I hate semantics, long words and political correctness. Arguments should not be about the meanings of words, but the ideas they represent. I rarely see semantics used to clarify meaning. It is usually used to distract, confuse and wrestle the opponent down. If someone speaks plainly, I’d rather accept their words at face value than weasel my way behind the meanings of their words to sow division and defeat. If I am losing an argument, I’d rather deflect with a joke or recast my argument in the light of the new evidence. Not go off on some tangent about the correct usage of words.
I have read too many documents larded with nickel words like socio-economic, biogeographical, and automobile-dependent to appreciate them any more. One would think I got used to chewing rhetorical gravel, but it still dulls a paragraph. I read a lot, so I’m sure the average citizen is even more stymied by these lazy constructions. This is a great way to hide tyranny in plain sight. Who has time for reading when it gives you a headache? I cannot help but skim pro-forma paragraphs laden with these sorts of words, along with consequently, relatively, and impervious. Part of the value that lawyers get paid for tis the trained ability to stand unflinchingly in the storm of dull writing and emerge with the gravamin.
Because words have meaning and feeling, we use them in devious ways. “Political Correctness”, for example. Political correctness is the sanction of offensive language whenever it comes up in conversation or writing. It goes beyond “couth”, as the enforcers of political correctness can be quite uncouth in their reprimands. If you use the wrong salad fork or drone on too long about car repair at the dinner table, the most you will get is a nudge, not castigation.
The preferred parlance of political correctness is long doubleplusgood phrases rather than direct slurs. Technically correct, but anodyne phrases like First Nation Native American, Vertically Challenged and Economically Disadvantaged. These phrases are almost always (with the exception of “Xe”) have many more syllables than the original term. This is a kind of aversion therapy. If discussing a topic like race, sexuality or disability is uncomfortable and really should not even be mentioned in polite company, better to make the accepted phrase painful and cumbersome to memorize and pronounce. For added discomfort, change the preferred nomenclature every decade or so.
Words, and word choices, have power over arguments. How we feel when we hear or read certain words is partially or wholly how we feel about those things themselves. Read a word for an idea often enough, and you will start to associate that feeling with the thing it represents. Compare “Illegal Alien” with “Undocumented Worker”. Almost the same number of syllables, much different feelings. Consider “Right of Way’, the “Death Tax” or “Gun Control”. All sound better than “Government land for the sole use of traffic”, “Estate Tax” or “Gun Ban”.
Words can be used to take or bestow power, or make people feel ill-placed, alien or childish in their actions. This happens in at least three places in transportation that I can think of, and I’d like to mention them here.
Walker, not pedestrian
IThe first thing I’m working on is “Walker” instead of “Pedestrian” Two syllables instead of four. A verb instead of a condition. I see lots of groups use “Pedestrian” even when advocating the cause of walking and walkers. See what I said above about uncomfortable terms and word length. The other definition of “pedestrian” is “commonplace, unimaginative, run of the mill, unrefined, undesirable”. Makes you ashamed to step outside, doesn’t it? When somebody diagnoses me with the condition of pedestrianism, I can’t wait to dart across the sidewalk to my car and become a driver like god intended.
Driving a Bike
Driving, the act of causing something to move , is something bikers do more obviously than “drivers” of cars. A biker steers and applies the brakes on their bikes, which gets you the title “driver” in traffic. They also apply the motive force to the bike, something it would take 2-3 strong people to do on a flat surface with a car. We always hear of “Riding” bikes, “going for a ride” and “bicycle riders”. It has been almost two solid centuries since the people started putting pedals or treadles on Dandy Horse, so we haven’t ridden bikes in our lifetimes. “Riding a a bike” connotes a childish act. Like you don’t really have anywhere useful to go on your little toy. When I say “Driving a Bike” it still sounds wrong, but it is just as many syllables as “riding and bike, more correct, and connotes action, not play.
Piloting a car
I am still working on this. It doesn’t sound right. We don’t really have a name for the collection of people moving around by car, truck SUV, and even motorcycle or tractor trailer on our 2.5 million miles of roads. An old term is “motordom”, but that really is the set or car users, not what they do every day. Transit is more easily defined as fixed routes and times of operation serving multiple members of the pub.lic with multiple stops along routes. Motorcycles make up only 2% of the fleet, so I don’t really consider their freedom and efficiency. What do you call it? What do you call them. Right now, I’m thinking Traffic, with pilots piloting cars in that traffic.
What is the act of using transit in the way transit riders ride subways or buses, walkers wlak and bikers bike? 60% of the passenger of cars are not piloting the cars, a ratio that has held steady through the last two decades. This fell from the 1950s, when there was one passenger for every pilot. A time when cars were rarer, of course. I am studiously avoiding the term “Driver”, of course. I am not sure pilot works, however. All I know now is that I’m calling the users of transportation, pilots, drivers and riders alike, “passengers” whether they are walkers, bikers, traffic or transit.
I am training myself to use these terms correctly in the future. I think we’d go a long way to restoring choice to America’s transportation if we saw walking and biking as more active than being in traffic. You are not your cyborg if you don’t want to be.
The following is a placeholder for an image I’d like to put in here, by the same artist: