Tuesday, 4 December 2012


Yesterday's entry was an exercise in nonsense.  Today's might be seen as about nonsense and is provoked by a comment about the use of psychiatric nomenclature.

Yesterday i described myself as "gender dysphoric" and was challenged for using psychiatric vocabulary.  Two of the issues there are over-medicalisation, which is enticingly fascinating but i choose to ignore that for now, and the question of register.

English words with Greek origins are often perceived as being of a higher register than Anglo-Saxon near-synonyms, similarly to Latinate words in English only with a narrower elite, and as such can be perceived as an anti-language whose words serve in part to restrict communication.  I use the term "gender dysphoria" as a euphemism, though it was perceived as a psychiatric term, which is interesting.

The word "gender" is widely recognised in English, at least among the middle classes, as referring to the grammatical phenomenon and the socially-constructed complex of roles and perceptions associated with biological sex, with various opinions on the degrees of nature and nurture involved in that construction.  The word "dysphoria" is less widely used - in our family we use it mainly to refer to the downer Liz feels when she comes back from a holiday - "post-vacational dysphoria".  I see it as an apt antonym for "euphoria", and see the positive word as being sufficiently well-known as not to be perceived as jargon, or maybe i see it as "well-known enough" for that.

For some reason, this got perceived as psychiatric.  I find this interesting because as a group, it's common for our culture to adopt psychiatric vocabulary into our everyday language, such as "depressed", "paranoid", "bipolar" and the like, and this vocabulary, as is common in English, consists of inkhorn terms.  Ironically, the term "inkhorn terms" is obscure partly because it is not one itself.

And this brings up another issue.  What happens when jargon is specifically not Latinate or Hellenic?  Does it serve to clarify or does it continue to operate as anti-language?  Clearly my "gender dysphoric" has because of its perceived association with nefarious medicalisation, but there are areas of academic discourse where eschewing inkhorns obscures rather than reveals.  One area which comes to mind is botany, more specifically the uses of the words "berry" and "nut".  According to botanists, a nut is a combined fruit and seed where the fruit won't open to release the seed.  This excludes a lot of things we generally think of as nuts, such as pistachios, pecans, peanuts, coconuts, walnuts, almonds and cachoux.  To the specific immune response, nuts often include all of these except coconuts but also include sesame seeds.  So, there are three information processing systems here:  the specific immune response, which sometimes seems to acquire quite a common-sense concept of nuts, the "common sense" approach, which generally includes everything on the first list as well as nuts, and the botanical approach, which is quite restricted.

Berries are similarly odd, although the specific immune response usually seems to lack any concept of them.  A botanist would say a berry is a fleshy fruit which has developed from a single ovary.  This means bananas, avocados and pumpkins are berries but blackberries and raspberries are not.  Again, this differs from colloquial usage.

The reason i mention these is that this is the kind of peculiar thing which happens in English when the rule regarding restricted discourse and etymology is ignored.  Botanists end up being looked at in a funny way because they call pumpkins and bananas berries but refuse to accept that walnuts and peanuts are nuts, or even that fruits with the morphemes "berry" and "nut" in their names are what they say they are.  This wouldn't happen if i go around calling myself gender dysphoric, because then i'm in a sense calling a spade a spade by using a different register which is marked as such.  I could of course just say "I hate being a man", but then i'm using both the words "hate" and "man" with a technical meaning which is more likely to obscure my approach.

I'm going to give up tagging because i can't see the point.

Here's my video:

And here's its biologically determinist companion: