Call it by its name.

I recently read an article on climate change and the emotional consequences thereof. The coming devastation is making people ill in advance; their fear and worry, their sense of impotence, and their grief is manifesting in a variety of problems including anxiety and depression. For some it is so severe, they develop PTSD.

In an effort to mitigate this, some politicians have suggested not working on the problem but “depoliticizing” the language associated with it. Don’t change global warming, change the words we use. Be circumspect, be obscure. The politicians suggesting this are, ironically, the same ones who deride “politically correct” language when it comes to people.

They aren’t alone. Large numbers are put out by the requirements of “politically correct terminology”. I think they used to call it “being polite”. The complainers seem to feel that being polite and inclusive, being unable to say horrible things or make racist jokes at the local grocery store infringes on their rights unbearably. They aren’t constrained from doing so, of course. The “politically correct” movement doesn’t prohibit them. They just don’t like what happens next. They mistake freedom of expression with freedom from consequences. And yet, sometimes, I think they have a point.

Not when it comes to how we speak of and to others. I see nothing wrong in asking people to refrain from using their words as hurtful weapons. I see nothing wrong with using language to help us all get along and remain civil and unhurt. I disagree, however, when it comes to labelling things we find uncomfortable and unpleasant. I disagree with the idea that we should mitigate ugly truths to avoid stressing people out.

I don’t think we should sanitize the hard and ugly topics. It’s a mistake to try and make the messy, tidy. It’s a mistake to make the rude and ugly, polite and suitable for the masses. We shouldn’t worry about that our descriptions of terrible things will enrage, terrify, and horrify.

Sometimes they should.

I’m okay with the scarily descriptive words people are using to describe the climate crisis. I wish we did it with more universality.

I miss rape.

Not the crime itself; the physical manifestation of the crime is still here. According to statistics, it’s going strong. Rising even. But where I live, “rape” isn’t a crime anymore. It doesn’t exist. It’s been replaced by that sanitized catch-all, “sexual assault” which seems less horrifying. As though the act is actually one of sex and not violence. But an argument was made that calling it “rape” was discriminatory towards the accused. Apparently, it made them seem like bad people. Or something along those lines.

Or how about “impaired driving causing death”? That doesn’t sound so bad. Almost like a blameless crime. The language for something horrifying is neutered so it doesn’t cause offence, doesn’t make people think badly of the perpetrators. In the developed world at least, everyone knows drinking and driving is bad. Choosing to go ahead with it and consequently killing someone doesn’t deserve a benign description. As far as I’m concerned, it’s premeditated murder; we should call it by name and the consequences should fit the actual not sanitized version of the crime.

Desensitizing the language allows us to minimize the responses and consequences.

Calling a pending environmental apocalypse, an apocalypse will stress people out. Far better to sugar coat it. Who needs reality?

Calling a rapist, a rapist will make them feel bad. Jurors won’t like them. Better to link it to sex and turn it into a crime that gets a nudge, a wink, and an explanation as to why the victims are complicit. Who needs it treated as an actual crime?

Calling a drunk driver, a murderer for drinking and driving is a self-preserving method of avoidance. We don’t want to hear the truth of the label because, for many, the behaviour hits close to home. Far better to think about it as an accident. It could have happened to anyone.

By Em

I like writing. Words help me unpack my thoughts so things can start to make sense. Once I have both myself and the universe figured out, I plan to take up macrame. "Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing, and learn as you go." E. L. Doctorow


  1. I agree with not candy coating real and hard issues. We recently went to NYC and spent some time in the 9/11 Memorial. It was painfully beautiful and though one may want to look away or leave because of the emotions stirred up I think that’s when it’s most important to lean in and acknowledge. Only then can we begin to truly make changes. For whatever my two cents is worth. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would hope that proper use of political correctness would be to avoid inaccurate or unnecessarily demeaning statements or generalizations. But when supposed political correctness moves in the opposite direction from accuracy, that’s a big problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve stumbled upon that article, too.
    We coddle everyone too much with the “correct” words. We focus on protecting people from hurtful words but often forget about the byproduct of it all. Thanks for focusing the light on that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This came up in a recent post of mine. I’ve finally had it. I’m not going to let people’s comments and references slip by anymore. If their excuse is that they are old fashion, that makes it worse because they are excusing their own behavior. As far as climate change and all the other gazillion issues, being softened, wow! I don’t listen to the news, except science news. These things make me extremely angry and I can’t afford to have that emotion with my complicated life. Maybe I can make a wee bit of difference confronting one person at a time. It’s not much but if everyone did the same, our world might be a better, more reality based place.
    Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It’s a fine line, isn’t it, standing for what you believe is important and not being overwhelmed and enraged by it. I try and remember the only thing we control is ourselves, so my doing you, you are doing a lot, and all that can be asked of you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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