Why we shouldn’t ban “bossy” and other language games

tempest in a teapotOver on Facebook I’m being barraged by postings about how we should stop using the word “bossy” because it’s, I dunno, presumably belittling of girls with certain personality traits. I even got a press release about how the campaign was started by Sheryl Sandberg and how it’s so damaging to girls. A direct quote: “How will the Ban Bossy campaign help eradicate gender inequality? We believe so deeply that these cultural problems change by the small things each of us do: The changes we make by paying attention to the little everyday stuff do not have a small impact..”

And yet, I write this while watching my 10yo daughter reorganize the house into a dance club and think about how the last time she had friends over she was the queen bee. Bossy? Sometimes. But then again, so is my son at times.

Last week I got an email question about how to modify Facebook to work with the new gender neutral pronoun “xe”, rather than “he” or “she”. Why xe? Because there are women who believe that “she” is degrading or demeaning and don’t like it. And then there’s my teen son who just said something was “retarded”, to which I replied “I don’t like that word. Can you please use another?”

We live in an age of remarkable consciousness about words and word usage, an angst so strong that a celebrity can have used “the N-word” decades ago and have that produce sufficient uproar that it has almost killed her career.

But I can’t help thinking that they’re all what my Mum would call a tempest in a teapot. Or, in the words of Shakespeare, much ado about nothing.

Words only gain power as we are willing to give those words power.

A fine example are people who adopt the deprecating nicknames they’ve been given and reinvent them to be cool or hip monikers. How else would “bad” mean good and “sick” be something positive?

Truth be told, when people tell me that I should or shouldn’t use a particular word, I invariably rebel. I don’t want someone else telling me how to talk, and it’s their issue, not mine. Yeah, there are a few exceptions, but does every word need to gain a deep, profound meaning and potential strength and power? I think not.

What’s your take? What words do you avoid and which do you use, knowing that some (uptight? overly controlling? victimized?) people might potentially get upset, or do you just speak the way you think works best and let the proverbial chips fall as they may?

One comment on “Why we shouldn’t ban “bossy” and other language games

  1. Good post. You did instruct your son not to say, ‘retarded,’ but that is wise since he could get in real trouble for saying that in public.

    I’m certainly sympathetic to words being hurtful, but there’s something chilling about these speech no-nos all the same.

    For example, my beef with those who want to strip the name Redskins from the football team — I bet there’s not a fan out there who even thinks of the word in a negative, cruel context. He or she loves the team and that’s what you call it. What would changing the name do?

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