The Nation's Pulse

Sticks and Stones

Do we need politicians and the media telling us how to behave?

By 1.27.11

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I've been wondering lately whether I, too, haven't been guilty of "incivility" and "heated political rhetoric." My rhetoric has been called lots of things of late -- confused, frivolous, inane -- but never heated. Certainly, there was a time when I traded barbs with the best, but I suppose I've mellowed with age, and, like my libido, my political passions have undergone a cooling off period. Where once I would scrawl letters to the editor with a pen dipped in blood and bile, today I tend to read the headlines and shrug and shuffle off to the kitchen for another piece of pie. About the only thing that gets me heated these days is my Bubblespa footbath. (I recommend the model with toe touch control.)

That and being told by politicians, professors and anchorwomen how to behave.

I already have a mother. I don't need Katie Couric and Nancy Pelosi telling me to sit up straight, quit fidgeting, and "if I don't have something nice to say, don't say anything." Ever since the Tucson tragedy, we've been hearing that our words -- particularly our verbs -- are encouraging crazy people to do crazy things (as if they needed any). Apparently, just the simple use of a descriptive verb, like, say, "wrestle," could trigger… err, I mean cause… some vice president of sales to body slam an accountant.

Actually, they may have something there. Just this morning, I heard someone on NPR say, "We need to really tackle these issues." I was immediately overwhelmed with the desire to sprint down the aisle and clothesline the director of marketing. Unfortunately, she stiff-armed me and rolled on to paydirt, by which I mean the ladies room.

Liberals have tried for decades to bring about social change by telling people (and when I say people I mean men) how to behave. But men are stubborn animals. We may pretend to be more sensitive (as we did in the '70s), if it means we might get lucky more often, or more compassionate (as we did in the '90s), if it means more votes, but we all know that a leopard cannot change its spots.

So liberals decided if they can't change behavior, they can at least change the vocabulary. And it's easy, since they already control the media, the government, the colleges, and most of the other places people tend use a lot of words.

IF THIS ALL sounds vaguely familiar it is probably because two decades ago feminists and their male enablers launched a similar Scorched Earth Strategy against the English language. Back then they succeeded in eliminating from newspapers, television, and books whole categories of words that were deemed sexist, or could possibly be construed to potentially be sexist. Perfectly fine words like fireman were banned, replaced by the neutered "firefighter." Liberal editors would rush to the barricades defending Larry Flynt's right to peddle smut, but manufacture? OMG! That was sexist and had to go.

Since Tucson, editors have been having a "conversation" about banning more words from their newspapers, which pretty soon are going to read like The Poky Little Puppy, containing all 26 politically correct words and no more.

The madness seems destined to trickle down to even the sports pages. The editor of my local newspaper had this to say:

Should such [pugilistic] terms be used in sports stories? How about those outside the sports section? Are they appropriate in stories about business or politics? It isn't uncommon to see stories about companies "targeting consumers," or politicians "battling it out."

What I wouldn't have given to be a fly on the wall of the sports editor's cubicle after reading that memo:

"Sorry, fellas, no more writing 'the Blues and the North Stars "battled" to a 2-2 tie.' You can say, they 'played' to a 2-2 tie, or…hell, I don't know, just say they tied. Who the hell cares anyway?"

First sportswriters were forced to give the same level of coverage and fake enthusiasm to women's sports as men's sports -- even though nobody gives a damn about women's sports -- and now they have to adopt the language of a tea party. And not The Tea Party either, but a real, doily and lace tea party.

When I was a kid, we were smart enough to know that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Today, words are thought to wreak all kinds of terrible psychic damage, from lowering one's self-esteem to driving one homicidally insane.

I don't know. Maybe we were just tougher back then.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.