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Against the debasement of the language

This post is arguing against using two specific terms which contribute to the debasement of the English language. (There are so many attacks on the dignity of the English language that every such Jeremiad is a drop in the bucket. But we have to try.)

These two terms are "bromance" and "mancrush." If you regard yourself as even culturally conservative, much less politically conservative, don't use these words.

Reason 1: They are ugly.

Reason 2: They are multiply ambiguous. I find it interesting that conservative people who use such terms rush to explain that they have no homosexual meaning. Methinks the...er...modern language user doth protest too much. Oh, sure, they are meant to be used in contexts where, in fact, the speaker is not alleging that the person or people in question have homosexual feelings. But in terms of connotations, it would be silly to pretend that these words do not have romantic connotations. After all, the words "crush" and "romance" certainly have such connotations in the English language. Combining them with male prefixes does not change this. I find it interesting to see, in person, the slight grin with which such words are used. They are intended to be humorous, at least a little. Why? I would contend, partly because of those allegedly non-existent feminizing connotations.

Moreover, even on their own terms, the words are ambiguous. "Mancrush," even if we take at face value the "no erotic connotations" claim, can be used for any of the following:

--Dignified, justified admiration.
--Excessive, undignified admiration like that of an irrational fan.
--Admiration as of a much younger person to an older person. Puppy-like admiration.
--Desire for friendship.

"Bromance," even taking at face value the "no erotic connotations" claim, can be used for

--Deep, loyal, emotionally charged friendship between two males.
--Strong, loyal friendship between two males without emotional connotations.

Language should be used precisely. Say what you mean.

I was struck speechless (momentarily) on the one and only brief occasion when I got to meet Antonin Scalia and shake his hand. I felt like a starstruck fan, because I have had such a great admiration for him as a jurist and a man of principle and had wanted to meet him for a long time. I got his autograph. (No, this is not an invitation to argue about Scalia's legacy in the comments thread.) Saying all of that is a lot more informative and clear than saying that I have a "crush" on Justice Scalia.

Reason 3: These terms demean legitimate male feelings and relationships. We live in a time when normal male friendship and admiration are becoming more and more difficult to understand and describe. The last thing we need is to adopt terminology that puts down these feelings, speaking of them as if they are intrinsically effeminate or childish. "Friendship" sounds manly, admirable, and dignified. "Bromance" sounds like something to be embarrassed about.

If you are trying to raise a boy, you want to teach him to aspire to have friends, to love his friends, to be loyal to his friends. He's going to have a hard enough time in this world understanding all of this without wondering if he "might be gay." Don't use an effeminate-sounding, embarrassing neologism to describe friendship.

The same is true of admiration. If a young philosopher admires a more established philosopher, this is often a good thing (if the established philosopher is a good philosopher). The younger man shouldn't be learning to describe his admiration by posting on Facebook, "I have a huge mancrush on Professor X." That unnecessarily deprecates his own admiration for Professor X. It's part of the millenials' penchant for describing things that are serious and dignified in ironic or self-deprecating terms, and as such it should be discouraged. Say what you mean like a man and stand by it.

Ask yourself: If Professor X saw my posting, would he feel queasy and embarrassed about saying, "Thank you so much for your kind words?" If you post, "I enormously admire Professor X for all his work," etc., then he may feel somewhat embarrassed, but less so and in a different way than he will if you post, "I have a huge mancrush on Professor X." Imagine what he would or could say in response to that!

If admiring Professor X is a good and noble thing, because Professor X is a person deserving of great admiration, then don't say that you "have a mancrush" on him. That is unfair to everybody in the situation.

If, on the other hand, you really think that Bob's admiration for Professor X is silly (say, Bob is saving forever the paper napkin he happened to pick up when Professor X dropped it on the floor at a restaurant), then decide whether you want to say that to other people. If you do, say something like, "I admire Professor X a lot, but Bob takes it to extremes. For example,..." Even as a criticism of Bob, that is better than "mancrush."

I have found that it is sometimes difficult to get young people, and some older people, to understand the importance of language. They tend to adopt neologisms unthinkingly, and of course the internet encourages this. Hence, mildly unpleasant euphemisms like "friggin'" spread like kudzu by sheer osmosis. And if everybody on Facebook, including all your Christian friends, posts that his wife is "smokin' hot," then I guess it's hard to swim against the stream and say that that is a debased way of talking about one's wife. And don't get me started on being the last hold-out on terms like the generic "he" and "mankind."

I encourage everybody who values language, precision, and human dignity to be more careful about adopting neologisms. These are two that we can do without.

Comments (26)

I agree that "bromance" is ugly, but "mancrush" doesn't sound ugly to me. I can't explain objectively why one's ugly and the other isn't, but that's how the words sound to me.

But I think you're making a mistake because you yourself aren't using words precisely enough. You move from "romantic" to "(homo)sexual" to "erotic" as if the three were interchangeable. They're not. I think "mancrush" as used originally is erotic but not sexual or romantic. The "slight grin" is because it's taken from usage that is both sexual and romantic.

What you wrote about Justice Scalia is different than saying you have a crush on him; what you wrote doesn't imply a crush. I admire Scalia the same way you described, but I don't have a (man)crush on him, not in the erotic but nonsexual way the word is often used. So to be precise one would have to say both what you said and also say that one had a crush on him, if in fact one did (and you apparently don't).

I agree that "mancrush" is maybe diluted by too many meanings. But it does capture the erotic but nonsexual element you seem to missing in all your talk of excessive admiration, etc. The word is still useful as a way of capturing that. How else would you describe that erotic element so concisely as the original "mancrush"?

Finally, I'll just say that I agree completely with your general premise, that even the little things about language are important. And I also use the generic "he" and "mankind." It's nice that it both fits one's ideology and avoids silly usage problems: "he/she," "he" and "she" taking turns, etc.

Actually, I have no idea what "erotic but nonsexual" even means. Perhaps physical admiration? Wanting to be as good-looking or (if a woman) as beautiful as the other person?

And I have _definitely_ seen "mancrush" used for admiration as of a younger scholar for an older. I once saw someone say that he has a "mancrush" on an elderly Christian philosopher. I defy anyone to say that was an erotic feeling. This was a normal, heterosexual guy making the comment. It was just meant as a self-deprecating, humorous way of saying that he enormously admires him, wishes he could meet him, etc.

In fact, usually when people defend the usages, they insist that there is _not_ an erotic component. Presumably that is because they, like me, have trouble figuring out what would be meant by "erotic but not sexual."

I've also heard "mancrush" used in the following context: "So-and-so has a mancrush on Apologist X. He was so excited to get to spend some time with him that he took a picture of his car and posted it on Facebook, because he just thought it was so cool to get a chance to take a picture of his car."

Now, that is classic fan-like behavior. What is being alleged there is that the guy is acting like a star-struck fan with respect to Apologist X. In fact, the information about taking a picture of the car was used *as a defense of* the term "mancrush" when it was challenged. In other words, the idea was that we really need this term, because his fan-like feelings and behavior are excessive.

because his fan-like feelings and behavior are excessive.

And we already have a word for "fan-like" feelings: "fan". Which, of course, comes from "fanatic", and implies the excess right in the word.

Mancrush of course carries the connotations of the word "crush", which has been used for more than a half century for strong feelings of affection + romantic interest from afar, i.e. without any connotation of either acting on the feeling or expecting any return on the feeling. Before recently, heterosexuals just didn't use "crush" with regard to people of the same sex, which is a pretty clear indicator of its connotation.

There are perfectly good words for having strong feelings of affection, love, and loyalty to someone. Friendship is the chief one. It seems to have been degraded principally because the reality seems to have been degraded, more's the pity. But there is no REASON to try to neologize a word for the concept out of other words that have connotations that bear on relationship types based on the conplementarity of the sexes.

Lydia, you forgot (3): "People should not use these words because they are crass neologisms that cut both speaker and listener off from the expressive depths that already exist in the English language, if people would put down the phone and actually learn to speak."

Trying to debate the precise connotation of a made-up word of that type is an unnecessary fool's errand.

Let's cut to the chance. Don't use any neologism than merges "man" with another word. Mansplain, manspreading, etc. They're all left-wing words that either allow men their little zone of masculinity or are used by feminists and their fellow travelers to simultaneously debase the language and attack masculinity.

I must lead a sheltered life. Haven't even heard of those, and I don't want them explained!

A friend on Facebook made me chuckle by commenting that this post makes him realize just how much he hates the word "mancave." I suppose that one's relatively harmless, but it's still extremely ugly. Besides, the word "study" or "den" works just as well. In fact, wasn't that cavelike connotation supposed to be the point of "den"? :-)

I know I commented on this before. (Love questions of the evolution of language.)

I take your point about accuracy and a term like "starstruck" is infinitely more descriptive...

But there is nothing like these man- and bro- words for mercilessly mocking my sissified progressive acquaintances.

And even unironically, I still think that, in the general population, it helps to normalize these "romantic" (as in an older reading of the term "romance") feelings, which are quite normal feelings, amongst a group of guys who have grown up never speaking or even thinking about relationships like these as normal.

Still, I don't exactly endorse their use. (I definitely only ever spit out the term "mancave" - to ridicule this implication that its somehow juvenile that men need or want their own spaces.)

I find it difficult to agree that a term like "bromance" will _normalize_ feelings of intense friendship between heterosexual men. After all, it couldn't be used for mocking if it were a good vehicle for treating something as perfectly normal. If anything, the term tends to take away dignity from those friendships. At a minimum it is a kind of diminutive. To say that something as glorious and profound as the love between Sam and Frodo in LOTR is a "bromance" is gag-worthy.

If the idea is that people themselves are already so debased that they automatically think all such intense feelings are homosexual, then there are better ways to educate them than by using a term that, as it were, puts a low ceiling on how dignified and mature such relationships, and our thinking about them, can be.

Hmm... yeah, I suppose you're right.

There's also a degree of immaturity and mockery in the way mancrush and bromance are used in conversation by the Millennials that you're missing, Dml. Generally they're used ironically or in jest. I've never met a peer who says soberly "this is my mancrush," except maybe a homosexual or two.

I admit that I am hopelessly culturally deprived. I had never heard of either of those terms.

Mancave is a term that has come to my attention. I still remember when men retired to the smoking parlor after dinner. Even though we did not smoke, we still went to the smoking parlor. I take the term mancave to be refer to what used to be called the smoking parlor; the place where gentlemen went to discuss politics, and business, and harness racing.

Hey Lydia,

I liked this post -- for me what immediately came to mind was the use of the noun "porn" in all sorts of other descriptive contexts. For example, "judgment porn" (as in this article: http://thefederalist.com/2015/04/27/were-addicted-to-judgment-porn/) or "food porn." I think it is a bad trend that debases the use of the word pornography, which is a serious and useful word to describe something that is terrible in and of itself and I don't think it serves the language well when we use that word in a joking manner to refer to other kinds of 'addictions' or the strong desire for certain kinds of things.

All of the below is based on my experience with the words. I won't argue against counterexamples, but I wonder how prevalent those counterexamples would be, given what I've seen.

I think "mancave" or "man cave" is fine: It's a place men go to, and it may be a bit on the primitive side, but that's because that's the way men are. They watch sports and talk about hunting there. While smoking may go on, it's decidedly not a "smoking parlor", which gives images of jackets and brandy instead of ball caps and Bud Light.

I think "bromance" is funny, and am perfectly willing to use it (though I don't have a tendency to) because it's explicitly not homosexual, and is a way to talk about "bros" -- straight, somewhat traditional men who would be self-conscious about discussing deep feelings -- having deep feelings for each other.

"Mancrush" also doesn't seem explicitly sexual to me, despite Aaron Gross's statement that it's "erotic but not sexual or romantic", whatever that means. A crush is a crush; a mancrush must be something else. That said, I dislike it. "Bromance" is funny because it adds a single letter -- not even a syllable! -- to completely transform a word, while "mancrush" is artless.

Talking about Frodo and Sam has having a "bromance" doesn't work for me because the story is so serious and the usage would be anachronistic. Nevertheless, if our four fearless hobbits were at quaffing a few pints at the Prancing Pony, and Merry and Pippin started ribbing Frodo and Sam for their close relationship, they might use "bromance". Frodo and Sam would justifiably blush, but they wouldn't take offense or think they were being called homosexuals.

In my opinion, of course.

Of course they wouldn't think they were being called homosexuals. However, IMO male friendship should be taken more seriously, and it's not a good idea for guys to be deliberately giving each other a hard time about having close friendships and using deliberately deprecating and embarrassing words to do it, so we shouldn't encourage that. As I said:

Reason 3: These terms demean legitimate male feelings and relationships. We live in a time when normal male friendship and admiration are becoming more and more difficult to understand and describe. The last thing we need is to adopt terminology that puts down these feelings, speaking of them as if they are intrinsically effeminate or childish. "Friendship" sounds manly, admirable, and dignified. "Bromance" sounds like something to be embarrassed about.

Emphasis added. In short, we shouldn't be trying to make guys blush about their normal friendships. If that's a "thing" men are doing to each other now, don't join in. Hence, don't use "bromance."

Moreover, I continue to contend that the reason these terms are deprecating and embarrassing is because they are feminizing and have an verbal resemblance to attributions of homosexuality. No, that isn't to say that they are homosexual terms in their explicit meaning. Definitionally, they aren't. By stipulated definition they refer to non-homosexual men. It is, however, to say that they are embarrassing because of their romantic connotations, derived directly from their obvious etymology based on heterosexual romantic relationships or feelings. Frankly, I think that is so self-evident that it shouldn't need to be said, but for some reason defenders of the terms want to deny it or say that it doesn't matter or something.

No, that isn't to say that they are homosexual terms in their explicit meaning. Definitionally, they aren't. By stipulated definition they refer to non-homosexual men. It is, however, to say that they are embarrassing because of their romantic connotations,

Right. As I teach my children repeatedly (as various children get old enough to hear it), the denotation of a word and the (multiple) connotations of a word are both important. We communicate a LOT by connotation, and just pointing to the top-level definition isn't nearly enough. The concept behind 'bromance', to the extent that it refers to something wholesome and worthy, already has a word for it, friendship. To demand ANOTHER word, and then to rearrange the concept with connotations bearing on romantic relationships, isn't to put a new word to an old concept that never had a word, it's to create a NEW concept. But that new concept, to the extent that it differs from friendship, just to that extent it suffers from departure from reality: those who would insist on using it are trying to modify how we THINK about reality by changing the words in which we think. We don't need 'mance' after "bro", it's good enough on its own for the truth.

A crush is a crush; a mancrush must be something else.

Jake, why wouldn't a mancrush just be a specific form of crush? Or at least a thing very closely related to a crush?

Men tend to dislike talking about their affection for each other. Manly friendship is manly; manly discussion about deep friendships tends to be humorous, a glancing blow, a little self-deprecating. There's no need to feminize me by making me have "real conversations" about "how I feel". Now pass me a cigar. :)

A mancrush must be something other than a crush for the same reason an email address must be other than (what we knew as) an address, or a starship is other than a ship. It is analogous to a crush, but is clearly not a crush.

Well, if a mancrush is something healthy, I don't think it _is_ analogous to a crush in any helpful sense. I'm reminded of Tolkien's comment about his ring and the Ring of the Niebelungs: "Both were round, and there the resemblance ends." So here: Both a crush and something good and healthy that people now call a "mancrush" involve positive, strong feelings about another person, and there the resemblance ends.

And as I said in the main post, we already have words for healthy and good things that are now referred to as "mancrushes"--admiration, for example. Even if the admiration gets a little fanatical, we have a word for that, too--being a fan. Or, as I argued, starstruck. The connotations of "mancrush" do nothing to clarify our speech about these phenomena.

"Fanatic", "starstruck", and other such words don't have the humor that "mancrush" and "bromance" do. I don't care for "mancrush" because, as I said, it's artless, and I don't use either word myself, but there's humor in them that simply isn't there in the alternatives that have been proferred.

Perhaps I'm just a philistine, but I don't see a major problem inherent in these words.

Well, I've already been called humorless a couple of times in connection with this post, but let me say clearly: I agree with you on one thing. There is humor in those words that there isn't in the other locutions. That's the problem. Because the humor is the result of the distasteful and hence disparaging connection with feminization via the connotations of male-female romance. That humor isn't conveying valuable communicative _content_. It doesn't tell us some information _about_ the relationship involved that could not be communicated otherwise. It's just deliberately deprecating the feelings by connotatively likening them to girl-boy feelings.


Regardless of my opinion about the words, Lydia, I didn't intend to call you humorless. I know better. :)

We have come too far down a certain cultural stream to disregard the connotations and social implications that Lydia has accurately identified. I appreciate deliberate attempts to honor gender, starting with one's own and including whichever of "two" genders applies to the other.

Remember "All In The Family" when Archie Bunker sang "Those Were The Days", "when girls were girls, and men were men"? I was too young and naïve at the time to understand why he even needed, at that early date when lines of gender (it seemed to me) were still clearly drawn, to mark an earlier time as something to celebrate. And, of course, Norman Lear intended the song to snicker at the notion that gender should be regarded as having any relevance.

By now gender-rejection is culturally in full bloom, and that has a lot to do with "what's wrong with the world."

Seems Randall from xkcd agrees!

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