I posted yesterday about how language changes and evolves over time - words that perhaps were offensive at one time no longer are, and vice versa. And some words that were used frequently fall out of use. For example, my high school biology teacher told me once that if something was really cool, back in his day they would say that it was "ducky" (my mom confirmed that "ducky" was a common word several years ago). And if he and his friends saw an attractive girl they would say she was "teal" (I'm guessing as to the spelling of that word). Now I don't know about you, but I have never heard those words used any time recently. Those words have fallen out of use.
Similarly, cultures determine what words are acceptable and which aren't. For instance, once when I was in Jamaica (a mostly English-speaking culture) I learned some of the words they use regularly that have never become commonly used in America. For example, if a Jamaican thinks something is really cool, he says it is "bashmint" (at least that was the word when I was 17 or so - things may have changed since then).
For the most part, changes in the ways words are used happen organically. That is, it happens naturally. There's no Word King that is handing out rules about which words are acceptable and which aren't, or which ones will be used or not used. At least until now.
A few days ago I read this fascinating article about how the word "homosexual" is falling out of use in major print publications, such as the New York Times and Associated Press outlets, which are very influential and set the standards for other publications. Turns out that some very influential people have made an unofficial rule that the word "homosexual" is now offensive. More than that, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has a whole page of words and terms that they have, in their supposed sovereignty, deemed to be offensive when it comes to talking about gay people or homosexuality in general (no offense intended).
Why not use terms like "homosexual," "gay lifestyle," or "sexual preference?" Because they apparently suggest that homosexuality and the behaviors that accompany it are somehow undesirable or only center around sex, rather than the whole person. You can read all about the terms they find offensive and why here. But I'm just not buying it.
As I read the descriptions of why they believe certain terms to be offensive, I find some significant logical holes, filled in with some monumental assumptions about homosexuality in general, and about specific topics within the overarching conversation, such as gay marriage. In other words, they like the terms they have selected better than the more commonly used ones they find offensive because the cherry-picked terms are more conducive to the promotion of their beliefs and ideals. So then, rather than let culture determine which words are usable and which are offensive, they're letting their agenda drive the use of language regarding homosexuality, and forcing it on the culture.
The product of this language engineering is to make homosexuality more culturally and socially acceptable. If people can begin thinking and speaking in terms that are dictated by the movement, they'll begin thinking like the movement. The old words they used to use that probably carried a more realistic (however blunt) connotation with them no longer influence thinking, and the words that are more palatable to the agenda promoting them drive the society's thinking on the issue. Words have meanings, and those meanings are important because they help us communicate and comprehend ideas. The more we can bend the meanings of words to be conducive to our side of the argument, the more we will be able to persuade the public to think the same way we do. It's a fascinating and effective tactic.
On a related note, a few months ago Thabiti Anyabwile wrote an article called "The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and 'Gay Marriage'" (warning: this article contains very frank talk about homosexuality and anatomy). In it, he argues that Christians should revert back to a more basic and blunt way of talking about homosexuality. He suggests that we use terms that bluntly describe anatomy and sexual acts as a way of reminding the culture what homosexuality is really all about. Pastor Anyabwile has taken more than his share of flack for this article, and somewhat rightly so, I think. I'm not very easily shocked anymore, and even I was taken a bit aback by how he describes the homosexual lifestyle.
That being said, I think he is on to something: our culture wants to tame the reality of what happens within the homosexual lifestyle (again, no offense intended), and this example of GLAAD trying to decrease the usage of words like "homosexual" is evidence of just that. The reality is this: words have meanings, and those meanings communicate ideas. And know this: there are people out there trying to shape our culture by dictating the meaning of words, and there are enormous societal and religious consequences involved.
In my previous post, I argued that Christians should have no part in the process of offensive words becoming inoffensive. We are to focus on wholesome talk that builds up, not on making filth words so common that they become acceptable. But in this instance, I think Christians should make a point of using words that have been deemed offensive (at least by GLAAD and many media outlets), because if we choose to use more tame descriptors, the culture will be all the more inclined to embrace a lifestyle that we know is destructive to people, both physically and spiritually.