Archive for August 20th, 2018

A phrase that means nothing isn’t a useful term for serious adults; it’s a fad for the immature and silly.  –  “Meaningless

Imagine if you will how a master mechanic might react if he saw you using a wrench to pound in nails, or stepping on the handle of a large screwdriver you were using as a pry bar.  If he were of an unusually calm disposition he might just watch you for a while, shaking his head, before making some comment like, “That might go faster if you used the right tool,” or “Would you like me to show you how to do that?”  And if he were both patient and wise he might let you injure yourself first before commenting, so that you’d be more likely to listen.  But if he were as high-strung as I am, he might quickly lose patience with you, push you out of the way and do the job properly (possibly after striking you repeatedly about the head and neck with the abused tool).  As I wrote in “Nasty Words”,

As a writer, words are my tools, and I cherish them and baby them the way a good mechanic cares for the tools of his trade.  And just as a good mechanic always uses the right tool for the job rather than trying to make do with whatever happens to be nearby, so I insist on using the right word…and just as some mechanics are annoyed by seeing others misuse or abuse their tools, so am I annoyed by the misuse or abuse of words…

That column was about the rampant misuse of the word “vagina” to mean not only any part of a woman’s sexual anatomy, but also as a vulgar substitute for non-anatomical uses of the slang word “pussy”.  I’ve also written about my distaste for the improperly-constructed and imprecisely-used term “homophobia” (which actually means “fear of sameness or monotony”; an attack or word has no feelings and therefore cannot be “phobic” of anything); my rejection of those who want to ban things hiding behind the prefix “pro-“; the powerful annoyance I have for the word “privilege” as it is commonly used today; my deep revulsion for the word “deserve” (“the visible part of an iceberg of moral odiousness floating unseen below the social waterline”); my intolerance for “fair” (both word and concept); and the complete meaninglessness of the faddish shibboleth “human trafficking”.  As you’ve probably guessed, today I’m going to unload both barrels on another such term, the meaningless tech buzzword “disrupt”.

First, let’s start with the actual definition of the word: to interrupt the normal progress of something by causing a disturbance or problem; or, to destroy something’s structure (as in “cellular disruption”).  If you consult a bunch of dictionaries you’ll discover that there is no positive usage of this word; it always refers to a destructive process.  Of course, that could be desirable if the thing one wants to disrupt is itself destructive or evil, such as a police operation or the schemes of a politician.  And yet somehow tech-worshipers of the sort who believe in “The Singularity” seem to have assigned a positive meaning to it, and believe that people will react positively when told that the techie wants to “disrupt their industry” (even though even Urban Dictionary admits that the term is a mere buzzword with no specific definition).  I recently blasted a reader who sent me an email hawking some website which claimed it was dedicated to “disrupting the oldest profession”, and while I realized later that he was merely forwarding the email rather than writing it, I have to marvel at the deep cluelessness of a marketing department in the modern US which fails to comprehend that no sex worker is going to react well to someone claiming they want to “disrupt” our profession at a time when the government and countless prohibitionist NGOs are working very hard at doing exactly that by censorship, persecution, surveillance, entrapment schemes, raids and other such tactics.  Attention, tech idiots: I know y’all don’t live in the real world, but sex workers are sick and tired of violent thugs and evil control freaks trying to disrupt our profession (and almost that sick and tired of clueless amateurs trying to “disrupt” it in the app-developer sense).  Here’s some free marketing advice:  When trying to market your product to adults, it’s probably best to avoid adolescent slang, and when marketing to people outside your little circle-jerk it’s probably best to avoid jargon that’s going to sound negative to normal people.  Words mean things, and you’ll avoid offending potential clients if you remember that.

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