Wednesday 16 June 2021

Mind your tone or get stoned

Mind your (use of) language

Many years ago, during my postgraduate programme, there was a class interaction where I challenged an assertion and demanded the proposer defend their position or rescind their premise. This was supposed to a rigorous and robust exchange of ideas and opinions, I did not think anything about it until our lecturer sent me a stern email asking me to apologise and withdraw my comment.

I apologised and withdrew my comment even as my colleagues could not see or understand why I was asked to reflect on my way or tone of expression. Within an international setting of the use of English, the lecturer had set the lowest common denominator of expression that mollified tone, crippled expression, eliminated nuance, and elevated the perfunctory to making an art of the bland.

Language is getting difficult

If anything, it stifled debate because no one was sure of what the arbitrary rules were as different versions of English sought a level of uninspired thought processing, each of us walking on eggshells just biding our time through the 8-week module in the hope that we will not lose purpose for the next challenge.

I now find that the language of our once globally understood and easily accessible discourse is evolving so rapidly into Shibboleths of war; you get usage, context, meaning, structure, tone, or grammar wrong, and you risk punishment and losing everything at the onslaught of excoriation and disapproval. It is like there is a cohort of readily offended seekers with feelers sniffing any mode of communication to find something to be offended by and set off a pile on.

The shifting sands of meanings

It is literally impossible to keep up with the terms and the redefinition of terms, the surfeit of sociological and anthropological jargon in search for a situation to contextualise in psychobabble, and whilst I have kept up with gay changing from happy to homosexual in common parlance, when I woke up this morning, I realised woke hardly referred to getting out of bed but a sense of awareness that triggering culture wars. Whatever that means.

Wiser counsel would suggest one keeps out of the global conniptions that pass for healthy debate. It left me wondering, if you have to qualify a noun, then the noun is qualified because it cannot stand alone for understanding, appreciation, and context at first use, else there is no need to qualify the noun in the first place.

Dare I even mention the noun in dispute? Not if I want my peace. I can contend with the debates in my head it is when you have to deal with people who are unpersuadable and entrenched, fully convinced of the rightness of their apparently unassailable views; it is a case of banging your head against a wall. Fundamentalist and extremist, they are, just avoid them.

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