Friday, October 26, 2012

Definition vs. Connotation

In my social media travels this morning, someone asked an important question - "Are we too sensitive? Have we emotionally evolved to where we can't take criticism or worse yet, jokes? Must everything be so P.C.?"

To his question I replied, "I agree we are overboard. It's all kinder and gentler. I break PC rules constant because as adults we should be able to recognize context and intentionality. As such, w can distinguish between what's offensive and what's not. So I do what I do. If people are offended, they can either realist what I truly meant and get over it or stay offended. I'm not going to change my habits because someone else didn't get the joke. Your perception doesn't dictate my meaning."

I truly believe that. George Carlin once said that you can joke about anything; that no topic is off limits. He said you could even joke about rape and if you don't believe him, he challenged you to picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. The idea was that an offensive concept is not offensive in all contexts.

I find humor in just about every topic, if it's posed right. That is because I understand the intentionality. If you make some grease ball Italian joke I don't take offense. The funniest and most offensive racial joke I ever heard was about Puerto Ricans. I heard it from a Puerto Rican guy who was reminded to tell it to me by another Puerto Rican guy. Funny is funny if you allow it to be.

By the same token we need to find a good line on connotations of words. Things change and sometimes we accept and embrace it and sometimes we don't. We are offended because we are finicky.

Once upon a time, gay meant happy. It's been a long time since we used it as such. Over the years the connotation has changed to mean homosexual as everyone knows. Everyone has accepted and adopted that definition of the term. When was the last time you heard someone argue that it's offensive to use the word gay for a sexual preference and went around using it to describe a mood? However, that word has changed again, hadn't it? We throw it around to mean stupid, idiotic, annoying, etc. "Gotta work on Saturday? That's gay!" Nobody likes that one though, do they? Why? I know why they say they don't like it. The story is that to make gay = stupidity when it currently means homosexual employs some transitive property to say being homosexual = stupidity. That's NOT what is meant though. It it simply an evolution. When gay evolved to mean homosexual, what was the standing of homosexuals in society? Do you think those who used it to mean happy, were particularly thrilled with the idea at the time? No, but it stood. So, rather than getting pissy pants about the change, let's first understand what's meant by it.

Another one that gets people really furious is actually in the news right now. Retard and/or retarded. People getting offended by this word in all of its usages is simply ridiculous. Don't worry, I'll explain why. The definition and connotation have not changed over the years. Every time you get pulled over by a cop, you are retarded. To retard something is to hold back its progress. If you were driving and you were stopped, but needed to continue, your progress was slowed and, therefore, retarded.

Over the years we applied that to people and then suddenly everyone hated it. Why? It's true. If a person is not developing as quickly as he or she should or as fast as what's expected for the age, then the progress is, in fact and definition, retarded. It's not offensive. It's just what it. Now, the noun version of being a retard is new, but a retard is just one who is retarded, which is one who is slowed in developmental process or abilities when compared against the norm. Either you are or you aren't. If you are, then so bet it - you're retarded. I'm not faulting you for it or holding it against you or insulting you. But if someone is developmentally challenged then they are retarded. There's no other way about it.

So the next evolution of that word is how we say something is stupid and call it retarded. This is a bit of a stretch from the truest definition, but it's MUCH closer to the definition than saying that the dictionary version of gay can somehow mean homosexual. Follow the logic. "Oh I have to work on a Saturday, how retarded." I can't go out and do my thing, my plans are delayed. That makes my weekend slowed in what the plans I had for it to progress socially. The progress of my weekend has been retarded. My boss' idea to make me work holds no value. It advances nothing. It is retarded.

So there's the flow. It may not be the truest version of the word but it's a hell of a lot closer than the gay/happy/homosexual evolution. Why have we accepted one change in implied meaning, but not the other? What's with the duality and hypocrisy? Oh, that's right. That's just what we do in America. Well... that's retarded.

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