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Friday, December 07, 2012

There is no 'neutral' word for anti-gay bias

The Associate Press has removed "homophobia" from its style guide, but alternatives have downsides

From the piece:

Late last month, the Associated Press tried to clear something up about homophobia. Or, rather, about anti-gay bias: the word "homophobia" is no longer approved by the AP Stylebook, the resource many Americans newspapers use as the arbiter of how to write right. "It seems inaccurate," AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told Politico. "Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such." But reactions to the AP's decision have only shown why and how the language of bias is likely to get far cloudier before it gets clear.

At first, the decision—which also applies to other -phobia words, like Islamophobia—may have seemed straightforward enough, if surprising. The reasoning provided by the AP is that the -phobia suffix implies a DSM-certified pathological fear, which does not necessarily apply to so-called homophobes. As linguist extraordinaire Ben Zimmer told Voice of America, it's a weird choice considering we use -phobia in a non-clinical way all the time—what else would be the opposite of -phile?—but, sure, okay. Doing away with euphemisms is one of the commandments of good journalistic writing, and has been since 1946, when George Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language about how euphemisms obscure truth: "A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details." A modern go-to example of the strength of Orwell's point can be seen in re: abortion. Pro-life and pro-choice are weighty terms; the AP prefers anti-abortion and pro-abortion-rights, phrases not coined by advocates. But language, too, abhors a vacuum, and a euphemism is like a gray hair. Pluck one and two grow in its place.

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