We asked for this, you know. When they changed dictionaries to include ‘figuratively’ as an alternate meaning for literally we were basically asking for trouble. Literally, even.
The number of words and phrases that are being twisted and misused lately would be humorous, if it weren’t also insidiously shaping our consciousness. Listed below are a few of my personal (un)favourites (feel free to add yours in the comments):
Intolerance: Accusing liberals of being ‘intolerant of your intolerance towards homosexuals’, besides making very little common sense, is simply inaccurate. I am not intolerant of your intolerance; I am outright telling you that you’re a bigot. People are under no obligation to accept or ignore you being shitty to another human being, whether it’s for religious reasons or just because your’e a jerk.
Fascism: (commonly coined ‘Liberal Fascism’) This one goes along with ‘intolerance of my intolerance’. It gets thrown around a lot when conservatives say things that aren’t politically correct* (e.g. homophobic, racist, misogynist) and there is public outcry. If you got to say your shitty thing and no one killed you, put you in prison, or overthrew your government by force, and ultimately all you got was your feelings hurt, that’s not fascism. (Oh — if it got you fired, see freedom of speech**.)
*Politically Correct: Here’s the thing: You want to make this sound like a thing that is only correct because people are too ashamed to admit they don’t believe in its correctness. But you know what? Most of us just think of those things as ‘correct’. Also decent and reasonable. If you don’t really think they are, that’s just you.
**Freedom of Speech: You are totally free to say any old nasty thing you want. Free, free, free. But stop acting all surprised when there are consequences to saying those things. It’s disingenuous. Freedom of speech laws like the U.S.’s 1st Amendment protect against repercussions from the government. That’s it. It doesn’t mean people can’t tell you you’re wrong (hey look — they have free speech too!) or that your employer can’t fire you. I mean, when it comes down to it, you’re free to do a lot of things. You’re free to kill people, for example, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to try to stop you or that there won’t be consequences for those actions. And if your strongest argument for what you have to say is “I’m allowed!” then you’re mostly going to sound like a petulant five-year-old.
Reverse Racism: First of all, um, that would just be… racism. Secondly, unless you are part of a group that has been systematically and historically marginalized, then no. You can convince me that someone was prejudiced against you and was a total jerk, but you are not being subjected to racism.
Bullying: That one time that person was a jerk to you — not bullying. Show me a pattern of behaviour and we’ll talk. The latest take on this involves the new same-sex discrimination law in Mississippi, with accusations that stores that display pro-LGBT shopper stickers are bullying Christians. Presumably because it will draw a stark contrast to those shops who don’t display them. But here’s the thing, not having stickers isn’t what will single you out. How you treat your LGBT patrons will. If your real goal was to preserve your own rights, you wouldn’t care that people knew where it was safe for them to shop. Unless maybe your goal was to institute a law that created an environment of intimidation and uneasiness where people were afraid to show their true selves and instead have to conform to your idea of appropriate behaviour lest they suffer the consequences. You know, unless that.
Words do, it turns out, matter. They have power. And while you can’t restrict people’s use of them (nor should you), I think you really have to have your mind open to how they are used to manipulate. There are very clear patterns here: One is to co-opt words that have been used against the transgressor and to twist them around and hurl them back at the accuser. The other is to purposefully use inflammatory words in mundane circumstances. For example, I refuse to take you seriously if you accuse someone of being a Nazi (e.g. feminazi). Are they guilty of the genocide of your people? No. Then stop using that word.
The problem with this sort of nonsense is that it tends to eliminate any possibility of reasonable discourse or argument. And I know, religious conservatives, you’re probably saying: But all those other people aren’t being reasonable because they’re saying I’m wrong! I’m being persecuted! Here is my basic problem with that assertion: You are trying to restrict the rights and freedoms of other people. The only right or freedom that you are being restricted on is your ability to restrict rights and freedoms. This isn’t a live and let live situation. You want to impose your beliefs on everyone, legally and institutionally, whether they share those beliefs or not — which sounds a lot more like fascism to me.
But I wouldn’t use that word.