Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pet Peeves: Words Mean Things

In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya famously tells Vizzini, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

A lot of people have pet words. Groups of people have pet words, too. If you follow the news, you'll see it. As one commentator repeatedly has noted through the years, the media will pick a word, and every broadcaster will use it in every broadcast about the story. The word "gravitas" comes to mind from the 2000 election, used to describe George W. Bush's selection of Richard Cheney as his running mate.

One word that I've seen thrown around a lot lately is derivitives of the suffix "-phobic". According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of phobic is:
of, relating to, or having an extremely strong fear or dislike of someone or something
Dictionary.com further defines phobia as:
a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.
The key word in that definition I'd like to glom onto is "irrational". Just because you don't like something doesn't mean you have an irrational fear of it.

There are many things I don't like.

  • I don't like shopping (except for yarn, books, and fabric.) 
  • I don't like crowds (ironically, ochlophobia, the fear of crowds, is today's Dictionary.com word of the day.)
  • I don't like murderers, people who abuse their power, people who abuse children or animals, or people who cheat on their spouses.
  • I REALLY don't like the TSA. This one came forth when I was in Seattle with my son for his bone marrow transplant. I refused to fly back from Seattle with my son because it sent me into a tizzy, nearly to a nervous breakdown every time I thought about having to go through security, alone with my son, and all of his medicines and medical gear. 

Okay, I may be a bit TSA-phobic.

But, I'm not ochlophobic or phobic of shopping. I will go out in crowds. I don't enjoy it, and with having a post-BMT child, I'm reaching for my hand sanitizer often and keeping a lookout for people coughing or sneezing.

Being a writer, I understand the difference. So, I'm beginning to get offended by how often people throw around phobias willy-nilly. If I don't agree with you on something, I must be phobic of it. Nope. Not irrationally afraid of it, I just don't agree.

Yet, certain groups of people want to accuse other groups of people of phobias just because we disagree!

THIS is how we have the breakdown of our language, when we allow words meanings to be weakened by improper usage. We as writers and speakers of the English language (and I'm sure this happens in other languages, too) need to stand up and protest this. When you're in a conversation with your friend and they laugh and say, "I'm so agoraphobic. I can barely bring myself to drink water!", drill down with them, and get them to see that they don't have an irrational fear of water, they just prefer to drink something else. (Especially use this if you know they love to swim and get a shower every day.)

We as writers should take the time to educate those around us. Otherwise, they'll still be stumbling around in the dark, repeating the same drivel they've improperly learned. Only by proper education (and maybe a few bashings over the head with an unabridged dictionary) can we retake our unique language.

Until next time...

If you haven't had an opportunity yet, please go pick up a copy of my short story, CSI Effect, over at Amazon. Please take 30 minutes to read it, and if you can, take the time to post a review! Thanks so much! -- LS


K.M. Weiland said...

Although I dislike errors in word usage as much as the next writer(nauseous/nauseated drives me nuts), I tend to take a more relaxed view to usages such as this. Language evolves. Can't fight it. It just happens.

Liberty Speidel said...

I can understand that perspective, but phobias are actually clinically a psychological problem, sometimes treated by a psychologist/psychiatrist. The way some people throw "phobia/phobic" around, it lessens the perceived severity of someone's actual problems.

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