Saturday, February 12, 2005

Name-calling and perceptions

Huw Raphael Richardson and Father Joseph Hunneycutt have written thought-provoking essay about Sponge Bob, Tinky Winky, "gay"-ness and the sexualizing of children.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but it sends me off in another direction --

"Gay," even when I was a kid, meant "light-hearted" or "cheerful." It was later appropriated by the homosexual community, to the point that it was impossible to use the word for "light-hearted" or "cheerful," and even 19th-century writers drew sniggers for their anachronistic faux pas.

Now, among teen-agers, "gay" has come to be a term of derision, meaning "stupid," "moody," or "lame," and divorced from sexual content.

By contrast, the Society of Friends, or, as they frequently call themselves, "Quakers." The word "Quaker" started as a term of derision, but the people accepted the term, and the derision part of it is simply a historical curiosity. That's what a reputation for pacifism and freeing slaves will do for you.

Similarly, the word "Christian" probably started as a term of mockery. It's had its ups and downs over the centuries -- sometimes as a generic term for an ethical person, other times meaning an imbecile, but the early Christians adopted the term proudly.

The point? Changing the language doesn't change perceptions. It's easier to change perceptions and watch the meaning of the words change.

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