“Do not put a stumbling-block before the blind.” This commandment prohibits anything that “gives the means, or prepares the way for wrong,” according to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (see Carmi Wisemon’s essay at My Jewish Learning).
There are so many ways in which language can “give the means, or prepare the way for wrong.” And changes to our usage can mean big differences in the way we think and act.
Many of us have seen changes in our lifetime in some of the harmful ways language was employed in early decades. For example, we no longer use “he” to stand for “one” (of any gender) and rarely see locutions like “lady-doctor.” This has helped to address some forms of sexism. But there are many ways in which our language continues to place stumbling blocks in front of us all, including in acceptance of varieties in gender expression. And this is no mere “semantics” issue. How language views certain groups of people translates into rights, respect, and basic safety issues.
The questions raised in yesterday’s post are primarily ones of language: When does language include people and when does it elide over difference? Usage can contribute to acceptance or promote danger for various groups.
Are we experiencing an “uprising” in Baltimore, finally after decades of oppression, or are some random “thugs” rioting? (Just one piece to consider)
Was the Boston Tea Party about revolution or property damage?
Vocabulary in such cases is everything and can mean, ultimately, a difference between life and death.
[Back in 2015, when this blog was running a series counting the Omer, this post closed with the previous night’s count and exact blessing for the date of the post; in an attempt to avoid confusion, the exact info is removed, but the general sentiments about using the Omer to learn and address oppression remains.]