I am out of country for the week, so a fellow blogger has kindly lent me two of her blog posts (the first of which was published here at Living Rhetorically on Tuesday). Hanlie blogs at Fertile Healthy; this post was originally published at her blog on August 18th.
There are a lot of things wrong with our society, but one of the most pervasive is our tendency to label people. It makes me angry, but more often it makes me sad.
Labels can generate much hatred and distrust. Does being called a “liberal” or a “conservative” define you? Of course not. Neither does it define the next person.
When you label someone, you will henceforth see the label and not the person. It puts up barriers between people. It stands in the way of reaching out and living compassionately. It separates the us from the them. It covers up our stories.
Each of us has a story.
Labels are often wildly inaccurate.
There is a lot of judgment in labels. In our society “fat/overweight” is a label. I am fat/overweight, but when you hang that label around my neck, you may not appreciate that I eat healthier than 99% of the people around me, that I exercise regularly and that I have lost about 50 pounds already. That label will mark me as a slovenly, lazy, unlovable, emotionally disturbed, unmotivated glutton. None of which are true.
Some labels are quite meaningless. Take the term “vegetarian” for instance. It tells us virtually nothing about the person. Everybody has a different understanding of the word, so people who use that term spend a lot of time explaining exactly what they do and don’t eat. Traditionally I think we all understood that vegetarians cut out meat, but still eat eggs and dairy. But I have come across people who eat chicken and fish and call themselves vegetarians!
On the other hand, some vegetarians cut out dairy or eggs too. Most people would think that they should then call themselves vegans. But “real” vegans take exception to that, arguing that true veganism is a mindset and a lifestyle primarily focused on the health and well-being of animals, with a secondary effect of being healthy for humans. They eschew leather, honey, glue and a whole lot more. And they don’t like people who call themselves vegan by virtue of merely not eating meat, eggs and dairy.
Us and them again.
Another problem with these labels is that it gives us some inkling of what people don’t do, but it tells us virtually nothing of what people do. A lot of vegans eat absolute crap! They may be relying on their moral superiority complex to see them through, but they are often no healthier than the rest of the population. That has nothing to do with not eating animal products!
The same goes for vegetarians. Craig has a family member who calls herself a vegetarian and I doubt she’s eaten a vegetable or a fruit in the last month.
But what about people like me? I eat animal products, but only rarely. None of those labels apply to me (*heaves a sigh of relief*). The term “flexitarian” has been bandied around a lot lately, but that is as meaningless as calling yourself an “anything-tarian”!
Aristotle says we are what we repeatedly do. I repeatedly eat lots of fruit and vegetables and other whole foods – mostly plants and mostly raw. I transform my life and my body every day. I grow and learn. I care about myself, other people, all living creatures and our planet.
There is no name for that. Just call me Hanlie!
Thanks Hanlie! Check back at Living Healthy in the Real World in September to read about my adventures when I go on a vegan diet for the entire month- we'll be looking at the availability of all-natural, whole vegan foods to see just how healthy a person can really be on such a strict diet.
I am out of country this week, so a fellow blogger has kindly lent me two of her excellent blog posts- the second of which will be published here at Living Rhetorically this Thursday- regarding the labels we give ourselves and others. Hanlie blogs at Fertile Healthy. This post was originally published at her website on July 10th.
My friend Tony, The Anti-Jared, doesn’t like the word “fat”. Who does? I don’t like the word “recession” either, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re smack bang in the middle of one. Similarly, I’m fat.
Before you go any further, please read Tony’s post about the word “fat” before reading why I respectfully disagree.
I realize that we’re from vastly different backgrounds. I’m always shocked at the amount of teasing and name-calling that occurs in America. To be unique or different there is to paint a target on your back and get shot day in and day out (although, given the latest obesity figures, being fat in America is no longer unique or different – so teasing should have decreased right?) Not only does that type of climate not encourage individuality, but it seems as if parents aren’t teaching their children tolerance or even basic good manners. Here in South Africa diversity is embraced much more freely. I’ve never been called names, and believe me, I do stand out, since obesity is much less prevalent and I’m the usually the fattest person in any group. We may kill and rape one another on a wholesale basis over here, but we don’t insult one another. That would be wrong.
So yes, I get that “fat” might be a slur for many people, but there is no other word that describes the condition as accurately.
Fat is measurable – a man should have no more than half an inch of pinchable fat around his waist and a woman no more than an inch. Any more than that and you’re, well, fat. And you are at an increased risk of developing certain lifestyle related diseases.
The term “overweight” implies that there is some perfect weight for all of us, which is not true. Tony himself is a case in point here. His weight dropped below 200 pounds a few months ago and he reached “goal”. Since then he’s been gaining lots of muscle and is once again over 200 pounds. He’s leaner than before, definitely not fat, but according to the weight charts and the bogus BMI scale he’s overweight. I envision the same thing happening to me – to have the body I want, I will be carrying a lot of muscle, which will put me in the “overweight” category. The only way I can be a “normal” weight would be to have very little muscle mass. So the term “overweight” is meaningless, since most of us are striving to be lean and heavy.
That puts paid to the term “heavy”. Heavy compared to what? I’m heavy compared to most other people, but even when I have the body I want, I will be heavy compared to a lot of people.
Tony suggested we use the term “determined to get healthy”. Well that may be true for some of us, but a lot of dieters and weight loss bloggers are only interested in losing weight. Health is something they’re not really bothered with. I see it every day, over and over again. They’re not interested in proper nutrition, can’t be bothered with verifiable scientific data and allow the media to confuse them with junk science to the point where they throw their hands up the air and say, “I just don’t know anymore, so I’ll just do what feels good to me. It should be okay!”. And then they can’t understand why they have raging PMS every month, come down with every bug around, suffer from headaches, fatigue, depression, insomnia, digestive woes, hormone imbalances and skin conditions and develop a variety of degenerative and auto-immune diseases over time. Health is only attained through healthy living, so don’t for one minute think that losing a bunch of weight absolves you from health problems. Yes, it helps to a certain degree, but look around the heart and cancer units of hospitals – there are plenty of “normal” people who succumb to those diseases.
Furthermore a large number of (fat) people don’t care about getting healthy or thin. They just want to continue eating junk and sit on the couch. What shall we call them?
I quite like the word zaftig, but it only really works for women. It means “deliciously plump, or carrying your extra weight very well”. I don’t know about that…
Similarly, “plump” can work for someone who has a few pounds to lose, but not for me!
“Chunky” and “tubby” seem less than polite.
“Chubby” once again doesn’t work for the obese (apart from the fact that it can also mean a “half-erect penis”! The things you can learn on the Internet!). It’s for those who have only a few pounds to lose.
Marilyn Monroe was “curvy” and “voluptuous”. Me, not so much right now, although I’m sure I’ll get there again.
The truth is I’m fat. I’m also tall. The one is no more an insult than the other. It’s just a statement of fact.
How do the labels that you use- or hear used about yourself and others- affect the way you see yourself and other people?
Affect and Effect
My managing editor at The Uniter (hi Stacy!) mentioned earlier this week that she often stumbles over these two words when writing a piece, and I have to say that I agree. The English language is full of words such as affect and effect. I really like both of these words and use them frequently, but every time that I use them I have to pause and think carefully for a moment about which word is the correct one for the context I'm using it in.
While playing around searching for more information about the tricky business behind the similarities and differences of affect and effect, I found a number of fascinating websites and articles featuring this very question. These two words cause difficulties for so many people that the question of when each one is appropriate even has its very own website! Even though it is clearly a major stumbling block for many people, the differences between affect and effect are really quite simple:
Affect is a verb (unless it's being used in the psychological context, in which case its a noun). It's the action and it influences something. For example, "The cold weather affects my mood negatively".
Effect, on the other hand, is a noun, and it is the result of the action. For example, "The rain had the effect of drenching me completely".
A fun way to remember the basic differences between affect and effect are with Grammar Girl's helpful mnemonics:
The arrow affected the aardvark and the effect was eye-popping.
Accept vs. Except
These two words are misused almost as often as affect and effect. Luckily, an easy way to remember the difference between the two is that accept means you're agreeing (alliteration is a handy mnemonic; in this case, both "accept" and "agree" start with the letter "a") to something. For example, "She accepted that she needed to brush up on her grammar skills".
Except implies exclusion and points to the odd one out. For example, "They all played soccer except for Jenny".
A word of caution
Affect and effect, just like accept and except, are not interchangeable! They each have their own context in which they should be used, so let's keep them in their rightful places.
What words do you have difficulty with? Do you have any tricks to keep them apart so you remember when (and when not) to use them?
Up until the past few years, I wrote fiction religiously. Electronic copies of novels, short stories, and poems fill ancient floppy disks; the hard copies are stacked in boxes, binders, and folders. I've gone through piles of paper, weeks and months of work, and have subjected friends and family to read my work for their input and suggestions. Creating alternate worlds and languages, drawing up maps and designing building plans, I ignored the real world for a very long time. I was more interested in what the imagination can produce than I was about writing about factual events.
I was confident that my writing had potential because I had received encouragement from a variety of people in the publishing industry. Even so, I found something uncomfortable about my love of writing. I'd think about my future career as an author and it bothered me to think that I would spend my life pursuing the enjoyment of writing when there were so many other professions which gave back much more to the community. I wouldn't be saving any lives by writing, like a firefighter does. I wouldn't be doing any kind of research work or engaging in political groups to make environmental improvements or societal progress. I would instead be writing for pleasure. Even if most authors live frugally, it still seemed to me a luxurious pastime. A selfish job.
Then a friend carelessly told me that they didn't think my writing was anything great, and, being at a vulnerable age and time in my life, I took it to heart. I shoved my writing aside and focused on the real world, trying to figure out how I could best contribute to society. I went to university with the intent on becoming a psychologist (what first year student doesn't intend on getting their degree in psychology?). Thankfully one of my professors was so terrible that I figured out immediately that psychology was not my direction in life, and I began dabbling in writing again. This time, I decided to pay attention to the tangible world around me, and to write about what I saw.
That is how Living Healthy in the Real World came to life. I found that I loved writing about what was going on, learning more about health as I went. But a part of me still felt inspired to write fiction, so when the mood struck I'd write a paragraph here and a chapter there, until I soon was compiling together a little novella.
When I left my home most recently this past May to live in Cambodia for five weeks, I had plenty of spare time to devote to writing fiction. It made me happy. Although writing about the real world is something I enjoy and love immensely, it is a different kind of happiness that I get from writing about fiction. After spending an afternoon working on my novella, I feel relaxed and content. Similar to how I feel after exercising. My head clears and I'm more productive after spending some time working on my book.
I've figured out that I am liable to be grumpy, moody, and all-around unpleasant if a couple days go by without my spending a considerable amount of time with each of the following: exercise, writing about health, and working on my story. If too many days pass without writing fiction, I become unproductive and easily irritated. Writing fiction allows me to separate myself from the everyday, to turn off my brain and explore my creative side. The process is calming. Reading fiction generally does the same thing as writing it, too.
Although fiction might appear on the surface as a selfish sort of hobby (or profession), it isn't at all. Fiction can act as therapy all on its own. If it makes us feel better, if it makes us pleasant to be around and more productive, if we grow as people from it and if other people gain something from reading it, then writing fiction is anything but selfish. As long as we continue to learn and to grow, and if we can give back to others through our writing, then it's a really wonderful activity. Writing and reading fiction is well worth the time and effort. Take a break from reality and engage in what inspires you: guilt-free.
A colon is a punctuation mark and, much like the comma, it works to organize sentences and break everything down for coherency purposes. Colons are most commonly used in the following ways:
1. To bring attention to a specific point: the colon draws the eye and allows some breathing space in between each part of the sentence. It also often explains the first part of the sentence in greater detail. A very long sentence appears less daunting when a colon is used.
2. To indicate the beginning of a list. For example, Living Healthy in the Real World is updated three times a week on the following days: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Depending on where you live in the world, and which style guide you are following (such as MLA or APA), there will be different rules regarding capitalization after a colon. As a general rule, however, you can use lower case letters following the colon if you are using it to emphasize a point. Think about it the way you would a comma or a semicolon; the second part of the sentence remains a part of the sentence, and thus should be lowercase letters. Regardless of which style guide you are following, always use capitals as normal for names of places etc.
Colons usually suggest a more formal manner. More often than not, for informal pieces, we choose words and sentence structures which do not make use of colons. The exception to this is when we are creating a list that is more easily read with a colon preceding it. Two instances in which you might use a colon in a formal document are after the salutation in a letter and before quoting someone.
A word of caution
Be wary about grammar! Colons might break up sentences, but that does not mean that we should forget about the importance of grammar. You can avoid this problem by using a structure of subject-verb-object in the first part of the sentence, rather than just using a subject-verb combination. In the above example, the following is the object that polishes off the first part of the sentence nicely. Colons should also not be used after a proposition (such as the word "of").
So why use it?
Although colons should not be used with great frequency in a regular piece of writing, they are highly useful when organizing lists and also when we want to make a dramatic statement. Colons make the reader stop and pay more attention to a sentence, so it is an excellent way to really emphasize your point. The less you use them, the more emphatic they will be when you create a sentence with one. Choose wisely!
The best way to explain the Jeremiad form of rhetoric is to think of it in terms of the origins of the name. Jeremiah was a Biblical prophet of doom and, as one of my professors so astutely put it, a performance artist. The Jeremiad, then, is really a political sermon, and is applied by powerful leaders in front of large audiences. Predicting misfortune is a way to frighten the audience- or society- into believing whatever the rhetorician wants them to believe.
The Jeremiad is specifically a form of epideictic rhetoric. Epideictic rhetoric refers to a lamentation (or, interestingly enough, celebration). It is the rhetoric of display and even social control: "the epideictic speech builds and creates a community for both speaker and audience, particularly... in times of crisis that threaten the society" (A Time of Shame and Sorrow, Murphy 271). This is arranged from combining the talk of doom with a hopeful word of what could happen if we only do as we are told.
Although the Jeremiad speaks to an audience and is bent upon social control, the way that it achieves this is through a divide-and-conquer method. Politicians such as George Bush who use the Jeremiad throughout their term point to the individual as being responsible for dealing with the crisis. The idea is that the person = the nation, and it is because of this basic premise that the politician is able to get away with saying that our individual sins are the problem. The system itself is assumed to not have any flaws at all, and it is therefore up to individual citizens to make changes. Only from there will the situation improve.
There are three parts to the structure of the Jeremiad:
1. It refers to either biblical or spiritual teaching (for example, with George Bush the spiritual teaching would be the American Dream or the American forefathers).
2. It demonstrates how the community has failed to live up to that teaching.
3. It suggests the idealistic place that we would be in if we repent and reform.
All of this results in uniting people together, making it perfect for political campaigns. The politician using the Jeremiad as their form of rhetoric convinces the people that our society is in a terrible state, and then the politician explains why they are the one person who has the solution to the problem. If they know how to wisely make use of the Jeremiad, it isn't too difficult from there to get the votes they need.
The Jeremiad is an effective choice for politicians but can, for obvious reasons, be rather tiresome if you choose to use it on a daily basis. You're better off leaving it for situations in which you are speaking to a large audience where people will more likely give in to group-think; using the Jeremiad in a one-on-one situation, though it could make for an amusing psychology experiment, will probably result in the other person backing slowly away from you.
How we act and the way we view the world is strongly determined by our definitions. These definitions change and develop as we go through new experiences, thus causing us to broaden our minds and grow as people.
When I was out riding my bike earlier this week, I rode past someone who was running along the street in the opposite direction. He had an expression of complete focus on his face and didn't see me go by. I smiled anyways when we passed each other and as I went by, the thought that passed through my mind (the way random thoughts so often do when I imagine speaking to strangers that I pass on the street) was "Hi! I'm a runner, too!"
It occurred to me as I continued on that I hadn't even had to think twice about calling myself a runner. These days I naturally consider myself as one. Three weeks ago I ran in a 6k race and this weekend I'll be participating in a 9k race, but that is not why I would call myself a runner. I have given myself the label of "runner" because it's something that I have started to do more frequently, a couple times a week, and it's something which I genuinely enjoy doing. Even if I were not currently preparing for a race, I would still be out there jogging.
I have discussed definitions before and what makes us call ourselves an athlete. At the time of that discussion, I did not define myself as an athlete. I called myself athletic, but the word "athlete" was too intimidating for me. These days, I believe that if we are doing something on a consistent basis, if we love to do it, and if, therefore, we "own it" as MizFit remarked in the comments of the previous discussion, then we become that. Whether you can run for 0.2 miles or 20 miles (like this impressive blogger!), if you own it, you are it. You choose your own definitions. You choose who and what you are.
Changing our definitions can even change our capabilities. If, for example, I were to call myself vegetarian, I would probably be more active in trying to avoid meat. Because I do not give myself that definition at this time ("flexitarian" or "almost-vegetarian" would be the more accurate term), I do not feel compelled to adhere to the strict boundaries of the definition of "vegetarian". However, referring to myself as an almost-vegetarian often makes me think twice about eating meat. The label that I have given myself means that I eat less meat than I would if I called myself an omnivore. We feel the need to live up to the expectations of our definitions. It is through definitions that we figure out which paths in life we want to take.
Calling myself a runner gives me added motivation to continue running after I am finished my race. It makes me want to keep at it so that I do not lose that label: we are what we define ourselves as.
Me? In addition to writer, editor, runner, health advocate, and traveler- among others- I'm calling myself an athlete.
Reference books and dictionaries are precious to any rhetorician, and they extend far beyond the ordinary (but delightful) Oxford English Dictionary or a thesaurus. There are countless ways that we can play around with language and have fun with it. The Scholastic Dictionary of Synonyms, Antonyms, Homonyms is one way to expand your vocabulary and polish your writing skills.
Synonyms are words that have the same meaning. For example, the words bombast, bluster, and pomposity all share the same meaning. Antonyms are opposites: haughty is an antonym of gracious. Homonyms are words which share the same pronunciation but have different meanings, so that although reign means "to rule", rain refers to water and a rein is a bridle.
This reference guide is divided into two parts. As a way to build vocabulary, Part One lists hundreds of words in alphabetical order with the synonyms and antonyms following each word. Part Two lists a number of commonly used homonyms to eliminate misunderstandings and confusion.
There is a short page-long explanation at the beginning of the book explaining how to use the reference, warning that "no two words are exactly alike or always interchangeable. Each synonym and antonym suggests a different shade of meaning". This is a common mistake that we make especially when we are learning new languages. We might tell someone that we appreciate them, but we would not say that we acknowledge, recognize, or estimate them in the same context, even though all three of those words are synonyms of appreciate. Whenever I am involved in editing work, I notice that people frequently misuse words in this way. One of the joys of writing is in choosing words to convey our exact intended meaning. Opening up a thesaurus and picking a word at random will likely only contribute to a poorly written piece.
I really like the way this book is laid out. It is quite small and therefore easily portable. It focuses on common words in the English language, offering ideas for new ways to express ourselves when we get hung up on using the same word over and over. The second section is perfect for those words that we stumble upon- I've noticed that principal and principle seem to always get mixed up when people are using them (and just for the record, the correct use of them is thus: as long as you stick to society's principles, it's unlikely you'll be sent to the principal's office). I will be referring to this little dictionary time and again for fresh ideas and to double-check that I have employed the correct spelling for tricky homonyms.