Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Retards, pyramids of faggots & how meanings change

It was about a month ago when our 5th grader asked me to assist with vocabulary words.

She needed to add to a list of words that began with “re-.”

My list included “refine,” “repeat,” “return,” and a few other standard mundanities.

Then I shocked her with a word she’d been instructed was bad, bad, bad. I could tell by her reaction the word was way worse than the ones she hears me and Mommy blurt out in traffic or when the bank machine consumes an ATM card.

The word was “retard.”

I kind of knew she’d react to hearing me say “retard,” but I like the word retard and am dismayed it’s being blacklisted.

I explained the word’s original meaning is to delay, slow or hinder.

It’s a great useful word in that context because so much of the world needs retarding.

We need to retard our use of social media, the coarsening of our interactions, and our knee-jerk acceptance as truth all the fake news.

We have materials that retard flames, car devices that retard dangerous acceleration, and medicines that retard the spread of disease.

Of course, and I know this, those are the reasons our use of retard is being retarded.

It’s being used to describe mentally slow children. It was that way when I was a kid and it was okay to describe those children as retarded.

Then the bullies took it over. It’s today used by meanies like Ted Nugent to describe anyone with whom he disagrees. 

I’ve raised my daughters to believe there are no bad words. There are only bad times to say some words.

I revel in words and want our girls to use colorful language to describe how people act, but not who they are.

So it’s okay if one of them describes Ted Nugent as an asshole, but not as a German/Irish asshole.

I want them to judge people on how they behave, which is a decision, not how they were born, how they look, etc., which none of us can help.

And I want them to appreciate how nimble our language can be.

It’s why we just spent the bright season donning our gay apparel to sing Christmas carols by the warmth of burning faggots.

The word gay dates back to the 14th Century when it was used to connote merriment and joy.

You could back then enjoy a gay old time — a yabba-dabba-doo time! — without risking sexual insinuations.

Gay didn’t become slang for homosexual until the 1930s. 

To avoid controversy, our nightly newscasts primly substitute offensive language with sanitizing codes we need to decipher. 

I heard one recently say some neighborhood mayhem was instigated when one man called a homosexual “the f-word.”

I was left to conclude the f-word was faggot and not the other often incendiary f-word.

Funny, but this discussion of words came at a time when one of history’s great wordsmiths provided me with an indelible example of how words change. It was Winston Churchill in his excellent book, “History of the English-Speaking Peoples,” 1956.

In his history of Joan of Arc (1412-1431), he in vivid detail recounts her demise with this incredibly colorful description:

“High upon the pyramid of faggots the flames rose toward her and the smoke of doom wreathed and curled.”

That was written just 60 years ago. In that brief time, the term “pyramid of faggots,” has gone from a description of a bundle of sticks to something that conjures, I guess, a troupe of homosexual acrobats.

Please don’t mistake this as a summons for even less courtesy in describing people with whom we differ.

I believe honesty without tact is like brain surgery without anesthesia: the operation could cure, but the complications can kill.

I believe people should use less of one n-word and act more like another.

I believe everyone should be nicer.

And I hope you’re wearing something gay that retards the fire if you ever find yourself stuck up atop of a pyramid of flaming faggots.

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