Posts Tagged ‘language’

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More Politics and the English Language

posted: 10.24.11 by archived

My post last week found me apologizing for coming off a bit like the language police, and for delivering the post from a soapbox. Yet I really do care about the politics and the ethics of language choices, and so I hope that the post was received in this spirit of engagement.

I also want to extend some of that discussion, and link it to the NCTE Orwell and Doublespeak Awards. I sit on the nominating committee for these awards, and I want to ask you today for your nominations, which I will then take to the committee.

The Orwell Award for a Distinguished
 Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language “recognizes writers who have made outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse.” The Doublespeak Award “is an ironic tribute to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered.”

In the past year, who do you think has done the most to advance honesty and clarity in public discourse? And who has done the most to impede and obscure?

These awards have been around since 1974. Recent winners of the Orwell include Michael Pollan, Jon Stewart, Seymour Hersh, and Arundhati Roy.

Recent winners of the Doublespeak include Glenn Beck, the Tobacco Industry, and (twice) George W. Bush.

If there are individuals you think should be nominated, please let me know by posting a comment.

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Categories: Jay Dolmage, Uncategorized
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Politics and the English Language

posted: 10.17.11 by archived

One of the realities of life for most teachers is that we sit in a lot of meetings. I meet with groups of distinguished academics or community leaders about once a week. The discourse is sometimes a bit contentious, sometimes a little boring, but always smart and fair and democratic. In these meetings, I am surrounded by people whom I respect and admire. Yet several times over the last few years, I have been surprised and upset by something a colleague said. Adults who care quite a lot about social justice, who understand prejudice in a deep way, still use words like “moron,” “idiot,” and “retard”—and I am shocked every time I hear them.

Listen, I’m not the language police. I am all for freedom of expression—but I am also all for examining the impact of what we say.

Some terms are truly distasteful.  “Moronic” is a word with a long and terrible history, as are the words “retarded” and “idiot.” Yet, it seems like these are all words that we’ve decided it’s now okay to use—for some reason, we even think they are funny.  Call some thing retarded, moronic, or idiotic, and someone is likely to laugh and agree with you.  Adding this word as a descriptor is a way to condemn whatever you disagree with and to add a slightly subversive edge to your comment.

Hopefully, we know that it is not okay to label any person with these words. But then why do we use them words at all?

To be labeled a moron in North America for most of the last 150 years meant that you would be institutionalized and perhaps sterilized. To be labeled a moron, an idiot, or retarded meant that you were not treated as a full person—in the legal sense or the conceptual sense. These labels, we clearly now understand, were the product of the worst kind of racist pseudo-science.

As I said, why do we use these words at all any more? [read more]

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Categories: Jay Dolmage, Uncategorized
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Ask Grammar Girl

posted: 2.5.08 by Barclay Barrios

Grammar Girl is a great podcast that answers questions about grammar, language, and usage. You might encourage your class to subscribe to this podcast but, even better, have students propose a question to Grammar Girl. Not only will this get them more closely engaged with the trickier issues of grammar but it will also provide you with a list of questions your students still have.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Grammar & Style, Teaching with Technology
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