Yesterday I did a thing: I launched a new website / blog called Radical Copyeditor. Don’t worry, I’m not abandoning this blog; I’m just creating a different space for voicing thoughts on a particular topic: the concept of using language as a tool for liberation.
My love of copyediting began in the early 2000s during an internship with South End Press, a majority women of color–run book publishing collective that is sadly now defunct. The amazing women I got to work with there helped me understand not only that I had a gift for copyediting, but also that publishing could be a form of activism. Since then I have endeavored to use my nerdy word powers to create positive change in the world.
I have a particular sort of love affair with words and language conventions. You see, as a genderqueer person, I have had to quite literally write myself into existence—forcing language to make room for me within a culture that does not want to admit that there are people who are neither male nor female. And as a queer person, I’ve experienced the versatility and mutability of language first-hand, marveling as a single word changes shape and meaning depending on the person who says it, the person who hears it, and the context in which it is spoken.
The concept of radical copyediting is based on the premise that there are at least two primary ways to understand the purpose of things like grammar, dictionaries, and so forth. The first is that these language tools separate out those who are educated, enlightened, or “well bred” from the “common masses,” thereby serving the purpose of maintaining cultural norms around what—and who—is most valuable and “normal.” Language rules and standards thus become tools for keeping power consolidated in the hands of elites.
A second way to understand these language tools is that they are designed to increase comprehension and help the widest number of people to communicate effectively and access the meaning behind language. Language rules and standards thus become tools for bridging the differences between us and helping each other understand the many different ways people experience the world.
Radical copyediting helps the written language live up to its more radical potential—serving the ends of access, inclusion, and liberation, rather than maintaining oppression and the status quo. I believe that language matters, and that those of us who are working to manifest a better, more just world have a responsibility to use language in ways that describe the world we are working to create, rather than unconsciously perpetuating bias and prejudice.
Some words are intentionally used in ways that add more violence to the world and/or maintain oppression. Other words are used without any intention or active awareness, and maintain the status quo by unconsciously promoting mainstream values and norms. Still others are used in intentional ways that foster awareness, equity, and liberation. This is the way that I strive to help others utilize language.
So, for more thoughts from me along these lines, check out my new website and blog! I hope you like it.