Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Defining By the Negative

It's sometimes hard to know what something or someone IS right away. It's an easier exercise to eliminate what IS NOT. 

Shirt sourced from RVB - Quote citation: Pvt Donut

Canadians often define themselves as "not American" probably because a general definition of "American" is so widely recognized. I find myself describing myself as "not an English teacher" often (mostly because I balk at claiming to be able to keep up with the amount of work they do -- just not happening). And my fellow teachers often feel it necessary to remind non-teachers (and students) that "teaching" does not equal "baby-sitting" nor does school take the place of social work, counseling, a finishing program, hygiene centre, laundromat, or dating service.

The problem with defining through elimination is that eventually someone wants a positive, affirmative statement of what actually IS. When hour-long television comedies appeared without laugh tracks and with long-game story arcs, the term "dramedy" followed shortly afterwards. When novels of contemporary manners and social foibles became popular in the bookstores and libraries, "chick lit" became a thing. Terms like "bromance" and "pwn", often with esoteric origins, now serve a purpose or become appropriated to fill a definition niche. It may be a previously undefined melded category. It may be a needed superlative. Language is magical because it can be changed and challenged in so many innovative ways. 

Defining by the negative is the first step in giving name to your world but if it's your only strategy, you may end up like the kid who only knows what he doesn't want to eat - grumpy and hungry for something you can't name.

So... how do you define yourself as AND as not?