Monthly Archives: January 2023

“The language police come for the word ‘field’ ”


‘The language police come for the word field’ – Boston Globe 1-17-2023


After all, as that memo from the Practicum Education Department points out, “Words are powerful, but even more so is action. We are committing to further align our actions, behaviors and practices with anti-racism and anti-oppression, which requires taking a close and critical look at our profession — our history, our biases and our complicity in past and current injustices.”




“The language police come for the word ‘field’ ”

By Joan Vennochi

The Boston Globe

January 17, 2023

We all know the basic meaning, origin, of the word field. But think of all the meanings, connotations, it has assumed. From the basic concept of a plot, an area, comes the idea of something abstract: domain, area. And this concept gets generalized. Unified Field Theory. His field of study is anthropology.

And baseball and football fields. And fielder. The left fielder occupies that position on a baseball field. An outfielder is stationed far from home plate and an infielder the opposite.

A politician fields a question. This usage may have come from baseball: the verb to field (the shortstop fielded a grounder).

Harmless enough, would you not say?

And here we have an issue being made (at UCLA) of the word. This is preposterous. Academics are engaging in entirely needless, ridiculous language policing – what seems to be an exercise in “virtue signaling.”

Is it reasonable to assume that descendants of slaves who happen to be students or staff would be “harmed” or cannot handle the word field? Can anyone be offended?

As an example, consider the word rope. Should it be banned? Ropes were used to lynch blacks in recent history. How about tree? Or the noun (or, for that matter, the verb) post? They are things and words that were no doubt were used in lynchings and in accounts of lynchings.

In the Boston Globe article. reference is made to a list of words complied by Globe editors that writers have been instructed to either avoid or “be careful with.”

Some expressions to avoid entirely because of their roots in violence against Black people, Indigenous people, or other marginalized groups, or their appropriation from Indigenous cultures and customs, include “grandfather clause”; “on the warpath”; “too many chiefs, not enough Indians“; powwow”; “long time, no see” and “no can do”; “mumbo jumbo”; and “chink in the armor.” We should also be careful with “sherpa” if we’re not referring to the Tibetan ethnic group; “guru” if we’re not referring to a spiritual leader or teacher with that title; “hysteria,” especially if not talking about a cisgender male; “crazy,” “insane,” “schizophrenic” or other mental health terms if used to describe unrelated things; and language relating to physical disabilities, such as “blindness” or “deafness,” to mean cluelessness, heartlessness, or unwillingness to listen; or “lame” to mean “undesirable” or “corny.”

Most of these recommendations (re usage by Globe staff) seem sensible and worth alerting writers to. Times do change. Think of racist insults and slurs that were once common.


Getting back to the word field. Abbie Findlay Potts, in her monograph Wordsworth’s Prelude: A Study of Its Literary Form, discusses the poetic vocabulary of the young William Wordsworth (with a consideration of things such as abstract versus concrete words). She observes:

Man-made things noted, typically more than actually, are paths and walks, fields of war and listed fields, cell, dome, mansions, roof; gold, dye, chariot, fetters, sword, lance, ring, and lyre; design, book, page, and song.

Note the use of the word fields. Should an English professor refrain from teaching Wordsworth because of this?

And what about the following:

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

— Blake, ”London”

My goodness! Manacles were used to restrain slaves – as can be observed in pictures of slave auctions. What is to be done? I hope this favorite poem of mind doesn’t get banned.


— Roger W. Smith

  January 2020