Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Can Lemmings Drink Kool-Aid?

We've had an interesting conversation about the phrase "Kool-Aid drinkers" on my shul's listserv today.

Here's my take on the topic:

I’m sure it’s just me, but the initial etymology of the phrase “Kool-Aid drinkers" is making me shudder every time I read it. It’s become ubiquitous. Pundits from Arianna Huffington on the left to Bill O’Reilly on the right attach it to nearly anyone who supports something they oppose or opposes something they support.

Over 900 dead, including many children.

When I’m
  • doctrinaire,
  • intractable,
  • incorrigible, or
  • impervious to rational argument

about some “ism,” please call me something like

  • ostrich,
  • acolyte,
  • lemming,
  • dolt, or
  • dupe.




Someone I respect responded along the lines that words' meanings evolve, and that we can't change that.

In response, I said:

But we can still choose our words.

Gyp has come to mean cheat or commit fraud. But it started out as a derogatory slur against Gypsies. I don't use it.

I never knew why a police van for carrying multiple prisoners was called a "paddy wagon." When I learned why, I stopped using the term.

Jews rightly oppose most Nazi and Holocaust metaphors. They desecrate a sacred memory. Forgetting that fact, some religious leaders in Israel started using Nazi comparisons when Rabin and Peres were thought to be leading Israel away from G-d's will.

It helped cost Rabin his life.

The cynicism of the first use of the phrase "Kool-Aid drinkers" after Jonestown illustrates its hatefulness. It's what Marion Barry's paid political strategists called the pool of voters predisposed to vote for Barry in his first post-incarceration run for public office.

Words matter.

As I said, maybe I'm the only one this bugs. If so, so be it. I'd still rather be called a lemming or an ostrich.

Whaddya think?


sybil law said...

It takes an awful lot to offend me in any way, shape or form, but I get what you mean. I generally avoid using certain terms that seem obvious, so I won't hurt or offend anyone. Never gave much real thought to the Kool Aid drinkers, though.
Now I have to go look up paddy wagons!!
Oh -and I'll totally calling you a lemming. It's one of my favorite words!

sybil law said...

Oh and I still can't believe Marion Berry was re-elected.