We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Another sign we are losing the language?

Certain words, over time, have devolved from specific context to generic insult. ‘Fascist’ used to refer to a certain socioeconomic system involving nationalism and state control of industry; ‘racist’ used to denote a person who believed that his ethnic group deserved some privileges that other groups did not. In modern parlance, however, almost anything can be ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’; go to any protest or peace rally and you will hear that the war in Iraq is ‘racist’, that opponents of a Palestinian state are ‘fascist’, and so on. These words now mean “something I disagree with or wish to belittle” instead of their original connotations.

I am sad to report that we are in danger of losing another word into this sinkhole: pornography.

Full disclosure: I am as guilty of this as anyone; I wrote a piece back in January talking about financial pornography. But abuse of this word has become widespread. WordSpy.com, a site that tracks the use of buzzwords in pop culture, has listings for “debt porn” (lurid tales of people bankrupted by credit card abuse), “eco-porn” (corporate shareholder reports that rave about the company’s environmental record), “domestic porn” (Martha Stewart-eque magazines) and “investment porn” (fawning profiles of fund managers who ‘beat the market’ without regard to the fact that someone had to be above average.)

But now we may have witnessed the ultimate: sparing no rhetorical excess, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has denounced Hardee’s new Monster ThickBurger, a concoction that contains 2/3 lb of beef, four slices of bacon, three slices of a cheese-like substance and mayonnaise, as ‘food porn‘.

Of course, CSPI and its founder, Michael Jacobson, are not interested merely in educating the public that gargantuan fast-food hamburgers are unhealthful. CSPI has advocated the taxation of meats, dairy products, and sodas, among other things. The website CSPIscam.com has extensive documentary of CSPI’s various forms of activism: junk science, junk litigation and intimidation.

CSPI founder Michael Jacobson, according to the ActivistCash.com website,

… will not tolerate any of his employees eating “bad” foods. CSPI’s in-house eating policy is so puritanical that Jacobson once planned to permanently remove the office coffee machine — until one-third of his 60 staffers threatened to quit.

I guess in that sense, though, fast food is a lot like porn: it is the same group of neo-puritan busybodies who oppose both.

monsterburger.jpg

Samizdata: now a porn site?

32 comments to Another sign we are losing the language?

  • I swear, it’s mayonaise!

    Don’t look at me!

  • steer

    I’m a big fan of the new meaning of ‘porn’ as ‘pleasure taken derived from observing the unobtainable excess of…’

    I mean, the parallels between teenagers looking at porn mags, and adult sailors looking at luxury yachts are pretty obvious.

    So, I think ‘porn’ has gone from an uninteresting specific word, to a more interesting and useful word.

    As for the verbal entropy of other words, such as fascist, I think that’s the fate of all important words and concepts. Popular and important words get used a lot, and the more a word is used, the more simplified its meaning becomes. That’s why rarely used words in rarified fields such as medicine retain very specific meanings, while the words used in everyday life have very vague meanings.

    In fact, it’s also why small, isolated societies have such large and specific vocabularies. The more people have to use a word, a less specific it can be.

    So, much as it annoys people who are expert in the field, this generalisation and simplification of language is a result of that language’s success. You can’t have a complex, detailed, nuanced language, and expect millions of people in different places to all use it.

    Meanwhile, as we mourn the deaths of words like ‘enormity’, we should celebrate the emergence of new words like ‘porn’. Yay!

  • Luniversal

    Pornography means writing about whores. It is inaccurate to call what comes out of the Valley on videotape pornography. The California Supreme Court decided in its wisdom that although sex for cash was involved, the performers were not whores and the producers were not pimps. Why not? Because they weren’t paying or being paid to enjoy themselves! If Hugh Grant had done what he did in the back of a car for an R-cert general release, he wouldn’t have been frisked and photographed by the cops. Go figure.

    The dilution of “porn” was foreshadowed in the 1960s when censorship causes celebres were much in the news. It wasn’t long before anti-war activists began to shout that napalm in Nam was “the real obscenity”, not topless women. “Obscene” now means “anything that makes me feel a bit queasy”.

  • Euan Gray

    “Genocide” now seems to mean mass murder, rather than the actual or attempted extermination of an entire genotype. Since we’re all human beings, it’s a pretty dumb concept to start with, but now it’s even dumber.

    EG

  • The California Supreme Court decided in its wisdom that although sex for cash was involved, the performers were not whores and the producers were not pimps. Why not? Because they weren’t paying or being paid to enjoy themselves! If Hugh Grant had done what he did in the back of a car for an R-cert general release, he wouldn’t have been frisked and photographed by the cops. Go figure

    Yeah, well, If Hugh Grant had done what he did in the back of a car after going on a date with Ms Thompson he wouldn’t have been arrested either. So what?

    Whatever you think of pornography or prostitution they are not the same thing. That, as with marriage, “sex for cash” is involved doesn’t make them coterminous. As it happens I don’t think either should be illegal but porn performers are paid to have sex with each other, or more accurately to allow themselves be filmed having sex with each other. Prostitutes, by contrast, are paid to have sex with the John. No pimping takes place in pornography, (the male performers are also paid, the sex isn’t for their benefit) any more than it does at a dating agency.

  • Anointiata Delenda Est

    Luniversal,

    Did you not mean ‘Writhing’ about whores.

    Frank McG,

    Now that you mention marriage, there are two ways to get sex. One is to pay for it, and the other is to have it given to you for nothing.

    On balance, it’s cheaper to pay for it.

    But M410, I’m not going to finger you. It’s mayonnaise!

    Enough jokes. Steer, you got it right.

    ADE

  • I’m guilty in a sense, too. I just used ‘food nazis’ in a piece on that pornographic hamburger.

    As to words being expropriated and ultimately losing their original and precise meaning, it’s benign in some instances but deceptive in others. I was recently asked to critique an article where the use of ‘fascism’ and ‘fascist’ was deceptive, in a context that depended on the words’ original meanings. Insisting on precise usage in that case rendered the whole article pointless.

  • Euan Gray

    As to words being expropriated and ultimately losing their original and precise meaning, it’s benign in some instances but deceptive in others. I was recently asked to critique an article

    Critique (a noun, not a verb – the verb you should technically use is criticise) perhaps being a case in point…

    EG

  • Whilst pedantically correct, the terms ‘critique’ and ‘criticise’ now have fairly different connotations: to ‘critique’ something is value neutral, to ‘criticise’ it is now generally taken to mean to critique (heh) in a negative manner.

  • Steel

    Critique (a noun, not a verb – the verb you should technically use is criticise) perhaps being a case in point…

    The business world turns nouns into verbs so often there’s even a name for the practice which, of course, is an example in itself: verbing.

    How many times have you been asked to “dialogue” with someone, or to “task” someone with a piece of work. As Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) put it, “Verbing weirds language.”

    Of course, I fight against so-called “business language” every day. To borrow from Henrietta Hay (columnist for The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Co):

    And then there are the pompous fuzzies. Interface is a technical term used by scientists and computer nuts, but it is inaccurate when applied to people. People just meet or talk or whatever. There is overview. Over what are we viewing? Irregardless adds nothing except two letters to regardless. End result makes one wonder about beginning result.

    I know I’m destinied to lose my fight for clear communication, but that doesn’t mean I can’t communicate clearly myself and hold off the death of clarity for just a little longer.

    Verbicide (VUR-buh-syd) noun. 1. The willful distortion or depreciation of the original meaning of a word. 2. A person who willfully distorts the meaning of a word. [Latin verb(um) word + -i- + -cide killer, killing.]

  • “Genocide” now seems to mean mass murder, rather than the actual or attempted extermination of an entire genotype. Since we’re all human beings, it’s a pretty dumb concept to start with

    You have an incorrect understanding of the etymology of the word. “Genocide” has nothing to do with “genotype”, but is derived from the Latin word “gens”, meaning “clan”, “tribe”, “family” or “nation”, and as such the use of it to mean mass murder of any collection of peoples is entirely appropriate.

    If you wished to play the prescriptivist game, you’d have been better off criticizing the use of the term “decimation”, which originally meant the killing of every tenth man in a century or legion as punishment for cowardice or dishonorable conduct, but has now come to simply mean the killing of a large number of people.

  • Euan Gray

    “Genocide” has nothing to do with “genotype”, but is derived from the Latin word “gens”

    Actually, it’s from the Greek genos, and it does indeed refer to a race or genotype.

    Its use to denote mass murder is incorrect, and is a form of semantic abuse similar to the dilution of meaning in “fascist.” Or, indeed, decimation.

    EG

  • free

    Jesus!!! I’d L O V E to get my hands on quality food-porn!!! My mouth is watering. I’m craving it!

    Also, a delcious sauce can be a form of pornography when placed gratutiously around pasta. Damn, I’m half dying here now!

    Mind you, I don’t like the new fashion of turning “Nazi”, “Fascist”, “Racist” into meaningless swear words. On the other hand, I’m not sure those who use them this way notice even for a moment that this is what they’re doing. They fool themselves into thinking the connotations the words carry really do precisely fit the actions carried out. They’d hate to be told that they’re just emptying the words out of any meaning. They’d call you a lying Nazi Fascist just for saying so.

  • free

    >Genocide” now seems to mean mass murder, rather than the actual or attempted extermination of an entire genotype

    In fact, it seems to be applied even to cases where no murder exists. A few years of war with few thousand casualties is enough for these people to say “it’s a genocide”.

    The point to remember is that not only is there no need for an actual genocide (actual or attempted), there is no need even for mass murder. It’s not that the word “genocide” has lost its original meaning because those who use it actually do pretend it still does have its original meaning. That’s why they use it very selectively and apply it based on who the perpetrator is and not based on what actually happened.

  • James

    As someone who’s living not too far from a Hardees and has tried one of the offending burgers, I can tell you they’re pretty damn good.

  • lucklucky

    http://www.webindia123.com/news/showdetails.asp?id=45524&n_date=20040814&cat=World

    A company that advertised for hard-working staff was banned by a jobcentre in Southampton since it discriminated against those who evade work.

    According to The Sun, recruitment consultant Beryl King had also requested for “reliable” applicants for the 5.42 pound-an-hour warehouse packer posts in the advert.

    “If I advertise for a typist am I discriminating against people who can’t type?” King was quoted as saying. (ANI)

    “Hard working” seems to be porn language too…

  • James,

    Sorry to disagree, but however they may make them, Hardee’s burgers are still horrible.

    And making them thicker simply means thicker horribleness.

    My pet peeve with “verbing”, by the way, is “coronating” for crowning — a word coined, I believe, by Jesse Jackson (as he has done for so many others).

    Another, almost as irritating, is “surveilled” for “keeping under surveillance”.

    Bah. So many morons, so little ammo.

  • Ironically, the same people who use “fascist” to mean “something I don’t like” are invariably strong supporters of the current socioeconomic system in the US, which leans very heavily towards fascism with elements of communism thrown in.

    As for the people who say that the war in Iraq is rascist, they may (and indeed probably are) just using the word in the common socialist usage of “disagrees with me.” But then again, they might be saying it because they’ve actually taken the time to read what supporters of the war are saying.

  • Luniversal

    Hagler: I presume “rascist” as used by you is what Humpty Dumpty would call a portmanteau: racist plus fascist.

    Frank McGahon: “No pimping takes place in pornography”.

    Tee hee, you’ve obviously never been at a CA bus terminal when the blonde gal from the Deep South who couldn’t run as fast as her uncle is getting off the bus. And you’ve never hung out at Jim South’s agency.

    These guys take commissions from performers who have sex which thousands will watch. Normal pimps set up private encounters– clearly much more immoral, or so the sun-drenched solons decreed.

  • Luniversal: A spelling flame? Well, the only proper response to that is to invoke Godwin’s Law and say that I would use “nazi” for racist plus fascist. (Well, that or “freeper.” :-)

  • “Actually, it’s from the Greek genos, and it does indeed refer to a race or genotype.”

    I have my OED and Oxford Latin Dictionary here by my side. What’s your reference?

  • Another data point: also note that “cide” in “genocide” comes from the Latin “caedo” (“I kill”). Your definition would make it a combination of Latin and Greek, and while such coinages are not unheard of, they usually more often to be found in the sciences rather than amongst lawyers and diplomats who’d be expected to know better.

  • Finally, the Greek word for “race” is actually listed as “ethnos”, not “genos”; “genos” is actually cognate to Latin “gens”, and means the same thing, i.e, clan, family or people. But enough pedantry for one evening.

  • you’ve obviously never been at a CA bus terminal when the blonde gal from the Deep South who couldn’t run as fast as her uncle is getting off the bus. And you’ve never hung out at Jim South’s agency

    I can’t say that I have but I don’t see how it undermines my point. You clearly have a distaste for the porn industry which is your prerogative but your definition of “pimping”, if it includes the “day jobs” of sleazebags like Jim South or Ed Powers, is so broad as to be meaningless. The popular understanding of the term “pimp” is someone offering protection to/extorting money from women who sell sex to “retail” consumers, i.e. Johns. If a porn performer’s agent sells her to retail consumers he might properly be considered a pimp, but such unfilmed activity by definition doesn’t form the major part of that industry.

  • Euan Gray

    Your definition would make it a combination of Latin and Greek

    The word was created to describe the attempted systematic liquidation of the Jews in Nazi Europe. As you suggest, it is a combination of the Greek “genos” (meaning race, kind or tribe) and the Latin “caedere.” This may be an etymological infelicity, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

    Stalin’s attempts to wipe out Soviet Jewry (his government was responsible for slaughtering more Jews than the Nazi government) could also be described as attempted genocide, but his persecution of kulaks and Vlasovites could not.

    more often to be found in the sciences rather than amongst lawyers and diplomats

    Interestingly enough, it seems the coiner was a lawyer, one Lemkin, who knowingly combined the Greek and Latin roots.

    who’d be expected to know better

    Lawyers and diplomats know better than scientists? Hmm, not so sure about that one. Lemkin didn’t, or at any rate didn’t think it important. In any case, the definition used in the UN Genocide Convention is closer the one I use – it refers specifically to national, ethnic, racial or religious groups.

    However much fun linguistic pedantry can be (and I’m easily amused sometimes), the fact remains that using the term ‘genocide’ to describe simply the murder of a large number of disparate people is etymologically incorrect *and* contrary to the legal definition in the UN Convention.

    EG

  • Dale Amon

    As I will be in NYC and SF on work during January, I have placed the Monster Burger on my to-do list… Take that Health Facists!!!

  • I’m an atheist libertarian gourmet chef in Bangalore. And if you want to see some quality food porn, visit my chef’s blog(Link) and browse through the articles and recipes. :)

  • Roy Lofquist

    For we older it is gratifying that we can finally have something we can sink our false teeth into without a trip to the druggist.

  • Lilly

    Then there is always Steve’s coffee porn(Link):

    Smooth and bare as a baby’s cheek, burning my skin as you nestle urgently in my palm…is it me, or do I feel you grinding…slowly rocking…pleading silently for my firm yet measured response…I feel your heat rising to my face, warming my tortured lips, carried on your fragrant steam…your scent so soft yet overwhelming…there you are before me…open…hot…unashamed…inviting…

    I press my starving lips against your alabaster body…at last…your heat…your wetness…running down my throat in waves as I take you in in gulps, opening wider and wider…wanting all of you inside me…arching my back to get every last drop of you…

    Damn, that’s good coffee.