"The" Patriarchy

Notes on the Underground Life of Language

Many words current in our culture carry within them a whole buried world of political assumptions and psychological payoffs. Just to use these words is to submit yourself to a powerful attempt by the words' coiners or redefiners to shape reality and to impose a view of it that they consider advantageous to themselves.

Often such words are used to establish what Bronislaw Malinowski called, a "phatic communion," that is, a tacit agreement that draws a line around a "we" and excludes a "they." Such words have a militant as well as a triumphalist role: when used against the "they" these words are a way of skating over uncertainties in the evidence and reasoning that support the in-group's conclusions: the words themselves assume the existence of their referents. After all, how can you have a word that does not refer to something? Yet, as the deconstructionists have shown us, the murdered uncertainties do not go away, but continue to haunt the word, sous rature, under erasure, greatly enriching its emotional and ideological force with the semantic guilt of the original erasure.

In a sense, such words are always lies, not because they do not refer to a reality (often, no doubt, they do), but because when used they represent an attempt to sneak through a set of conclusions without arguing them: to shape the playing field in such a way that the nature of the game and perhaps...

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