Our changing values and technology are often reflected in our everyday speech.
You can tell much about people's orientations by their vocabulary. People who hold on to old attitudes and hardware as a rule use outdated terminologies. People who have shifted to new time zones have updated vocabularies. This is illustrated by the examples that follow.
Boyfriend/girlfriend. It is laughable hearing adults thirty and forty and fifty years old refer to their lovers as "girlfriends" and "boyfriends." No wonder so many people behave like adolescents in their romances.
"I am going away with my boyfriend this weekend"—a forty-two-year-old woman says.
" 'Boyfriend'? What is he—a twelve-year-old?"
What then does one call a person with whom one makes love?
A "friend." A "lover."
Bachelor. This is a reactive term from the days when married life was the norm. If you were not married you were a "bachelor."
Other anachronistic terms: maiden—spinster—old maid.
"Single" is a modern term signifying a new way of life for millions of people.
Unsuccessful marriage. Any marriage that lasts for even a few hours is successful. In our times the duration of a linkup does not determine its success or failure.
People who go about stigmatizing their dissolved marriages as "failures" flog themselves with outdated ethics.
Illegitimate child. There is nothing "illegitimate" about a child born to people who are pioneering new options for parenthood.
Broken home. This too is a pejorative term from the days when marriage was considered permanent. Adults and children paid a heavy price for forced constancy. The only "broken homes" are those where parents fight all the time yet hold on to each other at all cost. It is the children particularly who suffer in this venomous atmosphere.
Parents who decouple create not broken homes but ”multiple homes" for their children. Such fluid arrangements are not alien to today's children.
Promiscuous. This is a hangover term from unliberated times when making love with anyone other than your spouse or permanent sexual partner was considered promiscuous. By these standards everyone in a modern society is promiscuous.
The fact is that people today are not promiscuous. They are fluid.
Test-tube baby. There is nothing "test-tube'' about the tens of thousands of babies born every year through new procreation techniques. "Hightech baby" is certainly more appropriate.
Gay. This is the term that seems to be preferred by the homosexual
Sex object. This term carries an implied disapproval. But in our times when millions of people are voluntarily not reproducing—it is perfectly understandable to want people just for sex—as lovers (sex objects).
Pornography. Pornography has long had sleazy and prurient connotations. The fact is that what was considered lewd and filthy twenty years ago is now accepted as normal.
Erotica (pornography) has pervaded all areas of modern life: neighborhood movie theaters—cable TV—prime-time TV "soaps"— videocassettes—magazines—newspapers—books.
The norms are changing. Much of what is considered "dirty" or obscene today will be perfectly acceptable in a few years.
Relationship. In America this word was bandied about all through the 1940s—'50s—'60s—'70s. Everyone talked about their "relationships." "Making the relationship work." "Committing yourself to a relationship." "Working with your analyst on the relationship."
In its time the word "relationship" reflected a wholesome new attitude—a departure from the restrictive Victorian morality of earlier times.
But the term "relationship" does not fit into the rhythm and spirit of our times. Relationships are too slow and territorial for our changeover decades.
We need new terms. Perhaps "linkup" or "connection." Even "romance" or "friendship."
"Linkup" is my favorite. It captures the mood and the pace of the 1980s and the 1990s.
A linkup is open and uncomplicated. A linkup may last one night or one month or one year or ten years or one hundred years. It may be exclusive for a while. But it is often nonexclusive. It is certainly fluid.
Courtesy titles: Mr.—Mrs.—Miss—Ms. Do you address people as Excellency or Eminence or Highness? Not long ago such courtesy titles were commonplace. (In hierarchical societies they still are.) People felt slighted if not addressed with the appropriate formalities.
Egalitarian societies such as the United States have largely done away with such pomposities. "Mr." and "Mrs." are holdovers from hierarchical times. "Ms." is no less of an affectation.
Why do we need any titles at all? Why not address people by their names? This certainly moves us toward greater equality.
Addressing people by their names is an insult only to people who do not like their names.
Doctor Jones (when addressing a physician). Do you go around addressing people by their professional affiliations? Engineer Nelson. Attorney Schnall. Artist Voltolini.
Why then address your physician as "doctor"?
Titles only reinforce distances among us.
No wonder many people are in awe of physicians. Such people expect too much of their doctors. If there is a slipup—a very human tendency—the awe quickly degenerates into massive disappointment and anger.
Unfortunately too many physicians encourage this distance between themselves and their patients. They end up paying a heavy price these days for insisting on playing a dominant role.
Secretary. People who refer to their office associates as secretaries are flexing bureaucratic muscles. They are showing off.
People who refer to themselves as secretaries lack professional self-esteem.
The fact is that in the age of smart machines and automated offices and work-from-any where occupations—the secretary is phasing out.
Leader. "Leader" and "leadership" are holdovers from primitive times. Leadership by its very nature is inherently authoritarian. Leadership and followship automatically mean the unequal distribution of power and influence. A society or an organization that emphasizes leadership is not modern or democratic.
In the postindustrial world of decentralization and shared decision making '"leader" is just as outdated as "Master" and "Lord" and "head of household.''
(More on this in monitors 8: Power Oriented and 20: Ideology.)
Masses. Personal global telecommunication and global mobility are eroding mass conformity. There are no masses in postindustrial societies.
Foreigner. In our age of cross-planetary dialogue and global migrations the term "foreigner" sounds forced and anachronistic.
People who still emphasize terms such as "foreigner" and "alien" tend to view the world as rigidly compartmentalized into us and them. This planet belongs to all of us. There are no foreigners or aliens any longer.
Spiritual. This world is often a camouflage.
People who are embrassed to be called religious refer to themselves as spiritual. The fact is that the spiritual—no matter how nimbly they tap dance around it—are religious. They just don't want to admit it. Scratch the surface a little and you will find a religious person hiding inside.
The term "spiritual" is also an affectation. The spiritual tend to be self-righteous. But they have nothing to be self-righteous about.
People who are enlightened and humanistic do not go around calling themselves spiritual. They live their ethics. Their actions speak for themselves.
(More on this in Monitor 23: Your Level of Humanity.)
Holy: holy land—holy books—holy men. The idea of holiness is a central facet of the fairy tales and superstitions nurtured during humanity's long childhood. The term "holy" carries a value judgment. Why not call "a holy place" what it really is—a religious place.
God willing and god bless. Appeals to gods are commonplace among people who do not manage their own lives but who always "look up" to higher forces—parents and gurus and leaders and gods—to take care of them.
Artificial. This is a favorite term of purists and fundamentalists. The fact is that anything that unfolds in this world is part of this nature and cannot be artificial.
There are no artificial foods—no artificial organs—no artificial intelligence. There is no artificial anything.
Prosthetic replacement parts made of silicone and Dacron and oxygen are just as natural as organic parts made of calcium and proteins and iron.
What is so artificial about an intelligent brain that can make billions of computations a second?
This emphasis on distinctions between the "natural" and the "artificial" is itself artificial. It reinforces people's resistance to making changes in themselves and in their environments—changes that are essential if we are to evolve to more sophisticated beings.
Far East. Where is the Far East far from? If you live in China or Japan or Korea do you live in the "Far" East? Is China "far" to the one billion Chinese?
How would you like people on other continents referring to your regions as Far United States and Far West and Far Europe?
The fact is that there is no Far East or Middle East or Near East. These are all designations from the colonial period—eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—when European powers were dominant in the world. Everything was measured in relation to Europe. The "Near East'' was near Europe. The "Far East" was far from Europe.
Far West (in the U.S.). This is as anachronistic as the term "back East. "The people in Oregon do not think of themselves as living far away.
Free World. People who use such propagandist terms are themselves not free.
Third World. This does not strike me as a useful term. It tends to polarize the world into adversarial camps of have-nations and have-not-nations.
The fact is that there is poverty and certainly backwardness everywhere in the world—even in the more prosperous nations. The poor anddie backward in Alabama and in Sicily do not live in the "Third World" but they too urgently need attention.
Then too there are now enclaves of wealth and advanced technology in most "Third World" countries.
There must be better ways of focussing attention on the poor and the backward of the world.
Man. This word—when used to denote humankind—is grating to mod-en enlightened sensibilities.