Words used to mean things

This blog post was provoked by reading Sheila Gregoire’s new article “Negotiating Chores With your Spouse”. In writing about housework she affords us a great example of the dumbing down of language. She gets right into the meaningless word and concept drivel:

One landmine to avoid is the 50-50 split[ ]

A better model involves both spouses putting 100 percent effort into creating a well-organized home.

This not only makes no mathematical sense, it makes no sense in any way. It’s apples and oranges. The first mention of percentages is clearly about a tangible thing, the sum total of the chores of the household. That cannot be split in any way between two people and not add back to 100% when combined unless some portion is being left undone. That doesn’t really matter, because when she says in lieu of 50/50, best go with 100/100 she is referring not to the tangible work load, but rather to the degree of effort each person puts forth. This leads to more mathematical insanity.

If I have X effort I can put forth in a day, I must allocate that between job, housework, recreation, whatever. Lets call it the sum of the things I do while I am awake. To put 100% of my effort into cleaning means I clean and sleep, that’s it. I suspect she would say, at this point, no, its not like that, its about how hard you try when you are actually doing your chores. She would say not to put half your heart into the work, but to be 100% motivated. That’s a great emotional concept, but turning it into a number is silly, and reflects the degradation of language. Its not any different than the coach saying “give 110% today” except that in his case there is actually some merit to the idea of pushing past your limits through will power.

Gregoire goes on to explain a problem I suspect is present in many homes. And it suggests that, by nature, she was incapable of putting 100% into the work because she was not basing her criteria on what gets done but on what she felt should be done.

To my husband, Keith, clutter mattered. To me, dirt mattered. I could walk past clutter as long as the faucets were gleaming. He, on the other hand, didn’t notice marks on the mirrors as long as the towels were neatly folded.

One day Keith told me he was tired of arriving home to a disaster. He could handle a little clutter, but he wanted to be able to walk through the kitchen without stepping on Polly Pockets.

This dynamic is ubiquitous in my experience. Ive seen it played out to extremes. And the reason is exactly the same:

I was more interested in what I envisioned for the family.

When my children were 6 and 4, I was very active with them. We hosted playgroups in our home. We made crafts. We baked. Our home was fun, but it was also always a mess.

The curse of modernity comes to roost. What she envisioned for the family was hosting playgroups and baking and doing crafts. Her home was fun, sometimes, for the kids. But be sure, for the group of moms doing all that, it was always fun. It was fun because it was a source of empathetic feelings based on assuaging the inherent insecurities that modern women seem to wallow in. They do so expressly because the work of the home is easier due to automation, and at the same time it is devalued. They do so because their minds never stop worrying about things like this. They do so because their attention span is not necessarily short by design, but because it is longest when it is accompanied by a source of empathetic feelings being generated.

She writes about more concepts and words we love to use, the the idea of “having space to breath”:

Sarah Mae, co-author of Desperate, a book for overwhelmed moms, explains that stay-at-home moms also crave consideration. She says, “Without space to breathe or a little help here and there, you can feel like you’re drowning

To breath…an expression that groups of women can rally around, but means nothing in a literal sense. I wonder how desperate frontier moms were, and how many bubble baths they were afforded for room to breath.

Gregoire explains something that SSM wrote about awhile back when she said that seeing her husband relaxing on the couch compelled her to approach him with a list. SSM, being cognizant of these feelings, hopefully makes an effort to mitigate them. Sheila’s grandma solved that problem differently:

Nothing irks me more than doing dishes or vacuuming when the other three members of my family are on their computers. So our family adopted my grandmother’s golden rule: If Momma’s working, everyone’s working

This is a huge problem. Recently a commenter at Dalrock remarked that women are like 10 year old children. I responded that while I get his point I would equivocate. But this notion of a woman’s mind in constant high gear generating all manner of busy work as a result, when combined with the idea that a home where you cannot walk through but has shiny mirrors and faucets is a clean home, is indeed suggestive of a need for masculine linear guidance.

Other examples…

I mention, often, that the word “balance” has been defined down to mean nothing. The word seems to particularly appeal to women. Take the example of the popular radio ad for the natural female hormone supplement Amberen where they claim:

  • based on naturally occurring molecules shown to support and promote hormonal balance.*

  • It fundamentally supports your hormonal balance.*

  • they all have a common cause: the body loses its ability to support hormonal balance.

finally, following the asterisk leads to this:

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Of course it has not been evaluated because it cannot be. It may increase or decrease the bodies concentrations of certain hormones, but the idea that it “balances” them is pure feel good appeal, pure emotion, a word that actually means something measurably being used in a flip way that seems to be proactive.

It isn’t just words, it is concepts that have been run aground with regard to meaning. Take “change” for example. This one seems to appeal to men in the same way balance appeals to women, to the degree that companies now have C level executives managing change. They couldn’t leave well enough alone with the cliche, “the only thing constant is change”. This is not to be confused with rates of change or measures of change that are statistical analytical tools. This is a meaningless blob that makes otherwise intelligent men go breathless.

What about having a 50/50 marriage? You would think that would get egalitarians behind it wouldn’t you? But it doesn’t. It fails to evoke the desired strength of emotion, so people, especially churchian people,  proceed to more nonsense that will make them feel better. They say, “Not 50/50, but 100/100”. They do not realize that this mathematically necessarily means there must be two complete marriage entities for it to make any sense. You cannot split one marriage into two 100% parts.

It goes on and on and on.

And it finds its roots in emotion. I argue that empathy is the prime directive. It has become a family value. It is something that its OK to have unrestrained craving for, and its pursuit is sacrosanct. It is so sacred that the very language we use has been adapted to explain it away, or it is exploited as a motivator in terms of marketing products.

I realize that we cannot communicate devoid of emotional content, and that when the topic is intrinsically about emotional issues, necessarily the meanings are nebulous. But we are skewed so far to the nebulous that the only real communication that even exists anymore is that of science and math. And even those are under pressure.

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13 thoughts on “Words used to mean things

  1. Speaking of Amberen, have you read Luna Bar’s advertisements? They are exactly the same as any other ‘energy’ bar, but somehow they are specially ‘balanced’ for women. Want to gain more weight? Empowerment. Want to lose weight? Empowerment! Want to stay the same weight? Empowerment redux!

  2. but somehow they are specially ‘balanced’ for women. Want to gain more weight? Empowerment. Want to lose weight? Empowerment! Want to stay the same weight? Empowerment redux!

    This is a great comment. You mention empowerment which was conspicuously absent in my post. It should have been there writ large.

    Yes, see how the pitch to women is for “balance”….how the product will gain or lose weight for her, balance.

    Nonsense on a stick

  3. Yes, I’ve seen the concept and phrase before.

    “What about having a 50/50 marriage? You would think that would get egalitarians behind it wouldn’t you? But it doesn’t. It fails to evoke the desired strength of emotion, so people, especially churchian people, proceed to more nonsense that will make them feel better saying “Not 50/50, but 100/100. They do not realize that these mathematically necessarily means there must be two complete marriage entities for it to make any sense. You cannot split one marriage into two 100% parts.”
    This part here—the key thing is that fails to evoke the desired strength of emotion part. 50/50 has somehow changed in meaning—where it used to mean, you do your part, I do mine, together we make the whole—now it means “I will do the bare minimum necessary” in empathic language.
    The other day I was talking to someone from my church, and she was talking about a bunch of difficulties she is facing—genuine difficulties—and talked about how she sometimes said “why, God?” And I said, “It is a good thing that you are struggling in your faith to stay the course—it doesn’t always seem that way but it is—“ however before I could even finish she hastened to say that she wasn’t struggling, that her faith was strong. I could have pointed out how contradictory that was but I didn’t feel like it. But it’s a good example—where struggle used to mean that we were striving, it now means we’re doing badly. Same thing with this. That would be okay if there were some new phrase or word that meant the old meaning, but unfortunately what’s happening is, as you say, a kind of dumbing down where words have less meaning. Another example is forgiveness—it’s hard to teach the concept when forgiveness has come to mean reconciliation and acceptance.
    So in this sense, I think she captures this empathic yearning in “if Momma is cleaning, everyone is cleaning.” I can picture it—you’re doing a bit of web browsing, playing a game, working on a resume, whatever you’re doing—and suddenly you see Momma vacuuming or dusting or something and you gasp “My God, she’s cleaning—time to log off.” That’s ridiculous, and another part of women not seeing how they can have a tendency to be flaky about some things, and would be more adult if they said something about what they wanted. And that’s another reason for the dislike of 50/50 I suspect. 100/100, beneath the surface, strokes the notion of constantly being concerned about feelings—particularly women’s feelings. 50/50 implies you are only doing what you have to do in this kind of language; 100/100 implies you are doing everything because you are driven to do it.
    It would be fine if this were quantifiable, but it isn’t.

  4. Luna says:

    “Whether you’re an athlete, an artist, a foodie or just plain awesome, we hope you’ll find something here for you. ”

    I vote awesome…..

  5. Yesterday i was reading the Delta in flight magazine, where they have an article about gender and medicine:

    http://www.pageturnpro.com/MSP-Communications/52065-In-Depth/index.html#1

    Everyone knows that men’s health is tertiary to women’s and children’s when it comes to funding etc. There is less empathy in men’s health issues.
    If you read the linked article you see how they (mis)lead with a statement that says women are under represented in clinical trials. This is supposed to set the stage that men are getting more out of pharma and treatment research.

    See how this is language twisting?

    Lets say it another way. men are used as guinea pigs more than women are. Seems different yes?

    The article is maddening in how it attempts to frame an imbalance where indeed there is one, just opposite of what they suggest.

  6. Orwell had it all wrong. There is no need for an Official Ministry of Truth. Release the female Hamster, and the women will do all the necessary work for free.

  7. I find it demeaning to women. A guy wants to lose weight? Well, lose it! If a woman does? Well, she’s a delicate little snowflake that needs to be gently, but conclusively, reminded that she needs empowerment. She requires more than weight loss because that alone would disturb the delicate balance that all women supposedly have. Not a sturdy balance in any sense.

  8. she’s a delicate little snowflake that needs to be gently, but conclusively, reminded that she needs empowerment.

    Add empowerment to the list of gobbledegook. I listen to faces talking on TV saying how empowering this or that is. Often the context fully and logically precludes the word being remotely germane.

    Here is the end game, after the distillation is complete, no azeotropes, a fully boiled down reduction of this nonsense we are discussing. This girl gets her news from the faces on TV. She was empowered to say this.

  9. To my husband, Keith, clutter mattered. To me, dirt mattered. I could walk past clutter as long as the faucets were gleaming. He, on the other hand, didn’t notice marks on the mirrors as long as the towels were neatly folded.

    A lot to pick apart here, but I think the chances are she’s just lying. The dirtiness is an excuse to not pick up the clutter. “Even if I cleaned clutter all day, the faucets would still not shine. I guess there’s no point in de-cluttering.”

    Well, she’s a delicate little snowflake that needs to be gently, but conclusively, reminded that she needs empowerment.

    Yeah she does. There’s a broom: You’re empowered, lady.

  10. “One landmine to avoid is the 50-50 split[ ]
    A better model involves both spouses putting 100 percent effort into creating a well-organized home.”

    I think I can explain it in a way that might make sense. I will avoid using words like “chore”, “husband” and “wife” in an effort to abstract the problem, and to avoid the insulting “white knight” label.
    Assume we have a W amount of work that has to be completed by two “working units” (e.g. machines, workers), WU1 and WU2. Each WU has its own maximum output level, P1 and P2 respectively.
    If you divide W between WU1 and WU2 each one doing 50% of the work (50/50), W will be completed in a certain time (T1). Unless P1 = P2, you will waste time, because there will be a period when one WU is already done, and the other one (with the lower P) is still working.
    However, if you let each WU perform at its peak (100%) output, they will finish at the same time (T2), there is no time wasted by an idle WU. This way T2 is the minimum time needed to finish the whole W by two WUs. If P1 = P2 then T1 = T2, otherwise T1 > T2, so T1 – T2 = Time wasted. This could be considered “fair” or “equal”, even though one WU is doing more work than the other one, none of the WU are overloaded, nor under utilised, and are working for the shortest possible time.
    I hope this explanation makes sense.

  11. Pingback: Father Knows Best: Late Summer Reflections Edition | Patriactionary

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