Hi writing friends, we need to have an uncomfortable heart-to-heart. Grab your hot mug of morning beverage, or your cool bottle of afternoon beverage or your chilled glass of evening beverage, scoot up a seat, and let’s chat.
As writers, we know words matter. I know I’m not alone in ruffling through my old, yellowed thesaurus, squinting into the distance at words that don’t feel quite right. But those words aren’t the words I mean.
We have an obligation as people who trade in words to choose them responsibly. What does this pithy, blanket statement mean? Let me share an example.
Right now, a New York Times opinion piece called “The Happy Hooker Conservatives” is flying of the shelves of Twitter. Effective phrase, right? You know exactly what the writer means by the headline, don’t you?
Here’s the problem. This headline normalizes and utilizes a demeaning view of women to make its point. The conservatives mentioned are morally tainted, it says. But how does it say that?
By making the assumption that a “Happy Hooker” is morally tainted. We’re not going to get into the views of sex work here, there are entire books on the subject, but isn’t there another way to get the point across without using a negative view of women as the baseline?
Our casual language is packed with words and phrases that originate in insult. Most of the time, we never stop to think about what else a word can mean or how it came to be.
As writers, it’s our job to think. And to choose better words.
For more on my thoughts about Charlottesville and rising bigotry, please read An Open Letter to My Friends of Color.
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