Just Above Sunset
February 20, 2005 - Dangerous Things (even in French)

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Proving once again that words matter, perhaps, see this below.  The neo-puritans we elected insist that the four words that described, precisely, what a scientific conference was actually about be omitted from the title of the discussion. 


And the reason these guys won the elections was what, exactly?  They’re protecting us from what?  From “bad words” I guess. 


Folks who are different really do scare them.  So the words are gone.  "Well, they do need to consider their funding source."  This is amusing.


Request to Edit Title of Talk On Gays, Suicide Stirs Ire

HHS Is Being Accused of Marginalization

Rick Weiss, The Washington Post, Wednesday, February 16, 2005; Page A17


A federal agency's efforts to remove the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" from the program of a federally funded conference on suicide prevention have inspired scores of experts in mental health to flood the agency with angry e-mails.


"It is incredible, the venom from these people," said Mark Weber, a spokesman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that is funding the conference and told presenters they should remove the words from the title of a talk.


… At issue is a conference on suicide prevention to be held Feb. 28 in Portland, Ore., and organized by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center of Newton, Mass., a SAMHSA contractor. On the program is a talk that, until recently, was titled "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals."


Everyone seems to agree the topic is important. Studies have found that the suicide risk among people in these groups is two to three times higher than the average risk.


So it came as a surprise to Ron Bloodworth -- a former coordinator of youth suicide prevention for Oregon and one of three specialists leading the session -- when word came down from SAMHSA project manager Brenda Bruun that they should omit the four words that described, precisely, what the session was about.


Bloodworth was told it would be acceptable to use the term "sexual orientation." But that did not make sense to him. "Everyone has a sexual orientation," he said in an interview yesterday. "But this was about gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders."


… The title rewrite was one of several requested changes. Another was to add a session on faith-based suicide prevention, said Weber, who said he believes the brouhaha is all a misunderstanding.


SAMHSA prefers the term "sexual orientation" simply because it is more "inclusive," he said. And besides, he added, it was only a suggestion.


Asked how strong a suggestion, Weber replied: "Well, they do need to consider their funding source."


Upon due consideration, Bloodworth renamed the session "Suicide Prevention in Vulnerable Populations." But he is not happy.


What a world!


But things aren’t better elsewhere, as Ric Erickson reminds us in a note to Just Above Sunset from Paris –


Reformed Jargon


French is a fairly simple European language marred only by all the exceptions to its complicated rules. The most difficult examinations in France typically involve spelling contests, which are, for some perverse reason, quite popular.


The general effect of this living language is to give everybody, except a very few, a feeling of cultural inferiority. It allows the ruling classes to instruct the citizenry using the language of Molière, but without always being comprehensible. Who can forget President Mitterrand's impenetrable riddles?


In principle it could possible to live a lifetime in France with only a fragmentary grasp of the language. But when the administration has to be dealt with, the resident is not only at the mercy of official French, but of jargon too.


Because words are so important there is no subject that will not have its own book, and now a new one has been provided by the secretary of state for 'State Reform' together with the dictionary publisher, Le Robert. The 'Petit Décodeur' went on sale on Thursday, somewhat too late for all those already sandbagged by 250 years of arcane administrative hurdles.


The examples of jargon noted by the press are significant because they are novel, if not actually alien. According to the 'little decoder,' a 'grosse' is a copy of a law or a court decision, containing the wording that permits its execution.


This seems to be its meaning in my very old Nouveau Petit Larousse, besides the more usual meaning of '12 dozens,' as in 'une grosse de boutons.' As explained on the TV-news, the word 'photocopy' is not good enough.


'Irrépétibles' are the expenses of a judgement winner, not to be paid by the loser - unless the court decides otherwise. The dictionary doesn't hint what the word is for the latter case.


As of today we now know that the part of a building we own that overlaps public property or our neighbor's, is 'saillie.' According to my dictionary this was formerly merely an overhang, such as a balcony.


Great liberty has been taken with 'viduité,' which once only applied to widows, in the sense that they were supposed to wait 300 days before remarrying. It was the 'period of viduité.' Now it simply means the fact of being a widow or widower.


Other 'reforms' have attempted to tackle unfathomable forms, to make them so ordinary mortals can fill them in. Samples of these are shown on TV-news along with happy citizens, and that's the last anyone sees of them - the forms or the actors pretending to be citizens.


Yet other 'reforms' are purely cosmetic - the state says regions are taking care of things and then blames them when they have to jack up local taxes to finance state schools. 'We've decentralized,' they say in Paris, 'and look how the Socialists raise taxes!'


Let's face it - politics is jargon.





Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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