December 2018 . . . .

“Choice Words — Word Choices”

You may have heard that the statue of the Confederate soldier on the campus of UNC in Chapel Hill was pulled down by protesters, who found it offensive in nature, and whose message of such offense to university authorities was dismissed with, more or less, get over it.

You may not have heard that the act of pulling down the statue was criticized by some school authorities as “incomprehensible.”

Incomprehensible. Defined as an adjective meaning “unable to be understood.”

We here at The Blotter Magazine try to be unbiased politically, but we often take grammatical and rhetorical stands, on the behalf of the language. And I must say that I’m not sure what’s incomprehensible about what happened. Everyone involved in the protest, on any side, was making their point well-known. And those who pulled down the statue did so in front of many other protesters — arguably a fairly strong statement of objection. This was no spur-of-the-moment event, either, so there was a reasonable amount of time for observers to analyze the concerns and feelings of those who wanted the stature removed. Incomprehensible. Not understandable. To quote master swordsman Inigo Montoya, speaking to Vizzini the know-it-all, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

So, was this a malapropism? Did they mean to say something else? Were they zealously and expeditiously trying to respond to the event, and this was the word that availed itself to them? Or was it ironic that the folks in charge were unable to comprehend the offensiveness of the statue’s existence, and inadvertently selected that word as a gaslight toward the protesters?

We seem to do that a lot nowadays. Gaslight one another. Talk over each other. When accused of some behavior, we often immediately and hypocritically accuse our accuser of the same behavior. It is a juvenile way of communicating our disagreement or disapproval with things or people.

So, may we suggest some adjectival alternatives? How about “insubordinate”? Insubordinate is defined as “defiant of authority or disobedient to orders.” Hey, maybe that’s what they actually meant to say in the first place. It makes a little more sense, although the people who pulled down the offending hunk of bronze may not have been students, or perhaps they did not recognize the laws regarding Confederate States of America statues as . . . valid laws, or maybe they just don’t consider themselves “subordinate” to those who would put in place such laws. Some orders, Lieutenant Calley, just shouldn’t be followed.

What if they meant incoherent? As in unclear and confusing. Nope — everything seemed loud and clear during the protest. Even well-written, from what we saw of posters and signs, on both sides of the protest argument.

Or perhaps they were thinking incompatible. Unfortunately, if something to do with students is incompatible with the university, you may need to re-visit your university’s thinking. Because incompatible is defined as “two things so opposed in character as to be incapable of existing together.” An epic fail, in a manner of speaking, that would have been true with the statue honoring the Confederacy and its meaning, and many of the people walking past it every day.

Or was it inconsiderate? Yes, and no — because despite common usage, this word actually means thoughtlessly causing hurt to others, and this is simply not the case. Much forethought went into their actions — even if it caused hurt. Hurt was a risk involved in the taking down of the icon, admittedly, and yet down it did come.

What about inconceivable? Really? Not if you were remotely paying attention. Not if you know what the word means. Not if you are using it correctly.

The truth, from this desk, and to quote another fine film, is that what we have here is a failure to communicate. When someone says “that hurts,” we need to believe them and find out what the pain is, and if it can be mitigated, and we are in a capacity to do so, well, do it. If it is hard to relieve the pain, admit it. The word we may be looking for is “inconvenient.” Maybe that’s what the school meant. What the protesters who pulled down the statue did was inconvenient. Defined as causing trouble, difficulties, or discomfort.

Yes. That may well be so. Not that this is a real problem, in the end. Because the unspoken message over the years seems to be “get over it.” Maybe that’s precisely what they were doing. And if you can imagine why this might be so, and if you’re smiling, we understand.