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HD: AP on Homophobia
Posted: 28 November 2012 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Is there a term for “fear of journalists who don’t know how language works”?

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Posted: 28 November 2012 05:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It does seem odd. Given that language is one of a journalist’s key tools, you’d imagine that journalists who don’t know how language works would be about as rare as plumbers who don’t know sewage flows downhill.

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Posted: 28 November 2012 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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And it’s not just your run-of-the-mill journalists, but the editors of a major style guide.

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Posted: 28 November 2012 06:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The dictionary definitions all imply fear or hatred, which may not be the case.  I do not fear or hate booger-eaters, yet I do not want to be around such people.  I think what they do is disgusting.  However, those who are booger-eaters or who champion the booger-eater cause would accuse me of booger-eateraphobia.

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Posted: 28 November 2012 06:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The dictionary definitions all imply fear or hatred,

Except for those, as per Dave’s article, that imply “aversion to”, “dislike”, or “intolerance for”.

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Posted: 28 November 2012 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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OP Tipping - 28 November 2012 06:58 AM

The dictionary definitions all imply fear or hatred,

Except for those, as per Dave’s article, that imply “aversion to”, “dislike”, or “intolerance for”.

OED: “fear or hatred”
AHD: “fear of or contempt”
MW: “irrational fear”

All of the definitions offered state “fear”, and state it first, whether or not they go on to say “aversion to” or whatever. 

It is used as a pejorative term.  It is name-calling, pure and simple.  It is never used in a polite way.  It is the equivalent of saying “baby-killer” instead of “pro-choice”. The AP is correct, IMO, to dissuade its use.

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Posted: 28 November 2012 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Homophobia is not inherently pejorative, which means “depreciatory, contemptuous.” Like any word, it can be used in a contemptuous context, but it is not so on its face. If homophobia is pejorative, so is xenophobia, racism, and sexism. What homophobia represents is vile, but that does not mean the term is pejorative.

Nor is it “name calling.” Using homophobe would be name calling, and would probably be inappropriate for a newspaper article, as distinguishing an idea from the person who holds it is often a wise choice.

In the same update the AP also advised against using the term ethnic cleansing, as that is a euphemism that hides the horror of what is actually done. If they were to apply the same logic, then they should be in favor of using homophobia. Homophobia is bigotry, and calling it something else is euphemistic and giving license to a vile idea.

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Posted: 28 November 2012 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I see the distinction you make between “homophobia” and “homophobe”, so I was ready to agree that “homophobia” might not be a pejorative term.

And then you said homophobia is bigotry, and I think that reinforces my point.  Homophobia is never used merely to describe a set of beliefs.  It is a word which is overused.  It is applied to anyone who does not champion all things gay.

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Posted: 28 November 2012 04:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Homophobia isn’t “name-calling” (since it isn’t a name that one could be called, at least without violating the rules of grammar) but it is certainly a highly charged word with profoundly negative connotations.  And that was kind of the idea when it was first coined: Weinberg consciously used the -phobia ending to convey the idea that opposition towards or dislike of gay people is deeply irrational, driven by fear, and pathological in extreme cases.  Indeed, he attempted to have the term included in the DSM, the most authoritative publication there is (at least in the US) for diagnosing different forms of mental illness.

Of course, once a term is coined, it often takes on a life of its own and acquires meanings and uses its creator would hardly recognize.  Homophobia is now used, fairly frequently, to describe a wide variety of behaviors and attitudes ranging from an intense hatred of gay people to opposition towards any form of legislation that is designed to protect the rights of gay people to a mild feeling of discomfort at the sight of two men kissing.  But, regardless of which of the wide variety of different senses it is being used in a given case, I think it almost always carries with at least an implication that the behavior or attitude or feeling is a product of an irrational fear.  I think it rarely carries with it a sense that the person or group who is said to have it actually has a diagnosable mental illness, but it does carry with it the idea that whatever a person or group’s stated reason is for a given attitude or behavior, the actual reason is fear.  In fact, I think that that is precisely what makes the term a rhetorically powerful one, and precisely why anti-gay groups dislike the term so much: while their claims that the term is “etymologically wrong” are laughable, their suspicion that the term connotes that they are unreasoning victims of their own fears (and that, therefore, their arguments regarding homosexuality are not worthy of serious consideration) is absolutely dead on IMO.

As it happens, I suspect that bigotry towards gay people in its various forms IS very often a product of a perhaps unconscious but nonetheless quite destructive fear (although another candidate, at least for the milder forms of it, is simple ignorance), so the connotations of the term don’t particularly bother me.  But i don’t really have any hard evidence supporting that suspicion.  And I think a journalist would do well to be very careful in using the term when describing the attitudes or behaviors of a person or group, both in the sense of being clear as to precisely which sense of the word is meant, and in the sense of making certain that applying the term - with all the connotations it carries - is justified in a given instance.  And, at least for me, that means that the journalist should have some basis for thinking that a given attitude or behavior is a product of fear, and the “evidence” should be something considerably more reliable than a general belief of the kind that i alluded to above.

But, to be clear, I certainly do not think it is proper to advocate that journalists never use the word just because using it properly is difficult and likely to lead to controversy.

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Posted: 28 November 2012 05:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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It has exactly the same connotations as racism and antisemitism , two other forms of bigotry that are based on irrational fear. Both of these terms are also used in contexts where their application is inappropriate, but the AP would not dream of advising against using those words in the situations where it is.

If the AP had said something along the lines of “avoid using homophobia except when anti-gay sentiment is clearly based on irrational, pathological, or extreme sentiments” I don’t think anyone would have objected. But they didn’t and instead adopted the line being voiced by the bigots (which is why I quoted the Conservapedia entry), showing that their policy has resulted in the bias that they ostensibly sought to avoid.

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Posted: 28 November 2012 07:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I certainly agree that the AP would, more reasonably, have advised caution and care in its use (along the lines you suggest) rather than its wholesale avoidance.

I would offer a tiny quibble regarding the connotations of homophobia vs. racism and anti-semitism, though: I think the term homophobia is somewhat overt in linking the bigotry with the irrational fear.  Racism and anti-semitism are, IMO, almost certainly also motivated by fear, but the words racism and anti-semitism themselves do not expressly link the two (the fear and the bigotry).  This, I think, is what was ingenious about the coining of the word “homophobia”: it simultaneously denotes a form of bigotry and implies if not states that that bigotry is irrational and fear-driven.

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Posted: 29 November 2012 02:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Well then I guess we need a more appropriate term for anti-gay bigotry that is not based on irrational, pathological or extreme sentiments: we wouldn’t want anyone to be offended by a not-quite-appropriate accusation of homophobia, would we? To the wordinator!!

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Posted: 29 November 2012 02:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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All of the definitions offered state “fear”, and state it first, whether or not they go on to say “aversion to” or whatever. 

So you agree, then, that the dictionary definitions all clearly indicate that it can sometimes mean aversion, rather than fear. It’s not the only word in the language with multiple meanings.

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Posted: 29 November 2012 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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but the words racism and anti-semitism themselves do not expressly link the two (the fear and the bigotry)

Although there is a similar etymologically fallacious argument regarding antisemitism. It is often said that Arabs cannot be antisemitic because they are a Semitic people themselves, even though the use of antisemitism is always been specific to Jews.

It’s really just about bigots using the etymological fallacy to cast aspersions on those who are calling them out on their bigotry. It’s a case of “blame the victim.”

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Posted: 29 November 2012 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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OP Tipping - 29 November 2012 02:12 AM

Well then I guess we need a more appropriate term for anti-gay bigotry that is not based on irrational, pathological or extreme sentiments: we wouldn’t want anyone to be offended by a not-quite-appropriate accusation of homophobia, would we? To the wordinator!!

Yes we do need a different term, or we need to limit the use of homophobia.  I do not care whether gay people live together or get married or whatever.  It does not affect me in one bit.  Nevertheless, I do find the sight of two men kissing affectionately disgusting.  I find it just as disgusting as someone eating their own boogers.  Yet, my aversion to two men kissing is called “homophobia” whereas most people would consider my aversion to booger-eating perfectly reasonable. 

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has aversions of one sort or another towards others based on behavior.  There is nothing irrational about it at all.

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Posted: 29 November 2012 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Nevertheless, I do find the sight of two men kissing affectionately disgusting.  I find it just as disgusting as someone eating their own boogers.  Yet, my aversion to two men kissing is called “homophobia” whereas most people would consider my aversion to booger-eating perfectly reasonable.

And that’s a perfectly accurate distinction.  Would you consider someone’s disgusted reaction to people of different races kissing to be reasonable?

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