Aside from my personal mission to convince the planet that Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack” is the greatest song of all time, the only other conversation I feel super passionately about is about the fluidity of language and my distaste for the disregard for so-called “not real words” like “conversate” and “irregardless.” (For the record, they’re both real words according to every dictionary you might reference.)
For instance, I’d be willing to bet all of the money in Terry Crews’ wallet that some of you reading this had a visceral reaction to the mere sight of both of those words. And I will never understand it. Language is probably the most fluid thing that has ever existed. Words get made up all of the time. In fact, that’s my biggest issue with any discussion about something not being a real word; in order to say it’s not a real word….you kind of have to say it. And if I say it, and you know what I mean when I say it and are able to continue the flow of conversation, then that means there was effective communication, which is the point of language. How does conversate get in the way of this? (It doesn’t.)
In more fact, the only reason we have visceral reactions to conversate and irregardless is because at some point, somebody said “that’s not a word.” But what happens when those same people decide something “is” a word? According to sticklers for language, that makes it a word, no? So that should be fine, yes? People still hate it. In my head, it’s some sort of uneducated signal, especially amongst Black people. We like to (many times inaccurately) associate certain words to Blackness and Black speech, and for some reason, lots of Black people—folks who didn’t start out speaking English in the first place, mind you—place some sort of “less than” judgment upon both the word and the person using it.
Here’s something else: who gets to be the arbiter of language in the first place? We let governing bodies force us into shaming folks for speaking naturally and effectively communicating, because “it’s not correct.” Those same governing bodies fought for slavery and told Black people we weren’t full humans until the 19th century in this country, but go awf, sis.
What the fuck is correct in a world where every single word is made up to begin with? At some point, the word “door” was accepted to be the word choice for the thing that opens and closes as you move between spaces. If that word had been ceiling, we would call doors ceilings. Words and language are just choices.
Since I can hear you looking at me sideways, let me also say this: I fully respect the need for grammar and syntax rules. The whole point of grammar is to ensure the most effective communication of thoughts and ideas. You need some uniform way of ensuring that, when written, everybody who reads something can come to some discernible conclusion about the intended result. The words are almost secondary to that; a comma in the wrong place can change the entire meaning of a sentence. I’m not an English teacher so I’m not going to build out examples for you, but those are lessons we learned early in our individual educations. I don’t care about a bunch of old white men telling me that a comma should be used like this, that or this, and uh. Future is not the only person who has fucked up some commas. So it is helpful to have something that ensures the greatest amount of people across a wide swath of terrain all have some measure of understanding.
But that does not apply to words. It’s one thing to call blue, red. Or to call a couch a sock. That’s confusing because no matter who came up with it, there has been universal buy-in; that would be a fundamental reframing of specific words nobody had a problem with in the first place. Conversate and irregardless though, get pushback, seemingly only because somebody didn’t put them in the dictionary in the first place. But words get added all the time and rarely do you get much indignation about it. If words can be added, frankly on a whim, then why the hell does “what makes a word a word” matter at all? If I can say it, and you know what I mean, it’s a word.
Plus, English is fucking hard, fam. We park on driveways and drive on parkways. “Apart” means separated by distance but “a part” means included. If you put a space between the a and p, you’re together, but if you don’t put a space, you’re separated. English is drunk. There are tons of little confusing pieces of the English language. Why? Because the shit is a blend of tons of languages and made up on the spot half the time and somebody writes it down in a place where most people respect and #wallahmagic, we are all okay with it.
Which is so stupid to me. If the only thing separating a word from being “a real word” is some governing body who got to “bling bling” first, then none of it matters. Nobody should be penalized or judged for saying something just because an educated or enlightened society doesn’t like it. What happens when that society then changes its mind? Now I’m not dumb anymore? Black people especially should understand this; so much of American society has been white supremacy policing our culture by their standards. Which is extra stupid when it comes to language, white people get shit “wrong” all the time, too. The penalty just isn’t as severe, if it exists at all.
I will never forget the time that my very white, very southern, very educated boss said “conversate” in the middle of a meeting and nobody batted an eye. I was waiting for folks to mention it later and somebody did and I was like, “but did you know what she was saying?” Of course he did. That was the boss, though. Can you imagine a bunch of white people working for a black person who constantly said conversate or irregardless? It would never happen. But it shouldn’t matter.
Language is and should be fluid. Humanity is creative by nature, we should be able to experiment with communication and evolve it constantly. If you read, you see the constant evolution of language and its use in real time. There are standard practices that help make it as effective to the most people, but even that shit is fluid. Just recently, the Associated Press changed its style guide to allow for the capitalization of Black when speaking about the Black culture, etc. A week prior to that decision, capitalizing the B was a fight in newsrooms—now, it’s how we all do business. Anything that can be changed so simply by somebody making a decision shouldn’t be that much of a debate. Especially when a white power structure is making the decisions for how Black and other people of color communicate properly.
If you are ever around me, it is a guarantee that if a conversation allows for me to use the word “conversate” I will use the word conversate and dare you to tell me it’s wrong short of white supremacy policing your language choices, until it didn’t.
You know why? Because somebody at some point was like, y’all, enough people use it, let’s go on ahead and throw it in the book. Now we’re gucci. Because we’ve always been gucci. Because if I said it, I meant it, bite my tongue for no one, call me evil, I’m unbelievable.
Anything less is uncivilized, irregardless of what you think.