When Writers Fail To Understand How Words Work

When Writers Fail To Understand How Words Work

It starts with Elizabeth Bear1 using the word (or tag) ‘deathmarch’ to describe difficulties in moving forward on wordcount with a novel. Apparently the word in the original post here has been removed due to concerns raised in this comment here:

The word I want to point out is “deathmarching”. I’m well aware that some people may use this to refer to a hard, exhausting, sometimes perilous struggle, but there’s history attached to that word, and thus it’s not one that ought to be used lightly.

Read the whole comment, as it makes some good points. And then be prepared to stab yourself in the eyes after reading Bear’s response:

I have very mixed emotions about political correctness in language: I believe that it’s our responsibility to be aware of the language we use, but I also have a sense that mythologizing language only gives it power.

I’m going to just say two things about this and the subsequent conversation in Bear’s journal and elsewhere.

  1. Every time I see someone (usually a white person) using the term ‘political correctness’ in this way it makes me want to get on a rocketship and leave this planet behind forever. It’s not all that shocking for me to see Bear waving around PC in a manner that would make Glen Beck proud given the racial politics she’d displayed lo these many years. But still, lady, what the hell? You’re a goddamn writer yet you wave off the very real consequences of using loaded words casually by complaining about political correctness? How much fail can possibly be contained in one person?
  2. I really don’t think that it should be up to people in positions of privilege to decide when it’s okay to make words mundane and erase their history of blood. I think it should be up to the people with the history and the people the word affects. Hint: that ain’t you, eBear.

And to be honest, it’s not me, either. It’s folks like this:

You see, in this story, by subsuming such outdated usages of “death march” into the mantle of the banal and the mundane — why, “imeldific” was such a success — we have embarked on the positive process of washing the blood out of our history. We have smoothed the jagged edges of our own psyches by repeatedly enduring the battering of the hardness and pain inherent in the stereotyping and prejudice we encounter. Saying and saying and saying, again and again: war, war, indio, savage, ladrones, blood, our little brown brethren, war, master, master, yes — until we accept the reality of it, and the repetition renders the reality common, banal, mundane, free of pain.

Why, look at us. We can even assume respectability now. Tayong hindi lumilingon sa pinanggalingan.

ephemere (Trigger warning for descriptions of violence.)

And while we’re at it:

The background behind “deathmarch” is real. There is nothing mythic about respecting the experiences of those who have been systematically dehumanized and slaughtered or the people who belong to one or more cultures scarred by those experiences.


And then, AND THEN someone unearthed this blog post from 2006 which is actually, seriously called The Bataan Death-March of Merchandising. Because, you know, dealing with the Comicon dealer’s room is totally like unto a deathmarch.

Which all leads me to agree heartily with megwrites: fuck you, Elizabeth Bear, fuck you so, so, so, MUCH.

But, here’s the thing. As this post at Fiction Theory points out, this problem is not limited to Bear, it is vast. And the way to combat it, other than calling her and any other writer out on this stuff, is to do our best as writers or just as people not to contribute to it. You should go read.


  1. Yeah, I know, pretty much any sentence that begins this way can’t end well []