Playing Verbal Tricks

by John Leo,
from U.S. News & World Report,
Aug. 2, 1999

What is "visual rape"? Well, usually it's a minor offense like ogling or peeping. But the word "rape" is put in there to make looking at women sound like a deadly felony. "Cultural genocide" and "violence of the tongue" are other examples of this verbal trick. What follows is a brief PC-to-English dictionary of such terms.

INTELLECTUAL HARASSMENT. Criticism, disagreement. The gravest version is "antifeminist intellectual harassment." University of Arizona Prof. Annette Kolodny says this "serious threat to academic freedom" occurs when any statement or behavior has the intent or effect of devaluing (feminist) ideas about women.

NONTRADITIONAL VIOLENCE. Criticism, disagreement (see intellectual harassment). Lani Guinier says she became a victim of nontraditional violence when the media attacked her and her novel plans for racial voting in 1993. Husbands who argue with wives are behaving in a nontraditionally domestically violent manner.

NONTRADITIONAL MAN. A blue-collar male selected as a sex partner by an upper-middle-class feminist. "Women can choose what I call nontraditional men," says author Sara Davidson. "My new agent has a romance with a carpenter. Roseanne married her bodyguard." (Note: Though exotic to Davidson, these workingmen are considered quite traditional by their wives, neighbors, and friends.)

MENTAL RAPE, EMOTIONAL RAPE. Paula Jones said Bill Clinton's unzipped behavior was "almost like a mental rape." Monica Lewinsky said she felt emotionally raped by Kenneth Starr.

SYMBOLIC AND LOW-TECH GANG RAPE. Feminist Catherine Stimpson's term for Anita Hill's treatment by the Senate Judiciary Committee. A rebuttal to Clarence Thomas's "high-tech lynching" (a nontechnical nonlynching).

RETINAL CHAUVINISM. Flashy Internet graphics that totally disregard the visually impaired. "Web design is primarily driven by retinal chauvinists," said Jerry Kuns of San Francisco. "Pictures are great, but they are stumbling blocks to me."

ECONOMIC VIOLENCE. Jesse Jackson's term for abrupt plant closings, foreclosures, and other economic dislocations.

ECONOMIC CENSORSHIP. A familiar complaint by artists, meaning "Nobody is buying my work." Closely related to "censorship by omission," which means, "Why am I never on TV? Why am I never invited to big parties?"

ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM. A racialized version of NIMBY -- no dumps or smokestacks in my back yard, please.

INTELLECTUAL GENOCIDE. An emphatic but vague way of complaining about low-performing schools. "Public school students in [Washington] are being subjected to a particularly insidious brand of intellectual genocide." -- Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, BODILY INTELLIGENCE. Harvard's Howard Gardner, who thought up the theory of multiple intelligences, was once asked why. "If I had called them talents," he said, "no one would have paid any attention." So now everybody is smart in some way, even those who can't read or write. And it's no longer true that some athletes are as dumb as doorknobs. If they're jocks, they can't be dumb -- they have bodily intelligence.

SEMANTIC VIOLENCE. Oddball Northwestern University Prof. Regina Schwartz says the biblical covenant between God and the Israelites committed semantic violence by cutting the Israelites off from any sense of common humanity with other peoples. Schwartz thinks that religions with only one god induce violent behavior.

(NONVIOLENT) ETHNOVIOLENCE. The term ethnoviolence, made up by Howard J. Ehrlich of the Prejudice Institute, takes the concept of ethnic violence and stretches it to cover any perceived insensitivity, thus inflating statistics and creating the impression of a runaway epidemic of bias and hate. Ehrlich offered these two horrible examples from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 1) "At times professors would ask me to drop a course when I didn't think it was appropriate," and 2) When calling on black students in class, one professor asked embarrassingly easy questions.

SYMBOLIC HATE CRIMES. Noncriminal incidents with doubtful connections to hate or bias. At Swarthmore College, an uproar occurred when a turd was discovered on a table in the Intercultural Center. Outraged critics didn't miss a beat when the offending turd turned out to be chocolate cake, arguing that the cake at least "had the symbolic effect of a hate crime." This proves that baked goods can be hate speech if you think about them hard enough.


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10 Aug 1999