by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/05/16 07:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2011/05/16/10164646.aspx
I was thinking about language this weekend, as I was spending time with several different groups of friends.
In fact, I was thinking about my friends.
Some of them are "straight" and some of them are "gay".
Now I put both terms in quotes because the terms are what I was thinking about.
Before they were co-opted, they had two specific and non-controversial meanings. Looking them up on Wiktionary:
And now that they have been co-opted to become a part of the issue of sexuality:
But of course people can be happy, joyful, of lively no matter what their sexual orientation. Or they can find themselves unhappy, joyless, and lifeless if they are struggling with figuring out their orientation, finding a companion of the appropriate gender, or dealing with any kind of prejudice as they spend time on this our third rock from the sun while they deal with those prejudices and the consequences thereof.
And although prejudice against people who are homosexual can make their lives more complicated, I want to believe this will not be true forever. So although prejudice in our society might in theory make the distance a person travels toward heterosexuality to be a "straight" line that is in Euclidian-esque conceptual spaces such that we live in the shortest distance between the two points, I believe the prejudices will be overcome and that won't be the case. And even now while prejudice exists, any will rightly feel that the shortest distance between the two points is always the most honest one -- and thus if one is homosexual then admitting it is the "straightest" line in some sense.
Is it fear of being homosexual that causes Wiktionary to consider the "non-homosexual' definition to be dated?
What issue (and whose?) causes Wiktionary to consider the "heterosexual" definition of straight to be colloquial?
The entire issue of sexual orientation and sexual identity is of course now so twisted up in religion and politics and fear that the fact that it twisted up a few words hardly seems important compared to all of the lives it has twisted up.
Being both Jewish and handicapped I have had to deal with prejudice in my life at various times, but I lack the context fully understand what this particular prejudice feels like, other than what others have told me. And I would rather tear my teeth out than refuse to defend a friend of mine.
But no matter what, from a linguistic standpoint I have to start with the words.
In my view, the way we have twisted the words up and made them casualties of prejudice is pretty damn 𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐞𝐫¹!
1 - I mean to use the word 𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐞𝐫 here in the 'old-fashioned' sense of weird, odd, different, or slightly unwell.And don't even get me started on the problems with that word, or the unrelated word slut, ether!
Steve on 16 May 2011 7:55 AM:
When the words themselves become so synonymous with the feelings of prejudice behind them, the words become weapons. And as a society, we do with those words what we would do with any other firearm, object, or substance that could be a weapon - we ban them, regulate them, argue about them, and yet most of the time spend less time on the issues that caused the words to get to that point in the first place.
Ironically enough, the final word of your post seems to be such a casualty - the blog software censored it so severely, the link to the Wiktionary page got censored as well! Had to google your definition to confirm my suspicions as to what word you used there. :)
Michael S. Kaplan on 16 May 2011 10:02 AM:
Yep, I just updated the text to get around the blog censors -- under the circumstances I feel my usage is appropriate! :-)
Richard on 16 May 2011 11:26 AM:
Your second-to-last link is still broken: "en.wiktionary.org/wiki/***"
South Park dealt with this issue quite well! :o)
Michael S. Kaplan on 16 May 2011 12:20 PM:
It isn't broken except for blog software that blocks the word, even in links!
John Cowan on 16 May 2011 12:33 PM:
As usual, things aren't so simple.
The OED3 lists a lot of meanings of _gay_, including the two you discuss. Sense 4d, "homosexual", has a fairly straightforward line of descent from sense 4a, "wanton, lewd" via 4b, "dissolute, promiscuous; frivolous, hedonistic" and 4c, "of a woman, living by prostitution; of a place, serving as a brothel." Sense 4a actually first appears in Chaucer around the beginning of the 15th century, at about the same time as sense 3a, which is "lighthearted, carefree, merry".
"Gay men" were most probably homosexual prostitutes before they were plain homosexuals. In any case, the current sense appears in print as long ago as 1941. As for "straight", sense 6a, "honest, law-abiding" goes back to 1530, though the derived sense 6d, "conventional; heterosexual; not under the influence of drugs" doesn't appear till the 1940s. In either case, seventy years of steady usage should be enough for anyone.
This is why we can't have nice words on 19 May 2011 10:23 AM:
"My little horse must think it ***, <--- [𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐞𝐫]
to stop without a farmhouse near,
between the woods and frozen lake,
the darkest evening of the year"
Take that, prejudiced blog software!
Michael S. Kaplan on 20 May 2011 10:15 AM:
go to newer or older post, or back to index or month or day