Slim Smith: Phrases I would like to ban

January 4, 2014 10:18:43 PM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


Each year, Oxford Dictionaries announces its "word of the year." 


This year, the word is "selfie," which is a photo someone takes of himself or herself, most often to post on social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram. 


It should surprise no one that three of the last five "words of the year" have been related to technology -- "GIF" a verb that describes the act of sending a compressed file electronically was the "word" last year. In 2009, it was the ubiquitous "unfriend," the acting of dumping a "friend" acquired on Facebook. 


I have no particular issues with these selections. 


I would much prefer that Oxford amend its annual tradition by eliminating a word or phrase each year.  


I would make two nominations with great enthusiasm:"Traditional values" and "politically-correct."  


My argument is that the first term has become little more than a cliche and the second phrase is a much-abused and mean-spirited distortion of its original meaning. 


Let's start with "Traditional Values," which is something you hear most often from political conservatives.  


For some time now, we have been bombarded with the phrase, most often in the context of the debate over same-sex marriage or, to a lesser degree, anything else conservatives oppose. 


When I hear the phrase, my teeth start to grind. Traditional values? What does it even mean? It has become little more than noise; it conveys no tangible idea. A better, more accurate phrase that could be employed in almost every case where "traditional values" is used would be "status quo."  


When a person uses that phrase to describe his position, he is really saying, "I like things as they are. I am not agreeable to any change and I don't really care if anyone else likes it or not." 


I don't know why it has gained so much popularity, to be honest. At its heart, it is an ambiguous term, since "traditional" is in the eye of the beholder.  


And yet, we are supposed to fall prostrate at the mention of the phrase, as though it is the end-all, be-all of any debate. I mean, who wants to stand against something so wholesome and comforting as "tradition?" Especially here in the South, we venerate our traditions. 


Really, though, are we supposed to be moved by such an utterance? 


Remember, slavery used to be a "traditional value" in the South. In fact, we fought a war over it. Segregation was a traditional value Mississippians held dear, too. "Barefoot and pregnant" was the accepted social status of women and very much a "traditional value." 


So, no, I am not moved by an invocation of "traditional values." If you mean so say you are opposed to same-sex marriage, please, have the integrity to state it as such. But spare me the arrogance of attaching the label "traditional values" to anything that you've simply dug your heels in about. 


As annoying and empty as "traditional values" has become, I find the use of the phrase "politically-correct" even more grievous. 


Initially, the term was used to describe something in such a way that it would not be offensive to some person or group of persons. But today, the phrase has been so far removed from its original intent that is has become more of form of protest. The use of the phrase almost always carries with it an undertone that "this word I won't use if perfectly acceptable as far as I am concerned and anyone who disagrees is putting an unnecessary burden on my right to Free Speech."  


Lost in all this is that some terms, words and phrases should be self-edited out of our vocabulary, not because we are under societal pressure to conform but because it is the good, decent and civil thing to do. Those who protest the burden caused by "political correctness" are really saying that they, for some unarticulated reason, have the right to determine what other groups, usually minorities, should or should not be offended by.  


That, readers, is the height of arrogance. 


Do we really want to away with "political correctness?"  


If so, we are saying that it is perfectly acceptable to go around calling each other queers or dagos or chinks or crackers or a thousand other hateful terms. 


So let's do away with these pointless phrases of "traditional values" and "politically correct." 


Let us be both clear about how we feel without seeking to elevate our positions as "values" and be civil in our conversations about others without the suggesting that we have been forced to feign respect for others by "political" pressures. 


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]