Legalizing marijuana makes it acceptable, but will it make it respectable? Jumping that second hurdle will be difficult, requiring us to forsake the vast vocabulary it has spawned. I don’t see that happening right away.
While I cringe at seeing chief justices, bishops and other bigwigs described as stoners or potheads, if they come out as such what are the options? (Premier Rejects “Pothead” Label; Will Seek Legal Advice)
Marijuana’s verbal baggage will be hard to disown. The original, illegal stoners and potheads were proud of these labels and our language has embraced them.
That’s because English speakers love slang, particularly if it has moral overtones and contains only one or two syllables. Consider the language of sex, itself such an abbreviation. (Don’t worry; I won’t go into details.)
But I don’t recall anyone ever saying cigarette. It was smoke or fag, maybe cig. The most polite substitute for liquor is drink, but it’s usually booze, hooch or sauce.
Of course, our propensity to either shorten words or replace them with terse synonyms has even wider application. Mayonnaise is now mayo, limousine is limo and children are kids. Your parents named you Edward, but you’re now Ed or Ted and there’s little you can do about it without appearing pompous. Just ask me!
Meanwhile, marijuana has been discredited as racist. Cannabis is politically correct. But most of us won’t worry about it because we won’t use either term.
Certainly headline writers won’t. Pot, dope, bud, weed and grass take far less space than either marijuana or cannabis. The first five will each fit into a single-column, 48-point headline.
That’s critical. The first police chief I covered as a cub reporter believed cops was disrespectful. But it was handy in a headline. To humour him, my editor banned the word. Fortunately police was a suitable stand-in, only one unit longer. But if the chief had insisted on constabulary, I’m sure the copy editors would have walked out.
The nomenclature we inherited from illegal marijuana users will have an impact on its future respectability. But this is likely the last thing on the minds of those looking forward to legalization. Eventually new words or new meanings for existing ones will change the picture.
Imagine a political candidate saying, “I’m a stoner and proud of it!”
Previous “Wasted Words” post: Channelling Orwell.
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