The December issue of Harper’s included a wickedly clever summary of the Left’s “joylessly accusatory” lexicon by novelist and iconoclast Lionel Shriver, who shrewdly skewered progressives’ favorite catchphrases of the day.
The column exposes the idiocy of word trends such as cisgender and microaggression — but the brunt of Shriver’s wit was channeled against the term “privilege”:
The designation neatly dispossesses those so stigmatized of any credit for their achievements while discounting as immaterial those hurdles an individual with a perceived leg up might still have had to overcome (an alcoholic parent, a stutter, even poverty). For privilege is a static state into which you are born, stained by original sin. Just as you can’t earn yourself into privilege, you can’t earn yourself out of it, either.
… Meanwhile, it isn’t clear what an admission of privilege calls you to do, aside from cower. That tired injunction “Check your privilege” translates simply to “S.T.F.U.”—and it’s telling that “Shut the fuck up” is now a sufficiently commonplace imperative to have lodged in text-speak.
Shriver’s column takes on the pressing problem that society seems to have embraced some of these words and phrases and their modern definitions.
Consider the term “cisgender,” which denotes a person whose gender identity matches their biological sex. Shriver points out the lunacy of this word’s frequent usage:
Denoting, say, a woman born a woman who thinks she’s a woman, this freighted neologism deliberately peculiarizes being born a sex and placidly accepting your fate, and even suggests that there’s something a bit passive and conformist about complying with the arbitrary caprices of your mother’s doctor. Moreover, unless a discussion specifically regards transgenderism, in which case we might need to distinguish the rest of the population (“non-trans” would do nicely), we don’t really need this word, except as a banner for how gendercool we are. It’s no more necessary than words for “a dog that is not a cat,” a “lamppost that is not a fire hydrant,” or “a table that is actually a table.” Presumably, in order to mark entities that are what they appear to be, we could append “cis” to anything and everything. “Cisblue” would mean blue and not yellow. “Cisboring” would mean genuinely dull, and not secretly entertaining after all.
She also makes an excellent point about the very popular term “of color.” Think people of color, faculty of color, students of color, etc. Shriver writes:
The wokescenti’s biggest terminological success is surely “people of color,” whose nearly universal installation in public discourse shouldn’t reprieve the term from scrutiny. (After all, what does that make everyone else, “people of whiteness”?)
She also takes on “problematic” and similar terms:
“Rare instances of left-wing understatement, “problematic” and “troubling” are coyly nonspecific red flags for political transgression that obviate spelling out exactly what sin has been committed (thereby eliding the argument). Similarly, the all-purpose adjectival workhorse “inappropriate” presumes a shared set of social norms that in the throes of the culture wars we conspicuously lack.