“Dishonest Words”

David Friedman analyzes, with prejudice, the use in argument of loaded words such as “homophobic.” Such words, used thoughtlessly, confuse and indicate confusion on the part of the speaker. Used artfully, they are rhetorical bludgeons intended to stifle rational discussion at the point where rationality would be most helpful.

(Note also the comments to the post, including one comment that straightforwardly defends the use of dishonest words, in a way that unintentionally makes the opposite case, though the comment is perhaps a parody.)

2 thoughts on ““Dishonest Words””

  1. Friedman’s quarrel with “racist” is more based upon the fact that he thinks some things that are termed racist are in fact not, not that there is anything inherently wrong with the word as defined. His objection to “homophobia” is based more on the word itself. The use of “phobia” does designate something as an irrational fear. Ergo, most things that are now termed as homophobia are not accurately described as a fear of homosexuals so much as a dislike for them. As one of the commenters points out in the above, the same could be said for xenophobia. The case is often made that hatred for a given group is often based on fear, which could be one argument in favor of the “phobia” words. However, the use of the suffix does suggest some sort of clinical diagnosis which is simply not present.

    For more accuracy, perhaps we should use the –ist suffix, as in racist or sexist, for all bigotries related to a certain group. “Homophobic” would become something like “homoist” or “homosexist”? This, while odd sounding, could work. The problem is that the –ist suffix can add different meanings. For example, we probably could not call someone who hates Muslims an “Islamist” could we? “Xenophobic” would become, what, “Nationalist”? That word already has a meaning, though it is often closely related to “Xenophobia” as currently defined. Perhaps there needs to be an entirely new construction denoting bigotry or hatred as to a certain group. Or, we could simply accept common usage and forget the whole thing.

Comments are closed.