My approach to language is informal. I use "like" pretty liberally. Sometimes I refer to men and women as "dudes" and "chicks." I prefer to write and read pieces that are conversational rather than authoritative to the point where the technically and grammatically correct take are preferred over readability.
I feel this way partly because I exist in a pretty casual world. No one is wandering around going, “Excuse me, ma’am. If I may just kindly request you take leave of the herbaceous border?” They’re like, “Could you move, please? I think you’re accidentally crushing the thyme.” Clear. Polite. Effective. No bonus points for extra syllables.
But I also prefer an informal, conversational approach to language because I think, for the most part, that’s what language is about. Relatable conversations. Sharing ideas, experiences, and stories.
One could posit that modern American society, while often co-opting an egalitarian narrative, rests on a longstanding heteronormative, racialized, class-based, Judeo Christian, and patriarchal undergirding which serves to disappear the voices of marginalized groups especially those who seek to become mainstream without undergoing a homogenizing assimilative normalization process.
Both paragraphs are getting at the same idea only the second one, to me, is communicated in a more inclusive way. It’s not dumbed down but it uses words that pretty much everyone knows in a way that pretty much everyone is familiar with. And unless you want to converse exclusively with people who ponder the disappearing effect of the patriarchal undergirding in those precise terms, inclusive language is a good thing.
So yay informal, conversational language!
But I get the impression that my opinion is distinctly in the minority. Academic and technical disciplines have their own, very distinct terminologies. To show that you’re ‘in the know’ and deserve to be part of the conversation you’ve got to talk the talk. To an extent this is understandable. Physicists can’t walk around going, “I want that particle to, like, go faster and stuff.” Philosophers can’t have productive discussions about whether “stuff is, like, totally awesome or super lame.”
But no matter how technical and therefore necessarily exclusionary it was at the start, any good idea shouldn’t be kept from others. We don’t live in a society where “Physicists know best so we’ll just do as we’re told.” Philosophical ideas that expect to get wider traction need to be decoded into non-technical, non-discipline specific speak.
But it’s like the initial need for breakthrough technical ideas to be couched in exclusive language has been confused with the idea that all important ideas need to be couched in exclusive language. Like using inclusionary, conversational terms is akin to talking about a fluffy, unimportant topic. After all if *everyone* knows about something, how significant can it be?
Which brings me to the term “Mommy.” I love it when my daughter calls me “Mommy.” And I get that it’s out there in everyday conversational language. “Mommy Wars.” “Mommy Blogs.” And more recently “Mommy Porn.”
There’s some controversy associated with the label “Mommy [insert thing here].” As many have said in one form or another, “if I’m not your actual mother, you *better* not be calling me “Mommy.””
After all, the “Mommy [insert things here]” are not cast as things that impact life greatly and are worth being taken seriously by serious people. They’re cast as silly trivialities that distract from serious issues. “Mommy Wars” is meant to refer to a bunch of catty women sniping at each other over childrearing choices. While many “Mommy blogs” are fantastic and, I would argue, worth taking seriously, the label is often not meant as a complement. “Mommy Porn” is what you label a badly written piece of erotica that becomes a weirdly best selling cultural phenomenon.
When you want to take motherhood or parenting seriously you say “motherhood” or “parenting.” You don’t say “mommy.”
It’s like “mommy” as a label somehow carries a “just” with it.
Oddly that brings me back to the inclusiveness that I find so appealing in conversational language. Using familiar terms make the conversation relatable. More people can participate. And pretty much everyone at one time or another has had exposure to parenting and mothering. Which, to my mind, makes all things “Mommy” a very serious topic much like health and economic issues.
Only the health care debate is not referred to as the “Grow up big and strong Wars.” Economic blogs are not called “Piggy bank blogs.” It’s a sign that they’re taken seriously. Though possibly also a sign that their content needs to be de-technified and made accessible to everyone the topics impacts (by which I mean *everyone*).
De-technifying (not a word, I know. See beginning of post) is not, however, synonymous with dumbing down or infantalization. Discussion about health care and economic issues would not benefit if we started talking about boo-boos, sore tummies, Tooth fairy money, and shiny new pennies. It wouldn’t bring us any closer to sharing ideas, experiences, and stories. All that would do is signal that they’re not ‘real’ issues.
And “mommyhood”/ mothering / parenting is an important topic and should be treated as such. I’m not sure if that means throwing the term “Mommy” as a descriptor out the door entirely but I do think it means acknowledging that it’s not okay to use it dismissively.