The ‘um,’ the ‘uh,’ the ‘ah,’ and even the Californian ‘like,’ have been thoroughly mocked. In some sense, this mockery is deserved. When these things pile up, they can make for an appallingly dull or annoying conversation. But its critics dismiss, what some researchers believe is valuable information. Let’s take a look at grunts, and the messages they convey.
Researchers at Stanford and UC Santa Cruz published a paper asserting the claim that ‘um’ and ‘uh’ are words that serve a conversational, if not strictly linguistic, purpose. One doesn’t use them in writing, because a written message allows all the time in the world to formulate a thought. But in conversation, when people understandably have to pause to remember directions, think of names, or pause to re-state a question, they’re legitimate conversational signals, and part of how humans communicate. Depending on how they’re deployed, they can signal a pause in conversation with the intention of continuing momentarily, a pause meant to signal someone else to speak, or when people want to signal that they’re deliberately mulling over a choice.
Responding to a question about who you saw last weekend by saying, for example, “I went out two weeks ago with Katie and, uh, -” signals that you’re accessing your memory for a name, and not just trailing off into nothing. Just saying, “Uh,” and looking around signals that either you don’t care enough to remember, or are asking someone else present to remember for you. Responding to a question about where to go tonight by saying, “X movie,” is signaling a strong desire, while, “Uh, X movie,” is signaling that you’re up for a change of plans. In both cases, ‘uh’ isn’t just a tic or filler, it communicates something that wouldn’t be apparent otherwise.
Brian Christian, in The Most Human Human, points out that this stuff might not even be a weakness. Getting an ‘uh’ out before other people do can let you take the lead in speech. Jeopardy contestants do better if they buzz first, when the question sounds familiar, and then access their memories afterwards, making sure that none of their rivals scoop them. The buzz is the equivalent of “Ah!” It’s also used in conversations, a sound that precedes thought but makes people pay attention long enough to get the thought out before anyone else does. It’s even been suggested that phone trees that insist the caller speaks would be better if they could recognize the pausing and the word ‘um,’ as requests for more information or clarification.
Too much of any word makes for annoying reading, as anyone who has thrown a Hemingway book across the room after reading the word ‘fine’ one too many times. But pauses, grunts, and verbal exclamations that aren’t strictly words still serve communication purposes. Makes me want to go back to the middle school English teacher who ridiculed his students for unconsciously saying the word ‘like,’ and wave that paper in his face. And then, like, punch him in the mouth. (You know what I mean.)"
My local chapter of Toastmasters International — well, the whole organisation, really — ought to read this!
the radical asexual
I think I might be a radical asexual. I’ve never self-identified as a radical anything, with the exception of possibly radically prochoice - but even then, I feel like “radical” is acknowledging one’s beliefs fall far outside the norm, and I think more people probably agree with the so-called radical prochoice stance than are consciously aware of it.
“Radical asexual” is not something I’ve ever seen before. I’ve seen “asexual radical”, but that seems to imply someone whose overall belief system falls into the/a radical camp, and who just happens to be asexual. So I would like to explore the notion of a “radical asexual” and “radical asexual” positions, in terms of things I would like to see, that may or may not be considered radical.
- I would like to see the misogynistic, heterosexist, cissexist, and theocratic system of virginity abolished. At the very least, I would like to see identifying outside the system of virginity recognized as a legitimate option.
- I would like to see an end to prude-shaming. I would like to see the slurs “frigid” and “prude” fall into disuse.
- I would like to see an awareness of sex-normative language and a new standard of linguistic inclusivity that takes into account the asexual perspective.
- I would like to see people stop using “sex positive” as a compliment and “sex negative” as an insult. I would like to see “sex positivity” no longer used as a benchmark for being a “true” feminist/progressive/humanist. I would like to see sexual disinterest and sexual aversion recognized as valid approaches to sex. I would like to see a system of sexual nonjudgment that validates negative and neutral opinions of sex (provided, of course, that these don’t encroach on the behavior of other consenting adults) as well as positive ones.
- I would like to see an end to the pathologization of asexuality.
- I would like to see comprehensive, science-based, and shame-free sex education for young people that discusses all sexual orientations as valid, including asexuality and demisexuality.
- I would like to see an end to both the shaming and stigmatization of sexual partners of asexual people, and the demonization of asexual partners in mixed relationships.
- I would like to see an end to the deeply-entrenched association of sexual inactivity with religious reactionary views. Instead, I would like to see asexuality validated as a form of positive* sexual agency that subverts patriarchy and theocracy rather than enabling it.
Are these radical views? Is “radical asexual” something that’s different from the mainstream views of the asexual community? Am I ready to call myself a radical anything?
*I use “positive” here to mean “something instead of nothing”, i.e. asexuality is an orientation rather than a lack of an orientation, not “positive” meaning “good”. (“Proactive” might work too.)
Cis Privilege: Refusing “Cis”
People have been saying all sorts of things in response to my last post about labeling a cis person cis even if they don’t like the word.
This word has no historical baggage or history of being weaponized. It simply means “gender identity matches with that assigned at birth.” It is not belittling. It is not insulting. It does not erase their gender. It simply describes fact.
Labeling someone “cis” when you don’t know that they’re cis can be terribly erasive and hurtful, of course. I try my hardest not to automatically assume cis status in anyone if they haven’t told me their gender matches that assigned to them at birth. But when it’s completely clear from context that someone’s gender identity matches what they were assigned at birth but they don’t like the label cis…..I am going to use it anyway. If they don’t like me as a result—guess what. I don’t like cis people who refuse to accept that label, so I don’t care about that either. Maybe it’s just a personal preference, but I don’t think so. I think it has everything to do with privilege and how much I hate it when people deny their privilege.
“Trans,” even in its most neutral and inoffensive usage, is not universally liked by everyone who has transitioned. Some people think it implies they’re permanently in a transitional state when their transition is ancient history and their experience of it is no longer very relevant to their lives. Some people don’t like the word’s implication of “changing genders” because they feel like they haven’t changed but merely admitted what they always were. And of course, given that we live in a cissexist society, when most people label someone “trans” the word carries cissexist connotations of “less worthy of basic human rights.” Is it any surprise that some are hesitant to claim that label?
“Cis” has no such baggage. It has no such complexity. And being cisgendered is relevant at all points to every single cis person’s life, as they are constantly receiving the privileges of being cis.
Lots of cis people resist having any label applied to their experience of coercive gendering, because they don’t like being labeled by someone in a different group. Well, fair enough, I hate being labeled by other people too—but refusing to be labeled is not a privilege I have. Any cis person who cared very much about the experiences of trans people would accept a completely inoffensive label that describes their experience if only in sympathy for trans folks who have been nonconsensually labeled their entire lives.
When everyone stops being coercively labeled from birth, we won’t need any labels like “cis” or “trans” anymore. But that isn’t happening today.
In fact, “cis” is mostly synonymous with “privileged.” And reminding someone of how privileged they are via a label is NOT the same as reminding someone how oppressed they are via a label.
Many people hate being reminded of how privileged they are. One can feel uncomfortable, angry, frightened, guilty, ashamed, and confused when one’s privilege is acknowledged and called out. But it is not any minority’s responsibility to help privileged people unpack their privilege.
Not having intrinsically offensive labels applied to you by others on a daily basis simply because you exist is a privilege not shared by all. Having an experience of gender that is so normalized that it’s viewed as universal and thus has no need for a name is a privilege not shared by all. Not needing a label to rally behind is a privilege not shared by all. And I have less than no interest in pandering to the preferences of an exceedingly privileged group of people who whine about a word that indicates my experience is just as valid as theirs.
No one can convince me it’s oppressive to label a privileged person privileged. No one can convince me it’s “othering” to tell someone they’re part of a vast and privileged majority. If a cis person cannot stand the idea of language that acknowledges two equally valid but different experiences of coercively assigned gender—GUESS WHAT. I COULD NOT CARE LESS ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS ON THIS SUBJECT.