Niu Verds

Clarissa has a post on something Michelle Bachman has said about the US, obesity, and godly smiting, bless her devoted little heart. Well-meaning people without access to mainstream dictionaries, it appears, have taken exception to this, and condemned her for ‘eliminationism’.

Now, I’ve never met this word. Most others haven’t either, I am assuming, given that it has a Wikipedia page explaining its existence (on the other hand, Wikipedia has pages for river, cake and floor, so perhaps my logic is flawed). This is what said Wiki page has to say:

Eliminationism is the belief that one’s political opponents are a cancer on the body politic that must be excised — either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination — in order to protect the purity of the nation.

Sugar and spice, in other words, and everything that’s nice and cuddly about contemporary global politics, neatly wrapped into a ueber portmanteau-word.

The point is, we could have done without this. Certainly, the word makes snappy copy, and if one looks past its tongue-twister quality, a brilliant condemnatory noise. But the sense of it could be have conveyed, and far more effectively, with a few well-chosen, familiar words. And this is my biggest linguistic dilemma with the popular uses of language these days.

On the one hand, no one who actually uses human language of any kind could possibly object to minting new clumps of syllables. It’s what gives shape to new realities, makes subalterns visible, helps us code our evolving environments. For example, I just came across the spelling ‘grrl’, and I understand perfectly why some might feel that spelling helps them reinforce their non-normative female gender identity. Personally, I would prefer it if, instead of adopting a new spelling, they insisted that ‘girl’ be relieved of its heteronormative, traditional feminine overtones and become more inclusive, but this is merely my own subjective ideological position.

On the other hand, however, there’s a certain kind of tedious, narcissistic superfluity about clobbering  new sounds together, especially since the end appears less than noble. To make one’s mark, for instance, or get an ovation from one’s small circle of cheerleaders (“OMG that’s just so perfect! It says everything I’ve always wanted a word to say!”). Or disguise poor vocabulary, express prejudice. It’s telling, after all, that most new words I encounter are scatological swearwords, demonstrating an obsession with one’s posterior, and brutal anal intercourse.

And it’s not just swearing or equality-activism that suffers/benefits from this Genesis syndrome. Academia is right at the head of the suffering queue. As someone who has changed disciplines, I find far too many basic concepts stuck with a whole array of labels each, varying not just by discipline or country of origin or school of thought, but even by people within the same d, c of o and s of t. And this is not always because different people and different schools of thought attach their own sets of nuances and derivatives to each such concept. For example, just the other week I was reading a text on pedagogy and early childhood education (it’s an area my organisation specialises in), and I found high praise heaped on a researcher who had developed this radical new method of studying classroom behaviour, called the snapshot method. The idea is to park yourself in a classroom for a few hours, take notes, not adjust for behavioural changes caused within an otherwise closed system by your presence, analyse the collected data for patterns, and recommend pedagogic policy on the strength of it.

That’s the snapshot method, or, to be fair, how it was represented in a fawning chapter. I’ve actually met it before, but then it was still going by The Sloppy Fieldwork Method, and was a bit of a pariah. Yet it was recommended to me by a sociologist, who should, by virtue of his discipline alone, have rejected it on the basis of flawed research design. But someone touched it with the magic of a shiny new name, and voilà! Lack of content was magically glossed over. All that’s now left to do is go ahead and implement this, and then form a committee to look into the ‘learning disabilities’ of the current generation of primary-schoolers.

It’s perhaps a good thing that most of our public primary teachers realise the spuriousness or futility of most of their ‘trainings’, and keep students away from their ‘progressive benefits’.



  1. Thanks for writing this! When I express similar ideas, people tell me that I don’t understand this because English is not my language. So now I can just address them to you, since that argument is not going to work in your case. 🙂


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