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Why your argument that “bi means two” is shit

From a ~linguistic~ point of view.

You’re a good person, right? You like it when things are accurate, and you just want to make sure people are using words correctly, right? I mean, you’d never tell anyone how to identify themselves– unless they’re like, totally wrong and spouting nonsense about how ‘bisexuality is the attraction to two or more genders’ when you clearly remember learning in middle school that the prefix ‘bi’ means ‘two’. I mean, you got an A on that assignment, sooooo…

No need to go into a typing tirade! Calm your fingers, friend. Let’s look at some linguistic reasons why nobody cares about your opinion.

Language evolves

Have you ever wondered why some languages are called ‘dead’ languages? Maybe you’ve heard someone describe Latin this way. In the simplest terms, dead languages are languages that no longer have any native speakers. Which, whatever, right? Why does that matter?

Because in the course of speaking it in day to day life, language changes. You experience this as you try to keep up with slang! I can remember pretty specifically when people started using ‘tight’ to mean something cool or awesome, and when my parents were teenagers ‘heavy’ or ‘tough’ meant the same thing. Latin won’t be acquiring – or losing – any slang anytime soon simply because nobody speaks it anymore. 

The natural processes of language (one of its defining characteristics, in fact) are no longer happening. This is why you can borrow your grandparent’s Latin dictionary without worrying that, beyond fairly minor things, it’s totally wrong now.

With that in mind, let’s go the next point.

Dictionaries are records, not authorities

Why do they keep making new dictionaries? Because there’s new words, right? But dictionaries didn’t invent ‘selfie’, they’re recording words that people are already using. Having something be in the dictionary doesn’t make it more or less a word, it just preserves that for posterity in a more lasting ‘official’ way.

In the end, the dictionary has no say on whether or not people started using ‘tight’ as slang around 2006-2007 in my social circles, because the fact is that they did. Will that be remembered by history? I have no idea, because slang isn’t usually something used in ‘official’ records unless it persists (see: cool). But that doesn’t matter, because it was still a concept contained within a word that people used to communicate for a moderate length of time.

But why wouldn’t the dictionary want to have every single usage of every single word? That’s because there’s a caveat to this rule: Dictionaries are records for the masses.

You don’t look in Webster’s dictionary to learn everything there possibly is to learn about flowers; it won’t be there. Botanists don’t go to ‘the dictionary’ to study their field due to the fact that most dictionaries are made with the layman in mind.

And I can guarantee you that the layman they envision is the cisgender, heterosexual, white, middle class man. You know, ‘the societal norm’. The words they choose and the way they define them will be based around the people they think are most important to remember and be remembered by, whether intentionally or not.

This may have been a lot of new information but stick with it because there’s only one point left.

Usage determines definition

How do you know if someone is saying ‘weed’ to mean ‘marijuana/cannabis’ or ‘a plant in my garden I don’t want’? Context, right? Who is saying it, what you’ve been talking about, the words surrounding it, etc. That’s a simplified baby version of how the way you use a word defines what it means. Sometimes that means that a word with multiple usages and meanings doesn’t have to split into multiple words because the context makes it obvious enough which one you want. Other times it means that because of how people are using a word, the meaning of the word can totally change, like ‘awesome’– hasn’t always been used to mean a good thing.

Since you’re all so good at roots, what does ‘oct’ mean? Eight. Octopus has eight limbs, octagon has eight sides, octuplets is eight kids born at once, and October is the eighth month of the year!

Except October isn’t the eighth month of the year because January and February got added and the name didn’t change. So now we have a word that should be the eight-something but isn’t. October, the tenth month of the Gregorian calendar.

But how is it possible that something that means eight could be defined as the tenth month of the year?!

Simple: That’s how people use it.

Major bisexual organizations have been using bisexuality to mean ‘the attraction to two or more genders’ for decades, so how come that isn’t in mainstream dictionaries and knowledge yet?

Wild guess: Because the voices of bisexual people defining their own identity don’t matter.

In other words? Biphobia and heteronormativity.

And you wouldn’t want to be the asshole who contributes to that sort of thing, would you?