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SydWalker.Info is a personal website. I live in tropical Australia near Cairns. I oppose war, plutocracy, injustice, sectarian supremacism and apartheid. I support urgent action to achieve genuine sustainability and a fair and prosperous society for all. I rely upon - and support - free speech as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see below).

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Against 'Hate Speech'
May 7th, 2009 by Syd Walker

People who share a common language, such as the English language, generally assume they know what commonly-used words mean.

We need this feeling of certainty. Human culture is largely based on shared understanding of the meaning of words.

But even simple words are not always as clear as they may seem.

Word usage changes over time. Additionally, those people with more power than others to define terms in mass usage may have an agenda.

Take ‘Hate’. In popular dictionaries I’ve consulted, ‘hate’ is a noun or a verb. It is not listed as an adjective.

This is the definition offered by answers.com:

hate v., hat·ed, hat·ing, hates.

v.tr.
To feel hostility or animosity toward.
To detest.
To feel dislike or distaste for: hates washing dishes.

v.intr.
To feel hatred.

n.
Intense animosity or dislike; hatred.
An object of detestation or hatred: My pet hate is tardiness.

‘Hate speech’ is therefore an intrinsically meaningless compound term.

‘Hate speech’ makes no more sense than ‘love speech’, ‘hope speech’, ‘despair speech’ or ‘dream speech’. One can guess at what each of these compound terms might mean, by considering their respective components and what they might mean in combination. But that’s all. Unambiguous definitions aren’t possible – as they are, for instance, in cases such as ‘loud speech’, ‘insightful speech’ or ‘angry speech’.

Notwithstanding such semantic problems, the term ‘hate speech’ has been used with increasing frequency and gusto since the 1980s in English. I understand there are parallels in many other languages.

Answers.com provides the following definition for this relatively new term:

hate speech: n.

Bigoted speech attacking or disparaging a social or ethnic group or a member of such a group.

Wikipedia goes into rather more depth (although it provides no references in support of its definition):

Hate speech is a term for speech intended to degrade[citation needed] a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, ideology, social class, occupation, appearance (height, weight, hair color, etc.), mental capacity, and any other distinction that might be considered by some as a liability.

The word ‘speech’ hasn’t been changed from its usual meaning, so these definitions pack a lot of meaning into one small word (hate).

Conclusion: before even considering the travesty that legislators, lawyers and judges have made of the concept of ‘hate speech’, it’s useful to consider the term on first principles.

Impossible to define as the sum of its constituent parts, it can and must be defined de novo. Dictionary-makers have thus far been rather unconstrained in their freedom to define it exactly as they please.

Dictionary-makers are surely free to engage in this activity. But the rest of us are also entitled to refuse their terms, if we find them useless – or worse than useless.

In this blog, I use the term ‘hate speech’ only inside inverted commas – unless ‘hate speech’ appears inside a direct quotation of another author.

I won’t be party to spreading the use of this meaningless but dangerous term that inter alia has been used to imprison decent men and women whose only ‘crime’ has been expressing political and historical opinions their powerful enemies chose to hate.

Note 1: Those who coined and now use the term ‘hate speech’ could have chosen a different course. They might have combined a real adjective such as ‘wicked’,  ‘vile’  or ‘outrageous’ with the word ‘speech’. Instead of ‘hate speech’, they could have chosen to villify and attack perpetrators of ‘wicked speech’, ‘vile speech’ or ‘outrageous speech’.

Why did they not adopt these more obvious linguistic options?

Is it because criminalization of more meaningful terms such as those would be easier to recogize as inherently problematic and potentially unjust?

Note 2:  A thoughtful person, who helped me appreciate the inherent absurdity of the term ‘hate speech’ before I first wrote this item, provided further insight in subsequent correspondence.

He points out (how did I miss it?) more appropriate terms that might have been chosen in lieu of ‘hate speech’. These are the expressions ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’. In both cases, a genuine adjective is combined with the noun.

So why don’t we hear of ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’? Why were these more obvious terms overlooked?

Is it because the ambiguity of ‘hate’ as a faux adjective is useful to those who employ the term ‘hate speech’?

‘Hate speech’ can be construed as speech that’s motivated by hatred – and speech that is hated by others. It can be either – or both. The ambiguity helps sustain the insinuation that speech which is ‘hated’ must necessarily have been motivated by hatred.


No Responses  
  • Lin writes:
    April 2nd, 20113:32 pmat

    I think that you’re being very selective with choosing Answers for your definitions. My Macquarie, fourth ed., meaning it is not entirely up-to-date, has eight definitions.

    I’m presuming that you speak and write British/Aussie English and someone needs to point out that people used to that language know that you can make compound adjectives by hyphenating two or more words. Consequently hate-speech activities are understandable by anybody with a minimum experience in English.

    Anyone who goes about saying that any English word is a faux different-mode-of-speech is flying in the face of the way English grammar works! You might, just to help yourself, look up how many words Shakespeare introduced into English and how many he changed the meaning. You might buy yourself an Archaic English Dictionary too, before you trot out American English definitions of what are right and what’s wrong with someone’s writings.

    A writer who says—

    Dictionary-makers have thus far been rather unconstrained in their freedom to define it exactly as they please.

    just doesn’t have any idea at all about the work that goes into defining the meanings of words and establishing the specifics of how the word is used by being able to quote the etymology of it.

      

  • Getting back to roots: How I became a Semite | sydwalker.info writes:
    July 9th, 200912:36 pmat
  • Getting back to roots: How I became a Semite | sydwalker.info writes:
    July 9th, 200912:36 pmat
  • Kersasp writes:
    May 25th, 20097:19 pmat

    Very insightful little piece. Re:
    –––––––––––––––––
    Note 2: A thoughtful person, who helped me appreciate the inherent absurdity of the term ‘hate speech’ before I first wrote this item, provided further insight in subsequent correspondence.
    He points out (how did I miss it?) more appropriate terms that might have been chosen in lieu of ‘hate speech’. These are the expressions ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’. In both cases, a genuine adjective is combined with the noun.
    So why don’t we hear of ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’? Why were these more obvious terms overlooked?
    Is it because the ambiguity of ‘hate’ as a faux adjective is useful to those who employ the term ‘hate speech’?
    ‘Hate speech’ can be construed as speech that’s motivated by hatred – and speech that is hated by others. It can be either – or both. The ambiguity helps sustain the insinuation that speech which is ‘hated’ must necessarily have been motivated by hatred.
    –––––––––––––––––

    What hit me instantaneously wrt “why don’t we hear of ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’? Why were these more obvious terms overlooked?” is this: ‘hateful speech’: hateful *to whom*? ‘hated speech’: hated *by whom*? Hateful and hated both imply relativity and objectivity. But ‘hate’ is the absolute and root form of the concept; it is not a derivative word. That word does not raise to consciousness any subjectivity or relativity because no party is implied. The word ‘hate’ is absolute and objective, it exists on its own, and when combined with ‘speech’ it provokes no questions in most minds. I think these are the reasons the term was chosen.

    I portend a marriage of sorts (after our generation is gone; these things are incremental). A marriage between the official catchphrase ‘hate speech’ and the unofficial term ‘thought crime’. Their progeny will be ‘hate thought’ (probably punishable by incarceration and death in the dystopia to come). It will be the first bastard birth that is lawfully born.

      

  • Kersasp writes:
    May 25th, 20097:19 pmat

    Very insightful little piece. Re:
    –––––––––––––––––
    Note 2: A thoughtful person, who helped me appreciate the inherent absurdity of the term ‘hate speech’ before I first wrote this item, provided further insight in subsequent correspondence.
    He points out (how did I miss it?) more appropriate terms that might have been chosen in lieu of ‘hate speech’. These are the expressions ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’. In both cases, a genuine adjective is combined with the noun.
    So why don’t we hear of ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’? Why were these more obvious terms overlooked?
    Is it because the ambiguity of ‘hate’ as a faux adjective is useful to those who employ the term ‘hate speech’?
    ‘Hate speech’ can be construed as speech that’s motivated by hatred – and speech that is hated by others. It can be either – or both. The ambiguity helps sustain the insinuation that speech which is ‘hated’ must necessarily have been motivated by hatred.
    –––––––––––––––––

    What hit me instantaneously wrt “why don’t we hear of ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’? Why were these more obvious terms overlooked?” is this: ‘hateful speech’: hateful *to whom*? ‘hated speech’: hated *by whom*? Hateful and hated both imply relativity and objectivity. But ‘hate’ is the absolute and root form of the concept; it is not a derivative word. That word does not raise to consciousness any subjectivity or relativity because no party is implied. The word ‘hate’ is absolute and objective, it exists on its own, and when combined with ‘speech’ it provokes no questions in most minds. I think these are the reasons the term was chosen.

    I portend a marriage of sorts (after our generation is gone; these things are incremental). A marriage between the official catchphrase ‘hate speech’ and the unofficial term ‘thought crime’. Their progeny will be ‘hate thought’ (probably punishable by incarceration and death in the dystopia to come). It will be the first bastard birth that is lawfully born.

      

  • Kersasp writes:
    May 25th, 20097:18 pmat

    Very insightful little piece. Re:
    –––––––––––––––––
    Note 2: A thoughtful person, who helped me appreciate the inherent absurdity of the term ‘hate speech’ before I first wrote this item, provided further insight in subsequent correspondence.
    He points out (how did I miss it?) more appropriate terms that might have been chosen in lieu of ‘hate speech’. These are the expressions ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’. In both cases, a genuine adjective is combined with the noun.
    So why don’t we hear of ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’? Why were these more obvious terms overlooked?
    Is it because the ambiguity of ‘hate’ as a faux adjective is useful to those who employ the term ‘hate speech’?
    ‘Hate speech’ can be construed as speech that’s motivated by hatred – and speech that is hated by others. It can be either – or both. The ambiguity helps sustain the insinuation that speech which is ‘hated’ must necessarily have been motivated by hatred.
    –––––––––––––––––
    What hit me instantaneously wrt “why don’t we hear of ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’? Why were these more obvious terms overlooked?” is this: ‘hateful speech’: hateful *to whom*? ‘hated speech’: hated *by whom*? Hateful and hated both imply relativity and objectivity. But ‘hate’ is the absolute and root form of the concept; it is not a derivative word. That word does not raise to consciousness any subjectivity or relativity because no party is implied. The word ‘hate’ is absolute and objective, it exists on its own, and when combined with ‘speech’ it provokes no questions in most minds. I think these are the reasons the term was chosen.

    I portend a marriage of sorts (after our generation is gone; these things are incremental). A marriage between the official catchphrase ‘hate speech’ and the unofficial term ‘thought crime’. Their progeny will be ‘hate thought’ (probably punishable by incarceration and death in the dystopia to come). It will be the first bastard birth that is lawfully born.

      

  • Kersasp writes:
    May 25th, 20097:18 pmat

    Very insightful little piece. Re:
    –––––––––––––––––
    Note 2: A thoughtful person, who helped me appreciate the inherent absurdity of the term ‘hate speech’ before I first wrote this item, provided further insight in subsequent correspondence.
    He points out (how did I miss it?) more appropriate terms that might have been chosen in lieu of ‘hate speech’. These are the expressions ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’. In both cases, a genuine adjective is combined with the noun.
    So why don’t we hear of ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’? Why were these more obvious terms overlooked?
    Is it because the ambiguity of ‘hate’ as a faux adjective is useful to those who employ the term ‘hate speech’?
    ‘Hate speech’ can be construed as speech that’s motivated by hatred – and speech that is hated by others. It can be either – or both. The ambiguity helps sustain the insinuation that speech which is ‘hated’ must necessarily have been motivated by hatred.
    –––––––––––––––––
    What hit me instantaneously wrt “why don’t we hear of ‘hateful speech’ and ‘hated speech’? Why were these more obvious terms overlooked?” is this: ‘hateful speech’: hateful *to whom*? ‘hated speech’: hated *by whom*? Hateful and hated both imply relativity and objectivity. But ‘hate’ is the absolute and root form of the concept; it is not a derivative word. That word does not raise to consciousness any subjectivity or relativity because no party is implied. The word ‘hate’ is absolute and objective, it exists on its own, and when combined with ‘speech’ it provokes no questions in most minds. I think these are the reasons the term was chosen.

    I portend a marriage of sorts (after our generation is gone; these things are incremental). A marriage between the official catchphrase ‘hate speech’ and the unofficial term ‘thought crime’. Their progeny will be ‘hate thought’ (probably punishable by incarceration and death in the dystopia to come). It will be the first bastard birth that is lawfully born.

      

  • sydwalker.info » Blog Archive » A Pictorial Guide to Hate Avoidance writes:
    May 17th, 20091:44 pmat
  • sydwalker.info » Blog Archive » A Pictorial Guide to Hate Avoidance writes:
    May 17th, 20091:44 pmat

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