Purely Political, By James Buckley
Well, we know that Brandeis is one scary school to attend. I know that January is Stalking Awareness Month, that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I don’t know about the other months, but if I’m a high school senior, I’m already scared and wondering if I really want to go there.
But never fear. The administrators at Brandeis have come up with a new weapon (as opposed, say, to bear spray or a concealed weapon) to fend off unwanted attention. Brandeis’s Oppressive Language Code outlines a number of really scary words that could frighten undergrads of all sexes, pronouns and genders.
Instead of saying you are “killing it!” which is an example of “explicitly or implicitly violent expressions and metaphors that are used casually and unintentionally,” you should say “Great job!” or even “Awesome!” (Though “Awesome, dude!” would be inappropriately sexist, so be careful out there!)
Other frightening expressions include “Take a shot at” (alternative: “Give it a go”), “Take a stab at” (alternative: “Try”) and others. Even “trigger warning” is not recommended, because as the BPARC (Brandeis Prevention, Advocacy and Research Center; this is its official moniker) folks explain, “The word ‘trigger’ has connections to guns for many people; we can give the same heads-up using language less connected to violence.”
Same with “Rule of thumb,” an expression that “allegedly comes from an old British law allowing men to beat their wives with sticks no wider than their thumb.” All I can say to that is “Ouch!” And, naturally, one can no longer “go off the reservation” for obvious reasons.
If you want to attend Brandeis to become … a linguist or an Offensive Words & Phrases expert, here’s more to chew on (my apologies to people with no teeth at all, or who simply have a hard time chewing):
The list from what is laughingly referred to as a “university” or “institute of higher learning” is long, but here are a few more words and phrases that school officials have found offensive for myriad reasons: “crazy,” “insane,” “wild,” “lame,” “no can do,” “long time no see,” “sold down the river,” “victim,” “survivor,” and a lot more just like those.
Reading this list and the suggested alternatives from BPARC gives a new meaning to a phrase that Sister Catherine would often admonish my older brother with: “Watch your tongue, young man!”
I went to a Catholic elementary school, and we used to call Sister Catherine “Katie Cannonball.” Behind her back, of course.
Sister Catherine was Mother Superior at St. Peter’s convent. She was a short, stout woman and the name actually seemed appropriate to our young minds. I’m afraid, however, we would be severely punished if she had heard us; in those days, corporal punishment was part of the regular operating procedures to maintain discipline.
We’d all have been shocked way back when if we had been told that in the future, both “Mother” and “Superior” would be terms that many would find offensive, hurtful, even dangerous. “Katie Cannonball” was certainly disrespectful and would most likely appear on any number of BPARC-like lists. Rightly so, though we were just kids.
Brandeis — the scary school with the terrified student body — does say that their list of verboten words and phrases is just “meant to be a tool to share information and suggestions about potentially oppressive language.” Which, I guess means one can still call someone a tool and not cause undue trepidation on the part of the tender recipient of one’s misguided disapprobation.
I don’t, however, advise using the term “dirty tool,” as there may be those, while not offended per se, may shake uncontrollably in memory of a childhood case of tetanus brought on by (or thrown at by), yes, a dirty tool.
So if you attend Brandeis and some creep comes up behind you on a dark night, don’t “kick up a fuss,” if the perp triggers you by saying, “Stick ‘em up,” “Give me your money,” or any other threatening phrase or sentence.
Just give him/her/he/it the money and pray he/she/they/it don’t hurt you. Oh, and remember, whatever you do, don’t say anything that may trigger him, her, them or it.
Jim Buckley is a longtime Montecito resident. He welcomes comments and questions at email@example.com.