The Word Wars

Wesley is a 25 year old Literature enthusiast in San Diego, CA with a penchant for death metal, grammatical sentence charts, and cooking without pants. He is currently putting his B.A. in English to work answering phones for an IT Help Desk. Every other Friday he will be posting in this new section: Words, Not War.

Words carry power.

But that’s nothing new.  It’s not the same as the power that comes with leading a country, knowing a secret, or pointing a gun.  Words carry power in a different way, through influence, identity, and communication.  Wars are fought and people are killed over the things they say and write.  Words are a lot more important that people realize.  

That’s what you’re going to find here at Words, Not War.  My goal is to share some of the linguistic background behind the things that we say and do, and turn that into discussion.

We have a responsibility to own the words that come out of our mouths – these words both identify ourselves to others and influence others.

I’m by no means the end-all be-all expert in this field.  My undergraduate degree is in English, and though I was fortunate enough have the opportunity to study under a very talented linguist, I am not part of the upper academic linguistic community.  That means that I don’t focus on determining the scientific consonant length difference between the tensed and untensed [k] in Korean.  Instead, I see a lot of the components on linguistics that are relevant to the non-linguist.  Like whether or not use of profanity means you are uncreative.  Or whether you should use “axed” in an interview.

Things like these are relevant to people who don’t study linguistics.  They tie into social factors and political climates.  You may hear people claim “that’s just semantics” to dismiss an argument, but semantics matter – referring to your big sister as your large sister is liable to get you smacked.

That’s I want in this column.  I want to contribute the pieces of linguistic knowledge and experience I have gathered, and start discussion about topics that matter.  I want feedback from readers on things that you have wondered.  How did faggot become a slur?  Does bilingualism actually help kids in school (hint: not always!).  How are language and genocide related?  Stuff that matters.

I’ll be doing my best to post every other Friday, beginning with today.  Some of the topics that I want to get to early are the laws of linguistics (sounds dry, but I promise it’s not), language and genocide, and slang dialects.  Please let me know if there are things you want to hear about in the comments.  I’ll read’em.

We’re responsible for the words that we speak and write.  Let’s talk about where those words came from, and how we choose to wield our power.

Wes spends his free time rock climbing, drinking fancy craft beer, and clicking furiously in League of Legends. He has lots of opinions on beer – Saint Archer’s Coffee Brown Ale – and music – Gojira – and likes to talk about these things with people. Go on! Send him a message! He promises he’ll probably put on pants before emailing you back!
Want to contact Wesley? Hit him up at descriptivist@gmail.com. You can email him with grammar questions, linguistic questions, or beer and music suggestions

4 thoughts on “The Word Wars

  1. This is exciting! I’m very interested to read more about language and genocide. I’m also interested to hear opinions about the use of the words “manly” and “girly”. I believe these words definitely create and perpetuate societal expectations of gender roles, behavior, and appearances. I want to have language to communicate the the patterns that do currently exist without enforcing these patterns as “right”. Any input from any readers would be very appreciated.

    1. Hey! Language and gender is a fascinating topic – both from a grammatical perspective and a social perspective. That’s a great idea, and it will definitely be something I’ll write about. Thanks for your input, Sarah!

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