On “grooming” and the meanings of words

“Grooming” is what makes my dog look so fabulous

Those of you bored enough to drop by here more than once will be familiar with this little corner’s fascination (obsession? — ed.) with words, the meanings we assign to them, the way those meanings shift, and the dynamics behind those shifts. Just do a search on the tag “winning back the words” and you’ll see what I mean.*

It’s those shifts and the reasons for them that we’re concerned with here. Let’s review: some words acquire certain meanings through regular use, but shake their attachment to those meanings as they fall out of use. Sometimes it’s not necessarily the meaning itself that changes, but the connotations surrounding that word. “Queer,” for instance. It used to be a slur, an epithet, an insult hurled at LGBTQ people. But over time, it’s been reclaimed by the very people it was used to target, and now it’s a badge they wear with PRIDE.

And then there are the ways other words are corrupted. I’m using the word “corrupted” intentionally because it’s important to note the way they’ve been mutilated. It’s like taking healthy living tissue, and exposing it to horrible toxic chemicals and ionizing radiation. What you end up with is some hideous mutation that might share certain superficial similarities with the original, but otherwise has little in common. Look, for instance, at words like “liberal” or “socialist” or “elite” or “big government” or “tax and spend.” They used to be more or less neutral. Now? In most of modern discourse, they don’t bear any resemblance to their original meanings. They’ve been stripped of those meanings and repurposed in the service of a nasty right-wing agenda with which we’re all familiar by now. “Marxist” is one of my favourites. It has almost zero relation to Das Kapital or Theories of Surplus Value any more. It’s a meaningless scare word, an epithet right-wingers throw at anything they don’t like or understand. It’s a rhetorical brickbat that instantly drags the conversation into charged and emotionally volatile terrain where rational discourse is effectively impossible.

This didn’t happen by accident or via natural linguistic evolution, by the way. I’m dating myself, I realize, but do take some time to review the 1994 “Contract With America” spearheaded by Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz (spit — ed.). I’ve written about it previously:

It wasn’t by accident, and as with many things, it starts with words, their connotations, and their rhetorical effect. More than two decades ago, Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz worked with a group of U.S. Republican operatives to craft a linguistic strategy for controlling conversation and framing discourse; the idea was to demonize and smear opponents as much as possible by using loaded words like “sick,” “pathetic,” “traitor,” “grotesque,” and other verbal hand grenades. We’ve seen the effect that’s had on politics and popular culture down there. Public discourse has been poisoned and the body politic has been damaged to a point from which it may never recover.

Fast forward to Canada today, where we’re hearing words like “turncoat,” “backstabber,” “stand with the child pornographers,” and so on. This is born of a desire not just to defeat one’s opponents, but to destroy them. Win at any cost. No substitute for victory.

Is it hyperbole to suggest that the Gingrich/Luntz disease has infected us up here?

Which brings us to the word du jour. “Grooming.” Anyone who hasn’t been on another planet has seen the way the word’s been waylaid, dragged into an alley, beaten within an inch of its life, horrifyingly disfigured, and then repurposed in the service of a nasty fascist agenda that seeks to relegate anyone not white, straight, male, and Christian to second-class status — or worse. From the Proud Boys to todays Republicans to the so-called Freedom Convoy, it’s an ugly, hateful, dehumanizing impulse that leads, almost inevitably, to violence.

Well, it’s beyond time for pushback. (Hence the image at the top.) My only regret here is not joining the pushback sooner. So, from an Instagram post earlier today:

“Grooming” is what makes my dog look so fabulous. Anybody wants to turn it into another moronic scare word that they can use as a homophobic or transphobic slur is welcome to go f*ck themselves.

#FreedomConvoy #FreeDumbConvoy #WinningBackTheWords #BlackRussianTerrier

Words have meanings. You don’t just get to strip them of those meanings and nail on new ones. If you’re looking to fan hatred against LGBTQ people for whatever sick reason, then have the courage to say so. Show us who you are. We’ll believe you.

*I've attempted to combine this sober, "professional" website with my previous blog -- you know, the one that cost me my journalism career. Not sure how successful I was, but the tags seem to be working.
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