Wordslut: Nonfiction Book Review


Wordslut by Amanda Montell
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Overall: 4
A feminist linguistics book sounds both like the most and least likely book for me to ever read, but I heard Amanda on a couple different podcasts and knew I had to pick it up. Luckily, the library had a copy on hand. 
Words and the way we speak are inherently tied into the cultural conversation around sexism, misogyny, and homophobia. They shape the way that we see the world and reinforce harmful power dynamics. Montell gets into lots of interesting discussions with each chapter centered around a different topic from cuss words to why people hate the way teens (mostly teen girls) speak to how women and LGBTQIA people have innovated language to fit their needs. 
It's a fascinating and thoughtful book. Montell brings her research to the forefront while also keeping the tone casual and conversational. It feels like an excited friend sharing all these interesting, new facts they just discovered, and the enthusiasm fits the little talked about subject well. The book manages to both be enlightening and empowering. The more I read, the more aware I became of my speech patterns, use of vocal fry and the words "like" and "I mean". None of these usages are bad or signs of anything negative, and Montell explains the important roles they play in our vocabulary. While my awareness increased about my use of language, my confidence in my specific choices only grew. 
Montell is an expert at deconstructing sexist attacks on certain parts of language and explaining how certain elements got twisted to be viewed as bad in the first place. Or, more often, only bad if it came out of certain speaker's mouths. 
She often returns to the topic of how toxic masculinity continues to hurt everyone and how being seen as feminine is even subconsciously a horrible framing in most people's minds. She dives into how, on the whole, women using masculine language isn't thought about much because she's rising above her place (like no one cares if a woman wears pants anymore), but men using more feminine language is seen as demoting himself in the hierarchy of the world and causes people to either ridicule or at least examine the choice (have you ever seen a man wear a skirt without some kind of commentary?)
I loved her intersectional approach to the topic, factoring in how race, sexuality, and gender identity effect all of the these nuanced and difficult discussions. It made the chapters seem full and well thought out. I particularly loved the sections that dissected how nonbinary and trans people, as well as gay people, have majorly contributed to linguistic shifts and pushed language forward and away from its more harmful gender-stereotyping/shaming roots for decades. 
I find words fascinating and learning about how a lot of our common phrases came to be was eye opening. Words are the framework for our experiences, and their connotations reenforce aspects of society we are working to move past. 
Encouragingly, Amanda talks about how each generation gets better and better with making their language more thoughtful and inclusive. For instance, I've never questioned the singular "they", and I think I must have been taught that in elementary school at some point because I've just always used it. The way we talk in front of younger kids lays the groundwork for the major social changes we want to see in the future. While you don't have to give up your favorite curse word with a sexist origin or invent new words for phrases with reductive layers underneath, it's helpful to at least become aware of what you're really saying. Language shifts slowly, and while it turns with cultural shifts, being careful about how we wield it can help move progress along.


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Links of Interest:
The (Odd) Process Behind All Our Worst Ideas
July 2020 Wrap Up
Folklore Book Tag
Felix Ever After
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