November 25, 2020

Insult liberals all you want, but find a different word for it

I rather like the term “snowflake,” as used by conservatives to denote someone too easily offended, excessively sensitive.

The kind of people who need trigger warnings and safe spaces.

Fragile.

It’s intended as a put-down, earlier applied to millennials (“the snowflake generation”) and bit by bit extended to all-age liberals of supposedly delicate sensibilities. The Guardian labeled it “the defining insult of 2016.”

Go back far enough and it had other meanings: Merriam-Webster records that in the 1860s in Missouri snowflake identified someone opposed to the abolition of slavery; in the 1970s it became a “disparaging term for a white man or for a black man who was seen as acting white.”

Not too hard to divine the association there.

The current usage is seen as having developed from a line in the book, and later movie, “Fight Club”:

“Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not the beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”

You have to admire the use of “snowflake” as both ridiculing people for thinking they’re special, and invoking the notion of impermanence: Snowflakes in nature pretty quickly lose their individuality and, sooner or later, cease to exist as snow at all. So, good going, conservatives.

No surprise there. I’ve long thought that conservatives do a better job than liberals at establishing the language of political debate. As I’ve written before, “pro-life” beats “pro-choice” all to hell as a rhetorical device.

I’ve also marveled before about how conservatives co-opted “progressive” to suggest a negative connotation. “Secular progressives” are doubly evil, as also being godless.

And if I knew who coined the phrase “tree-hugging, latte-sipping, Volvo-driving liberal elitists,” I’d be tempted to give him or her some kind of award.

What I don’t like is “libtard,” a combination of “liberal” and “retard” that reflects more poorly on the user than on any intended target.

“Retard,” as a noun for someone who is intellectually disabled, is a particularly vile, noxious term with no place in today’s world. In my book, it’s right up there – or down there – with the n-word.

It’s true that “retarded” as an adjective was once commonly used. The National Association for Retarded Children was founded in the 1950’s as an advocacy group for those with the disability.

But words evolve, not always for the better.

“As the words ‘retardation’ and ‘retarded’ became pejorative, derogatory and demeaning in usage, the organization changed its name to ‘The Arc,’” the group’s website says now.

It goes on: “Today, the term ‘mental retardation’ remains the terminology used in the medical field and referenced in many state and federal laws. However, ‘intellectual disability’ and ‘developmental disability’ are making their presence known, and we are doing everything in our power to make sure they’re adopted more broadly.”

I recognize that opposition to political correctness is part of the ethos for the so-called alt-right – short for “alternative right,” but what is, in fact, the extreme, loony right.

As such, libtard is used precisely because it’s known to offend. I get that.

And I know: Sticks and stones…

But I’m arguing for one small return to civility in the discourse in this country. “Snowflake” playfully teases. “Libtard” cruelly taunts. The difference matters.