Saturday, December 15, 2012

Language Pet Peeves

Maybe it's because I was an English major, but I'm just fascinated by how the same exact words can mean one thing to the person who says them, but mean something else entirely to the person who hears them. I have a friend who told me that she interprets "you're so lucky that ____" as a phrase full of jealousy and spite, which shocked me because I always interpreted that phrase as something full of excitement, in a "what a blessing it is that ____" or an "I'm so happy for you that ___" sort of way. I don't think I ever used the phrase "you're so lucky that ___" very much, but now I try to avoid it at all costs (because who knows how many people interpret it like my friend?)!

I've been thinking lately about a few phrases that I hear a lot, and I think people say them without realizing the negative meaning behind their words. Or maybe I'm the only one who attaches a negative meaning to them? Who knows. Anyway, here are three phrases that bother me a bit: 
  1. When women say things like "My husband is letting me buy a ____!" or "{Husband} says I can {insert something involving money}!" Seriously? Do you ask his permission for everything? He just controls all the money and you beg him for permission to spend it?!? I would never say that "Jeff let me buy a ___." We make our money-related decisions together, and honestly - I'm a little more conservative with our money than he is generally. Surely I'm not the only woman like that! I just hate it that by using this sort of phrase, women are perpetuating the stereotype that we just want to look pretty and spend our husbands' money. We make money too (either directly via jobs, or indirectly via the support and practical help we give to our husbands who can then make money via their jobs), and monetary spending should be a joint decision! We should be saying things like "{Husband} and I decided to buy a ____! I'm so excited!" We're not a bunch of irresponsible girls who would go crazy spending money if we didn't have husbands to reign us in! After all, we were financially responsible before we were married, right?
  2. The phrase "just a stay-at-home mom." It drives me crazy when women get asked what they do, and they respond "I'm just a stay-at-home mom," or when people talk about a mother and say "oh, she's just a stay-at-home mom." Seriously? Just a stay-at-home mom? Being a stay-at-home mom is a hard, unrelenting, serious job! If stay-at-home moms weren't staying home, they'd be paying someone else to do the job they do! Plus, raising children right is so, so very important (arguably the MOST important task adults contribute to society), so why would we say that someone is "just" a stay-at-home mom? You would never say "oh, I'm just a lawyer" or "she's just an accountant," or even "she's just a nanny," so why on earth would you belittle the important job of taking care of one's own children? I'm clearly not a stay-at-home mom, but I was raised by a wonderful one, and she was proud of the decision she and my dad made that she would stay home with my sisters and I. Stay-at-home moms don't stay home because they can't do anything else. They stay home because they made a decision about what's best for their family, and that's just as valid as choosing to do any other job! 
  3. The phrase "start a family." People are always asking me when Jeff and I will "start a family," and I just find it so odd! Aren't we already a "family?" Didn't that happen the day we got married? I already consider us to be a little family of two. We send Christmas cards as a family, we make decisions by discerning what's best for our family, and I try to make my house a nice place for my little family to live. Sure, one day (God willing) we'll have our first child, but that will just make us a bigger family. What about couples that can't have children? Are they not families? I looked up the definition of "family" out of curiosity... according to Oxford, a family is "a group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit." Isn't that the craziest definition ever? That definition would leave out families with a deceased or otherwise-gone parent. It would leave out families with a parent deployed with the military. It would leave out families whose children are in college, or adults living on their own. I just think that's entirely too limiting. Webster's has a different definition: "a group of individuals living under one roof, and usually under one head." I think that one is silly too. I mean, I lived under one roof with my roommates in college, but I don't think anyone would say we were a "family!" Anyway, I just think we already are a family, despite the lack of babies around the house. 
Of course, I generally just brush it off when I hear things like this. People can't help using phrases that are ingrained in our societal way of speaking. When someone asks me when we'll "start a family," I just interpret it as what they really mean to say (when we'll have children). After all, I can 100% guarantee that none of those people would ever tell me that Jeff isn't my "family." I'm sure there are certain marriages where the phrase "my husband let me ____" is factually accurate. But most of the wives I know (some of them women who say things like that!) are responsible monetarily, and I doubt any of them have husband's who actually control 100% of their finances without involving them. And "just a stay at home mom" -- I think that one just slips out and people don't even think about what they're saying. They don't mean to belittle stay-at-home moms... they just mean to clarify that she doesn't work outside the home. None of these are things people say intentionally (at least, not for the most part), but shouldn't we make a conscious effort to limit our use of phrases like these? 

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  1. I'm one of those women who will say "My husband is letting me buy..." To me I'm saying that I want something non-essential and I've spoken with hubby about it and he's agreed it's OK. If It's something under £20 I'll typically go ahead, anything above that and I'll make sure he's OK with it first.
    When I had my own salary I couldn't understand other women who would have to "ask their husband" for something, but since not having my own income - yes I understand them very well now.

    On the starting a family comment... I'd say you were a couple. Family - tecnhnically yes but when thinking "family" I think of multiple generations.
    Hubby and I are a couple - he has his family, I have mine but our two families don't really merge at any point other than with us as a couple. Children would be our family - belonging to both of us.

    I love to see your point of view and I don't think you are wrong - just that your interpretation is different to mine ;)
    Thanks for posting and I hope my different view doesn't offend.

  2. Interesting opinions. Our first Christmas card this year (we don't have kids) says from "The C Family."