Language and Labeling

Just some random thoughts about labeling and language. A number of blog and list posts I’ve run across recently seem to center around the ways in which we bring our preconceived notions to various terms and concepts (which is something I’ve also tried to emphasize whenever writing and speaking about generational issues). So, I thought it might be interesting to bring a few examples together here to see if there might be some connections.

While catching up on much-belated blog reading over new year’s, for instance, I ran across this post from Creating Passionate Users on Why Web 2.0 is More Than a Buzzword. Much of what she talks about there has been said, unsurprisingly, about Library 2.0 as well, but the distinction between “jargon” and “buzzwords” is worth thinking about. Some of the objections I’ve seen to Library 2.0 seem to center around “why do we need a special term for this, anyway” — here’s one answer.

Meanwhile, I was also having fun reading people’s posts on the “five things you don’t know about me” meme. Over at her response, Jessamyn pointed to the Autism Spectrum Quotient test — which notes that “Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher.” I’m an online quiz junkie, so I had to take it. I scored a 36. Hmm. My guess is that this points more toward the introversion I’ve mentioned before than anything else, but if you’ve ever met me at a conference and thought I’m a little odd, you now have a label to use to cut me some slack :) .

As far as labels go, in my spare time, I also read a couple of Yahoo! Groups for parents of gifted children. One recurring conversation here focuses around whether to get kids tested for giftedness, how people’s conceptions of them change if they are (or aren’t) labeled “gifted,” and how sometimes kids are resistant to pull-out classes and other activities for fear of their classmates’ reaction to the label. (I remember this one well from my own horrendous grade school days!) The kid’s the same kid whether they’re two points too low to make the cutoff/having a bad test day, or whether their mom finds out their IQ is higher than hers, but somehow just the knowledge of a number can change people’s reactions and expectations.

When we use specific language and jargon in libraries, especially when we’re talking to decision makers, it’s useful to step back to see what we might be implying through the words we choose to use. This is also another reason to familiarize ourselves with the language that resonates with said decision makers. Terms like ROI might tend to set your teeth on edge, but you can always repeat the “libraries aren’t businesses” mantra on your own time. Acknowledging the inherent resonance of the “protect our children” chorus can help us craft effective and equally heartfelt counterarguments to DOPA-like rules and regulations.

Lastly, while we’re having fun with language, there’s always A Mighty Fine Reason to Read Your Spam, where “Birdmonster” notes the one factor that makes cleaning out my junk mail box nearly bearable:

“I love the nearly poetic intext gibberish (“And if de bees wake, it doan matter for her her”), the wonderful email titles (“intrinsically regimental” or “lumpy connote”), and, especially, the names. They read like a list of distinguished hobos:

- Faulkner T. Rasmus
- Ty Coon
- Lestat Crownover
- Crabtree S. Stella
- Milligan Peg
- Lavonne Negronne
- Barrera Fanny
- Eduardo Watches
- Gonzales B.B. Bertram
- Septimus T. Stevenson

Expectant parents: throw away those two dollar baby-naming periodicals. Faulkner T. Rasmus YourLastNameHere is better than anything inside.”

If I ever turn to writing fiction, I know where my characters’ names will come from.

4 Comments

  1. Joshua M. Neff:

    I’ve been keeping a list of all the weird spam names I’ve been receiving for the past few years.

  2. walt crawford:

    But based on that post’s criteria, and the growing number of “Library 2.0″ definitions, Library 2.0 is precisely a buzzword: It does not refer to a well-defined, mutually agreed upon set of concepts and practices. The set of Venn circles all labeled “Library 2.0″ keeps growing and diverging…

    As for “gifted”–I am so thankful that, back when I was in school, we were in “Honors track” and not “Gifted.” I only got punched out once as one of those Honors-track University-bound geeks; with “Gifted” I might not have survived high school.

  3. Rachel:

    Joshua: Beautiful! :)

    Walt: I’d argue that there is a well-enough-defined set of concepts and practices to make the concept meaningful. (See for instance Casey and Savastinuk’s Sept. LJ article.) If it weren’t a useful rubric to bring together these discussions, I don’t think that we would have seen its use grow and move into the more traditional library literature over the past year-plus.

  4. Meredith:

    The best spam I’ve ever gotten was from Bonaventure Calderon. What a great name — so distinguished and yet absurd. It’s actually become one of my “pet names” for Adam!

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