Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's not just "a thing"

The word "thing" is so devoid of inherent meaning that it takes on a whole spectrum of connotations, depending on context. I have a thing for musicians (good). I have a thing about people using apostrophes incorrectly (bad). Dave Barry once pointed out that men are so scared of identifying themselves as being in a relationship that they say, "We, uh...we have this thing."

When two of my friends got into a heated argument on Facebook recently, they both expressed regret that the discussion had become A Thing (caps added by one). In this case, "thing" was used to imply that it had become larger than necessary or desired.

But "thing" can also be used to dismiss something, which is what I've been thinking about lately. In the now infamous anti-Asian rant by UCLA student Alexandra Wallace, she talks about being annoyed by all the people checking on everyone from "the tsunami thing." I think an event that has killed over ten thousand people deserves a more specific designation.

I once belonged to an organization that had some serious issues with racial and cultural inclusion. My naïve efforts to address it were met with obstacles right and left, from the conflict-fearing leader to those who wanted to maintain a white sanctuary in our diverse geographic region, to those who, like so many, didn't know how to converse effectively about an issue as charged as race. A fellow member once referred to my campaign as "the whole race thing." I felt minimized, but it was only one more disappointment among many, and I never had the courage to bring it up.

The tsunami was not a THING, it was a tragedy. My quest for racial diversity was not a THING, it became my life's work. When we fail to be specific, we show disrespect and lack of concern for that which can be highly significant to others.


firezdog said...

But surely every thing is a thing!

dennis hodgson said...

Nobody but geologists knew what a tsunami was until the 2004 Indian Ocean catastrophe, but it then became a vogue word, being used, for example, in Hong Kong (where I live) to describe the 2008 financial crisis ("financial tsunami").