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By David Futrelle
Some guys can’t take a hint. Or even several thousand hints.
Remember the dude who, only a few short weeks ago, had a Twitter meltdown after trying to “correct” a world-famous vagina expert on the proper use of the words “vulva” and “vagina” — a meltdown so epic that the folks at Dictionary.com felt compelled to step in to tell him that he was wrong?
Well, he’s back, and back on his bullshit again. Yesterday he popped up on Twitter, defiant as ever, with a 20-page (single-spaced) manifesto explaining why he was right all along.
The new tweet caused thousands of Tweeters to let out a sigh that could be heard around the world, and generated a truly astounding ratio: the last I checked, the tweet had more than 2000 replies — mostly from people telling him he’s wrong — and only eight retweets.
To refresh your memory on the original controversy. Bullen took issue with the word “vulva” being used in the headline of a Guardian article about a book of photographs of women’s, well, vulvas; he insisted that the “correct” word in this instance was “vagina.” When gynecologist Jen Gunter, author of the forthcoming book The Vagina Bible, reminded him that the word “vagina” refers to the inside stuff and “vulva” to the outside stuff, Bullen essentially suggested she was being a word snob because most people use the word vagina, informally, to mean that whole thing down there.
That’s certainly true. But he didn’t just say, hey, why not use the word vagina here since that’s the one people use colloquially to refer to both the vulva and the vagina. Instead, he insisted that the article’s correct use of the word vulva was incorrect.
And that’s what he does again in his new manifesto, in an even more convoluted manner.
“My opening gambit was to say ‘The correct word is vagina’ in response to a use of the word vulva where one normally would expect to see the word vagina,” he wrote.
I wasn’t denying that the things that we could see in the photos were technically called vulvas or parts of vulvas. I was claiming that the use of the word ‘vulva’ was solecistic in this non-technical context—although it I assumed it was intentionally so. And it may well no longer be a soleciscistic in certain circles.
In case you’re wondering, here’s the definition of solecism from Merriam-Webster:
So, yeah, he’s using this word incorrectly. There’s nothing ungrammatical, deviant, or even impolite about using the word vulva to refer to, well, a vulva. He continues on:
My general starting point is that the English language has evolved in ways that give some words both narrow and broad meanings. … One example of such words is vagina. Everyone knows it is used in two ways: (1) most commonly to refer to the female genitals in general and (2) to refer to one particular part of them. My position is that not only is this a descriptive fact about English language use, but that this descriptive fact determines correct use. Correct use here simply means that people will know what you are talking about and you won’t sound strange.
In other words, he”s insisting once again that using the actual dictionary definitions of “vulva” and “vagina” is “incorrect usage” because it “sound[s] strange.”
Then he takes aim at people like Dr. Gunter who use the dictionary definitions of these words because, in his mind, this is a violation of “standard usage.”
Just as people sometimes violate the law to bring about a revolution, people sometimes violate standard usage as part of a attempt to change usage. But these people are speaking “incorrectly” (coming across as solecistic) for the sake of making a change.
Again, the “change” Gunter and others are trying to make is to get people to use the words “vulva” and “vagina” correctly. But to Bullen this makes them incorrect:
That is where the issue should have been—whether there is sufficient reason to violate existing practice. … So there is a small number of women who say “vulva” when one would expect “vagina” as they are convinced it is the “correct” term. That’s pretty much where the issue lies.
Of course, the “small number of women” who insist on saying “vulva” when Bullen would rather use “vagina” are “convinced it is the ‘correct’ term” because it is in fact the correct term, as defined in the dictionary. As the people at Dicitonary.com reminded him.
His real objection to using “vulva” seems to be that feminists are using the term and he doesn’t like that, or them.
“I often resist changes in the language that are being made for what I take to be the wrong reasons,” he declares. After citing a number of not-particularly relevant examples — like “English speaking Canadians … pronouncing Quebec the way the French speakers do. And … Americans … pronouncing Chile the way Spanish speakers do.” — he gets to his real objection: he hates what he sees as “politically correct” language. He offers no logical explanation for this other than to suggest that such language is excessively euphemistic.
I may be willing to go along with saying disabled person rather than handicapped person, I am not willing to say person with a disability rather than disabled person. I am not willing to say enslaved person rather than slave. I was willing to switch from the perfectly good word Negro to black, but I was not willing to move again from black to African American. And I am not willing to say undocumented immigrant rather than illegal alien. There is a general neurosis caused by activists who like to announce every few years that an existing usage is problematic and should be replaced by what they say.
Well, that’s your right, dude. But don;t be surprised if people call you out for being the jerk that you are.
Still, it would seem that feminists insisting on the correct usage of the words “vulva” and “vagina” — using them according to the literal dictionary definitions of each word — would be different than introducing a new term, like African-American instead of black. But nope! In Bullen’s mind it’s all part of the same “neurotic” impulse.
So when I see attempts to say “vulva” where normally “vagina” would be seen, I suspect ideological influences or bad thinking. … I don’t jump every time an ideological faction says jump. I got off the euphemism treadmill awhile ago.
If I may eschew euphemism myself for a moment, he’s essentially saying: fuck you, feminists, I won’t say “vulva” because you want me to — even if the dictionary itself backs you up.
Bullen goes on reiterating points he tried to make in the original thread — suggesting that Dr. Gunter’s vagina expertise doesn’t count because we’re dealing with words and not medical issues, and even mansplaining the term mansplaining, which he insists he wasn’t doing. But you’ll have to sort through that yourself, as I’ve gotten tired of this pompous fuckhead and his fractal wrongness.
Sorry, I forgot that I’m supposed to be on the “euphemism treadmill” again.
Speaking of which, there weren’t a lot of euphemisms in the Twitter response to Bullen’s new and decidedly not improved mansplaination. “Dude, give it a rest,” tweeted Dr. Gunter. “This is egregious long form mansplaining.”
Others were equally withering:
It’s Stop O’Clock all right. At this point I can only conclude he’s keeping this going because he wants to get on Fox News as the latest brave man to stand up against the evil feminazi laguage police. But somehow I suspect that even the folks at Fox would find Billen’s long-form mansplaining a bit tiresome.