Watch Your Language! (part 1)

I thought’ I’d make a post on bad words. Not the f-word kind, but on real foul language. Those who know me may already have heard my Saussurean perspective on language–That is, language as a set of signs (visual and phonetic symbols) that are empty until we organize them in meaningful ways. Actually, this isn’t just a casual perspective, but my belief because it follows logic–words are only seen as “bad” when we (society) decide on their connotations. Therefore, there is no such thing as a “bad” word. There are words. Words are either economical (productive) or destructive.

This is my list of destructive words–again, not the kind that make delicate ears blush but the kind whose very manifestations are like festering sores.

1. Natural: I cannot emphasize how much I detest this word and all its variants. This word has been used historically to justify the subjugation of other people. For example, at one point Black bodies–because they were larger and stronger than the bodies of white colonizers–were considered to be “naturally” designed for labor (enslavement). Nowadays, few people make essentializing claims between races, though I have heard a few that have left me wide-eyed: X* people are “naturally” corrupt; B-women are “naturally” hornier than C-women; Y people are “naturally” cleaner than Z people. I mean, we all joke around privately and are probably guilty of using stereotypes for a good laugh– but the disturbing part is when a person makes these statements wholeheartedly believing them.

Most recently, it is the gender/sex “natural” statements that irk me.

Women are “naturally” more emotional than men; Men are “naturally” more sexual than women; Men are “naturally” more rational than women; Women are “naturally” more talkative than men; Women are “naturally” more nurturing than men; Men are “naturally” made for the public sphere and women for the domestic sphere.

No, No, No, No and No.

Get your science straight, people! Men and women are both equally capable to being caring, nurturing, sexual and rational human beings; equally capable of sharing tasks and responsibilities. Honestly, I could care less how people/couples choose to organize their lives–whatever works for them. But please leave archaic “nature” arguments where they belong: in medieval science books.

2.Impossible. Yes, it is possible. We should never blame the things around us for our failures. It is up to us to work hard to achieve our goals; to possess the things we want; to make things happen. Yes, sometimes things are out of our control. If a blind man says he cannot see, it would be cruel to tell him he isn’t trying hard enough. There are some things that are out of our control. The problem is that we often pretend that situations are out of our grip when they are not. As a believing Muslim, I pray to God and I ask for help, but I will never ask God for something for which I am not prepared to meet Him halfway. I do believe that if I try my best, God will do the rest–and that is why I believe that nothing is impossible. 17 years ago, my father had his left leg amputated. Although wheelchair bound, I never heard my father say it was impossible to walk, work, drive, and do other things he wanted to do. The odds were against him, but he still made things happen. Why should we ever use our weaknesses as excuses to let ourselves and others down?

More Foul Language Is Coming Soon!

Feel free to add your own “bad” words to this list in the comment box below!

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10 thoughts on “Watch Your Language! (part 1)

  1. I think words like “every” and “always” might qualify for your list of detestable diction.

    Every Muslim is such-and-such.
    Women are always such-and-such…
    Every American believes in such-and-such

  2. Salam uleikum, great post, sister.
    What about the words “grey area” or “white lie”?
    There’s right and there’s wrong, and doing wrong for the right reason is not right. The end.

    Just a thought.

    • Salams,

      I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes it seems that people want to justify their actions with their cause (e.g. “The end justifies the mean”). If this is what you meant, then yes. This is a twisted way to think (and NOT think) about the consequences of our actions. In this case, I would agree with you.

      But I do not think that there is always a clear “right” and a “wrong”. Of course, some actions are more clear than others while others require more meditation and conscientious thinking. For example, if you mother makes dinner that simply tastes awful, it may hurt her to tell her; we don’t have to lie, but we can think of pragmatic ways to address the situation. We can tell her that the sauce was good (which may be true), or that it just needs a little more salt…or, maybe not say anything at all because it’s not worth making her feel bad. This would be what I call a grey area.

      I was at a meeting once when a very Islamophobic man said “I just know what is right and what is wrong”. In his mind, what Islam stands for is “wrong”. Of course, this is due to little education and too much Fox news, but it showed me how dangerous it could be to have unchangeable conceptions of what is right and what is wrong. Is killing always wrong? Yes. But if done by accident or in self-defense, it falls into a grey area–and this is why a developed legal system with clearly defined “rights” and “wrongs” are sooo important for a society to function…

      What do you think?

  3. I suppose when it comes to the examples you cited I would have to agree, however I was referring more to things we can all agree on as being wrong, which are justified when the circumstances clearly don’t warrant the action at hand. Of course stealing is wrong, we can all agree on that, but even in Sharia law offenses are judged by the circumstances behind them. I guess I should have worded this better in my last post. With something like theft due to poverty or starvation, it’s still not right but it’s a matter of survival. There’s a sahih hadith which says there’s no cutting of hands during famine. However, if you steal because you’re lazy there’s no excuse. Either way, I still don’t consider that the same thing as it’s now an issue of survival vs. a person who doesn’t want to work, so they steal from those who do.

    Maybe I just contradicted myself..but 99.9% of the time there is still right, and still wrong. The circumstances might change, and how right and wrong are determined, but in the end there’s still right and there’s still wrong.

    • Blahzeeblah,

      I think you bring up a good point in regards to Sharia law. Even in Sharia, though, there are grey areas. I strongly recommend this article where Intisar Rabb (a professor on American and Sharia law) discusses how grey even the “boogeyman” (Sharia law) can be: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/03/rabb_interview.html

      Thanks for responding. I think this is a really interesting and important topic. Maybe an inspiration for my next post 🙂

      Peace.

  4. I think “never” might fall into list as well. It came to me just this morning. You know, “never say never.”

    “I never do such-and-such.” Response: “Yes, yes you do.”

    “Muslim women are never such-and-such.” Response: “Yes, yes they are. But don’t take my word for it. Why don’t you ask one and see for yourself? They’re pretty easy to spot, most of the time anyway.”

    “Never have I seen a Black man do such-and-such.” Response: “I’m sure you have. Put on your thinking cap and try a bit harder please. If you still can’t come up with anything, then maybe you need more exposure to Black people.”

    “Americans never such-and-such.” Response: “Which Americans are you referring to? Bill O’Reily’s American’s? Glenn Beck’s American? Sarah Palin’s?”

    What’cha reckon sis?

    Also, if I may chime in, I agree with your perspective above: I think most find ourselves in a morally gray world. I like to think of it as a spectrum with black and white at the ends and various shades of gray in between. Allahu’Alim

    • Yes! All these concrete words: “never” “always” “every” are so counterproductive and reductive in thinking about things critically! It really agree with you both that these words really limit the way we think about the world.

  5. I would agree, bro. Usually people who think this way tend to cling very tightly to their limited world view, despite clear evidence they’re wrong. Ignorance is bliss as they say.

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