Language Matters

(Sanity Fair) You are not a human resource. You are a person.

In the landmark 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case, the Supreme Court essentially said that corporations can spend as much money on political messaging as they like, as long as it is not given to candidates or their committees. Corporations, the Supreme logic went, are just like people.

Around the same time that the Supreme Court decided that corporations are people, corporations have decided that people aren’t people any more. People at work used to be referred to as workers. Then we became personnel. And now they would have us all believe that we are “human resources.”

You are not a human resource. You are a person.

When you go to work, you might be a cashier, a baker, a firefighter, an engineer, parking attendant, an accordion player, a teacher or a nurse, even a writer at your local alternative weekly. But you are not a human resource. You are a person.

I am not a content provider.

I am a writer. Never in my life have I ended a phone call while on deadline by telling my wife, “I’ve got to get back to providing content.” Never have I provided content for a book, a film, an article or a pamphlet. I just write them.

What’s the difference? Why draw the distinction?

It’s not just because the term “content provider,” like its evil cousin “human resource,” is lifeless and bloodless, which it surely is. It’s not just because it makes us sound like cogs in a machine, which it surely does. It’s because it changes the frame of reference, it erodes the mindset that breeds and nourishes creativity, it imposes a third party— usually a corporate entity — in between the reader and the writer. And it dehumanizes.

Human resources, in corporate speak, are on a par with any other “resources,” such as technology, electrical power, land, physical plant, software. The use of these terms subtly equates people with inanimate objects, making it easier to explain away decisions that harm real people. It’s not too distant from the military’s use of “collateral damage,” which allows us to shrug our shoulders rather than grieve and protest when we learn that we have killed someone’s entire family on the other side of the globe. The outrageous and unreasonable is rendered somehow more acceptable by the cleverly deployed euphemism.

Corporate media managers have adopted this new language with alarming speed, and frightened journalists, perhaps preferring “content provider” to “out-of-work writer,” have little choice but to nod.

It’s a slippery slope, and I suggest that we will be better off if we resist adopting this new nomenclature.

Think of the musician. She has a voice, an instrument, a song. So she is a singer, a guitar player, or a songwriter, maybe an arranger. Not a note provider. Not a music provider. A musician. A music provider sounds more like what comes out of the speakers at the dentist’s office. A musician is real, alive, creative. And empowered.

If we are content providers, then what are you? A content consumer? A content accessor? What is an editor? A content rearranger? I don’t provide content; I write thoughts, expressed in words, and paragraphs. Sometimes you read them. Sometimes you don’t. Reading is not consuming, it’s not accessing. It’s reading. Using specific words for specific actions promotes clarity in thinking. When vocabulary starts to slip, when workers are no longer workers who work but “personnel” to be managed and then, even worse, “human resources” to be deployed, it makes me worry.

You are not a human resource. I am not a content provider. Deal?


Dollops to Doughnuts

A day as a Receptionist-in-training

Last week, you may have read the comments of a man at the end of his wits going on about those of us who “provide content” for this esteemed periodical.

Yes, I’m talking about Kramer, our resident humor provider, and his inexcusable revelation of our private communications. In his defense, it must be said that Kramer did work nearly four hours at a real job that day, so understandably he was overtaxed. Nonetheless, I must set the record straight.

The quote attributed to me in his column about his brief stint as our office receptionist was taken from a private email and quoted out of context. I never anticipated that this private conversation would be revealed to the entire world. Anyone who knows me knows that I would never use the term “dollop” in public. Through this embarrassing episode, I have developed some insight and empathy into the suffering of Mr. Donald Sterling, whose official title is “disgraced owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.” (His previous title was “that old fat white guy sitting next to the hot black chick.”)

I regret using this particular term for a small amount of jelly on top of a schmear of cream cheese on a bagel. But as Mr. Sterling said to Anderson Cooper, “isn’t a guy entitled to one mistake?”

The dollop reference was in response to our receptionist, now referred to in these parts as “C. Scheuerman,” who enticed Kramer’s colleagues to pour out our desires for baked goods in as much detail as possible. I regret that I succumbed to the lure of her magical lady parts. It won’t happen again.

As for Kramer, just consider the source. This is a man who cannot even succeed in having himself vasectomized (he turned that one into a theatrical production). He’s a man who has acknowledged going to eat at the Cheesecake Factory even though he had already eaten there. As Sterling might say, hardly a role model.


What do Joanie Mahoney and Barack Obama have in common? Both have taken to the rooftops to promote their environmental agendas. Mahoney’s Save the Rain program for cleaning up Onondaga Lake has included green roofs installed on major county buildings. Last week Obama announced that solar panels would be returning to the White House roof, to emphasize renewable energy sources, part of his “all of the above” energy strategy, which includes hydrofracking. Solar panels were originally installed at the Executive Mansion by Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s when they cost more than 70 dollars per watt of capacity. (Those old panels were removed during the Reagan years.) Today solar installations cost only 74 cents per watt, and costs are trending downward.

Did you enjoy ‘Language Matters?’

Ed Griffin-Nolan

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