Column: Take back terms of endearment
Language consumes our lives.
Think about it. Language is one of the very elements of humanity that we claim is unique to us, although many scientists argue that some animals use languages as well.
As human beings, we utter certain sounds that have been accepted to mean certain things in certain areas. This is the essence of language, and we often fail to acknowledge the raw nature of communication, an ability many see as extremely fundamental or basic to human life.
Language is a contract that we all agree on. It’s something we all participate in, regardless of what we use it for. Whether we are writers, actors, engineers or doctors, we are all constantly communicating. We all manipulate words. We change our words depending on our environment or situation. We choose our words specifically. We are masters of language, regardless of our expertise or knowledge of grammar. We use language for great things. We say great things.
However, in addition to the great things we say, we also say bad things.
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The words we say reveal everything there is to know about our opinions. The way we choose to express ourselves about politics, culture, religion, life in general, often reveals our background, or our own personal experiences with such themes. Thus, one must be aware of how they choose to express themselves and the signs that such expressions reveal.
Recently, I have seen more and more of the same words used as negative labels for myself or for others like me. I see words like “snowflake” and “social justice warrior” used as negative labels for liberals sprinkled in just about everywhere.
I honestly wasn’t even aware of the popularity they had gained online. I saw people affected by these words, as if it was universally agreed that these words signified something negative. I was honestly a bit perplexed, I didn’t really understand how these things could be seen negatively. Snowflakes are unique and extremely intricate. Social Justice is a valid idea to strive after. Warriors bravely fight for what they believe in.
I’ve realized that the power of words is very significant. Words have the power to affect. We may say that words can’t hurt us, but they truthfully really can. So, instead of pretending that words don’t hurt us, why can’t we just interpret them differently? Of course the intent of the person insulting one another is always there, which is in itself something negative, but we can choose to allow these words to get to us or not.
This is why it is important to reclaim the meaning of words. Only by reappropriating the terms that insult us will we be more likely to let them wash off of us.
Reclamation or reappropriation refers to the redefining of words and the inversion of their meaning. It’s claiming the word that haunts you and using it to define yourself, removing the negativity and sting off of it, instead of letting it insult you.
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We have seen this process adapted by many groups, such as the use of the word “queer” by some LGBT groups, the word “bitch” by feminist groups or the use of the word “Chicano/a” as a positive title instead of a derogatory one by Chicanx groups. Movements adapt these words not only to create a sense of unity and belonging, but to show what exactly they’re fighting against.
Words are words, and it is up to us to define how to interpret them. That’s language. Of course, there are words that ultimately always will sting and insult us, but there are also words that we can take back, words that we can redefine as something positive, as something which reveals the history and essence of our own specific group.
We can strive towards a new standard reaction towards negative language, one that is defined and interpreted individually. We can learn how to let insults wash off us, and to continue with our goals without resorting to insulting our opposition. This is something that is easier in theory than in reality, but it is definitely something that we can work towards achieving.
Follow Julian Cardenas on Twitter.