Terms & Definitions

This being an out-in-the-untracked-wilderness kind of blog, there will probably be times when I comment on phenomena that have no names. Other times I may use a word in a different way than you’re used to; and sometimes I will insist on traditional usage, though the whole world be against me. Because I have this conservative streak when it comes to English. No, I’m not one of those William Safire types who rail against any and all evolution of the tongue. I know the language will evolve with or without me. But some changes are pointless and ugly, and I figure it’s worth at least trying to stop them.

At any rate, this page is where I will explain why I use certain words the way I do. Oftentimes these words will be politically charged, and while I am not a slave to political correctness, I do care about respecting people’s identities, and try not to give offense when it is not deserved—and it’s never deserved on the basis of ethnicity, gender identity, or sexuality. So, when I expect to use a word repeatedly, and I feel my usage may be controversial, I will explain my intentions here. But—notwithstanding my o’erweening confidence in my own verbal abilities—I don’t consider the case closed on any of these linguo-political points. So if you read my explanation of something and feel I’m mistaken, by all means let me know.

transgendered

I know some of you are going to hate this—that is, my putting an -ed at the end. There has been some controversy about what form of the adjective to use in referring to TG individuals. The objection I have heard to the -ed form is that as a passive-voice verb it implies that something has been done to us … that it denigrates our agency.

The problem I see with that story is that transgendered, as far as I can tell, really isn’t a verb at all. I read it as being an attributive, similar to brown-eyed or well-muscled. If my analogy is correct, it wouldn’t make sense to say that these phrases mean someone had eyed you or muscled you, would it? Then neither does it make sense to take transgendered as meaning that someone has gendered you. I believe it means that you have a trans-gender quality.

By the way, I’ve checked 3 dictionaries as to whether gender is a verb: American Heritage print edition, Merriam-Webster and Cambridge online. None of them has gender as a verb, except as a synonym for engender, which of course is completely different from the meaning that is relevant here, to assign gender to.

My preference for the -ed form is also partly based on aesthetics. It just feels wrong to me to say transgender person or I am transgender—feels like something is missing.

Native American/Indian/indigenous/First Nations

I’m honestly not too sure which of these phrases I ought to be using. However, I have in mind an essay I read some years ago by Russell Means. I believe the title was “For the World to Live, Europe Must Die” (by the way, he didn’t mean the literal death of Europe—just the European mindset of domination and exploitation). Anyway, in this essay he wrote (paraphrasing from distant memory):

People sometimes ask me why I use the word Indian. Isn’t that racist? Shouldn’t I say Native American? But to me it doesn’t much matter, because they are both white man’s words.

So if you agree with his thinking, possibly I shouldn’t be too worried about which word to use. I can also say that most Native Americans I’ve met seem pretty relaxed about it, and don’t mind the word Indian. On the other hand, in the years since that article was published, the terms indigenous and First Nations have come into use. Indigenous is certainly anthropologically correct and neutral, but it could refer to peoples of any continent, and being an adjective it is cumbersome to use in some contexts. First Nations has something of the air of having been decided by committee, or is that just me? So actually, I think I need to learn more about this. In the meantime, however, one thing I will do is, when speaking of specific tribes, I will try to use those tribes’ own names for themselves when I am aware of them. Thus: Diné, Lakota, and so on.

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