Friday, 27 March 2009

The Metaphors we use

I have been trying not to use 'mad' as a metaphor in my writing, but some posts are harder than others. I found it really challenging to write a post about holocaust deniers without saying "these people are batshit crazy". Over at Alas there's been some discussion of this and Donaquixote articulated the reasons for avoiding madness as a metaphor very well:
I also get the insane = disconnected from reality definition you were going with. But there’s a huge difference between an illness that disconnects you from reality as a result of neurochemical processes and the condition of being willfully disconnected from reality because you don’t want to have your opinions challenged. One is an illness, the other is a character flaw, and the two ought never be confused. The problem is a lot of our terminology quite purposefully does confuse the two.
Many of the derogatory metaphors that come most easily to us are about comparing something we don't like with the powerless.

Metaphoric language is powerful - even as cliched metaphoric language as 'batshit crazy'. I don't think we should give up metaphors, I think we should be creative, more precise and more true in the metaphors we do use.

I thought a way of doing that would be to open a thread for discussion so people could post their metaphors, and other derogatory language, that don't pathologise powerlessness.

I'm not suggesting we start calling everyone we dislike a futures trader, but I think there are lots of smart articulate people who comment on blogs I write on. We can do better than the derogatory terms we do now.

I'm posting this on Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty, Alas and The Hand Mirror, for maximum discussion.

Please don't post in this thread unless you're actually interested in developing new metaphors. If you're doubtful about the usefulness of new metaphors then go talk about that somewhere else.


anthea said...

Actually most of the people giving me grief at the moment are wannabe futures traders, but that's just my life drama.

It is hard; I've been trying to weed out 'bastard' from my vocabulary for years, and I still slip up on occasion. The interesting thing about some of the mental health words is that I used "mad" and "crazy" in both a reclaimed sense and a derogatory sense - again, I know I need to stop with the latter, particularly as it undermines the former.

I've made jokes about being from other planets etc, but they aren't very good, and if you follow them through they tend to relate more to ignorance than a disconnection from reality in the way crazy etc would. I often make references to book, tv etc, but that depends on a particular audience which I already know. So no real answers, but I've noticed the need for them too.

Lucy said...

I really struggle with this. Some "crazy" words I don't use - retarded, definitely not! - but words like crazy/nuts/batshit/out of your mind? I use those all the time. It's just difficult to think of terms which define someone as disconnected from reality which don't sound pedantic and which people will easily understand. I can't really think of any answers - apart from being more rational in our responses (i.e. "I feel you haven't thought this through" rather than "are you crazy?"), which isn't always possible. Something to work towards, though.

Anonymous said...

Darn it, now you've inspired me to work more Lovecraftian imagery into my swearing.

"What are you, man, FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH or something?"

Anonymous said...

How about we start trying to get "DFR" out there as a meme? Is it catchy enough? Will people start saying it "Differ"?

Dislocated From Reality works for me.

Example: "Dude, your argument denying the holocaust is TOTALLY DFR"

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I think any longer that there is any overlap between the behaviours I would group under the pejoratives mad, crazy or indeed batshit insane, and the behaviours associated with mental illness, either the mental illness with which I'm afflicted or others. For me it's as if the vehicle of the metaphor has completely detached from its original tenor.

By the same token, I wouldn't be affronted if someone attached a pejorative tag to my behaviour under depression, since it's something I experience pejoratively too, but I would be concerned if someone whose opinion I valued thought my intellectual reasoning in my professional life sufficiently faulty to describe it as mad--because I don't like to have faulty reasoning!

Anonymous said...

I tend to go for understated much of the time, but I do like "batshit crazy" (does anyone actually know whether bat poo is prone to insanity?)

So much more pleasant to say "his beliefs appear not to be based on reality" or "has rejected empiricism" or "insofar as it is science it follows the Greek tradition". Makes for great slogans too... "homeopathy: when undiluted reality is just too much" and "iridology: looking at the world in a different way". Or are those just bad puns?

And I still treasure Pratchett's "proactive phrenology".


GZ said...

'Has rejected reality' really sums it up.

Although I think that people like holocaust deniers often suffer from mental configurations that allow them to disconnect from realities they don't want to hear.

Julie said...

This is a really timely post for me Maia, I've been thinking about these issues too, in particular my use of "mad" and also "bugger". I guess the first steps are to be conscious of saying them and looking for alternatives?

There are a lot of negative words out there that don't steal from the disempowered. I'd quite like to start saying "that's an awful line of thought," rather than "that's insane". Too long? Maybe.