Words that suck

I realize that I should have called this post "Words that cause confusion," except blog posts are supposed to have eye-catching titles, aren't they?

Anyway, a couple of things I read today reminded me of two dishonest words that especially offend me, because of their inherently argumentative nature as well as their tendency to distort perceptions of reality.

Let's start with "sodomy." I was delighted to see (via Glenn Reynolds' link) that a "sodomy"-hating activist named Ryan Sorba was not exactly given a warm reception at CPAC. According to a number of accounts, he was booed off the stage. Not merely content to condemn homosexuals, he also condemned CPAC for having invited the gay group GOProud. (subject of previous posts.)

I watched the video and Ryan Sorba was so very rude that it seemed to me he was asking to be booed.

Fascinatingly, the fact that he was roundly booed at CPAC is proving to be unsettling to the left.

As John Aravosis from the very liberal AmericaBlog notes, "When conservatives are standing up for gays, and Democrats treat us like we are an embarrassment, there's a problem." (via Ace of Spades)
Wow, I almost feel like saying "Heh."

On to to my complaint. Ryan Sorba is a habitual user of the word "sodomy," and he has written a long tract called "The Gay Hoax" (said to be a book by now) in which he argues that the existence of gays and lesbians who go straight proves that homosexuality is not inborn, but a choice. I don't go in for one-size-fits-all arguments, so I have never believed that the deterministic theory of homosexuality applies to all gays. I think there is more fluidity to human sexuality than the determinists would have us believe. (Are straight men born attracted to high heels, for example?) However, I do think there are many gays who were born that way, but there is also a sizable number who happened to find out that they liked it later in life, just as there are bisexuals. The strict "heterosexual or homosexual" dichotomy is belied by the fact that there are numerous exceptions.

Anyway, Sorba's "book" (quoted at length in a post titled "Gay" Men Sleeping with "Lesbian" Women???") cites a number of examples of sexual non-conformists. Whatever point he might have made about human sexual fluidity loses its persuasive value by his insistence on the word "Sodomy" as a synonym for homosexuality, so I left this comment:

"Sodomy" is not a biblical term, but a construct of medieval monks. The city of Sodom was a place where the wicked inhabitants threatened to break down the door of Lot's home in order to rape an angel. It would be one thing to call the behavior of these would-be angel rapists "Sodomy," but to apply it to consensual homosexual conduct is simply a regurgitation of the medieval argument, and not supported by biblical text.

I think its use undermines some very good points in the above piece. It also makes it much easier for gay activists who believe in the "born that way" argument to roll their eyes in dismissal. I don't know what Ryan Sorba's goal was, but instead of being persuasive, the piece comes across as preaching to the choir.

Considering the way he insulted his hosts at CPAC, I'm not even sure exactly what his choir is, but still.... Why the insistence on using a misleading word? I found myself thinking that he probably doesn't even want to persuade anyone. Why do all that work documenting non-conforming gays who sleep with the "wrong" sex only to call people sodomites?

The conservative blogger who quoted Sorba also uses the word "sodomy" to mean homosexuality, but as even he admits in another post about Sorba,

"The definition of what sodomy is seems to be somewhat unclear."
That is because the word itself arose out of an attempt to conflate angel rape with consensual homosexual intercourse, by affixing the name of a place where the rape was attempted to consensual conduct occurring in unrelated places and times.

Similar conduct to what the Bible describes does in fact happen in many prisons. So, while it might appear to be fair to call such homosexual rape "sodomy," wouldn't it be equally logical to call it by the name of a prison?

Leavenworthy, anyone?

I suspect rational arguments are lost on guys like Ryan Sorba, and I think the reason he resorts to name-calling might be that he is increasingly worried that his central argument -- that gays weren't born that way -- is a waste of time. If that is his worry, he's right. Because, the deterministic view that there is no choice (which he opposes) is actually in conflict with true sexual freedom. Like any freedom, the right to do something sexually includes the right not to do it, and the right to choose it or not choose it is an inherent attribute of freedom. So if he says gays chose to be that way, the proper answer by anyone who cares about freedom is "So what?"

Hell, there's even a gay group which embraces the anti-determinist view, called "The Queer by Choice Community." If you think about it, despite all of Sorba's hard work, he has only reinforced the case for human sexual freedom. I suspect that consciously or unconsciously, he feels that he has to taint them with a stronger accusation, and using the word "sodomy" is a tacit medieval accusation of homosexual rape.

This is an old issue, as I've been saying that the word "sodomy" sucks as long as I've been writing this blog, so I ought to move on to the other word that sucks.


It's at least as intellectually dishonest as the word "sodomy," and I would say that right now, the consequences are far more devastating.

Writing in (the "sodomy"-hating but sodomy-law-loving) WorldNetDaily, Pat Buchanan echoes his own version of the leftie meme that the country is ungovernable, and explains why:

Needed is a combination of big budget cuts and tax hikes. But the only place one can get budget cuts of the magnitude required is from the big entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And the only place to get revenue of that magnitude is by raising taxes on the American middle class.

And here is where Barack Obama hits the wall.

Republicans are not going to give him a single vote for a tax increase. Not only would this violate a commitment most made to the people who elected them, it would be politically suicidal. For behind the GOP today, and its best hope of recapturing Congress in 2010, are the tea-party irregulars.

And tea partiers now play the role of Red Army commissars who sat at machine guns behind their own troops to shoot down any soldier who retreated or ran. Republicans who sign on to tax hikes cannot go home again.

Notice that Pat Buchanan is held hostage by the word "entitlement," even though the United States Supreme Court has specifically held that statutory schemes like Social Security are not entitlements. They are passed by Congress like any other laws, and they can be modified or abridged by Congress like any other laws. That this might be difficult no one would deny. But using a word like "entitlement" is not helpful, as it mischaracterizes the nature of money paid by one group of people to another.

It's nice that the Supreme Court threw out the theory of legal entitlement, but I wish it had thrown out the word. It is political in nature, dishonestly implicates the constitution, and contains a built-in argument which is simply false.

I'd say entitlements are like sodomy, except I wouldn't want to be misunderstood. And if I made a wisecrack like that I'd be undermining my point (as well as inviting the unwanted suggestion that sodomy is an entitlement). So I won't.

MORE: Robert Stacy McCain (who is hardly thought of as gay-friendly) noticed that Sorba's rudeness went well beyond the gay issue:

But this is not about gays, or natural law, or libertarianism vs. conservatism. It's about this egomaniacal punk Sorba using his precious allotment of time on the CPAC stage to make a complete ass of himself and embarrass CPAC.
Sorba may not realize it, but with that silly two minute outburst, he accomplished a great deal for the cause of gay conservatism. (If they're not paying him, they should.)

posted by Eric on 02.20.10 at 01:58 PM


Words that suck? Don't you think that referring to Social Security as a 'scheme' reflects a certain bias on your own part?

chocolatier   ·  February 20, 2010 1:13 PM

I don't care what anyone says, Pat Buchanan is entitled to sodomy.

TallDave   ·  February 20, 2010 2:34 PM

LOL Dave. I would ask how literally you're interpreting his entitlement, but...

Choc, I called it a 'scheme' only because I was too lazy to type "intergenerational Ponzi scheme." But that's what I think it is. Actually, there are stronger words than "scheme" that might characterize the practice of tricking people into thinking that money is there for them when it is not.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 20, 2010 3:08 PM

I think the sodomy - angel rape distinction is a bit pedantic. You might as well argue that buggery should only correspond to heterosexuals going for anal as a contraceptive. That's the historical origin if the term, true, but both common use and even use as a term of legal art it's nowhere near accurate. Sodom was even already scheduled for blamming before the angels arrive, so it's about as logical to complain that people might think it's a reference to terminal inhospitality. Words evolve over time, often past any resemblence to their original or historical meaning

That's not to defend the use of the word in this case, where pretty much any definition ends up either tautological (deviancy is both a loaded term and a meaningless one) or wildly inaccurate (a lot of gay men and most lesbian women don't do anal, while lots of heterosexual couples do; including all sex through non-reproductive methods is almost certainly a wider group than he's actually talking about). Words evolve over time, but not always to useful terms.

Gattsuru   ·  February 20, 2010 3:37 PM

There's common usage, as well as the legal term (which has often included heterosexual practices like oral and anal intercourse), but what annoys me is the claim that the term is Biblical, when it was an argumentative term invented by a monk:


Eric Scheie   ·  February 20, 2010 3:48 PM

Eric: Yes, Social Security is an intergenerational transfer payment program. The government takes from the young and gives to the old, whether they need the money or not. However, it isn't a true Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme must collapse. Social Security can go on forever because Congress can cut the benefits or raise taxes to keep it afloat.

chocolatier   ·  February 20, 2010 8:35 PM

It's a Ponzi scheme in the way it is presented. Yes, Congress can cut the benefits, but they just don't want people to know. Hence the use of the word "entitlement."

Eric Scheie   ·  February 21, 2010 12:19 AM

I like the word "sodomy", how do you know you're doing it right if someone isn't calling it "sodomy"?

But I'd always thought it meant any sexual act not the "missionary position".
She's on top? Sodomy.
Blow Job? Sodomy.
But then, I was raised Catholic and I'm pretty sure that's their position. (heh)

As for the etymology, I've always thought it was from Sodom because that was an especially sexually licentious place, not because they were going to rape the angels. I figured that "gomorrahite" was too hard to spell.

I also always thought they were just going to kill the angels, until Lot offered the mob his virgin daughters to "do with as they please". Nice guy. But that's another rant.

I would even want to be called a "sodomite" except that the people who use that word usually mean "gay" not just your average sexual deviant and I try to avoid confustion.

Some words (like sodomite or tea-bagger) say a lot more about the speaker than the intended target.
That's why I like those types of words.
Life is too short to deal with idiots and jackasses (except for entertainment).
And that's why I like facial tattoos, I know right away that I don't have to take that person seriously so can safely ignore him or her.

But then, I have a low opinion of people in general so anything that allows me to figure out right away that they are in the majority (people I don't like), makes my life easier.

Veeshir   ·  February 21, 2010 10:28 AM

I like Veeshir's point about words like "sodomy" serving as indicators of the kinds of characters who use them.

As far as the word "sodomy," Eric's post suggests he might have some familiarity with Mark Jordan's book The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, which, despite its post-modern theoretical apparatus offers some useful insights into the history of the term. (The book also offends and enrages many of the right people, so that's good, too.)

And over at GayPatriot, there is also a discussion going on about homosexuality in Greece and Rome. There, B. Daniel Blatt, observes that, contrary to being responsible for the downfall of these ancient civilizations, homosexual behavior was a part of these civilizations before their rise. That post can be found here:

Kurt   ·  February 21, 2010 12:34 PM

A while back we discussed the term "entitlement" at Making Light ( http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/011146.html ). Formula spending or commitment spending were suggested replacements for the kind of programs where the payout is fixed by law and will continue until the law is changed.

Allan Beatty   ·  February 21, 2010 6:55 PM

Don't forget that Lot was the honorable man in the situation for offering his daughters to the mob. Evidently the mob was not interested in young females.

M. Simon   ·  February 22, 2010 12:43 PM

If offering daughters to rapists is to be seen as honorable in that context, then why did Lot do that? To prevent the rape of God's angel? Or because he thought heterosexual rape was preferable to homosexual rape? Would it have made any difference to God had the rapists been satisfied and instead ravaged Lot's daughters? The message might be that heterosexual rape is not as bad as homosexual rape, but it still sheds no light on consent, or love, and does not justify the medieval comparison which became embedded in our lexicon.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 22, 2010 1:30 PM

perhaps if you looked at legal codes, wherein certain behaviors were proscribed, one might find the term 'sodomy'. This establishes a legal meaning for the word. 'Assault' has a legal meaning, probably different than you think. You can commit assault without touching or harming someone. If you do touch or harm, we add 'battery' to the crime - assault and battery. heard that one before?

So I am IN NO WAY endorsing the gentleman's point of view, but maybe you should look into the usage of the word in more than just the catholic church before going off on a rant. Fix the legal definition first, then you can quit using the word.

BTW, I don't think the 'angel rape' is the sole reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The place was a veritable Las Vegas, they way I read it...or Bangkok, or...

Bill Johnson   ·  February 22, 2010 6:55 PM

I understand your point Bill, except there are problems with assuming the author refers to the legal definition of sodomy. The legal term is by no means restricted to homosexuals and in some jurisdiction it included oral or anal intercourse between ANY two persons. But that is clearly not what Ryan Sorba means, as his tract uses "sodomy" and repeatedly refers to "pro-sodomy" organizations and publications as meaning homosexuality and gay activists.

I realize that the sodomy laws have been ruled unconstitutional, so at this point there is no controlling legal definition, but to the extent heterosexual intercourse was included, the word is inaccurate. Sorba uses it only in the way he wants, and I think it's quite obvious that he means it in the medieval, not strictly biblical sense.

And if Sodom was a veritable Las Vegas, does that mean God hates gambling too? I'm not getting the subtext.

Eric Scheie   ·  February 22, 2010 8:58 PM

Sodom was destroyed because they took advantage of strangers. Kindness to strangers was a very high value when people lived closer to the margins. The rape was indicative not definitive.

M. Simon   ·  February 22, 2010 10:01 PM

Didn't the boos begin as he took the platform? Why are sodomites, ancient and new, from Sodom and Gomorrah to Smith, Columbia, and the CPAC so rude to their guests?

Perhaps it's the old camp song: marijuana, marijuana, pcp, pcp....

phil   ·  February 24, 2010 5:26 PM

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