Sunday, December 5, 2010

the violence of naming.

Words have power.  For me, the source of their power is in their ability to name.  In naming something we give it recognition, boundaries and are able to personalise it. We use words in order to do this.  Language is our primary means of communication and words form the basis of this.

So far, this is all bloody obvious and you're probably wondering if I'm some imbecile who has only just noticed the power of language.  But the point of this musing of mine is actually to wonder if in naming something, we do violence to it.  This thought has been peculating away in my brain for some time.  Through studying English at uni I have come to understand the challenges of definition and how meanings can change over time.  In this class we also discussed how naming can be used to inhibit and belittle, in our study of Katherine Susannah Pritchard's novel, Coonardoo.  But this was just an idea, until it was stirred up after reading two different articles.  The first was an article by a young woman who was writing about coming out to her friends and family.  She was questioning the need to 'come out' at all.  The second was an article by someone who was writing about the 'anti-ginger' sentiment that seems so rampant at the moment.  She likened derogatory names for people with red hair to a form of violence and racism; to me, this made perfect sense.  And so I started to think on how I and the people around me name things.

The spoken word portrays your thoughts and being to the world at large in a much more powerful medium than your physical being and actions ever can.  The written word is lasting, and has the power to inform and inspire over a protracted period of time.  Words have a direct effect on what they are applied to.  Call someone a moron (however accurately) and you have just defined them at such, both to yourself and to themselves and anyone who heard you now believes that you think that person is a moron.  Said in jest or in earnest, it is lasting.

And so, I come to the violence of naming.  Words are descriptive, useful, communicative, beautiful and informative. But, through naming we can diminish the meaning of something.  An African-American is more then colour and history.  This goes beyond calling someone 'black' or 'white'.  In giving something or someone a name we unconsciously associate them with all the stereotypes and ideas we personally associate with that definition or word.  If we, as a society, insist that someone 'comes out' with regards to their sexuality we are forcing them to give themselves a label, one that straight people are rarely asked to provide.  We are asking them to put a label on themselves that can then be used by others to their own advantage. Why is this label even important?  I didn't have to come out as straight to my family and friends.

With regards to those of the red head persuasion, words are currently used in a demeaning, violent manner.  They are used to make the individual believe that having red hair makes them a lesser person, someone separate from the rest of society.  This is totally bloody stupid.  I personally refuse to be defined by my personal characteristics, and I don't see why anyone else should have to be.  In the article I read the author likened current attitudes to racism and I agree with her viewpoint.  Calling someone a 'ranga' or 'ginga' is naming them in a popularly violent manner. Just don't do it.  How would you like it if someone called you according to your personal appearance - 'hey big ears' - etc? Let's face it, you wouldn't.

So.  The violence of naming.  After my brief musing I believe it comes down to being critical of language and careful in the words you use.  It comes down to the age old adage of do unto others as you would have done to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment