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Words I wish would go away - Her Most Regal Majesty, the Queen of Snark
void where prohibited, except by law
Words I wish would go away
A rare post from me, because I wanted to get this out of my system somewhere where it would stay around. There are some words (apparently largely neologisms) that are so colossally unhelpful that I feel the world would be a better place if people just stopped using them. Why? Because they seem tailor made to polarise, insult, and genuinely prevent constructive dialogue. Here are the three I can think of. Please suggest more in the comments.


Seriously, there are many good reasons to hate people in this world. The fact that they dress and talk in the same way that all their friends do isn't one of them. I remember being at an LRP event once where a bunch of people in orc masks were discussing the working class' terrible taste in clothes. It's not that any of the people who were doing it were bad people. It's more that the word chav had just labelled people as other. It encourages people to judge others on what they wear how how they speak rather than what they do or what they say. And it carries a strong implication that working class people are scum. It's stereotyping pure and simple, and I'd like it to stop.


Descriptive noun sometimes used by cyclists and bikers to describe car drivers. Again, this word smacks of superiority. It's sometimes quite difficult to get car drivers to engage with the idea that cyclists are road users too, but this word does nothing except polarise and anger the very people cyclists are trying to reach. There are a lot of entitled car drivers out there, but being derogatory to them only lowers the debate to their level. Cyclists are a minority, and if we are to effect change, it won't be by promoting an "us and them" mentality which is ridiculous, since many (most?) cyclists drive as well.


Yes, it is very annoying when one expresses one's frustrations on the Intarwebs, only to elicit a bunch of 'helpful' responses when all you really wanted was sympathy. It can be patronising, and being patronised is generally annoying. However, there are a couple of problems I have with this term. Firstly, the people doing the patronising are doing so because they've misunderstood the nature of your communication, and in their own way are expressing sympathy by trying to help with the problem. Geeks tend to be solution rather than emotion focused, and emotional content of written messages is enormously difficult even if you're very good at understanding emotional content face to face. So when someone is accused of "mansplaining", they are essentially being slapped in the face for offering the wrong kind of sympathy. This same message can be expressed succinctly and less judgementally by the phrase, "thanks, but I was actually just venting".

But "mansplaining"? Isn't that right on a par with "hysterical" for gender biased assumptions? I concede it's likely that on average women focus more on the emotional content of a message and men focus more on practical solutions, but like all such generalisations, this one is essentially meaningless. I've spent years working at a job where my main role is to help people come up with practical solutions to problems. Without wanting to make this about me, I'll admit that I have, from time to time, "mansplained" or "misread a request for sympathy as a request for help" as I like to call it. And frankly I'm sure there are many men who are excellent at telling the difference between the two and never "mansplain". So why make it about gender? It's the behaviour that's problematic, not the gender of the people doing it. Isn't doing that just implicitly asserting that men are emotional cripples? Which to me seems about on a par with suggesting my genitalia oblige me to like shoe shopping.

Labelling the activity in this way might be cathartic, but does it accomplish anything else other than to piss those misguidedly trying to help off? Again, it just doesn't seem constructive.
27 comments or Leave a comment
ewx From: ewx Date: May 16th, 2012 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good stuff. Coincidentally I have been desultorily looking for a good alternative to “hysterical” (in the actually-nothing-to-do-with-wombs-whatsoever sense). “Overwrought” fits well enough many cases, but it lacks the require punchiness in something like “the sack of the Lindisfarne monastery in northeastern England in 793, to which the English reaction was nothing short of hysterical”.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: May 16th, 2012 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Disproportionate" might work, but maybe that is also a bit too dispassionate. You could also try asking on english.stackexchange.com.
From: pir Date: May 16th, 2012 09:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cager is used by motorcyclists too.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: May 17th, 2012 05:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Have updated the post to reflect this, thanks.
triskellian From: triskellian Date: May 16th, 2012 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Totally with you on 'chav', but I don't think 'cager' and 'mansplaining' are in the same category, because in both cases they're words used about members of dominant groups by members of less-powerful groups (as a driver, I find 'cager' kind of rude, but that's partly the point of it, although of course I'm also a cyclist so probably not best placed to judge).

Mansplaining doesn't actually mean 'offering advice instead of sympathy', it means being a man offering patronising advice which assumes the female recipient of said advice is stupid and in need of your greater wisdom, and it's more usually done by acquaintances or strangers than friends - there's an implication of overstepping bounds in offering advice at all. It's a label for a rude behaviour, not for someone who is genuinely and politely trying to help but doing so misguidedly.
lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: May 16th, 2012 10:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Agreed on 'mansplaining'; I was trying to think of how to voice my reservations about that interpretation of its meaning. It's all about the sheer set of patronising assumptions.

I think of it as a bit like the way ISP tech support insist on explaining to you in painful detail how to get your router's IP address, and tell you you're confused and just need to listen when you try to hurry them onto the business of what settings they actually want to know about. Only worse, because at least you've normally asked tech support for help. Mansplainers would cold-call you to say 'Now, in the bottom left of your screen can you see a button that says 'Start'?'

Though, let us be fair, I have seen women do it too. And it gets right up my nose whatever gender does it :)
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: May 17th, 2012 05:23 am (UTC) (Link)
That would certainly make "mansplaining" less objectionable, although there's a danger in assuming that somone offering advice is assuming people are stupid. Intelligence is not a binary quality - markbanang frequently has to explain basic practical engineering things to me because my brain simply doesn't seem to be wired that way. That doesn't make me stupid, or him patronising. And I have definitely seen people I regarded as merely trying to be helpful accused of "mansplaining".

I think the point about the sexist nature of the term remains valid whatever definition you choose. The activity you describe may be perpetrated mostly by men against women, but the term is still polarising, and likely to offend men who don't engage in such behaviours.

I take your point about these things being terms used by minorities, but I'm not sure the same isn't true of the word "chav", which arguably, at least in some people's minds, encompasses the majority of the population. I think my point is that just because a word is being used by a repressed minority, that doesn't automatically stop it being unhelpful. As a non-driving cyclist, I would never use the word "cager", for this reason.

Edited at 2012-05-17 05:46 am (UTC)
undyingking From: undyingking Date: May 17th, 2012 07:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I have seen it used quite a bit in this sort of loose way. Not specifically advice instead of sympathy, but other general kinds of unwelcome or inappropriate advice thought typical of men. I think the horse might have bolted on the original precise meaning.

<* avoids temptation to illustrate by 'mansplaining' with a patronizing comment about how actually words can sometimes change their meanings through usage evolution ;-) *>
knightclubber From: knightclubber Date: May 16th, 2012 10:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd only heard one of those words (chav) before this post. Your efforts to destroy the others have thus slightly backfired :-)
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: May 17th, 2012 05:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Them's the breaks, I guess.
triskellian From: triskellian Date: May 17th, 2012 07:08 am (UTC) (Link)
('Scuse me, sesquipedality, while I have a small world moment on your LJ.)

Well, hello there, Mr knightclubber! Saw you in real life at an old friend's wedding a year and a half ago, and now on LJ, too! (Hope the icon helps you identify me - I'm the one in the bottom left, although I've now got short hair, and the one on the bottom right was getting married. The rest of us were bridesmaids, obviously ;-)
lnr From: lnr Date: May 17th, 2012 09:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, for me I see "helpy" (as opposed to helpful) used for what you're using mansplaining for - and tend to think of mansplaining as more along the lines of the Urban Dictionary definition: "To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening." Which I guess could be in the context of advice when someone's not actually asking for technical help, but I see it more often in other contexts.

Although it's a useful *concept* I still agree that a term which didn't include the gender-stereotyping would be a much better one - and I try to avoid using it.

I like your characterisation of all three words as polarising - it helps me put my finger on one of the things that makes me uncomfortable about them all too.

Edited at 2012-05-17 09:06 am (UTC)
anotherusedpage From: anotherusedpage Date: May 17th, 2012 11:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I'd use 'helpy' to mean what you've said 'mansplaining' means, and 'mansplaining' to describe the situation where a guy assumes a woman has no knowledge of a subject (usually technical) and continues to explain it in detail how it works even if the woman is an expert in the subject; with bonus points if they man is wrong about what they're talking about.
lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: May 17th, 2012 11:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah; 'mansplaining' in that context is the perfect word for what the head of the dev team in my previous company used to do to me; he'd call a meeting of everyone senior involved in the project, in which he would explain to me, slowly and with small words, what problems the new release would cause for the documentation and what complicated setup he saw as the only solution, and refusing to let me (the actual technical writer) interrupt until the end. At which point, after like ten solid minutes of him talking, I'd say something like 'We have all those terms set up as variables, I changed them yesterday, and we're good to go. Was there anything else?'

And that dev head was a raging misogynist.

I'd be a lot happier if there was a different word for it, though. While, to be fair, it's a behaviour I've primarily encountered from men, it does rather tar the entire gender with the same brush. Anyone got any better ideas? :)
davywavy From: davywavy Date: May 17th, 2012 09:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Someone accused me of mansplaining recently (I had to look it up), so in return I suggested she didn't worry her pretty little head about it because she was just "Womanoverreacting".

That seemed to kick things off nicely.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: May 17th, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
You know David, I do love the unerring knack you have for bringing the kerosene of reason to the bonfire of conflict. :)
davywavy From: davywavy Date: May 18th, 2012 09:18 am (UTC) (Link)
My patience with fuckwits just declines and declines as time goes by. I'm expecting it to go negative within 12 months.
crocodilewings From: crocodilewings Date: May 17th, 2012 03:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Something I see a lot, working where techies fraternise with fashionistas, and studying a subject where mathematicians rub up against humanities-types, is someone from one discipline getting hold of terminology from another, and then proudly using it in every borderline-tenable circumstance. Every ludicrous disaster scenario senior management dreams up becomes a "failure mode". Brian, who's only doing Econ 202 to make up points for his Philosophy degree, proudly announces his subjective preference as a "dominant strategy", because it's obviously the best.

I've got this special in-group indicator word, they think, so I'm going to use the sweet merry hell out of it, and it will make that group respect me because it's in their language. If only they knew.

My personal bugbear is the word "intermittent" sneaking into the general lexicon of computer users. Most of the time they mean "sporadic", and the distinction is obviously an important diagnostic criterion. I've given up on fighting it by this point; I may as well argue with the sea.

Such terms that worry me especially are ones that aren't rigorously defined, but also come packaged with a probably-inappropriate explanatory narrative. For example:

GENT: I'm sorry; I've already asked once, but will you please be quiet? Other people are trying to watch this, and your incessant talking is just rude.

LADY: Are you negging me?

GENT: What?

LADY: "Negging". The pick-up artist technique where you subtly insult me in casual conversation in order to lower my self-esteem, make me seek validation, and ultimately aid in seducing me.

GENT: What!? No! I just want you to shut up!

LADY: Oh, you totally are. I'm going to tell all my friends about the creepy guy who tried to pick me up in the cinema.

GENT: You're mental.

LADY: There you go again...

Being an insufferable smartarse who loves the sound of his own keystrokes, I'm amazed that no-one has yet accused me of "mansplaining", but in the event that someone does, it doesn't really exist to communicate to me that I'm doing something objectionable. It exists to communicate to other people why my correspondent is dismissing me. Whether that dismissal is warranted doesn't really enter into it, but having the word makes it that little bit more likely to happen.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: May 17th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
These are interesting points, but I'm afraid I am too shallow. Mostly you reminded me of how awesome this was.
lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: May 18th, 2012 06:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Given that 'intermittent' and 'sporadic' are synonyms in normal usage, I'd say that boat sailed a long time ago.

What is the distinction you'd draw between them in the diagnostic arena?
crocodilewings From: crocodilewings Date: May 18th, 2012 09:54 am (UTC) (Link)
'Intermittent' connotes an on-again-off-again pattern with irregular interval, whereas 'sporadic' connotes no pattern whatsoever. It's a slim distinction on paper, I'll grant you.

However, when someone says "[x] is happening intermittently", the implication is that [x] correlates with a background process they can't identify. When they say "[x] is happening sporadically", that implication is absent. The distinction provides evidence as to where the problem lies.
lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: May 18th, 2012 09:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm; I guess I probably would use the words in more or less those ways, but I don't think I'd use subtle differences in the connotations of similes as diagnostic criteria. It's always the problem with using common words in a technical sense, of course :)
crocodilewings From: crocodilewings Date: May 18th, 2012 10:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm not complaining about people using 'intermittent' and 'sporadic' interchangeably; I can't actually recall any notable instances of anyone using 'sporadic'. I'm complaining about people using 'intermittent' to describe any occurrence pattern they don't understand.

In real life, when people describe a phenomenon as "intermittent", they mean "it just happens whenever it feels like it and I don't know why, but if I use a word with a lot of syllables to describe this, I'll sound clever rather than stupid." I have had people use the word seven or eight times in the space of a two-minute phone call.

People using a word to signal something while oblivious to the actual, useful, important meaning of that word wind me up no end. This is possibly why I don't get along with critical theory.
lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: May 18th, 2012 11:36 am (UTC) (Link)
But your description isn't an example of 'people using a word to signal something while oblivious to the actual, useful, important meaning of that word'. It's an example of people using the word entirely correctly.

If tech people have taken a word that people are highly likely to use when describing a fault that happens sometimes but not others in an unpredictable fashion and ascribed it a specific technical meaning, then frankly, they deserve everything they get :)
crocodilewings From: crocodilewings Date: May 18th, 2012 12:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
But 'intermittent' doesn't mean 'no discernible pattern'. Intermittent is a pattern, characterised by frequent but irregular changes in state. That's not some special meaning I'm projecting onto it; that's what it means.

If I stub my toe four times at random intervals over the course of a year, it's not intermittent toe-stubbing. If I go through periods of stubbing my toe, separated by intervals of variable length, only then I could describe it as such.
lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: May 18th, 2012 01:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
If I stub my toe four times at random intervals over the course of a year, it's not intermittent toe-stubbing.

It's not sporadic toe-stubbing either; or at least I wouldn't use that word to describe it.

You are free to make that distinction between 'intermittent' and 'sporadic' if you like, but I don't think that distinction is as standard a part of the meanings of those words as you think.
crocodilewings From: crocodilewings Date: May 18th, 2012 01:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
As mentioned here, (very fist sentence), I'm not complaining about the distinction between 'intermittent' and 'sporadic', but about 'intermittent' being used as a catch-all term to describe occurrence patterns they don't understand.
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