covering nude statues yet Andrea Dworkin attempts to do the same thing.

And both of the fringes want to ban "Huck Finn".

Heh. At Cornell, I think it was, someone decided that the word "picnic" was racist and claimed that it came from lynching parties in the old South. After a lot of hashing about, the group sponsoring this particular function change the word on their flyers from "picnic" to "outing". And then the gays got involved....

Wm. Kerrigan, in ``The Neurotic's Dictionary'' (Random House Webster's
College Dictionary review) Raritan XI:3, Winter 1992, p.103, suggests it might work:

'`I suppose it is possible in some future world a trucker might
walk into a diner, like what he sees, lean across the counter
and say, `How long have you been a server, honey?' ''

This all just freaks me out. I'm going to be responsible for raising a little girl, as soon as I marry her daddy next year. She's five, and has just finished kindergarten. I can't home school her because her mother would freak. I can't imagine what the public schools are going to try to do to her. Obviously, I've got to supplement her education with ideas and concepts and literature that she won't have access to.

Grr. I'd be trying to do it anyway, but the left is just making it far, far more difficult.

Um, yeah. I heard the first time that there are crazy people on the right end of the political spectrum. Can we address the issue of censoring language, instead of picking whom to blame?

whew! I was glad when I hit that addendum. I was just about to point out the Religious Right that ban things here in Texas all the time. It is sad to see our language shrinking, just to try to be more PC.

The only reason this is happening is because people are letting these people influence them. If the group mentioned above had kept using the word picnic, or better yet, ridiculed those trying to change the word, they wouldn't have the problems they're facing with the new changes.

Likewise, if we in the middle didn't buy into PC, censorship, et al, we wouldn't be in this predicament. I wish a politician would grow some balls and proclaim the complete idiocy that is PC for all to hear.

Better yet, a Presidential address reclaiming our language, heritage, history, and values.

These groups target those they think they can affect change on.

The problem isn't one of left vs. right it is craven school boards, curriculum committees, and textbook publishers trying to take the easy way out. When confronted with extremely vocal groups pushing a narrow agenda the standard response seems to be to cave in and remove anything that might provoke a reaction such as criticism, protests, or heaven forbid a lawsuit.

Every time a pressure group is accomidated it does nothing but encourage other similar groups to ask for accomidation as well and for previously accomidated groups to ask for further demands to be accomidated.

The unwillingness of those responsible for our school curiculums to stand up to these groups is further compounded by the ability of some of these pressure groups to get their members elected to school boards or selected for textbook selection committees.

The best solution for people concerned about this nonsense is to get involved.
Vote, in every election, for every office and issue.
Run for the school board.
Get involved with the PTA.
Try to get appointed to textbook committees.
Pay attention to what the school board and state legislature is doing. Attend meetings and hearings. Write letters if you don't like something.
If you are a parent go talk to your kids teachers.
Reveiw the material used to teach your children.
Ask your children and their teachers questions about what happens in the classroom and the instructional material.
If you encounter somthing being used to teach your children that appears to be heavily edited provide them with an un-edited original.
Consider moving, sending your children to private schools, or homeschooling if the situation in your district seems hopeless.