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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Yaaasssss we can: Embracing slang in the face of ‘Time’

    Time magazine recently made a pretty basic move.

    On Nov. 12, Time released a poll titled, “Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?” It was Time’s fourth annual words-to-ban poll, with previous winners being “OMG,” “YOLO” and “twerk.” On the poll this year, however, was a slightly more contentious word: feminist.

    The inclusion of feminist led to criticism from the likes of The Washington Post and The Huffington Post. Time issued an apology, saying it “meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year.”

    The logic behind banning words is faulty at best. Language policing is based on the assumption that there is a good version of a language and a bad one that need to be kept separate. This year’s Time poll also includes slang words, similar to the previous winners. The idea that these words, along with feminist, should be banned is an example of an institution deciding what is acceptable to say and when and how it can be said, especially by marginalized groups.

    Time’s original explanation of why the word feminist was included was that it seems like every celebrity has to declare if they are a feminist or not. The explanation asked readers to “stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around.”

    Since when is feminism not an issue?

    In a world where, as Time reported in September, only 31 percent of speaking characters in Hollywood movies from 2010 to 2013 were women, how is it not important to ask people in the entertainment industry about their opinions on feminism?

    “It speaks to a larger cultural opinion that feminism is irrelevant or that it’s something that doesn’t matter oftentimes,” said Elizabeth Verklan, a graduate student studying gender and women’s studies. “… It’s saying, ‘That’s done, that’s done, that’s over, there aren’t these issues.’”

    Feminism isn’t just a buzzword to ask celebrities about. Women in the U.S. still face gender discrimination, such as being paid less than male counterparts. Celebrities are important in promoting feminism, as they help create the dominant culture.

    Time’s poll isn’t an attempt to ban feminist discussion, but to police who gets asked about feminism and when people can talk about it. Not asking celebrities where they stand on the issue, though, is giving the people who make culture a free pass.

    “It would be odd to not ask someone if they identify as a feminist if they, for instance, have light-up signas on their stage that say feminism,” Verklan said. “… Ideally, maybe we would have more political conversations with our celebrities as opposed to who they’re dating or how they diet or workout.”

    The problems with the poll don’t end with feminist, either.

    Some of the other words on the list included “bae,” “basic,” “turnt” and “yaaasssss.” As The Daily Beast points out, these are words that all originated in music by black rap and hip-hop artists.

    Time claims bae and basic are overused, and turnt and yaaasssss barely have explanations for why they should be banned.

    Words that originated in the language of predominantly black artists shouldn’t be banned because popular media picked up on and overused them. Time’s suggestion that they should stinks of racism.

    Time’s poll is really a way to wrestle control of a changing language back from a younger, more diverse generation.

    “Policing of the English language broadly is always entangled in race because the English language is controlled by white people,” Verklan said. “… Language [can be] a tool of white supremacy. It’s a tool in so many ways to maintain power [and] cultural power.”

    Words used by young people, and often black people, do not need to be banned. Language changes, and that isn’t a bad thing. 

    People don’t speak the English of William Shakespeare anymore. Even if the poll has no actual power, feminist especially has no place on it — besides, Time is itself complicit in asking celebrities, like Shailene Woodley, their opinions on feminism.

    Time may have an issued an apology for including feminist in the poll, but a better response would be to discontinue the poll completely. Language changes, and until Time gets with the times, it’s definitely not my bae anymore.


    Ashwin Mehra is a physiology senior. Follow him on Twitter.

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