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Like, The Impending Meaninglessness of Words, Or Whatever

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, December 26, 2001.

After two years of running checks on my website, I know that today is the least listened to, or responded to, effort of the year. So, consider yourself one of the unfortunate ones because I want to talk about the degradation of language.

I'm in a nauseous mood. I watched an American serviceman propose marriage to a woman on television yesterday. She thought it perfect and surprise! She accepted. I thought it revolting beyond comment. Sort of...... This is mostly inspired by a simple new cliché that drives me bonkers. Since the war in Afghanistan came about, we have been inundated by the terms Taliban or Anti-Taliban 'fighters.' Never soldiers, combatants, militiamen, guerillas, gangsters, followers, or lice ridden psychopaths without much else going on but the unimaginative and hardly helpful term "fighters". It is repeated so often that it has become, like much of Afghanistan, meaningless. You actually see sentences where people identified as fighters.......fight. Ordinarily, this could be seen as just another journalistic tick that will pass, but I think it is far more dangerous than that. The word removes the need to describe who the individual is aligned with today, and whether he fights for something or merely against something, whether he is totally Anti Taliban, or just against the black turbans until a better financial offer comes through. If you don't have to know exactly what is going on, the term gives you lots of leeway. This is handy in covering a war in a country where virtually none of the journalists can speak a native language, and they really have no clue as to whom the real allegiances are given. You could easily substitute the word "performer" for the word "fighter", because that is how western journalism views them: as a show. The term "fighter" is utterly without connotation or much denotation because so many are identically described. It is lazy. It is dangerous.

Not, perhaps, as dangerous as another meaning shift. Notice how the term "taxpayer" is substituted for the word "citizen" all too often. It is almost as an attempt is being made to inculcate us that non-taxpayers aren't citizens, poll tax by redefinition.

And remember when the term "hero" denoted a person who voluntarily put themselves in harm's way on behalf of a third party? Now, a volunteer soldier in combat is designated a hero simply for being there. Hell, someone with cancer is now a hero. Someone fighting for their life can be brave, dignified, and inspirational, but they are not, per se, heroic. They're doing it for Number One, and they have no alternative. There are others. "Teenager" is a meaningless category, because a thirteen year old has virtually nothing in common with a nineteen year old legally, physically, emotionally. Yet advertising, psychology, popular literature proceeds as if such was the case. It is a condescending word, offends me, and makes me angry.

My favorite hate word now is "perfect". I hate it not just because, as an anal academic, I know nothing is perfect, or can be, certainly not to everyone. I don't hate it because overuse has rendered it without meaning. I hate it because it reveals a desire for a pointless absolute nowhere in evidence. When young English tourists say "Brilliant" when they mean "okay, thank you" or "I didn't know that," it bugs me but not as much as when orgasmic voices on television purr "perfect" with that fake and rather icky catch in the voice to describe a cake or emotional moment, generally an expensive one. It is most commonly applied to a wedding. The perfect wedding gift, dress, spouse. It is offensive in its ignorance. Perfection is not a goal of marriage, or romance, and would be a dead letter in the marriage bed for long-term relationships. And no, I don't think it a minor issue.

Too many young women and men are in search of something they think, because they have been told, is perfect at too young an age when they have neither the experience nor the mental acumen to do so. Their marriages are doomed when the word emerges as a description of their goal. Desires change, people change. Nothing is perfect. Thank god for that. I, if nobody else, don't want a perfect world. I want this world, ever changing, ever fascinating, ever unpredictable. And I want it accurately described. I cringe when I hear: "Heroic American teenagers, at the expense of equally heroic taxpayers who shopped liked real heroes this Christmas to honor the September 11 heroes, fight Taliban fighters to bring about a perfect peace." I'd prefer "America's young professional military burned off more of the tax surplus as carnage descended upon the ignorant, sexually frustrated, and stoned males of Afghani Islam today in a desolate country where statistically, for every seven hundred Taliban killed, an America Marine will slam his finger in an ammo box and an NCO will publicly propose marriage in a manner to illustrate both parties' tasteless immaturity." Or, better. "Clueless American son of a broken marriage seeking strong father figure unsurprisingly continues boilerplate Freudian revenge by following particular cult mentality to logical end in Taliban."

Better? That's perfect!