bootstraps

Have any of you ever actually seen a boot with straps on it? Could you draw me a picture of a bootstrap? If you use the expression “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” when you mean “work hard to get out of a bad situation,” you definitely haven’t and can’t.

How could I possibly know that? I’m so glad you asked.

Study this image carefully. See the little loop on the back? That’s a bootstrap. Now imagine you are wearing those boots and you slip and fall into a steaming pile of bullshit. Now try to extract yourself from the bullshit using only your upper body. Pull on that little loop. See if it helps.

It is physically impossible to pull yourself anywhere — let alone up — by your bootstraps.

You might want to remember this the next time you hear a politician saying that hard-working Americans don’t need health insurance or social programs because they can always just pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they fall on hard times.

class warfare

Sharpen your bayonets and pack a bunch of rusty nails into your improvised explosive devices, everybody — it’s class warfare time!

No, hey, settle down. I was only kidding about the weapons. Here at Wordmonster, we like violence almost as little as we like histrionic political language designed to make people hate and fear each other. Which is to say almost not at all.

Class warfare is a metaphor, obviously. The idea is that the different social classes (poor, medium, and rich) are at war. The war is about money. Poor and medium people are trying to take money from rich people, who would prefer to keep it. Instead of using bombs or bullets, the two sides fight with tax laws.

So, points for imagination, I guess, but a strange thing happens when you declare yourself at “war” with people who have more or less money than you do. Can you guess what it is? You start to think of those other people as those other people, the bad guys, the enemy. You also make it easy to confuse your opinion about the marginal tax rate with a moral imperative, a noble cause worth dying for.

Points for imagination, indeed.

naming rights

There’s a lot of power in a name. Maybe you know this already: Your name is Michael Hunt or Richard Hertz or you’re a thirteen-year-old girl and your last name is Spitz.

People learn about the power of names in different ways, but everyone learns it eventually. Even if you didn’t have parents as terrible as Mike’s and Dick’s, you may have learned about the power of names from the other kids at school. Some enterprising bully met you at your desk one morning and said From now on your name is Shitstain or Blimpy or Assmerelda. Or you were that bully. Or maybe your roundly despised boss has cute nicknames for you and all of your coworkers. You can see the pattern here.

Anyway, there’s this thing people do on the internet and I guess TV but who even watches TV. They come up with stupid names for people — celebrities and politicians, usually — and then hold up the stupid names as evidence that the people they’re talking about are stupid. You know, like when they call presidential candidates “Mittens” and presidential presidents “Obama Bin Lyin’” and wait for the rest of us to point and laugh. Don’t fall for it.

Remember, the way you talk about people — or even hear them talked about — can make you act like a giant dick, so keep it classy out there.

waterboarding

Waterboarding sounds like that thing kids do when they’re learning how to swim. You know, when they grab onto the orange floaty boards and kick, which lets them move around the deep end without having to wear those humiliating inflatable water wings.

Actually, waterboarding is suffocating a person over and over again with water and a wet towel, usually because you think they know something you want to know.

Cute name, though, right?

underserved

Oh, thank goodness you’re here. We have to talk about the word “underserved.”

Maybe you’ve heard about “underserved children.” Despite how it sounds, their problem isn’t that they’ve been the only customers in a diner for the last 28 minutes and their waitress hasn’t even asked them if they want any coffee yet. No.

The problem is that they’re poor.

Their families don’t have money, so the kids might go to lousy schools or live in dangerous neighborhoods or not have enough food to eat. Poor. Underserved is a euphemism for poor.

I think people who use “underserved” probably mean well. They want us to see that we all have a responsibility to look out for each other and that we’re not doing a very good job of looking out for poor people. Unfortunately, the word sucks all the urgency out of the discussion. Everyone knows being poor is a serious problem, but being underserved sounds like something people can handle on their own.

Nobody wants to be poor, but poor people already know they’re poor, so there’s no need to be coy about it for their sake.

what’s in a name: the salvation army

We’re looking for a name for our charity. Preferably something that evokes a large military operation designed to convert heathens to Christianity. The Crusaders? Convert or Die? The Burning Heretic? Play around with it. I’m sure you’ll think of something better.

The Salvation Army used to be a Christian missionary organization. They didn’t kill people or anything, but they did fancy themselves members of God’s own army.*

It’s a charity now. I know this. But whenever I see someone ringing a bell and collecting money for The Salvation Army, I wonder if it has occurred to anyone who works there that maybe they ought to think about changing their name to something more charitable, like The Super Jesusy Fun Squad or The Church of Not Converting People By Force.

*Notice the assumptions implicit here: 1. God exists. 2. God wants/needs an army. 3. We’re it.

consumer

Hey, I just thought you should know that there are executives and economists and statisticians and people who work for various government agencies who know you exclusively as a “consumer.” You are interesting to them only in terms of the things you buy. Consumer behavior, consumer confidence, consumer spending: You are a human garbage disposal.

Of course, none of these folks picture a garbage disposal or anything like that when they use the word “consumer.” But it is how they talk about you.

what is censorship?

There are two kinds of censorship: censorship of ideas and censorship of specific words/images.

In the first kind of censorship, an idea — or a set of information — is considered* so dangerous that no one is allowed to talk about it. This kind of censorship is usually associated with crazy dictators and old-timey authoritarian-type religions, but it crops up in the modern world from time to time.

The second kind of censorship is much more common: People are allowed to talk about an idea as long as they don’t say exactly what they mean use any “bad” words. You can’t say fuck on network TV, but you can say “the eff word” — which, as every child knows, means fuck — anywhere you want. Weird, huh?

If this kind of censorship was just about expletives, it might seem harmless and silly. But we run into trouble when using a “bad word” is considered** worse than having a terrible idea. We get public figures apologizing for using racist or sexist or variously -phobic words rather than apologizing for the destructive prejudices that led them to say the “bad” words in the first place.

 

*A good question to ask here is: Who says the idea is dangerous? Another one is: Why do they think so?

**Hey, there’s that “is considered” thing again. Maybe we should find out who is doing the considering and why those people are making up the rules.