Seven double-plus-ungood words and phrases

« previous post | next post »

Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eilperin, "CDC gets list of forbidden words: fetus, transgender, diversity", Washington Post 12/15/2017:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

I was going to say that words fail me, but that's kind of the point, isn't it?

Presumably the idea is that these are trigger words for the congresscritters and political appointees who will be evaluating the budget plans and supporting documents. They need a safe space where their delicate sensibilities will not be affronted by such politically incorrect words and phrases, though perhaps in some cases the concepts behind them can be safely expressed in carefully framed and hedged euphemisms:

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.

For the moment, at least, the FCC is not intervening to keep these dangerous locutions out of mass media entirely, so the internet and even print and broadcast media will continue to be a perilous experience for members of the Trump administration.

Update — On reflection, the Newspeak echo in the title was a mistake, since the point of those regulations was to change the thinking of speakers and writers, whereas the point of the current rules seems to be to prevent the thinking of speakers and writers from triggering their superiors.

Kevin Drum suggests a complete set of substitutions:

Update #2 — from Anne Harper Charity Hudley on Facebook:

Update #3 — A story in today's NYT ("Uproar Over Purported Ban at C.D.C. of Words Like ‘Fetus’") supports the view that the goal is to avoid triggering sensitive Republican lawmakers:

The Times confirmed some details of the report with several officials, although a few suggested that the proposal was not so much a ban on words but recommendations to avoid some language to ease the path toward budget approval by Republicans.

Update #4 — from the New Yorker:


  1. Sergey said,

    December 15, 2017 @ 10:55 pm

    These are certainly the words from the socialist _newspeak_. Their presence is a pretty good indication of mindless and meaningless commie drivel.

    [(myl) Right, you must have in mind the notorious Marxist agitator Paul Ryan's recent "mindless and meaningless commie drivel" about entitlement reform. Or maybe the Stalinist stalwart Katrina Pierson's "mindless and meaningless commie" joke about a fetus necklace.]

  2. Rubrick said,

    December 15, 2017 @ 11:04 pm

    I honestly think a mass walkout of every scientist who finds themself working under this administration would be a fantastic idea.

  3. Guy said,

    December 15, 2017 @ 11:10 pm

    I’m almost positive that I’ve heard the word “fetus” used by people who aren’t communists.

    I admit I am curious about the thought process behind putting, say the word “transgender” on the list. It seems like the goal isn’t to force some awkward substitute phrase (like what?) but instead to say that the CDC should not discuss transgender people at all, but wouldn’t even conservatives agree that that is absurd?

  4. wtsparrow said,

    December 15, 2017 @ 11:22 pm

    Lists of seven banned words always remind me of George Carlin's seven words you can never say on TV: shit, piss, cunt, fuck, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Maybe the FCC will replace some of these with the new double-plus-ungood words.

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    December 15, 2017 @ 11:48 pm

    Guy: Florida Governor Rick Scott apparently didn't think it was absurd to prohibit state environmental scientists from talking about climate change.

  6. Freddy Hill said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 1:03 am

    Yes, that's politicians for you. You may also remember the Obama administration's "Man-Caused Disaster" for terrorist attack, "Overseas Contingency Operations" for the war on terror, and my favorite, "Kinetic Military Action" for what we was previously previously known as plain old war,

  7. Dan T. said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 1:15 am

    Those just don't seem be be a set of seven words that would make a particularly good comedy skit, unlike George Carlin's list.

  8. David Morris said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 1:18 am

    So they say 'based on science' instead?

    [(myl) No, they have to add "in consideration with community standards and wishes".]

  9. David Marjanović said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 5:07 am

    It seems like the goal isn’t to force some awkward substitute phrase (like what?) but instead to say that the CDC should not discuss transgender people at all, but wouldn’t even conservatives agree that that is absurd?

    The most conservative ones simply deny that such people exist at all – that all who claim to be trans are lying for nefarious purposes, or at least conned by other people with a horrible agenda (such as Satan himself). So, yes, I do think the goal is to shut down all discussion of the whole topic.

    As for what "science-based" and "evidence-based" are doing in the same list, remember that none less than the vice president is a creationist. To him, evidence itself is a lie.

  10. RP said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 7:42 am

    @David Morris,
    Perhaps this year they'll say "based on science", and then next year, when that's banned too, they'll say "based upon science"; the following year, "upon a scientific basis"; and so on.

    [(myl) As long as they add "in consideration with community standards and wishes".]

  11. Richard Hershberger said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 7:51 am

    Do you suppose using the spelling "foetus" would get around the ban?

  12. Richard Hershberger said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 7:51 am

    You can prick your finger, but you can't finger your prick.

  13. Ellen Kozisek said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 8:40 am

    "Entitlement" seems to me to actually be a good word to avoid, just because of the way it gets used and misused. I've too many times seen people say, in effect, that something isn't an entitlement because they are entitled to it (due to paying into the system).

  14. Mark P said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 9:05 am

    When I worked as a consultant the company I worked for said that I had to have a certain phrase in my invoices. So my invoices had something along the lines of “the terms of the contract require the following phrase:” and then the required words. Maybe the CDC could figure out a similar phrasing. Maybe “science based (we are required to include the following words:) in consideration etc.”

  15. RP said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 9:37 am

    @Mark P,
    They are allowed to say "bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes".

  16. Julian said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 11:10 am

    "Non-cisgender" may be a viable substitute for "transgender" that maintains accuracy and flouts the spirit of the ban if perhaps not it's letter.

  17. Dagwood said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 11:14 am

    I have observed a War on the word "entitlement". Seems like that word is increasingly being used to mean 'a hand-out' rather than 'something one has worked for and deserves'. (Likewise, the word "entitled" is being used lately to suggest one is undeserving rather than deserving.) I have suspected that it's politically motivated, and that perhaps the evil right wing wordmeister Frank Luntz is behind it — like he is behind so many of the Republicans' language manipulations.

    My understanding is that Luntz holds focus groups with random citizens, to gauge their emotional response to specific words. Then those results are used to craft memos distributed directly to the GOP leadership. I'm aware of some his greatest hits: The "Clear Skies Initiative", which would allow less regulations for corporate polluters (!)… And introducing the softer term "climate change" to replace "global warming"… There are others I'm forgetting at this sitting.

    As far as I know, Luntz is still active. I wonder if this list of banned words is his handiwork. (He's a mercenary; he wouldn't be above working for Trump.)

  18. Mark P said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 11:35 am

    RP – They were told to say something. Are they allowed to say nothing else? I was told that I must say a certain thing in my invoices. I did so. I also said something else. I merely suggested that CDC scientists say some other words in addition to what they must say.

  19. Eric said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

    I'm pretty much on board with Kevin Drum's replacements, but surely transgender should be "pervert" and fetus "pre-birth person"…

  20. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 1:13 pm

    Those words do some kind of politically loaded to me, so the ban is not entirely absurd if we understand the political context. Might be worth another post investigating that aspect.

  21. Zeleny Drak said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

    People should be free to use whatever words they like. Who are we to judge if somebody wants to avoid using the word "fetus" or the word "he". Was not this the whole point of the previous struggle session?

    [(myl) It seems that you've misunderstood both the earlier posts and this one. The point here is not that "somebody wants to avoid using the word X", but that the political bosses of a government agency are telling the scientists who work there not to use certain words or phrases — which is a very different thing.]

  22. bratschegirl said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 2:51 pm

    Following on Ellen's comment above: In current parlance, I often see "entitled" used to mean roughly "feeling as though one deserves a certain thing without that feeling having any rational, identifiable basis other than one's personal desire for said thing." I think that usage has corrupted the traditional understanding of "entitlement" as it's used by the US government to refer to programs such as Medicare and Social Security. If "entitlements" are thought of as things whose benefits citizens deserve because they did what was asked of them in terms of contributing financially to the program throughout their working lifetimes, that's harder to dismiss, or disagree with, than if "entitlements" are thought of as "things lazy whiners want for free when they should have been pulling themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps." Not to go too Newspeak/Sapir-Whorf here, but I do think perception plays a part in causing attitudes to shift.

  23. Doctor Science said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

    Those of you who think the term "vulnerable" is politically loaded, please explain. This is the one that is truly baffling to me.

    [(myl) In some (I think a minority of) uses, "vulnerable" means poor or disabled or low-income or homeless or some other category that the expected audience of lawmakers and political appointees may regard as undesirable parasites — see e.g. the story behind the random recent headlines "Montana dentists fear cuts’ effect on vulnerable patients" or "Christmas charity yoga class set to collect gifts for vulnerable Glasgow youngsters" or "An Outsider's View Of How the U.S. Treats Its Most Vulnerable".]

  24. bratschegirl said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 3:33 pm

    …and my point, which I actually did have but managed to completely leave out, is that I think the statement Ellen quoted makes perfect sense if the person uttering it means "This is not an entitlement (in the sense of the "lazy whiners/no basis other than wanting it" newer meaning) because I'm entitled to it (in the sense of the old meaning, having fulfilled one's obligation to contribute before benefiting).

  25. Sili said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 3:45 pm


    "pre-birth person" won't work since African-Americans and women may be unborn children but they can obviously never be persons (it's not like they're corporations after all).

  26. Sili said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 3:46 pm

    Incidentally, I suspect that African-American is the next word to be disappeared.

  27. Eric said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 3:59 pm

    Ah, I didn't think that through, so of course, "person of color" will become "non-person"…

    Yes, entitlements are definitely what "liberals" (aka, "scum of the earth") desire == "handouts", not what they earned (or heaven forbid! are entitled to).

  28. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 4:40 pm

    It does seem to me odd that 'entitlement' features on this list, because it is quite often used in conservative rhetoric, along the lines Dagwood has pointed out.

    (A word that has had a similar duality for quite a long time is 'excuse'. Its basic meaning is 'something that excuses', and it can still be used that way, especially in negative contexts like 'that's no excuse'; but it is often now used to mean 'something invented in order to excuse'. So one could legitimately, even if confusingly, say 'that's no excuse; it's just an excuse'.)

  29. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 4:54 pm

    I believe "Vulnerable" has specific connotations in current left-wing discourse; my impression is that it's used in similar contexts as "marginalized" or "oppressed."

  30. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 5:01 pm

    Is it surprising that the work of scientists at a government agency would be politicized? Wouldn't it be more surprising it were not politicized?

  31. David Fried said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

    When I read this, I understood it to mean that the prohibited words should be replaced by the suggested phrase. Thus, for "a science-based public health policy," one must write "a CDC-bases-its-recommendation-on-science-in consideration-with-community-standards-and-wishes public health policy." At least, that's what I would write if I had received the memo.

    The phrase itself, of course, is not English. Sure it should be "with consideration of. . . "?

    Perhaps more to the point, the phrase is not equivalent to "science-based" but represents a covert policy change. It means that no recommendations may be based on science. They must be based on science mitigated in some unspecified way by community wishes. That implies a methodology for (1) gathering data on community wishes; and (2) to the extent that they conflict with science, articulating a standard by which they may be reconciled. Looked at in this way, scientists are not merely being asked to cloak their meaning but to describe their research and conclusions falsely.

  32. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 6:49 pm

    @David Fried:

    I'm pretty sure that's not how the replacement advice is meant to work, though even "the CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes" as a sentence is awkward to me.

    What would a purely "science-based" policy look like? The way you understand it I think betrays the very problem that the Trump administration, however clumsily, is trying to deal with. The purely scientific understanding of something like climate change does not in itself commend a policy; the policy recommendation follows by combining the estimation of likely natural outcomes (which is the climate science proper) with a set of political values (what outcomes should be preferred) and a theory of economics (what the social outcomes of policy will be). I think the objection to "science-based" is that it presupposes complete agreement on the second two parts, leaving policy decisions to be made entirely on the basis of climate science predictions.

  33. The Other Mark P said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 9:38 pm

    When a scientist says "science based" people understand them to mean that it is based on science, when rather too often it actually means "trust me, I'm a scientist". Climate change is indeed full of scientists making policy choices but defending them with "science-based" intended as a foolproof rebuttal. (See also, "peer-reviewed" as a shield against criticism.)

    CDC clearly have some over-reach in this area — their web-site discusses the implications of sea-level rise on their work! I would be quite annoyed to see my criticism that CDC shouldn't be anywhere near spending time on the dangers of sea level rise by waving "but it's science-based" in my face.

    There's plenty of other areas of government that could do with similar provisions. Rather a lot of education is "evidence based" in a way that is more than a little contentious. If you have evidence then you cite it.

  34. Arthur said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 10:33 pm

    Not defending this administration, but it is far from the first time a government edict reduced its employees' working vocabulary. In the mid-seventies, the Department of Labor abolished the "man" suffix from hundreds of occupational titles (fireman, garbageman, etc.) a move that some statisticians objected to as making long-term comparisons more confusing–not all of the terms had exact or clear replacements. Other words you can find in older government documents: "colored," "savage," "oriental," "idiot".

  35. Doctor Science said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 10:42 pm

    Jonathan Gress-Wright:

    AFAIK, "vulnerable" is used in "left-wing discourse" the same way it's used by epidemiologists: "able or likely to be harmed". So one might say, e.g., "Fetuses are extremely vulnerable to the chicken pox virus, so it's important for people who may become pregnant to be immunized."

    Yes, when the CDC talks about "vulnerable populations" they may mean marginalized people, like the homeless. But they often mean the very young, or very old, or people with immune disorders. It depends on the disease or condition.

    *My* gut reaction is that the rule-makers don't want to see the word "vulnerable" because they don't want Congresscritters, etc., reminded that not all Americans are equally healthy and strong, and that some might even deserve compassion.

  36. ErikF said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 10:46 pm

    I may be mistaken, but wasn't this order only applicable to budgetary documents? It's a little strange to ban these particular words, but I can't see them being used extensively for large-scale funding requests. Don't budget-related documents usually focus on departmental allocations, not specific programs?

    It is odd to prevent a health-focused department from using "evidence-based" as that's how most of their research is conducted, but at the macro level I'm sure the bureaucrats have lots of ways to circumvent that term. Excluding "vulnerable" might be harder if they're having to discuss disasters (i.e. the WHO's definition of "vulnerable group"), but again government officials come up with circumlocutions all the time.

  37. Ron H said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 11:12 pm

    It certainly does rub me the wrong way when people impose ideologically-motivated restrictions on what words people are allowed to use, and require awkward alternatives to be used instead. We in this community are above that sort of thing, right?

  38. Doctor Science said,

    December 16, 2017 @ 11:28 pm


    But why would they *want* to exclude the word "vulnerable"? Sure, you can usually replace it with "at-risk", but why exclude that word?

  39. ErikF said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 12:14 am

    @Doctor Science: I have no clue. I generally cannot fathom the reasoning of politicians: It often feels like they are aliens from another planet which is almost, but not quite entirely like our own.

  40. McChuck said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 7:43 am

    The words on the list are primarily banned because they have no real meaning outside of leftist talking points.

    [(myl) With respect, this is tendentious nonsense. "Vulnerable" gets 68,761 hits on PubMed, in contexts like

    "As California hospitals undergo construction to meet seismic safety regulations, vulnerable neonates are potentially exposed to even higher levels of noise."

    "We evaluated the vulnerable VF points with SS-OCT probability maps as well as the prevalence of locations with significant VF reduction or subsequent VF changes observed in the corresponding damaged areas of the probability maps."

    "Entitlement" get 865,000 hits on Bing News, for example:

    "Ryan Says Entitlement Reform Is a Top Priority in 2018"

    "Entitlement Evolution Poses Threat to America's Finances"

    And so on for the other banned words. Do you really think that these uses "have no real meaning outside of leftist talking points", or are you just repeating one of your own talking points without giving the matter any thought?]

    Trump is not a leftist, and is within his rights to order all federal agencies – which work for him, remember – to not push the leftist agenda. Leftists do not have the exclusive wight to determine the language, but they hate it when we push back.

    Also, why would the CDC be interested in "transgender"? Is that a communicable disease? It's certainly a mental disorder, but I do believe it's outside of the CDC's mandate for public health hazards.

    [(myl) Again, you might consider looking into such questions before emitting prefabricated opinions. If you did, you'd find dozens of scientific papers suggesting that the CDC has valid reasons to use the word "transgender" in its work, e.g. this 2015 report from the American Journal of Public Health: "HIV Testing by Transgender Status at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–Funded Sites in the United States, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands, 2009–2011".]

    When was the last time anyone ever heard of a "transgender" plague sweeping through the nation, killing tens of thousands?

    [(myl) When was the last time you engaged in some honest thought and research before expressing an opinion?]

  41. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 8:26 am

    @Doctor Science:

    Mark's second update seems to confirm that all those words, including "vulnerable," are or can be politically loaded. Yes, they can be used in a neutral way like in your example, but there are obviously contexts in which they are not neutral. And since government organizations like the CDC are essentially political bodies, I don't think it's rational to expect such issues to be avoided.

    The premise of Mark's original post seems to be that the CDC and other government bodies are staffed by apolitical civil servants who would never dream of letting ideology or ideological language color their reports, but in the first update I think he realizes that that they probably do have a liberal tint to their thinking and writing and the administration wants to control their language to avoid triggering conservative sensibilities. I agree with that part.

    [(myl) Can we also agree that it's a bit ironic to have to worry about particular words or phrases triggering emotional reactions among (the people that socio-cultural evolution now leads us to call) "conservatives"?]

  42. Monte Davis said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 9:43 am

    I first heard "entitlement" in the 1970s. IIRC, it came into use trailing legislative context, and its dominant sense was that of rights, payments or benefits associated with a defined *status*, most often age, rather than quid pro quo. It had then weak if any connotation of "I paid in, so I'm entitled to get back."

    At that time one might well have said "S/he acts as if s/he's entitled to deference / applause / respect / etc," but I remember no animus attaching to "entitled" itself; if you'd said "He's so entitled," the most likely response would have been "…to what?"

    It seems to me that political debt hawks (or, more often, wannabes) have piggybacked on the slow shift in everyday usage.

  43. Monte Davis said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 10:59 am

    See also "When Did 'Entitlement' Become a Pejorative?" (2012)

    and note in a current blog post: "Trump remains in office, and Brexit proceeds, but unearned entitlement is everywhere on the run."
    (My point being that 'unearned' would not have been there forty years ago, when "entitlement" was a legal/legislative term of art without reference to "earning" a benefit.)

  44. fev said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 11:28 am

    Will the snowflakes be able to opt out of CITI training, or the rest of the whole IRB thing, if they have a sincerely held fear of seeing the word "vulnerable" in print? Because that's going to make the review process a laff riot.

  45. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 11:29 am

    ErikF: I may be mistaken, but wasn't this order only applicable to budgetary documents? It's a little strange to ban these particular words, but I can't see them being used extensively for large-scale funding requests. Don't budget-related documents usually focus on departmental allocations, not specific programs?

    I've never read any CDC budget documents, but I can imagine how requests for departmental allocations would use some of those banned words. For instance, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control might ask for money to promote evidence-based safety measures, and the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases might ask for money to work with the populations that are most vulnerable to those diseases.

    I agree that the bureaucrats should be able to come up with circumlocutions, as Prof. Liberman said. I hope the senior CDC officials are wrong in thinking the circumlocutions will make any difference.

  46. ErikF said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 1:30 pm

    If I were working on a budget proposal for the CDC, I'd purposely "accidentally" slip some of those words into my documents to see if anyone actually bothered to read them. My guess: There would be absolutely no repercussions. Considering the sheer volume of budget submissions, all that most people would look at are the numbers at the end, skipping the explanatory text. This does not make me chuckle actually: It makes me sad that you can hide almost anything in a budget simply by using numbers that won't raise too many flags. (That's not really a Language Log issue, but it saddens me just the same.)

    This could happen in any government. I live in Canada and could imagine very similar things happening here, as well as pretty well anywhere that has a large bureaucracy. This is not a dig at bureaucracies; it's just a function of how they work.

  47. Matt Juge said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 3:17 pm

    Transgender is not a disorder, mental or otherwise. Transpeople do often suffer from emotional distress brought on by the ignorant, bigoted views, claims, action, and policies of people who have no idea what they're talking about.

  48. Jenny said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 4:33 pm

    I was also looking for substitutes, but I don't see a need for synonyms. Pick things that the administration likes to read about and use a secret decoder ring. So, "entitlements" maps to "ratings." "Transgender" could be "winner." I was at a loss for "science-based" but maybe "full of eels" would suffice?

  49. Zeleny Drak said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 5:17 pm

    [(myl) It seems that you've misunderstood both the earlier posts and this one. The point here is not that "somebody wants to avoid using the word X", but that the political bosses of a government agency are telling the scientists who work there not to use certain words or phrases — which is a very different thing.]

    To paraphrase Napoleon, never ascribe to ignorance that which is adequately explained by malice. I have understood the previous & current posts. While my comment was a bit in jest, I'm not sure if the situations are as different as you make it seems. As far as I see it (as non-American, so outside the "privilege" matrix) in both situations you have people demanding that specialists/scientists stop using some words for ideological reasons. They both are part of the same general trend of trying to modify reality by changing words (a very recurring fad). I don't see it working but that has never stop ideologues. I have to admit that the whole thing is a bit amusing in an "Revolution devours its children" kind of way.

  50. ErikF said,

    December 17, 2017 @ 5:17 pm

    @Jenny: If done too much, you eventually get Calvin's dream ( Jargon is bad enough, but to purposely obfuscate English over an intragovernmental fight is what I hope they avoid. Is there any chance that cooler heads can prevail? Otherwise, gargle fizz pop. :-(

  51. Vulcan With a Mullet said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 10:18 am

    @The Other Mark P:

    You say "CDC clearly have some over-reach in this area — their web-site discusses the implications of sea-level rise on their work!"

    You may not realize this, but sea-level rise and climate change quite definitely do have implications for public health, specifically in the increased incidence of tropical infectious diseases as well as generally in many other health-related areas.

    Perhaps you should give actual health scientists the benefit of the doubt when they are discussing their work, instead of being a right-winged "snowflake" who is scared of concepts they don't understand.

  52. Rodger C said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

    a right-winged "snowflake"

    Shouldn't that be "flowsnake"?

  53. Julian said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 2:20 pm

    @Zeleny Drak:

    While the situations are clearly very different (one is popular outcry, the other is government edict), there are some similarities that are worth talking about.

    Unfortunately, you've got those similarities bass-ackwards.

    People trying to use gender neutral pronouns for themselves are the CDC in this story. They have words they actually use, naturally and felicitously, which mean the things they want to say about themselves and their own work.

    People insisting that referring to people with gender-neutral pronouns are breaking the language with their ungrammatical usage are the Trump administration. They want to impose their own ideas about language, their own judgements of politicality or grammaticality, upon others.

    That you would make this error is very interesting, as it says something about your perception of the power dynamics at play. If you see trans and nonbinary people wanting their gender to be respected as having sufficient power that they can impose their will upon others such that it is at all reasonable to compare it to government decree, then either you are being dishonest (with yourself, the rest of us, or some combination), or we are not perceiving the same world.

    Given that you have already admitted to malice, one of those things seems significantly more likely to me than the other.

  54. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 3:23 pm

    It might be worth investigating whether this ban actually happened at all.

    [(myl) The reports are all consistent with the hypothesis that CDC staffers were formally instructed not to use the cited words in documents submitted as part of the budgeting process, in order not to trigger negative reactions from politicians whose attitudes are like those we've seen displayed by some commenters on this post. Given the automaticity and intensity of those reactions, the advice strikes me as a good idea. It's a matter for discussion whether the situation that makes the advice a good idea is a healthy one.]

  55. Jenny said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 3:37 pm

    @ErikF, no, we don't want Calvin's ideas to manifest. The decision to ban these seven words is outrageous, offensive, and ridiculous. People who make decisions affecting people's actual lives are basically saying "la-la-la I can't hear you." My suggestions were mockery.

    As you said earlier, probably no one would notice if the words were just left in, so I like that idea. The CDC needs to find some way not to play this stupid game by the administration's stupid rules.

    So, yeah, I suppose I was proposing a vocabulary-based game of Calvinball. And okay, it isn't terribly constructive. But honestly, this is so hurtful. "Transgender" refers to real, "vulnerable" people. Erasing them in this way is deadly serious, and I feel like we are losing the fight to stop it happening through normal means. Maybe mockery would help?

  56. BZ said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 4:54 pm

    I would think the CDC is one place where real (non-politicized) diversity is likely to be discussed. As for fact-based and science-based (and faith-based for that matter), I've always found them cringe-worthy. What happened to facts, opinions, beliefs, consensuses, and theories?

  57. ErikF said,

    December 18, 2017 @ 5:27 pm

    @Jenny: I don't know: At this point some levity would be appreciated. Given the way that the government seems to be working in the United States, I can't see any solution right now. Language, like society, needs shared values or else it shatters into myriad pieces.

RSS feed for comments on this post