Category: Language

Man, Photons, Sir, Ma’am, Y’all

Yesterday, editing the podcast, I caught myself saying five-man dungeon. It’s a common phrase, used in World of Warcraft discussion. It grows from a common phrase for crewing things – man the cannons – and basically it means the same thing as five person dungeon.

I thought about this turn of phrase, as yet another little bit of everyday sexism that’s worn into my mind, and where the alternative isn’t just unfamiliar, it’s linguistically kinda worse. Without trying to sound like a whiner on this, five-person and five-man are two terms that have distinctly different flows; the consonant stop in the middle is a distinct thing and it shapes the term differently. This isn’t to say I want to keep using five-man – I corrected myself both times.

I also kept in that I made the mistake.

There’s a strangeness that comes from hearing yourself, played back, regularly. My podcasting compatriots don’t hear it, unedited, the same way I do. They don’t hear the raw audio, over and over again. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s manner of speaking, but I am responsible for my own. My language is not just embedded with the signs of the typical intersectional overlay of kyriarchic bullshit that we all deal with but I have an extra bonus layer coming from my fundamentalist upbringing. Even the way I swear, explicitly a rebellion against that kind of thing, reflects that upbringing. I learned to write and read under an American regime, then had Australian corrections amend it in some superficial ways dating back from before modern spelling. I learned to spell ‘waggon’ and ‘gaol,’ words of no practical application in the modern day but as strange curiosities.

I feel a need to be honest about these mistakes. I mess up. There are others I don’t catch. Editing audio – especially hours and hours of it – is really hard. There’s stuff that slips through. Sometimes, hugely embarassingly, sometimes not.

Lemme tell you about socialised speech.

You learn a lot of how you talk from the things around you. A lot of kids learn slang and shorthand from one another. Swears and other language, things that have meaning that they share with one another. I didn’t have many friends – I very rarely ‘socialised’ with other kids. Not just awkwardness, but also the divides and factionalism in our church, and the, you know, violence. Common public media wasn’t okay either – and any words that were ‘wrong’ were met with a pretty consistant punishment.

I remember reading Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and seeing Zaphod Beeblebrox use the word ‘photons’ as a swear. He used it like the word ‘heck’ or ‘dang.’ It was a good word, it had that nice ‘t’ in the middle and it wasn’t a word, as far as I could tell, that was rude at all. It had something to do with laser guns, I think? And so I used ‘photons’ when I was hurt, when I was frustrated, when I fell off things or when I touched my chest and felt the bruise spreading. “Ah, photons.”

Then one day, my dad grabbed me, by the side of the head, and yanked me out of the flow of traffic. He looked me, very seriously in the eyes, and told me to stop saying that.

“Is it a rude word?” I asked, terrified. Had I been doing A Wrong?

You know what you really mean,” he growled, and that was all the explanation I got.

I was lost. I was confused. That… what did I reall mean? Was Photons a dirty word in another language? Was it in the Bible somewhere? This prompted a little research project that took me six months before I finally gave up. The guilt of the action wracked me.

Another source of my language flowed from the god-awful media I had access to. There were these strange 1970s nostalgia pieces my dad and mum kept, the videogames that slid in, but ultimately, what I read and saw was from that particular Christian media bubble. I read a lot of fundamentalist Christian literature, and the ‘cool’ edge of that (trust me, you’ve no idea). Narnia, But Written In 1990 America To A Word Count.

One of the hallmarks in that kind of story of the protagonists? The character you were meant to emulate?

He called people sir.

Oh, he called women ma’am, too, that was definitely part of it, but the sir thing stood out. When I left that media bubble and called teachers sir they looked at me confused. When I called strangers sir on the street, they gave me the same look. When I called a woman a few years older than me ma’am, I got a filthy look.

As a teenager, it was weird. As a young adult working service industries and low-skill jobs, it was old-fashioned. Now, in my life, a ‘sir’ at the wrong time can be an act of violence.

This is scored in deep on my mind. This is etched in my brain. It leaps out of my mouth barely passing my conscious mind, and not doing so sets me on edge because those terms are tied to respect in my life, they are tied to politeness and in refusing to do them, I am in some way, preparing a defensive or offensive posture. They are words meant to reassure that have stopped working, but my urge to be kind, my want to be nice to be people tries to re-apply these broken tools.

I’ve taken to using ‘y’all’ a lot. It has the nice side effect of also being a word that can be used to obliterate ‘you guys’ or ‘guys.’ That sort of substition is something my brain can handle. When the ma’am comes up I can replace it with y’all – “How are y’all” somehow sits right in place of “How are you, ma’am?” Of course, now, I’ve traded the chance of upsetting strangers and misgendering people for instead, a familiar conversation with people who want to know why I’m using it. It inevitably results in someone cleverly pointing out that they are not multiple people. My efforts to expunge harm have instead exposed me to pedantry, and boy hoy howdy do I love me some pedantry. The concern about it usually comes from people who only deal with me in text, and what’s weird there is it’s not like any of them have any idea how I do talk, or how I should talk.

That in particular is weird, because I don’t talk like an Australian.

I mean I barely ever say the word ‘c*nt.’

I think about this sort of problem a lot. And I think any time someone retweets or shares a tumblr post that ends with “THIS ISN’T HARD PEOPLE.”

It’s hard for me.

That’s Not A-

A few things before we get into full swing though: I am not a trained linguist. I am as with all sorts of things, a sort of general-application nerd, interested in a lot of things, and what I know is not based out of a serious linguistic degree. I’m a media studies student and not even a qualified one at that. This is going to be dealing with words, and how defining them is really ambiguous, too! Not a content warning, I just imagine this will be a little bit boring.

Here’s a jump: Continue reading

The Obligations In Words

I muse about words we use for sexuality for about 900 words and probably say something wrong. Here’s a fold so you can scroll past it easily.

Before you read this though, please remember that I am, broadly speaking, a grumpy, miserable person who muses about a lot of things in an ethereal way. I don’t live in San Fran or the Deep South, where a lot of these things are centred in my personal space. I’m not, as I’ve been told, particularly queer, or affected by -phobias. So what annoys me or seems weird to me?

Not necessarily interesting.

Continue reading

Bronership Of Spaces

I kinda hate the word Brony.

I know there’s a certain culture of boys and men for whom that term is important. I don’t really want to disrespect the sensitive group of people who enjoy the show Friendship Is Magic: My Little Pony. There are kids I know who needed something they could watch that espoused positive ideas and ideologies, that wasn’t tied to toxic masculinity that they knew was harmful to them, and they took to it. I remember a kid singing Winter Wrap Up at school for his performance event and relaying his feelings about how things were okay about it, and nothing terrible had happened.

I don’t even mind the smut and sex stuff. Hey, knock yourself out, if you can be so kind as to keep it out of the spaces where children googling for their favourite characters might find. Fetishes are fetishes, I ain’t going to give people crap for what they respond to if they don’t make that an issue of greater policy.

Heck, I don’t mind people thinking I’m a Brony, meaning ‘person who watches that show.’ I watched two (maybe three? I’m not sure) seasons of it. I don’t have a problem with people thinking I’m a fan of that show. I’m not really in that culture, because I have a hard time being in any culture. I reject the label usually for the same reason I normally reject other labels – I feel it’s a failure of ego, a sin of self, to label myself. It’s something I do gingerly.

I don’t dislike bronies.

But I do hate the word Brony.

I hate the word Brony because the word wouldn’t exist if we lived in a sensible world. A dude can like Corner Gas without being a Brenty, a guy can like Supernatural without being a Supery, a guy can like 24 without being a Torturey. A guy who likes this one show, this one – very girly, but high quality show – has a special term. A shield, an identity, an element of himself that he can wear to say that he is okay with this media form, and that that is something about himself to be proud of. If he was a girl, it would not be a thing worth a title. And then it’s masculinised and comes with this baggage of defensive self-aggrandizement. You get bronies looking down on other men (who don’t appreciate the emotional depth of the show) and bronies looking down on women (who of course they’d like this show, it’s girly). It’s a term that comes with superiority and a persecution complex, and it comes into existence because boys are both insecure about liking things, and because a girls’ show property has come along that they want.

What fascinates me is that this follows with an effort to erase the girliness. As if the show’s good qualities are secondary to it being girly. This is kind of true – most girly media is bad because we don’t fund it, test it, or listen to women, meaning that most of girly media is first-draft ads targeting done by buffoons. Lauren Faust put her finger on it proudly – the reason most girl media is bad is because we make bad girl media, not because being girl media makes it worse than ‘boy’ media.

Brony is a term of Media Brolonialism and I hate it.

Just like things, dudes! You’re allowed! Stop inventing shields to protect yourself from the horrors of liking things that aren’t coded as mascluine! Women have to do this all the time after all, and there are all these other people as well who don’t even have that luxury!

The Accent

Okay, now there’s reasonably large amount of recordings of my voice available online, I figure it’s reasonable to talk about one thing about me that has been thrown into sharp relief this past decade of my life. That is, my parents somehow raised me, in Australia, surrounded by Australians, speaking only Australian English, and yet, I don’t have an Australian accent.

When I bring this up to Americans, I often hear the immediate response of Oh, really? I think you have an Australian accent, which is nice, but. But but but. See, the thing is, that sort of thing happens in a moment of priming. It’s like if I handed you the image of a clock’s back and said ‘can you see the face in that?’ You know what you’re looking for. If you hear my voice and I’m saying ‘I don’t sound Australian’ you’ll be inclined to check it against ‘Australian’ in your mind.

Further to that, American listeners, broadly speaking, do not deal with Australian voices a lot. There are some of you, and that’s fine, I don’t want to sell your experience short. But you know what group of people do hear Australian accents, regularly, and think that my voice stands out as ‘wrong,’ routinely? Australians.

It actually made me fairly selfconscious at bus stops. It’s an odd experience, to have a Vietnamese girl and her mum sitting next to me on a bench after a little chatter about the weather, and have them both ask me ‘when I moved to Australia.’

Now, thankfully, an Irish linguist with an amazing accent of his own once listened to me for a little while and offered an explanation that made some sense. I don’t use nasal pronounciations for many common words, and I have very distinct diction – which is in keeping with an upbringing full of correction, and archaic media like recordings of hymns and historical preachers. Choir practice, where we were drilled very hard by a British woman to sing our Australian national anthem with a British accent, played into it, too.

This isn’t a big deal, it’s just odd.

Rando Identification Guide

We’re all familiar with randos – uninvited assholes brigading into our conversations in shared communal spaces. Randos exist in a whole range of contexts. They are sometimes in real spaces, but more often than not, randos are enabled by online spaces, places where they can be independent of their actions, and those consequences. Randos can often be harmless, but they do represent a drain on your time and resources. Try to bear this in mind if you ever go out of your way to identify and define the randos in your environment.

For the purpose of this discussion I will be using the word ‘he’ to describe all Randos. Note this is not an absolute gender thing, I am sure there are people who do not use ‘he’ who could be randos. But every rando I’ve dealt with has been a he. Which is I’m sure, just coincidence.

Ayn Rando: Well, he says, I don’t see why I should have to do things for other people. What’s courtesy and kindness do for me?
Marlon Rando: Insists on offering you his time, which you, of course, do not want. This does not seem to perturb him. This is an offer you can’t refuse.
Rando Calrissian: Seems to be your friend. May even have some signals to indicate camaraderie. Then he’ll tag the conversation into some complete dickhead and suddenly you’re off to the races.
Rando Lee: Starts a conversation and is quite obnoxious, only to disappear around the fifth or sixth response. The account is deleted. They are never seen again.
Rando Munroe: Doesn’t seem to have any opinions of his own, but really likes quoting XKCD comics that tangentially relate to what you’re talking about. Ha ha, yes, someone is wrong on the internet, yes.
Rando Newman: You can tell there’s a cohesion there to their thoughts and arguments, but they’re just stating them in this pointless, stilted way that just doesn’t have any useful or meaningful connection to what you’re saying.
Rando Paul: Like the Ayn Rando, but thinks the real reason you don’t agree with him is because you haven’t heard all the evidence.
Rando Savage (Macho Man variety): Doesn’t seem to have anything to say except Oh Yeaaahh. Harmless and in its own way, kinda charming.
Rando Savage (DC variety): Jesus christ, where did this asshole come from? Believes in neanderthal population dynamics, and ‘it’s just biology,’ he’s convinced he’s the superior human because he’s embracing ideas that haven’t been useful since the development of agriculture.
Rando von Winkle: What year is it? Where are we? What’s ‘third wave’ feminism, even? Somehow this Rando wants to talk about current events or recent history without having an awareness of anything that’s happened at all in easily either of your lifetimes.
William Rando Hearst: Convinced he is the real source of news, wishes to inform you about current events as he understands them. Especially in speciality fields like science or videogame journalism where you may, in fact, be quite confident and familiar. Still, without his valuable insight, how would you ever know that Videogame A is better than Videogame B even though you weren’t talking about either of them?

These are not all the kind of Randos you might encounter! There are quite a lot of randos out there in the world. Be sure to document any that you spot, and maybe you’ll find a totally brand new type of rando*!
* You won’t, these tired chore behaviours are representative of a very limited set of social parameters.

The Singular They

There are more than a few of you who I consider friends, who I consider to be dear friends, wh ohave never heard me speak aloud. Aside from one video up on Youtube where Iw as off-the-cuffing all the answers to the questions I was being asked and trying to avoid filler-words and ‘um,’ I didn’t necessarily dedicate a ton of thought to what I said as much as how I said it. Really, that one video was the single thing I was the most proud of in the Hackagong experience.

Nonetheless: I’m something of a stickler for my manner of interpersonal communication. That’s a sentence I would say aloud, just to prove the point. I go through these articles and read them aloud to test if they convey the pace and rhyhtm of what it is I want to say, to make it easier to absorb my point. I was schooled in formal grammar – one of the only things that the ACE system did decently well, if not for the fact those ironclad grammatical rules are themselves, much more fluid and meaningless than the rules wanted me to think as if this clause isn’t enormously overstating my point – and this has informed my manner of speech.

The word ‘they’ is a word that my father, for example, will resist ever being used as a singular personal pronounce; this is because people like my father feel incomplete if their lives have to deal with ambiguity or nuance. I’ve been thinking about this in light of Holland, in the story I’ve been writing this year, and trying to avoid using the word ‘he’ or ‘she’ – or any other gendered pronouns. In the stories, I don’t use any pronouns to describe Holland, because Holland is meant to be one gender, transitioning from an assigned one, and I don’t know which of the two Holland is.

How’s that work when I talk about Holland to you know, people? I say ‘they.’ I say ‘they,’ and I have been saying it for about a year and not even realised I’ve been doing it.

Today, shit’s going down because someone said he, was told to say they, told someone else to fuck off, and decided then was the time to get picky about it. This was brought to my attention four times, with the fifth time coming up because someone, angry about the implications of He Vs They, decided the best way to improve technical word usage was to call someone a Nazi. I’m not going to tell programmers their way around language in code – they know how to make Pythons dance with the Rubies and Web Up The Code Cowboys or whatever. I can, however, as a seasoned asshole, offer these two pieces of advice about how not to be an asshole:

  • The word ‘they’ is easier to use; you already use it; and it’s more inclusive. So just, you know, use it.
  • Calling someone a Nazi only ever helps if the person is actually a self-identified Nazi.

Addendum: Let me add this. Just have some damn sense of perspective, for the love of fuck.