Bad Words (title and disclaimer)

I love cursing. This affinity for swear words goes back as far as i can recall. I can’t claim to have had fully formed theories about language in the early days, but something always attracted me and mystified me about the concept of “Bad Words”. What makes a word bad? Who gets to decide that? Were these bad words once good words before something terrible happened?

I have had many excellent teachers in my life, and one of them was a fella who called himself Dynamite Dick from Tear Ass Crick. This man taught me about euphemism and dysphemism in the seventh grade. Simply put, a euphemism is a socially acceptable way to speak about uncomfortable or taboo issues, or material that might not be appropriate for all-ages when in a mixed-age environment, and this generally includes but is not limited to sex, other bodily excretions, and death. Some sources go so far as to call a euphemistic term good, polite, or pleasant. Dysphemism is then seen as a derogatory or unpleasant way to describe something, employed instead of the scientific, neutral, or polite term. Because Dynamite Dick from Tear Ass Crick was a master, he also explained onomatopoeia in the midst of tackling euphemism and dysphemism. “Piss” was his lead-off example of an onomatopoetical dysphemism – a word that sounds like what it is and a word with a negative or less-than-proper connotation used in lieu of a technical term such as “urinate” or a euphemistic phrase like “go number 1”.

I have never stopped thinking about this, that there is a three-fold relationship between things we seek to describe and the terms we employ to do the describing, or as i like to think of them, the good, the bad, and the technical. At first glance, euphemism seems easy to understand. We seek to gloss over or smooth out the rough or less than pleasant parts of life. When dealing with children, we don’t necessarily want to take the responsibility for teaching them about sex or death. These sound like simple and obvious answers, but even in the seemingly innocuous case of utilizing euphemisms, there are value judgements being made. Why are “pee-pee” or “tinkle” acceptable euphemisms and “piss” is a dysphemism? For that matter, what is wrong with teaching kids technical terms? I would love to hear crowds of young kids in the mall screaming, “Mommy, i have to URINATE!!” Why did we ever begin the process of substituting other words for technical terms? I do love language, and would not want to limit the number of tools available for anyone to use to describe this world and our experience of it, but why would a desire for additional terms necessitate instituting a value judgment on the quality and connotation of the words themselves? I can understand how we as individuals, and as a society, decide that certain actions have normative value. We decide that soothing a crying child is good, and kicking an old lady into the street is bad. (There is an obvious slippery slope in the wings here, but i think we can avoid it for the purposes of this discussion.) I want to emphasize that i can and do understand assigning value judgments to actions, but to do the same to the words is mystifying to me.

These questions get even better and richer when we look at a few interesting cases:

Bitch – there are many “negative” connotations in popular usage: to complain unnecessarily or inordinately, an unpleasant female, a somewhat powerless subordinate. How and why does the technical term for a female dog, wolf, fox, or otter inherit these connotations? Most of the female dogs any of us can think of are beloved family pets. “Like a bitch in heat” is a simile often used to indicate that a woman is extremely desirous of, if not insistent for a sexual encounter.  My experience with female dogs in heat is limited, but all that i have ever seen were taking extreme measures to avoid one or more male dogs in pursuit, and were very grateful for any aid in avoiding their pursuers, or being liberated from unwanted sexual acts. The original meaning of the terms has a disparate intent from common usage. How does that happen?

Pussy – this has always struck me as supremely odd word to use as an insult. The intent seems to be an insinuation that someone is weak or otherwise less-than. “You are such a pussy!” Simultaneously, this is also used to describe something valuable, desired, and eagerly sought after. “I am dying to get some pussy!” What a strange dichotomy!

Fuck – the uses are multitudinous, far too many to go into detail here. Like ‘pussy’ above, there is a similarly perplexing dichotomy at work. We use the term both for something often considered highly desirable (intercourse) and as an expression of rage and frustration (general expletive).

How does one word move from one classification to another? What is going on when one single term can serve as both a euphemism for one thing and a dysphemism for another? How do benign technical terms take on extra meaning through social use?

To come at it from a different angle how about this…

Rape – pretty universally accepted as bad action, and rapists are seen as bad people, or at least as people who have done a bad thing. The word itself though, does not seem to carry the same stigma. Rape is just the scientific, technical, or proper term for an action – neither a euphemism nor a dysphemism. We don’t talk about rape very often in society, but it is the kind of subject that i would think cries out for a euphemism. What does it say about us as a race of beings that we have a plethora of substitute terms, counted by most as euphemisms, for the act of excreting liquid waste from our bladders, but not one euphemism for rape.

I am not going to do a full etymological analysis here. The point of this piece is to limber our brains a bit, prepare us to think deeply – if not differently – about language, and provide some foreshadowing for other elements to come in the pending larger discussions of the philosophy of language and (as my buddy Dave pointed out) the language of philosophy, as we ease into the exploration of Epistemology and Truth.

Test Post for email subscribers

Hello. I have had at least one subscriber mention that it does not seem like their email subscription has carried over from the old boneofcontention1.wordpress.com to the new home of the blog here at nickrenfroe.com. I think i did everything that i could to avoid these kinds of problems, but I am not a WordPress ninja. I don’t even think i have my white belt yet.

I will do my best to not have many of these test messages. Thanks you for your patience and understanding. Please accept this image of Lucas in a submission pose as Guthrey looms over him as a nuisance fee.

G+L.PA
G+L.PA

Merry Christmas Eve Day!

 

There’s no place like home.

Happy Holidays to you dear readers! Welcome to the new home of Bone of Contention. Despite things not being totally finished, I felt that enough was in place to invite you to my new easy-to-remember website/blog – nickrenfroe.com. The “work” area is still under construction, I intend to add a section on Community Service, and I want to have a section dedicated just to dogs – mostly pictures of dogs I know and love. More posts to follow soon…

M&M
M&M

Be safe during your travels whether brief or extended. My wish for us all is to find some peace and focus on the many positives in our lives during this season.

Good Guys
Good Guys

 

What’s the plan, Stan?

Howdy. That title is possibly misleading as I have not finished making the plan, but more on that at the end. Here are the things that I have kicking around in my head these days that I want to write about on the blog.

Mountain Sun
Mountain Sun

PCT
Brevity – as a methodology not a topic in itself. A recurring series exploring single topics in no more than 4 paragraphs
Epistemology – particularly the individually necessary Truth condition posited in the most commonly accepted account – “JTB”
Philosophy of Language – an exploration of why philosophy is done in stilted complex linguistic modalities instead of common speech
Leadership and emotional growth, or Happiness and effectiveness, or How to play and win without being a dick – it is all kinda the same thing…
Exploration of romance in my life, or more precisely, the vast lack of same, and a continuation of the look at/for some of the “why”
Assassination – why isn’t this a more commonly used tool? why do we as a species tend to have icky feelings about assassination but less icky feelings about more “standard” warfare methodologies? Some similar/related questions that seem worth exploring

Death and Life
Death and Life

I got more, but that should be enough to keep us busy for quite some time. I present this list to you, dear readers, because it really doesn’t make much difference to me which of these I write about here on the blog, or the order in which topics are addressed. I want to do another informal poll with you to discover:

1) What do you want to read about, any of these topics, or something else?
2) What kind of post frequency would you like to see? Once a week, once a month, once a day, a healthy mix of all, something else entirely? Bearing in mind that most of the topics listed will necessitate multiple posts for real exploration…
3) Do your feelings about post frequency change when a series is considered, or would you prefer one posting schedule regardless of the number of entires on a topic?

I am sure that other issues will arise that merit inclusion and there will be deviations when necessary. It knocks me out that there are real humans out there who read this blog and your interest, support, and encouragement mean a great deal to me. This is your chance to help shape what will appear here for your reading pleasure.

Right On!

How to stay sober – part seven

Conclusion

I am going to close with a simple statement that is my overarching meta-principle and touchstone for my sobriety, so i will do the final house-keeping now and leave on that sentiment.

I snowed you with words and advice and observations here. I DO NOT want you to get overwhelmed. You DO NOT have to do all or even any of this stuff immediately, or on anyone else’s schedule – ever. Even on your own schedule, you don’t have to do the stuff on this list. You can make your own list. These are simply some things that helped me or that helped others. NO ONE does all of this at one time. NO ONE possibly could. Don’t feel bad, don’t get bogged down. Find something that resonates with you and try it. If nothing resonates for you, let me know and i will give you a new avalanche of other things to try. Stay positive, and just don’t drink 🙂

Disclaimer 3 – This is another area where official treatment opinions and results vary. My own personal experience has been different with regard to this issue over time. When i got sober at 19, i could not think about the big picture. I would never have made it. I needed to be a “one day at a time” guy. This last time, getting sober at 38 – i had a different relationship to myself and the world. You have to pick what is right for you. Disclaimer ends.

The final truth. I got sober three times. I relapsed twice. The first relapse lasted from 1995 to 2013, 18 years. The second relapse lasted for two weeks. Only one time did i say to myself (the important part) and out loud to others – “I am done drinking alcohol forever. I am never touching another drop. I am never having another drink.” The difference it makes in my sobriety is indescribable. Having made that solid commitment to myself, thinking about drinking just does not even happen for me anymore.

How to stay sober – part six

Hard Choices continued or Outcomes Assessment Applied

Analyzing these choices about what is right for you with regard to living and loving with a drinker, this is another place where you can use the bucket approach from the earlier Outcomes Assessment example. Make two buckets and be brutally honest. If it is complicated, make 4 buckets, with the second two buckets labeled “justification” and provide specific and honest reasons for why an item is listed as it is. For instance, something that might go in the “Good Bucket” – “physical intimacy”. In the “justification” sub-bucket maybe you have a positive thing like “when we touch it is empowering”, but maybe you have “i only feel good because i am being touched and it really has nothing to do with Pat specifically or any true intimacy between us”. The bucket thing may not be complex enough, or it may be too complex. The system does not matter. Making an honest assessment does, and in this case, you bear the burden of proof for why it is right to stay. I don’t want to belabor any points. If this is not clear or requires further explanation, let me know and i will provide more, and more detailed, examples.

I can’t say whether or not you need to leave wherever you are, or go to your parents, or your sister, or your best friend or whatever. One of the reasons that this is often recommended is that most of us stumble quite a bit in the first year. Lots of people have trouble maintaining a job in the first year, or paying their bills, or meeting their court obligations, or whatever. On the other hand, many people cannot and/or should not go back to their families for any number of reasons. This is definitely an area where there are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions. Careful reflection, soul searching, honesty, and a brutally frank analysis of the foreseeable outcomes – these are the only things i know of that can really help sort out which is the right path to take.

How hard is it to choose the proper path?

I got sober the first time living in a house full of drugs, playing in a touring metal band, in and out of bars all the time. After almost two years sober, I had my first relapse living in a house with the only guy i knew who was clean longer than me, and another guy who grew up with an alcoholic parent and does not abuse any substance – ever.

I got sober the second time living with my parents who are responsible drinkers who have quite a bit of alcohol in the house and who drink a glass of wine several nights a week. I relapsed that time while on vacation away from my home.

I got sober the last and final time back at my parents’ house.

There are exceptions to every rule. Every case is different. The exact path you chose with regards to where you live and with whom is not at all as important as that you 1) make a conscious choice 2) you make that choice having fully and truthfully considered all the angles to the best of your ability.

Next – Conclusion

How to stay sober – part five

Hard Choices – as with the rest of the parts in this series, any and all identities have been obfuscated.

Here comes some of the hard stuff. This is also stuff that i have less personal experience with and that there is even conflicting information about among treatment programs. I am going to call your love person Pat. I don’t know if Pat is an alcoholic. That is not terribly important in terms of the statements below.

– You know you can’t make Pat quit. You know that if Pat quits “for you” that is less than worthless on many levels. If you don’t know these things, tell me and i will expand and clarify the points.
– It is very dangerous for you as a newly sober person, to be in a relationship with someone who drinks at all – even a non-alcoholic who drinks very responsibly. It is a whole other dimension of bad for you to be in a relationship with an alcoholic who is drinking.
– It is very dangerous for you as a newly sober person, to live with someone who is still drinking at all – even a non-alcoholic who drinks very responsibly.
– The rule of thumb is “do not date or have any romantic or sexual relationship in the first year of sobriety”. For most, this is a matter of “do not start anything” in that year, because very few people get clean still having any kind of “romantic partner” in the picture.
– Another rule of thumb, given that most newly sober alcoholics are emerging from underneath a huge pile of flaming crap that was their life, is to “go home”. Go be with any family member (by blood or choice) that will still have you and love and support you.

I can’t tell you what is the right thing. In part, i truly do not know enough of the specific details of your situation to even pretend to have those kind of answers and it would be naive of me to present this advice in that light.

I am not saying “you have to break up with Pat”. I am saying that you really need to look closely at breaking up with Pat – at least for now.

I am not saying that “you can’t live with Pat.” I am saying that you need to very closely evaluate not living with Pat – regardless of whether or not you break up with Pat.

This is a lot of stuff to think about. All of these points will be examined further in the next installment.

(I know i hit some controversial ground here. As always, i welcome any comments, even disagreements, as long as they are civil and presented in the spirit of true discourse. I will explain more about all of these points in the next part.) 

Next – Hard Choices continued or Outcomes Assessment Applied

How to stay sober – part four

General Health

General stuff i do and also recommend to all. This all falls into the basket of (3) “health”. Particularly under 180 days, you don’t want any of these to become distractions or burdens. Under 90 days, don’t do anything else in life that is troubling or difficult if you can possibly avoid it except for not drinking. But these things absolutely will help, and you will need to begin addressing them *soon*. This is not meant to be comprehensive or a list of action items. The point is not to overwhelm you with “LOOK AT ALL THE THINGS YOU DO WRONG!” – but to provide you with a list of stuff that you can reference and pick and choose from when it is the right time for you to do something.

A) Look at your diet. Are you eating? Are you eating regularly? Too much? Too little? The right stuff? The wrong stuff?

B) Are you exercising regularly? You don’t have to join a gym, or become a marathon runner, or do anything specific or meet anyone else’s goals or ideals. This is not about what you look like or body type. This is about physical health, and the relationship between physical health and mental health. Without regular exercise, your heart won’t work properly. Without regular exercise your brain does not get the natural chemicals it actually needs to operate effectively. This can be anything – walking, badminton, fencing, rollerblading, bowling, whatever. Something physical that you can do frequently, and that you can come to enjoy. I hated the gym when i started going. Now, if i miss one day, i can tell the difference in how i feel and even how i react to less positive experiences throughout the day.

C) Hygiene – you may be in ship-shape here, but for most drunks that is not the case. Most of us are depressed. Most depressed people quit taking showers regularly, quit washing their clothes regularly, quit worrying about wearing clean clothes. Here agin – i don’t care what your personal style or chosen aesthetic is – just do it well, and do that with purpose.

D) physical environment – most drunks are depressed. Most depressed people do not have the cleanest homes. You don’t need to be Martha Stewart, but you do need to create a safe, comfortable, clean, clutter-free environment. This is not simply my preference, there is real science behind this. I am not talking about the extremes of “artists are more creative in a cluttered work space.” I am talking about dishes in the sink, dirty stoves, dirty bathrooms, piles of junk around, that kind of thing. This may not be you – i am just making a list of the things i tend to encounter – and have lived through myself.

E) Sleep. This is way too individual and complex to detail here, but you gotta start to get good true sleep and to get on a real sleep schedule that works for your life.

Next  – Hard Choices

How to stay sober – part three

More on Habits and Outcomes (note – unless i am talking about myself, i employ made-up examples that do not correspond to any specific human beings)

1. Make new habits. The “destination cure” is as much a fallacy for alcoholics as anyone else. Just going to a new place doesn’t do anything to change you, you have to change you, but doing whatever you can/need to in order to break your old habits is fully a good idea. Different places, different people, different habits. Obviously this is not 100%. You don’t have to stop loving cats, or reading mystery novels, or playing tennis, but you should avoid restaurants or bars or liquor or grocery stores that have played a big role in your bad behavior. Maybe those types of places do not impact you. Maybe your thing is cars and backroads or a deserted train tunnel. One of my “triggers” is one of my favorite books, The Sun Also Rises, and to say that alcohol plays a role in that book would be an understatement. I read some other Hemingway, but i still do not go back to visit TSAR unless i am in a really good and positive place mentally and emotionally. Whatever these things are for you, create some physical distance from people, places, and things that are part of your old patterns. Let me know if you need any more on this topic.

2. Outcomes. I really love this metric. It is so simple. We do it naturally in many aspects of life, but somehow, we have avoided turning this tool inward – at least inward and pointed at alcohol. It is not only a fantastic immediately useful tool to stay sober, it can help you with every aspect of the continuing journey towards becoming a better person. I don’t want to say much more about that here now. You don’t need to be digging too deep right now. You need to focus almost exclusively on staying sober until that is not hard to do. Once that part is really and truly under control, then we open up the hood and start doing some more in-depth work. For now – just don’t drink.

Disclaimer 2 – I don’t want to come across as perfect life answer guy either. I don’t have all this down perfectly – by far. I don’t know anyone who does, alcoholic or not. I made a dumb mistake in my process of dealing with making amends and seeking reconciliation very recently. I did not recognize it as a mistake when i did it, but the feedback i received showed me pretty quickly how my logic was flawed. Then, even more recently, in my business, I MADE THE EXACT SAME MISTAKE. Disclaimer ends.

Getting sober, even staying sober doesn’t fix everything. It fixes very very little. But you can’t even sincerely start fixing all the other stuff until you get the sobriety down. This is why i am holding some observations back, and holding some other advice back. For at least the first 6 months, if not the first whole year of sobriety, don’t worry much about the other stuff. There is a reason making amends is a later step. Whether or not you do an actual AA program or something taken from many sources, you need to really master sobriety before trying amends – for lots of reasons. We can talk about that more later too if you like.

Next Up – General Health

How to stay sober – part two

Outcomes Assessment

I really only have one true drop of gold. I have lots of good things to say and share, but this is my sobriety a-bomb. Different phrases have helped different people unlock this and internalize it for themselves, so i will give a few looks at it for you here. (2) Consequences. Outcomes. Results. If i am being driven to drink, or thinking about it, or lusting for it, or wanting it, or needing it, or dreaming about it (which can totally happen), or (insert your thing) – i ask myself this –

(2) “What do i hope to gain?” We all know what many of the immediate and unavoidable consequences of a relapse of any kind or any length will be. Self loathing, anger, resentment, hurt, fear, pain, grief, and on and on and worse. These are just the known consequences that happen inside our own heads. There are usually obvious, known and immediate external consequences; losing the few people left who still are willing to even talk to us after the lies and hurt our self-centered path of destruction has brought to those around us, getting fired, DUI, jail, divorce, losing custody of the kids – all of that is right there at the bottom of the next first glass.

Given all of that – known terrible results – let us add up the benefits, the positives, the things we will gain by taking even one sip.

I got nothing

I tried (above) to simulate a serious attempt to consider the question. All I ever get is crickets. Even when i do try to put something in the positive group (not for humans in general, not for “normal” people without our troubles, but for me) i fail. “It will feel good.” No it won’t, and i know that very well. “I will have more fun.” No i won’t. I have proven that. “At least i will feel better if only for a moment.” Completely 100% false. In fact, the opposite is true. You get the point. If you do think you have something to put into the “positive outcome” bucket, and you can’t find a reason why that instinct is wrong, give me a call and i will help you shoot it down. This is my biggest golden nugget. This is my singular guiding truth about sobriety –

There is not a single positive outcome to having another drink.

Next up – More on Habits and Outcomes

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