The English language evolves quickly. New terms emerge and old ones die with remarkable speed, especially in our accelerated age. Changes in culture, technology, and entertainment are often the catalysts, but more and more, the pursuit of social justice is the cause.
The latter leads to what author Steven Pinker named the “euphemism treadmill.” One term is deemed offensive, so it is replaced with a new term, which, over time, is deemed offensive itself.
A good example of this comes from the field of mental health. Offended by hopelessly vague and unscientific terms like “crazy” and “madness,” early psychologists chose sterile, humane terms such as “moron,” “imbecile,” and “idiot.” But if you happened to visit a schoolyard any time after the Harding administration, you know it didn’t take long for kids to yell those well-meaning terms as they pantsed the kid with his tongue stuck to the flagpole.
I got into an argument on Twitter today. “Wow Jon, what a fascinating lead! Next, can you tell us about your last Candy Crush score on Facebook? And how’s that sinus infection going?” Look, I know my Twitter squabbles are boring, but I was trying to make a larger point before you so rudely interrupted me, Voice In My Head.
Anyway, Twitter peeps were going back and forth on childhood vaccination and I foolishly jumped in the middle of it. I had related the story about my children getting whooping cough from non-vaccinated children in their classroom. My kids had been immunized as babies but were nearing the time for their booster shots. As it turned out, our whole family was quarantined for a week and fed a steady diet of stomach-churning antibiotics. That experience left me less libertarian on the issue than I once had been. “Your rights end at the tip of my nose,” and all that.
One interlocutor noted that vaccinations might cause autism (they don’t). Another wondered if the State can mandate immunization (sure). But shouldn’t parents have the right to say no? (Not if they put the community at risk.) All fair questions and a fine debate to have. And so it went until one person replied with what he felt was a trump card: “That really offends me!”
Ummm… So what?