Peggy Noonan Hollers “Catastrophe”

July 28, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Peggy Noonan (here) says that allowing people to choose their preferred pronouns is like the Reign of Terror. I am not making this up. The Wall Street Journal has tweeted Noonan’s article complete with a 1790s painting of state officials marching a man to the guillotine. And Jonathan Haidt says that it’s campus lefties who “catastrophize.”

Language changes. Most of the time, the change just seems to happen. It spreads gradually. More and more people use the new form. What had been incorrect becomes standard. “I was graduated from college” becomes “I graduate from college” which becomes “I graduated college.” An astronaut today would say, “Houston, we have an issue.” Totally.

But sometimes language changes because of deliberate efforts by interest groups. They hope that the change in language will change the way people think and act. That’s why. anti-defamation groups campaigned to make ethnic slurs — spic, kike, chink, etc. — unacceptable. Feminists, as part of the movement to change gender roles and rules, campaigned for a generic title equivalent to Mr., one that did not emphasize whether or not the woman was married, i.e., whether or not she belonged to a man. Similarly, they sought to change gender-specific words to make them more inclusive. Fireman to firefighter, policeman to police officer, stewardess to flight attendant.

Most people would not see these changes as evidence of a Reign of Terror. Mrs. Noonan apparently disagrees. She is an authoress much admired on the right, and she was not alone over there. Fox, National Review, Daily Wire and others voiced their horror. What triggered them was the discovery of a draft of a document circulated at Colorado State University with suggestions about language. Many of these, to my ancient ears, seem silly, especially those based on etymologies that nobody now is aware of. For example, the guidelines suggest not using “hip, hip, hooray,” because “during the Holocaust, German citizens started using it as a rallying cry when they would hunt down the Jewish citizens who were living in the ghettos.” Who knew? Nor will most people know of the ethnic origins of paddy wagon and peanut gallery.

But I don’t see any harm in not using these or phrases like “hold down the fort” or “cake walk.” Other guidelines are an attempt to avoid giving offense — spaz, basket case — or to avoid terms that the designated group itself rejects — Oriental, Indian. And really, does anyone still say, “Ladies and Gentlemen”?

But the main point is that these are suggestions. Suggestions. They are not a diktat; the CSU administration is not a reign of terror.  Despite what the people on the right are screaming, the guidelines to not take away anyone’s freedom of speech. As the document says at the very beginning.   

The document is intended to serve as guidelines.... What this document is not: This is not an official policy or required practice. This document is intended as a resource to help our campus community reflect our Principles of Community particularly inclusion, respect, and social justice. [emphasis in the original document]

Mrs. Noonan does not know much about the document she’s writing about. It seems she also doesn’t know a whole lot about the French Revolution. See this twitter thread by someone who does.

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