So, today’s my birthday! Today’s guest post is from my very good friend and writing partner, Eileen Young. She’s currently working on an urban fantasy novel now in the editing stages.
Writers play with words almost definitionally. We make them into pleasing patterns, we hold them up and examine them and see if we can draw new meaning from words like ‘love’ and ‘heroism.’
But we have to be concientious players, which is something we sometimes overlook forget.
I’m big on communicating precisely, which is why I’ve written about gendered language ( http://authorsrefuge.blogspot.com/2011/06/gendered-language-is-like-black-only.html ) and contribute to a blog on sociology and linguistics ( http://speaking-human.tumblr.com/ , as Chiomi), but I still find myself falling into ableist sinkholes like calling things ‘lame’ when I mean ‘unutterably idiotic.’ Seems comparatively minor, right? Especially compared to terms like ‘gypped’ (meaning cheated, as by Gypsies). But it doesn’t communicate what I mean to everyone who reads it. To someone with a physical disability, it could be a reminder that there are some people out there who might consider them as less than a fully contributing member of society. That is not a connotation I want to bring up, in most cases (I don’t write a lot of social justice stuff in my fiction, as it’s exhausting), so I avoid using the term. For me, the word doesn’t communicate effectively because of its social context.
The social responsibility of media producers (writers and artists of all kinds) to hold themselves to higher linguistic standards is something that can be hotly debated. Not everything that is put out needs to elevate the social consciousness of discrimination towards various groups or bring forth justice into the world. Not everyone thinks that every line needs to be pored over and stripped of unfortunate subtext so as to be utterly inoffensive to every group. Not every writer cares if some people complain about them on some obscure social justice blog because a character of theirs says offensive things.
But I think we need to at least consider some of the implications of the words we use, to make sure we’re saying what we want to say. Sometimes we might want to say things which might offend people, to illustrate differences between characters or to make points. Something I think we all want to avoid, though, is unintentionally coming off as fucking assholes.