Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Language and Law

Watching the news early this morning (a 6:30 phone call will wake you up) I was struck by several stories that indicate the direction our cultural world is spinning.

Goldman Sachs big wigs listened to Senate interrogators repeatedly use a word that has become a standard verbal staple these days. The Senators were reading emails from the Wall Street firm that seemed to incriminate GS in shady and less than honest stock dealing practices. If you were watching the hearings live on CSPAN you probably heard it sans beep.

As I recall its usage "in my day" it referred to fecal material, and was at times used as an angry expletive. But you didn't dare say it in front of adults (even though you knew most of them used it frequently) or in public settings. The word (like several others) was deemed too offensive. Monday, while subbing in a high school, I heard it flowing liberally in the halls and classrooms. Apparently it is no longer offensive to the American ear.

Recently I've gone on notice on Facebook that I won't tolerate my friends dropping the f-bomb on the online social network. Their posts appear on my page, and frankly, I don't want to read it. Call me old-school, but it still offends me. If you want to be my FB friend (and I'm glad to have you on my list), keep it clean. BTW, the only offenders thus far have been teenagers. That's a whole 'nuther post.

I remember clearly when the word "retarded" was commonly used in adolescent conversation. If something was considered dumb, out of the norm or senseless it was called "retarded". It was another word that made the older generation cringe because of its offense to some very special people in our world. In a round-about way it made fun of people who deserved much better than to be lumped with all things undesirable.

That word seemed to diminish in recent years - at least in my hearing, indicating maybe we have become a more sensitive nation. But this week I've seen it peek its head back up a couple of times. Once was by a Facebook teen friend - which indicates it is on a comeback as a trendy term. The other was in this morning's paper and used by a NFL player. Again, atheletes set the trends, even in our language. (I'm so tired of the phrase "It is what it is" that I first began to hear in post-game interviews ten years ago.)

Heck, we don't even know what "is" means anymore. Remember? And that leads me to my next pondering this morning.

In addressing the issue of illegal immigration, a fire being stoked by the state of Arizona's hard line, our current president, Mr. Obama, said (in a speech yesterday) words to this effect: "We'll let [illegals already in this country] go to the back of the [immigration] line and legally gain citizenship. Then we can go back to being a nation of laws."

Wait a second. I'm no Constitutional lawyer, but aren't we already a "nation of laws"? We don't have to "go back" to what we are. Seems to me we just need to enforce (the job of the executive branch of our government) the laws we have on the books. It sounds like our president is calling for a suspension of law. I'm all for immigration. I'm here because of immigration, for Pete's sake. I'm also about secure borders. And the purpose of the law is to protect if nothing else.

But to do that we have to go back to the subject of language. What part of "illegal" do we not understand? (To cover up our bias against law we tend to change terminology. Hence, "illegal" is changed to "undocumented". Oops. They just forgot to pick up their papers as they slipped across the border under the cover of darkness.)

And just as I'm no lawyer, I'm not an economist either. But I wonder...if there were no illegal aliens in this country where our current unemployment rate would be? I suspect it would be much lower if only those in this country legally, who have the "right" to work, competed for jobs.

Just thinking out loud. I hope my words didn't offend.

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