March 18th, 2005

Sgt. Redbeard

Annoying Buzzwords

I worked my way through college as a proofreader. While my degree was in Radio/TV production, I had enough credits for majors in Journalism and English Lit if I'd wanted to pay the extra fees, and my senior year was done on a scholarship from the School of Communications. That was 1971.

So when it comes to English usage, I'm very Old School. Not as Old School as the Chicago Elements of Style, but close enough.

This morning I heard a news blip which jangled my nerves, pushing three of my "horrible misuse of the English Language" hot buttons in a single sentence. It was something like this:

"..celebrate our gayness, support diversity in the workplace and empower women..."

This word is supposed to bring forth visions of party hats, flying confetti, noisemakers and voices raised in cheer for a particular event. I'm sorry, folks, one just does not "celebrate" all day and every day one's choice of lifestyle. Okay, you can throw a "Yay, I'm Gay!" party, but one doesn't celebrate mundane facts of life. It cheapens the word, lessens its impact. It waters down the language.

Yeah, it's part of the modern lexicon of euphemisms, but that doesn't make it right. Diversity should have no connotation of racial overtones. Diversity simply means the e pluribus from which we have become unum. Diversity includes different political views, different birthplaces, different hair styles, different anything. To make it a buzzword for racial equality narrows the scope of the word, corrupts its usage, and cheapens the message of racial equality.

As "celebrate" is a loud word "empower" is a strong word. It means to give power, to enable someone to bend steel with their bare hands, leap tall buildings in a single bound, catch bullets in their teeth and bend multitudes to their will. It also means to do this from the outside - the "em" in "empower" implies having the power given to you from outside yourself. There are very few truly powerful people in the world, and most did not get that way by having power thrust upon them. They either were born into a powerful family, or they took it for themselves. The way it is used above weakens the word, and cheapens the women's movement by implying women have to get their power from outside themselves.

Not in the newscast, but also annoying, is the phrase people of color. Every time I hear it, I imagine rainbow-colored people, or changelings whose skin changes color to match their mood, or for camouflage. I'm a person of color - white is all the colors combined, right? And I'm in shape too -- round is a shape!