Tag Archives: political linguistics

[Call it like it is] Fuck off, Columbus! Hello, Indigenous Peoples’ Day!

When I grew up in South Korea, I had to memorize a lot of data in history classes: names, dates, figures, place names, historical events, etc. Memorization of data was the main goal of the class, and I hated it.

9781101971062I took one year of U.S. History class in my high school in NYC after I immigrated. It was not much different from the history classes in Korea. I memorized terms like Louisiana Purchase and Manifest Destiny to pass the NYS regents exam. There was no story spoken by Native Americans. If there were, it would have started my waking up process 20 years earlier, but that didn’t happen. For example, using the book that has recently taken the first place as fiction on my list: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (My #1 non-fiction is The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert) would have been extremely helpful. When I read this historical fiction last month, I was touched, moved, and torn apart. The history flew through my heart, not through my head. I truly believe learning history through personal stories is more effective than memorizing data.


Columbus Day has been an ordinary holiday to me, the day I don’t go to school or work. It is a holiday that I did not celebrate in Korea, but now I’m in the U.S. so why not join the party? While I’ve been numbly brainwashed by the White heteronormative racist agenda, other woke and caring people have been working hard to reverse the tremendous damage Christopher Columbus had inflicted 500 years ago. In observance of “Columbus Day 2019”, I read a few articles on the movement of renaming this holiday and picked a few years that line up its turns in history. Data again! What can you do? I’m from Korea.

  • 1492: Christopher Columbus lands on the Western Hemisphere.
  • 1792: the first documented observance of Columbus Day takes place in NYC.
  • 1934: President Franklin D. Roosevelt declares the first national observance of Columbus Day.
  • 1990: South Dakota, as the first state, renames Columbus Day as Native Americans’ Day.
  • 2019: Washington D.C. passes a resolution to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. (A full list of other states, districts, and cities that changed the name)

What this data tells me is that we are taking a fucking long time to mend our wrongdoings. If you claim that you did not invade this land yourself. Well, you are still responsible for mending it because your ancestors left it to you like your children will have to deal with climate change that you are leaving to them.

I understand why it is taking so long: because of how our society is structured. The people in power benefit from the structure and will do their best not to change it. Covering up the truth, creating their own narratives, and propagandizing them to the general public are the strategies they use.

But revels rise bearing and fighting for truth. And now they are proclaiming loud and proud: Fuck Columbus! It’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day! This new name “recognizes that Native people are the first inhabitants of the Americas.” And “there is power in a name and in who we choose to honor,” Gov. Janet Mills of Maine said as she signed a bill last April to establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day in her state.

Indigenous_Peoples_day_-_smallWe need to continue learning about what Christopher Columbus did. In fact, we should never forget what he did and ensure that our future generations remember it, too. Meanwhile, we do not need a holiday named after him to celebrate or commemorate. Including the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we need to make a lot more effort on healing the wounds of Native Americans from our history and fighting against the structural racism that continues to marginalize and erase them.




Feminist linguistic activism in the U.S. + intersectionality


An example from 1971

Since I’ve been writing about intersecionality, I will start with that.

When two female students at Harvard Divinity School in 1971 made a request to their professor to stop using “he to refer to God and masculine pronouns to refer to people in general,” the professor honored their requests. While some male students were open to this newly implemented practice, other male students including the few students of color were resistant. They were “leery of white feminists, even though we had come out of the civil rights movement ourselves,” stated Emily Culpepper, one of the students who made the request. This is an applicable example of how one marginalized group can impede the cause of the other marginalized group.

An example from 2019: U.S. Supreme Court Hearing on LGBTQ employment discrimination


Source: One Iowa Facebook Page

One Iowa, a non-profit organization that “advances, empowers, and improves the lives of LGBTQ Iowas statewide,” made a posting on their Facebook page yesterday. It was an update on the current hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court on three cases about LGBTQ employment discrimination with a poster that says Protect LGBTQ Workers. “These cases will determine if federal law protects LGBTQ people.” It made me question hard: ‘What could be the ground for not hiring or firing someone based on their sexual representation? How could it connect to their job competency?’ I could not come up with an answer. Currently, the civil rights laws of some states provide protection from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity but it is not covered in federal civil rights laws. Can we justify discriminating against a person because of who they are? Sexual orientation or gender identity is a core part of an individual like race, color, religion, sex or national origin, the elements covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If we can opt to exclude a part of identity from legal protection, wouldn’t it mean that we can exclude any element? When we fail to protect a group of people who are marginalized due to their identifying characteristics, for example, immigrants or women, it does not just affect that group; it affects all marginalized groups. That is how intersectionality works.

Feminist linguistic activism in the U.S.

The story of two female students at Harvard Divinity School is used in the article, Language and its everyday revolutionary potential: feminist linguistic activism in the US by Christine Mallinson (2017), as an example of “challenging man-made language forms.” Mallinson analyzes three strategies deployed in linguistic activism by the U.S. feminists: (1) challenging man-made language forms, (2) creating and institutionalizing egalitarian naming practices, and (3) linguistic disruption. These activists use the language as “an object to reform” as well as “a platform for revolution.”

In the introduction, Mallison explains the fundamental problem with English as a man-made language:

Gendered linguistic inequalities are also often rendered invisible, via pervasive gendered ideologies that construct male-oriented, hegemonic social structures, positions, and practices as normal and natural.
Language not only reflects larger social arrangements and hierarchies; it also creates, challenges, and maintains them.

Let’s go over the three strategies under discussion one by one.

Challenging man-made language forms

What the two female students at Harvard Divinity School challenged in their request was the use of androcentric words. They are “centered on, emphasizing, or dominated by males or masculine interests.” They cause problems to gender equality because they try to “establish ‘the man/the male as the prototype for human representation … [and] reduces the woman/female to the status of the ‘subsumed,’ the ‘invisible,’ or the ‘marked’ one’” (Pauwels 2003: 553). 25 years after this incident, organizations have now established their policy against sexist language. For example, the Linguistic Society of America recommends that “whenever possible, use plurals and other appropriate alternatives, rather than only masculine pronouns and ‘pseudo-generics’ such as man, unless referring specifically to males” (LSA Bulletin 1996: 68). Although the wave of generic use of man and masculine pronouns has passed us mostly, now there is an emergence of a new androcentric term: you guys. This is proof that male hegemony will continue to rise and seep through our language use because “being required to speak of people as males … seem[s] natural, immutable and preferable” (Henley and Abueg 2003: 449).

Creating and institutionalizing egalitarian naming practices

A big part of this work is instituting titles that treat all genders equally such as the use of Ms. Abandoning Miss. and Mrs. was important because “women were judged, qualified, and disqualified, included and excluded, on the basis their marital status” (Eckert and McConnel-Ginnet 2003: 43). Nowadays, another title is being promoted, especially in the U.K.: the gender-neutral Mx. (pronounced like “mix”).

Linguistic disruption

This strategy is used to disrupt the male hegemony by “actively making women visible in everyday language and everyday spaces.” The first type of the strategy is the neologism, introducing new words such as herstory, and womyn. They are not intended to be realistic or be used widely. They rather serve the purpose of “re-envisioning of language and history by and for women, and to raise awareness, sometimes in a more provocative manner” (Pauwels 2003: 562). The second type is called “form replacement” or “gender-neutralization.” These are simple, practical, and attainable changes such as switching from fireman to firefighterchairman to chair(person), waiter/waitress to server.

Concluding Q&A

Some people are skeptical of linguistic activism: can language use bring about social changes? Language and society are tightly intertwined and therefore influence each other constantly. As the generic use of you guys in recent years shows, the male hegemony will keep influencing our language use. At the same time, “we do language,” according to the author Toni Morrison. Each individual is an independent agent of the language they use. Here is a quote from Mallinson to conclude:

We can claim words, we can fight over their meanings, we can resist linguistic bias, we can tamper with sexist form, we can creatively deploy linguistic resources, we can speak truth to power.

Intersectionality and White Women

The title is two keywords of this entry. Let’s start with intersectionality.


This term was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, American lawyer, civil rights advocate, a leading scholar of critical race theory, and a professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School. In her 1989 essay, Crenshaw used the term to “address the marginalization of Black women within not only anti-discrimination law but also in feminist and antiracist theory and politics.” Later in 1991, she also use it to describe “the ways in which social movement organization and advocacy around violence against women” exludes “the vulnerabilities of women of color.”

Her recent usage of the term has broadened rightfully since the feminism and the anti-racism are not the only two movements that intersect. The social constructions of gender, race, social class and ability are interdependent forms of dominant ideology; ideologies and the resistance to them do not function independently. In certain cases, a discourse of resistance can rather produce and legitimize marginalization of another resistance.

An Example re: White Women

Here is an example from Medium by Real Talk: WOC & Allies. The article attributes the cause of white women’s lack of force in anti-racist activism to their deeply-conditioned discomfort with discord, subversion, and disruption. Sassy Latte, Black blogger and activist points out:

As people in marginalized communities gain access to power, the effect is that people who have power are going to have to give some of it up.

And giving up power is scary for it will crack or even dismantle the wall, which has been protecting White people including White women and White women feminists. The rest of the article shows the actions that White women can take to overcome the repulsion from subversion and disruption and use their White privilege to dismantle the systematic racism.

A tiny personal wrap-up

My investigation of intersectionality will continue in my linguistic studies, as language is everywhere and intersects with everything.

Is it okay for a black man to use “bitch” and “pussy” in his rap?

My short answer is “no”. If your answer is a firm no, you might not need to read this article.

I recently volunteered for a week long festival where black artists and artists of color were invited to perform. I was happy, surrounded by people of color and making a contribution in forming community and increasing visibility of POC. On the night of spoken word and poetry, I was struck when I heard a black man rapper using these words: bitch and pussy. It was very clear that he was using them to insult the characters in his story. At that moment, I felt the fragility of supporting one marginalised group when it fails to support the other marginalised groups. As I mentioned in my previous article, [Call it like it is] TERF? TPHP., intersectionality is real and essential. We are in this fight for justice together, and we cannot achieve justice by throwing another marginalised group under the bus.

By no mean, I am not against slurs. I believe slurs are natural expression of human emotions. However, slurs like “bitch” and “pussy” are problematic because they are often misogynic. Contexts determine their meanings, and they can be used by women in an empowering way as Caitie Karasik explained in The Stanford Daily:

A woman saying she is a “bad bitch” is not the same as a man calling a woman “his bitch.” The first can be a term of endearment, the other of possession steeped in a history of oppression. A man telling a man not to be a “bitch” means something entirely different from a woman telling another woman not to be a “bitch.” For one thing, the former suggests women lack value, and the latter suggests that women can only behave in certain ways. For another, men simply lack unfettered access to “bitch,” “pussy,” “cunt,” or “slut” because these words were intended by males to insult what’s female, or restrict women’s freedom of thought and behavior.

For I myself is a woman and is critical of oppression on women, I could not enjoy or appreciate the artist work any longer. The rapper looked young, so I just made a wish that he will learn, grow, and become a more socially-conscious rapper in the future. I rarely listen to rap, but I know this rapper is not the first man who used misogynic slurs in his work. There is research on who tops in that area.

So here is my long answer to the initial question of whether he can use “bitch” and “pussy”: Noooooooooooooo.

[Call it like it is] TERF? TPHP.

When I first learned what TERF stands for, I was baffled by the combination of these four words. The word “oxymoron” came to my mind. Yea, TERF would be a good example of oxymoron. That would at least benefit people who are learning this word.

Feminism: : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

With this definition of feminism from Merriam-Webster in our mind, let’s look at TERF.

TERF: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist

It is your total freedom to form a social group excluding anyone you want. Sure, you can do TEDW (Trans-Exclusionary Dog Walkers), TEM (Trans-Exclusionary Moms), TEWL (Trans-Exlusionary White Liberals), whatever. The biggest problem with the term “TERF” is that they are calling themselves feminists. (There are bigger issues with TERF itself, but I’m focusing on the terminology here.)

I do not believe in feminists who care about women only. Feminism is the work to achieve gender equality by fighting the oppression and discrimination based on gender. And in our current society as well as any past ones, women have been the bigger victim of oppression and discrimination in most cases; therefore the term “feminism”. If men would have been the bigger victim, it would have been called “masculism”.

I also do not believe in separatism in the fight for justice. All social matters intersect, and gender equality and queer rights overlap closely. When you are fighting against the unrealistic beauty standard enforced on women, you can not disregard the fight for the individual expression of gender. We are all fighting against oppressive norms in different ways.

Back to the oxymoron-ness in TERF, so when you call yourself a feminist, you need to care about not just women but all humans including all queer people. You can not cherry-pick who to care about. For example, confronting rape culture should involve healing women victims of sexual violence but also men victims of toxic masculinity. You cannot solve the problem by just focus on one gender. You need to approach it holistically.

Some more contexture information on TERF groups:

Many anti-trans feminists today claim it’s (TERF) a slur, despite what many see as an accurate description of their beliefs. They now prefer to call themselves “gender critical.”

Gender-critical feminism, at its core, opposes the self-definition of trans people, arguing that anyone born with a vagina is in its own oppressed sex class, while anyone born with a penis is automatically an oppressor. In a TERF world, gender is a system that exists solely to oppress women, which it does through the imposition of femininity on those assigned female at birth.

Full article: The rise of anti-trans “radical” feminists, explained

To tell you the truth, this issue aches my heart too much, so it’s been a struggle for me to start writing this blog entry and continue to write. I’m gonna wrap it up shortly for that reason. Let me challenge one more word in TERF though: radical.

I think radical is mis-leading, so is “extreme”. Extreme feminism must mean like trying to make everything same for all gender. Can we just be straightforward and swap it with “hateful”?

So here you go, your new name, TERF: TPHP (Trans-Phobic Hateful People). Ahhhh.. now I can breathe a little. Call it like it is. Let’s be real.

A small apology to TERF. I just realized that your new name does not have any vowel, which makes it difficult to pronounce. Try sounding out each consonant without vowel: T-P-H-P. It might work.

[Call it like it is] Juice? Soda? Energy drink? SUGAR WATER!


Let’s start with juice!

Have you met a person who claims that the juice they are drinking counts as fruit? Some juice is from real fruit, but it is not the real fruit. It is JUICE, and here I proclaim it’s actually flavored sugar water. Here’s why, according to Zach Newman, ACE Certified Personal Trainer.

essential_everyday_apple_juice_64_ozIn this article, he specifically discusses Essential Everyday 100% Apple Juice. Two top ingredients are water and apple juice concentrate. Juice concentrate is the base for the product’s self-claim for “from real fruit,” which is true, but you need to understand the true identity of juice concentrate.

The concentrate is far from the original apple it comes from. The industrial processing removes “nearly all its fiber, flavors, aromas, and vitamins” and turns it into what’s known as in the food industry as “stripped juice.” One of the vital ingredients missing in the concentrate is fiber, which “acts as a counterbalance to the sugar we’re ingesting.” The problem in consuming sugar without fiber is further explained in the article. While the ideal rate of sugar to fiber is 1:1, the average in the United States is 12:1.

Moving onto soda!


Here is a picture of sugar cubes stacked up in the equivalent amount to the sugar content in each coke container. Would you ever eat that many sugar cubes? Then why would you drink it? Besides, soda is not even from real fruit. These are the top three ingredients of Coca Cola.

  • Carbonated water
  • Sugar (sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup)
  • Caffeine

Therefore, I would call soda carbonated sugar water. Some soda like coke is caffeinated while some like Sprite is not. So let’s save the “caffeinated” label for the next group for its simplicity. (Bonus, a comprehensive chart of nutritional content of regular soda by sugarydrinkfacts.org)

Last up: energy drink!

redbullHere is a picture of sugar cubes stacked up in the equivalent amount to the sugar content in a Red Bull can. You get the idea. Shall we call this caffeinated and carbonated sugar water? Quite a lengthy name but definitely more accurate than energy drink, right? Think about it. It’s all marketing. People associate energy with health, so the company calls it by what consumers like not by what the product actually is.

Shilo Urban breaks down the ingredients of Red Bull throughly. “Red Bull is a mix of sugar, synthetic caffeine, taurine and several B vitamins, all of which are well-known for their energy-promoting qualities.” As for caffeine content, “Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine, about half of other soft drinks and about the same as a cup of coffee.” (Another bonus, a comprehensive chart of nutritional content of energy drinks by sugarydrinkfacts.org)

In short, they are all sugar water.

  • Juice: flavored sugar water
  • Soda: carbonated sugar water (with or without caffeine)
  • Energy drink: carbonated sugar water with caffeine


I’m not a health expert, and I’m not writing this post to advise people on what to drink. The purpose of “Call it like it is” is to give more accurate names to things, places, people, and ideas so that we as the language users become more aware of the truth behind these names and decrease our dissociation that are often created by profit/power-seeking agenda of profit/power-seeking entities. You don’t have to agree with the “truthful” names that I propose; in fact, feel free to propose other ideas of your own. I hope to provide space where thought-provoking conversations help us grow together.

[Call it like it is] “houseless” not “homeless”

Tent City, Portland

I learned the term houseless when I stayed in Portland, OR this summer. First, I spotted tents here and there around the city, and later I learned that people live in them.


Images by Kevin Gooley in Smartcity Dive


A homeless camp has sprouted at West Burnside Street and Northwest Fourth Avenue. [Source: The Oregonian]

House vs Home

There are differences between these two words: house and home. Here are definitions by Merriam-Webster.

House: a building that serves as living quarters for one or a few families

Home: one’s place of residence; house; the social unit formed by a family living together

  1. A house is a building while a home doesn’t have to be a building.
  2. Some people might not have a house (houseless); but everyone has a home.

Everyone has a home not just because of the old saying, “home is where the heart is,” but because everyone lives somewhere. Wherever the person lives, that is their home even if it does not take a form of a building.

Why the distinction matters

Acknowledging this distinction between house and home not only allows us to use an accurate word to describe people who live on streets but also makes difference in how we treat them in our society.

1. Change of our perception

Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a person by where they are in their life. One of many challenges that houseless people face is the unkind judgement on them by the members of our society. According to the interviews conducted by Daniel P. (Founder of Theory of Love, a mental health initiative service for houseless people and others in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), many houseless people feel like “they are treated as less than human.” When we see people on street, the only piece of identity we learn from them is their “homelessness,” and we need to start acknowledging them as individual human beings who are experiencing a life without a house.

2. Planting hope of recovery

As doctors identify hope as a vital factor in a patient’s successful recovery, same goes for people who are struggling with the absence of a house (often along with many other difficulties at hand, which might have led to the houseless situation). Danial P. claims that being called ‘homeless’ can make houseless peopl feel hopeless about their lives.

We all need to feel like we belong, to have a *home base,* a sense of community and social connection in our lives — to feel loved. Being classified as ‘homeless’ truly means you do not have a home, while ‘houselessness’ is simply a state of being.

3. Policy on treating tents

Seattle council member Kirsten Harris-Talley explains that using the term houseless not only adds the context to our conversation around housing issues but also can affect Seattle’s current “sweeps policy.”

The act of forcing people to move their tents is made easier if we ignore the fact that those tents represent homes.

The tents, boxes, or any make-shift structures made by their residents look very different from houses, but they still serve with the functions of homes. Katie Wilson, General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union, agrees on the damaging effects of labeling these residents homeless.

If you say ‘homeless,’ whatever structure they’ve created to shelter themselves is devalued. It makes it seem like less a big deal to move them.

By discrediting the houseless people’s homes and removing them, the city actually makes them homeless.