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Musings of an English Major

Too many people take no notice of the language they use, why they use it, and get offended when their language is actually called to their attention. It drives me up a wall.

My mom is undergoing 6 weeks of cancer treatment for a very survivable cancer. The doctors have wanted to insist that she gets the port - a device that goes under her skin in her chest area, that is long-term, and involves two surgeries to put in and remove. She has been resistant to this idea since it was brought out, and after a lot of fighting, they agreed to give her a PICC line, far less invasive and more comfortable psychologically for her (she's also only getting two rounds of chemo so it just makes more sense to her for a less long-term solution). This weekend, we visited my great-aunt for a day, where we explained the PICC line to her. Multiple times my aunt's language implied what I knew she believed - that the doctors had the final say in all treatment, and my mother's "input" was nothing more than suggestions. I finally pointed out her language when she called my mother's fighting over the PICC line "helping the doctors to make the decision". I tried to explain how that language implies that the decision's was the doctor's to make, not my mother's, and how it's indicative of her belief that my mom has lost all control over her own body, something that has really freaked my mom out over the past month. She cut me off and waved her hand dismissively, saying "I don't know, I'm not an English major."

Now I'm in a debate here on Jez, where a man made an analogy comparing manners on a date to manners while sneezing - men should pay for dates because it's good manners to pay for dates, like it's good manners to say "bless you" when someone sneezes (this analogy was to counteract the point I made that the woman in the date is being forced into bad manners because she isn't paying, with the added point that it's not rude to sneeze because saying "bless you" is good manners). I pointed out that his analogy is completely one-sided, and viewing the woman as the "receiver" of the date and in an inherently unequal position. He then proceeded to get angry and accuse me of putting words in his mouth, because I pointed out the implications of the language he chose to use.


I really think the meaning behind words you unthinkingly choose is just as important, if not more so, than the words you carefully sculpt to match your conscious thoughts. Even the most thoughtless language has reasons behind it; your brain chose to put a sentence in the passive voice as opposed to the active voice, your brain chose to make a particular person the subject of the sentence, your brain chose to use that particular analogy, your brain chose the tense of the verb. It's also really interesting to unpack the language that people use and see why they chose the particular grammatical constructions they did, and even realize the logical conclusions that come from my own language and how it reflects on my inner feelings about a topic. But bring up someone's language and they completely shut down; they can't see the relevance, accuse me of making things up, and just refuse to acknowledge that there's any importance in the way things are phrased and the words that are chosen.

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