I don’t really follow politics, I don’t watch the news, I don’t read the papers, because whenever I do, I become hopelessly enraged at all the things I cannot change. Mostly I stick to small local stuff that I can actually have a hand in. But the events of the day trickle in anyway via articles people link me and stories my partner finds interesting, and every once in a while I realize one of those big stories is about to affect me. Like how last spring, the word thug fell out of political correctness.
Of course, lots of words are politically incorrect. I won’t repeat them here, because I don’t use them. But I do use thug in my manuscript of Book 1. Twice, to be precise. I use to to describe my mostly-white gangsters and criminals who go beat people up, according to dictionary usage.
So what’s a writer to do?
Thug is not the only word I have recently heard is no longer okay. Last winter, during a dinner party with my parents, a family friend mentioned that no longer was it alright to use the word bossy. This was slightly awkward for him, because his daughter’s childhood nickname was bossy-boots, but nevertheless, it was no longer okay, and he was done with it.
Why isn’t bossy okay? Well, picture a bossy person. Did you just picture a woman? Gasp! I must have read your mind! No, I didn’t, because bossy only ever applies to women. And, you know, the more I think about it, the more I think I already knew that.
As a child, I was the one who always took charge. Not because the other children elected me into position, but because they didn’t elect themselves. I usually knew what to do–or was willing to fake it–and so I was the leader 90% of the time. Leaders give orders, so I gave orders.
Except that girls don’t give orders.
I can’t count how many times I was told, by a teacher or a classmate, not to be bossy. Oh, her? She’s bossy. I’d watch my male classmates doing the exact same thing with impunity, but me? Oh no, don’t tell them what to do! Don’t give orders! Don’t take charge even though no one else is taking charge and everyone else is looking to you to take charge and will flounder around not doing things right unless you do! On a scavenger hunt in Girl Scout Camp, in a river testing the water for a field trip: don’t be bossy.
All who are in favor of dropping that particular word from their lexicon, say “aye” and “amen.” Which brings us back to the word thug.
Sure, I’m using it the way it’s defined in the dictionary, but that’s the thing: I don’t get to decide the definition of a word. It is you, dear reader, who decides the word’s meaning inside your head. And when I say bossy, you picture a woman. And when I say thug…?
Perhaps in fifty years time, I will look back and laugh at how important this seemed, because thug has returned to referring angry, violent criminals who hurt people because it’s easy. On the other hand, maybe I will think to myself what a lucky escape I made as contemporary schoolkids have classroom debates over whether to say the word thug or substitute another in, much as my class did with another racially-charged word when reading “Huckleberry Fin.” Either way, I’m removing it from my manuscript. Because you know what?
I fucking hated being called bossy. And that is enough reason for me.