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Amtgard Language
[02/10/2010] [Randall]

I wrote an article back in 2002 that talked a bit about Amtgard language, and I was reminded of it a couple of weeks ago while reading some e-Samurai posts. For awhile, I had thought that the article had actually had an impact, since the way people talked about Amtgard around me had noticably changed. It's more likely that I had not reached a very wide audience, and that the change I saw was just due to people who talked to me in person absorbing my views about Amtgard, just like I absorbed theirs. In either case, it's been a long time since I've heard certain paleolithic Amtgard phrases, so when I saw the posts on e-Samurai where people talked about "their" awards, it was like nails on the chalkboard of my soul. It made me think of that article I had written eight years ago, and it put the thought in my head of reintroducing the ideas in that article to a whole new generation of Amtgarders.

I think language is important. It changes and informs the way we see the world. This isn't about doublespeak or political correctness. It's about framing the world in ways that our conscious mind - and especially the conscious minds of people listening to us speak - may not even notice. This sounds complex, but it can be very simple. For example, if I tell you how to make short swords, I'm putting the image of swords in your head. But if I tell you that you can make short weapons, I'm giving you a different mental image. I haven't changed any rules - the weapons are made the same way - but suddenly you are subconsciously more open to maces, hammers, clubs, sabers, and, yes, even swords, than you would have been if I had used a different word. Although that improves the game, it's simple stuff.

A more complex issue - and a particular pet peeve of mine - is related to awards. People commonly talk about awards using words such as "my" and "your" and "their." A person might say that they are "working towards my warlord," or perhaps give someone "your lord title," or maybe complain that "you didn't give me my defender." This kind of language is easy to use, but it's bad and poisonous because of how it reframes the nature of awards. By using possessive terms, even to refer to awards we have - "my crown belt," for example - we erase the objectiveness that should ideally be associated with awards and replace it with a subjective sense of ownership. Awards stop being a scale against which are deeds can be measured and instead become property to which we are entitled. This is part of the reason (although not the main reason) why people get so upset about awards - they hear everybody around them talk about awards with the language of entitlement and property.

Furthermore, this language assumes that the award will inevitably appear. After all, that's "my" lord title, right? And if you don't give me what's mine someday, that means you are wrongly denying me. This is bad even in seemingly inocuous proclamations: "If I ever get my flame belt, and I am not saying I am..." But you are saying you will. You said it was yours.

Instead, we can dramatically improve Amtgard's award system by adding a layer of detachment between awards and people. Instead of "I'm giving you your lord title," say, "I'm giving you the title of lord" - or, better yet, "I am awarding you the title of lord." Instead of announcing, "I'm working towards my warlord," say, "I am trying to become a warlord." Instead of saying, "I got my Master Rose last week," say, "I was made a Master Rose last week." Via this slight change in language, the tremendous pressure on the yours and the mys is lifted, and in its place we are left with a focus on deeds. Why were you given your lord? Because it's yours, duh. But why were you made a lord? Because you earned it.

Similarly, we can do knighthood a few favors by shifting language there too. Right now, we all know that a certain set of awards qualifies a person for knighthood. . . except when it doesn't. This is because almost everybody has a set of subjective qualities they want in a candidate too, and those qualities can't be spelled out in any standard way. This creates an ugly situation where a person can be discussed as being qualified for a belt but not get it, which leads us to a question: if they are qualified, why is it being denied them? They are qualified, aren't they? Again, the problem is language. It gets worse when people halfway realize the error in language here, and try to correct it by saying "paper-qualified." This doesn't do anything other than implicitly denigrate the person's accomplishments, and indeed all accomplishments leading to the underlying masterhood. That's not good either.

The solution is to regard a person with the appropriate masterhood as being eligible for knighthood, but not necessarily qualified for it. Look at how this works: in two years, I will be eligible to run for president due to being thirty-five years old and being a native-born American. But will I be qualified? Certainly not - not in the eyes of millions of voters. We can shift to this back to Amtgard: a person who passes quals (ugh) is eligible to be monarch, but may be totally unqualified for the job. And finally, a person with a Master Rose is eligible to be considered for a flame belt, but may or may not be qualified.

The worst of all worlds is when a person announces, "I'm qualified for my flame belt." I'll let you guys deconstruct that one yourselves.

A final language pet peeve - and this is really a pet peeve more than anything else - is the way Amtgardians refer to terms of office. Many of us call every six-month term a reign. This results in truly ridiculous pronouncements - a person's reign as Prime Minister or sheriff, for example. It also reduces the majesty that should be inherent in a royal throne. Royal and reign are connected words, and that's your clue on how the word should be used: if you're a king or a queen, you have a reign. Otherwise, you have a term. With this, we're back to little stuff, but maybe that kind of language distinction will imbue our kings and queens with a little more, ahem, majesty.

Language is important. Newbies hear us speak about Amtgard, and they learn our customs and culture based on that. We can therefore, with just a few small changes, change the game. We can even cut through Gordian knots, like the seemingly insurmountable problem of changing the culture of knighthood, when the next generation comes of age with perceptions informed by the way we talk now. Even if that doesn't happen, we can make the changes in ourselves. . . and, in doing so, open our ears to those unwilling or unable to follow us into the future. You will know them by their "my" and "mine," their primitive comments serving as sign-posts to a better way.

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