Friday, May 30, 2008

Who is running things?

Who is writing history? Who is writing text books? Who is composing legal documents? Who is writing our dictionaries?

Well let's just see...

The 2nd definition of colonialism in the Oxford English Dictionary:

2. The colonial system or principle. Now freq. used in the derogatory sense of an alleged policy of exploitation of backward or weak peoples by a large power.

Also, Olives' entry about having exoctic dancer/stripper in the definition disturbed me, but I thought "hey, it's" so I consulted Webster, the all-american dictionary, well lo and behold!

Main Entry:
Latin exoticus, from Greek exōtikos, from exō
1: introduced from another country : not native to the place where found 2archaic : foreign, alien3: strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different or unusual 4: of or relating to striptease
— ex·ot·i·cal·ly \-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb
— ex·ot·ic·ness \-tik-nəs\ noun

Well I never, of or relating to striptease? Well that is just stated in such an articulate manner, I dare not question it.

Let's continue this journey of the dictionary. What else has webster got for us?

Main Entry:
\ˈhȯr, ˈhu̇r\
Middle English hore, from Old English hōre; akin to Old Norse hōra whore, hōrr adulterer, Latin carus dear — more at charity
before 12th century
1: a woman who engages in sexual acts for money : prostitute; also : a promiscuous or immoral woman2: a male who engages in sexual acts for money3: a venal or unscrupulous person

Oh I seeee, whores are whores because they are immoral. And unscrupulous? Well they define that as unprincipled. Wow, I'm learning so much. It's really good for my conscience to know that whores are immoral and have no principles because now I don't feel bad at all for blaming them for being in their situation and not questioning the societal forces that put them there. Oh but wait, there are no societal forces, they were destined to become whores because they have no morals. Funny there is no common use word for the people that visit whores. Hmm. Also, aparently only the female whores are immoral, that "also" addition seems to be missing from entry 2.

Anyway, moving briskly along.

Main Entry:
Middle English slutte
15th century
1chiefly British : a slovenly woman2 a: a promiscuous woman; especially : prostitute b: a saucy girl : minx
— slut·tish \ˈslə-tish\ adjective
— slut·tish·ly adverb
— slut·tish·ness noun
— slut·ty \ˈslə-tē\ adjective

Wow, nowhere does is call this word unacceptable, insulting, or even derogatory. And did you know webster is "The common type of english language dictionary in the united states."? "The phrase Webster's has become a genericized trademark for dictionaries." Good, so this is in all of our dictionaries.

Let's revisit Oxford shall we. The dictionary of the intellectuals. THE DICTONARY really. I mean, ask any english professor, they worship this thing. But what does the OED have to say about sluts?

1. a. A woman of dirty, slovenly, or untidy habits or appearance; a foul slattern. b. A kitchen-maid; a drudge. rare. c. A troublesome or awkward creature. Obs.1

2. a. A woman of a low or loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a hussy, jade. b. In playful use, or without serious imputation of bad qualities.

3. A female dog; a bitch. Also attrib., as slut-pup. ?orig. U.S.

4. a. A piece of rag dipped in lard or fat and used as a light.

5. Special collocations, as slut's corner, a corner left uncleaned by a sluttish person; also fig.; slut-, slut's-hole, a place or receptacle for rubbish; also fig.; slut's-pennies, hard pieces in a loaf due to imperfect kneading of the dough; slut's wool, the fluff or dust left on the floor, etc., by a sluttish servant or person.

Well that is...thorough. These old English men sure do respect and admire women. I love that in definition 2 when they talk about a woman of "low or loose character" they have that it is playful. Nobody better be using that word "playfully" with me.

I feel like I'm digressing from my original point. After all, I gave you a lot of definitions. And I think my point is obvious: the books defining the words that make up all the books we read and the conversations we have are bringing women down.

But what about that first definition?

The 2nd definition of colonialism in the Oxford English Dictionary says that colonialism is now used in a "derogatory" manner to talk about "an alleged policy of exploitation of a backward or weak peoples by a large power." Damn! So it is colonialism that is a foul, insulting, and derogatory word, not slut or whore. Because you know, colonialism should be used in a positive sense since it is only alleged and the people who were colonized were "backward" and "weak" anyway. Well that's lovely coming from the English who colonized freaking everyone and have killed countless millions with their diseases and weapons and "civilization." Good for the English.



Christian "Ian" Paredes said...


you're reading way too far into the definitions. you're also misunderstanding the whole point of the OED.

it is to document, as a descriptive form, the use of words in english-speaking countries as they evolve (as all words do) in a culture. if you don't agree with definition 2, then... well, okay, so what? many others have used it in such a manner, and it has certainly persisted throughout the use of the english language (which agrees with the aims of the OED in the first place), which means it goes in the dictionary. it has NOTHING to do with "bringing women down!"

words evolve in time, and the dictionary's role is to document this evolution, not to set in stone the prescriptive usage of a word.

Etheline said...

As I understand it, they are doing what you say they are doing, documenting the use of words that is, but I think maybe you aren't seeing my point fully. In their documentation they say that colonialism is now (not at some previous stage in its evolution) often used in a derogatory sense to describe the alleged exploitation of a backwards and weak people. My exact problem is how they are describing its use in the english language in this sense which I feel is extremely biased. In this definition they are describing its use today, not simply defining it, you're right, and I disagree completely with how they are going about doing it.

As for the slut and whore definitions, I think that those words are often used in a derogatory sense (well actually I think whenever someone says them they are being used in a derogatory sense), and nowhere in any of the definitions of the use of these words is this stated when they have chosen to put that under colonialism. Whether a dictionary is documenting definitions, uses, the history of how words have been used, or all of the above, there are choices being made and implications of these choices. I think with the definitions I included in my post these consequences are quite harmful and biased.

Christian "Ian" Paredes said...

then we ought to look at the overall criticisms of the OED and see if the word "slut" falls into the catch-all criticisms that have already been mounted against the OED.

according to wikipedia, it seems that the OED favors literary printed media as a source of its definitions over newspapers and spoken colloquial usages of the words. if we see where the usage of "slut" (in your definition) originates from and in which medium it continues to be used in (with your definition), then we can see whether if the editors and authors of the OED are REALLY being selective regarding definitions related to women, or if it's simply yet another word that falls into the general criticism of the work.

take this as you will, but from my understanding, "slut" in the derogatory sense is mostly a spoken colloquialism. however, i'm sure that my opinion can be struck down quite easily with more careful research.