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Friday, March 29, 2013

7 Buzzwords in Gay Marriage Cases Before the Supreme Court

In a Time magazine article published as the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments about same-sex marriage, Katy Steinmetz writes:
Marriage, as John P. Marquand might have said, is a damnably serious business—particularly among gay rights activists and same-sex marriage opponents. Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the legal definition of “marriage,” one of many words and phrases that embody America’s long cultural grapple over homosexuality.
She goes on to discuss the vocabulary used in this important debate about civil rights, referring occasionally to Ben Zimmer, linguist and executive producer at Vocabulary.com. For example:

On marriage ...
“It’s not that the word changed,” says American Heritage dictionaries’ Executive Editor Steve Kleinedler, one of the editors who worked on the update. “It’s just that the scope broadened.” And these editorial choices matter: it’s quite possible that the Supreme Court Justices will include various dictionary definitions of marriage in their discussions or opinions about the cases they've heard this week.
On traditional marriage ...
But while the appeal to tradition is an important part of the argument against legalizing gay marriage, Zimmer says, calling heterosexual marriage “traditional” undermines that position, too. “By calling it ‘traditional marriage,’ you've already ceded the ground that there is another kind of marriage,” he says.
On opposite-sex marriage ...
Describing male-female marriages as “opposite-sex” is factually indisputable. It’s also potentially jarring, because most Americans still wouldn't use that phrasing in casual conversation and new labels can make old institutions seem less familiar.
On marriage equality ...
“The whole same-sex marriage debate had increasingly fallen under that rubric,” Zimmer says. The usage has become so widespread, he notes, that the phrase was the American Dialect Society’s runner-up for “Word of the Year” in 2012. ...
On queer ...
Queer, which also means unconventional or deviating from the norm, was used as a pejorative term for gays and lesbians before being reclaimed in the 1980s. Homosexuals and gay rights advocates used it in academia and when referring to themselves, thus giving the word positive or neutral connotations to balance out the negative. ...
The article also discusses the terms husband and wife and widower and widow.

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Steinmetz's article is featured today, March 29, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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