Saturday, August 7, 2010

Better Turns of Phrase?

I was reading The Seated View and agreeing totally with Lene's latest post Of Two Minds. She isn't confined to a wheelchair nor is she wheelchair-bound.

That's what we say without thinking. Someone is confined to a wheelchair. We don't usually stop to think that the wheelchair itself is, as Lene says, liberating. What Lene doesn't mention is what phrase she'd rather people use. This got me thinking of two other posts that have made me rethink some typical turns of phrase.

First is Daniel Dennet's piece Thank Goodness!. Now even if you don't start using "Thank Goodness" instead of "Thank God" he does make many great points. Among them:
Or you can thank God—but the very idea of repaying God is ludicrous. What could an omniscient, omnipotent Being (the Man Who has Everything?) do with any paltry repayments from you? (And besides, according to the Christian tradition God has already redeemed the debt for all time, by sacrificing his own son. Try to repay that loan!)
The second is Christopher Hitchens' piece Topic of Cancer. He points out that cancer seems to be tied to its own turn of phrase:
Unfortunately, it also involves confronting one of the most appealing clichés in our language. You’ve heard it all right. People don’t have cancer: they are reported to be battling cancer. No well-wisher omits the combative image: You can beat this. It’s even in obituaries for cancer losers, as if one might reasonably say of someone that they died after a long and brave struggle with mortality. You don’t hear it about long-term sufferers from heart disease or kidney failure.
There are probably many other turns of phrase that should be changed and corrected. Our day to day speech is full of them. Trite phrases we say without realizing that what the words say isn't always what we actually meant.

1 comment:

Lene Andersen said...

And don't even get me started on the awful term that was temporarily in vogue instead of person with a disability: physically challenged. Every time I heard it, I felt exhausted, as if I was climbing Mount Everest every day.

PS. I prefer person with a disability for the general term, but if getting specific vis-à-vis the wheelchair, got with wheelchair user. That one's good.