Leading up to a word with a history
Semantically sensitive. I might be that although maybe not. Is it being semantically sensitive if I believe that words matter and that what people say and write matters, has an impact, can change things for better or worse in less than a heartbeat?
Is it being semantically sensitive if something in me bristles as I read what can only be described as discriminatory about women and about lesbians?
SIDEBAR: Lest you worry that I restrict my semantic sensitivity to my tribes — I do not. However, there isn’t enough room to be all-out-inclusive given todays’ identity politics. Suffice it to say that any mean-spirited dissing of any other being’s basic right to be, to live, to love or to be different by virtue of culture, faith, country of origin, gender, language, sexual orientation, ability or musical tastes will raise my hackles. This is a place where I write of things of interest to me as a woman and as a lesbian.
Is it being semantically sensitive to consider the power and effect of words — that can affect someone for an entire lifetime — when there is an actual definition of something called verbal abuse? And this is something that women are scary good at. Even lesbian women.
Words can be weapons, shot like bullets, whispered like sweet-smelling poison gas, tossed out like grenades and exploding into radioactive little microbes that crawl into the mind and never, ever, ever leave, echoing forever, stealing little bits of self and worth.
Words, as with all weapons, are inert until pulled into action, used with intent. Like every other weapon on the planet. It’s the intent. Sometimes things ARE not intentional. And that’s just not thinking, or paying attention, or being lazy or not caring or taking someone for granted. Mouth engaged before mind. Never a good combination.
Yes, there is a movement in the word world that says, “oh, for goodness sake, words don’t hurt, people do.” Haven’t I heard that somewhere before?
I absolutely expect intelligent, considerate people to be aware of their words: what they say, when, why, where and how, specially when they are talking with people they say they care about. A totally unrealistic expectation. But I expect it of myself too. For the most part — 96 per cent of the time — I consider what I say and the impact. That other 4 per cent? Let’s just say I am SO not immune to monthly hormone fluctuations or that foot-in-mouth disease and it sometimes sucks being human with a need to negatively express a feeling that really will pass with two aspirins and a little rest.
So maybe. Maybe I am semantically sensitive.
At any rate, I was thinking about words when I stumbled across a particular word at Wordsmith. The word is lebensraum, pronounced LAY-behns-roum. The word is a noun and it means something like “living space; Space required for living, growth, and development.” For anyone interested in its origins, “it’s German and comes from Leben (life) + Raum (space).”
When I read the word and its meaning, my immediate thought was, is this a hippie word? As in, I need my space, man! Nope. It was first used in 1905.
But as I thought about it, a word that captures the idea of a living space, a space everyone needs to grow, be free, develop in the positive and humane sense, I thought it kind of a cool word. And then as is my wont, I slid low into the marketing and sloganeering possibilities. The Google Banner, YouTube, Twitter, Twit, Twat and Bing! worlds. Bear with me on this.
It’s a word that can be put to good use against THOSE people who are doing the discriminating; THOSE people who want to either eradicate what and who is different, or if not eradicate, then sweep us all back under the rug, put us back in the closet and spackle the door shut with a lethal combination of Fluff, Wonder Bread and corn syrup, because once that door is shut, the world can be wonderful and sweet again, that world before Planned Parenthood, before intersexed kids, before out homosexuals, before moon-landing conspiracies, before communism and teaching evolution, before women got the vote, before immigration ruined the world, before the end of science as we know it, before mixed marriages and multiculturalism, before we had a name for capitalism.
I thought we can use that word and use it well. I was thinking how lebensraum could be a Lesbian Word of the Day and in particular a word to recognize that there are still women and lesbians in the world who do not have living space, who do not have the safe space to be who they are and how important a living space is, free from war, oppression, hate, fear: space to live.
Lesbian lebensraum. I tested it out. Syllables match. It totally has potential.
I read more about the word lebensraum, which: “became well-known after its association with Hitler and his policy of expansion into Eastern Europe. He claimed that additional (lebensraum) living space was needed for Germany’s continued existence and economic development.”
I was in a quandary. Do I want to use a word that’s rooted in a dark time in our world history? Well, no actually, I do not. But I don’t want to be hypocritical: I have on occasion worn the upside-down pink triangle, the symbol that homosexuals were forced to wear in the concentration camps. A take-back-the-symbol-with-pride thing.
Is the power of a word diluted if it was co-opted by propagandists? Is the word ‘murder’ any less violent when she says, “I could murder a cup of tea…” or when the judges tell the contestants, “Man, you just killed it tonight!” or when someone wears a T-shirt that say “I kill gays for fun”?
If I do not use the German term — lebensraum — and use living space instead, is it the same thing? Not exactly. The meaning isn’t quite captured. Life space is not the same as living space.
Maybe enough time has passed that the word lebensraum and its association to evil doings has faded from collective memory. But for now, I can’t bring myself to introduce it as the first Lesbian Word of the Day complete with a whole fun marketing shtick, if only in my own mind, as a new feature for this blog.
Back to the drawing board. This conversation isn’t over yet.