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Abuse Can Be a Weasel Word

Weasle croppedIn every area of life, one needs to be cautious with highly emotive words…. especially highly emotive words that, like most highly emotive words, have no clear definition, or no clear limitations.

Weasel words are words that are used manipulatively to transfer emotional sensation from one thing to another. They are meant to take people hostage emotionally in their minds in order to force a conformity of ideas.

Advertisers are world class weasel word and weasel image users. Take a product, almost any product, put an actor in a doctor’s coat, put an actor in a laboratory… voilà! The emotional responses associated with doctors and scientists are transferred to the product, even if the product is a radial tire.

Weasel words can be positive… like the attempt in the 70s by the homosexual community to use the word GAY to reference themselves. Believe it or not gay once meant happy and joyful.  Whatever the present social designs to normalize homosexual practice, the use of GAY was an epic fail, merely eliminating a word’s common use… or was it?

Weasel words can be negative… like describing marriage as “the last legal form of slavery in existence.” Slavery is a powerful term with ugly emotions attached to it. Use it to describe something and you carry all that negative emotion with it, plastering it on something far more benign, or even good… like the nuclear family.

Weasel words are powerful tools. Who, after all, wouldn’t be in favor of something like “love”… nobody wants to be, as a character in the movie Dan In Real Life decried, “a murderer of love!” Love, however, as commonly used, has no clear definition, just powerful emotional impact. Attach the word love to any debase emotional attachment and it is meant to legitimize it. Attach it to some infatuation and it is meant to solidify it, eternalize it. Call these bonds sinful or frivolous and you too are a murderer of love!

But what about a word like abuse?

There are real cases of abuse; they make us weep if the mental images of their aftermath merely flash upon our mind’s eye. Abuse is a powerful emotional term with profoundly negative  associations… associations that far outstrip the cavalier way that people, even in the church, tend to throw it around.  Abuse has a definition, but no clear limits. Abuse is used manipulatively to accuse or excuse, to defame and marginalize.

Don’t like spanking? Call it abuse. Don’t like the fact that people tend to raise their voices when upset? Call it abuse. Don’t like people growing wealthy around you? Call it abusive exploitation of workers.

I’ve been accused by women of abusing them with pronouns when I use gender neutral pronouns instead of gender inclusive pronouns in my writing and speaking. I’m not kidding. A woman once jumped upon a chair pointing at me and screaming something like, “This man is attacking women! Who will come to the aid of women?!” because I corrected her misconception about the school’s rules about gender neutral vs. gender inclusive pronouns in academic papers. She was berating and threatening a foreign student at the time for failing to use gender inclusive pronouns, insisting that he was violating school policy.

I was once accused of abusing my daughter when, after she returned from the washroom in the middle of a church sermon, she danced up the middle isle singing at the top of her lungs… you see, I, who was several seats away from her at the time, leaned in to catch her eye and gave her a disapproving look… what the busy body women in the churched called “an abusive look.”

My wife and I were once accused of abusing my youngest because she returned to Sunday school well-behaved after her teacher had complained of misbehavior the week before. Black eye? Scaring? Wounds? Weeping from a beating? Nervous and pleading with teacher not to tell her mean Mommy and Daddy on her anymore? No, no, no, no, & no. Just a happy kid, who sat in her seat, and apologized to teacher for running around the week before. What was the teacher’s accusation? “Nobody can alter their children’s attitude and behavior that fast… you must have abused and terrified her.” She obviously didn’t know my youngest very well; a grizzly in full charge with saliva dripping from its jaws wouldn’t terrify her.

Spouses in divorce court routinely lay charge to abuse. Verbal abuse, Psychological abuse, and even undefined emotional abuse. Every act of aggression aimed at the children is thrown out in court as proof that the spouse is an abuser. In fact, the charge is so frequent I can’t imagine that it would not be a temptation to take it as a matter of course. When everyone charges abuse for everything, how is one to take the accusation seriously?

People rally charges of abuse if a person they don’t like so much as brushes against them, pokes them, glares at them. We’ve become such a litigious society that accusations of abuse are almost always ready on our lips, like guns on our hips, to lay waste to anyone who disagrees with us, or confronts us, or speaks to us in way, or on a subject, we don’t like.

There is real abuse in the world. We dishonor the victims of it with our manipulative overuse of the term.

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