Word Issues #4: Virginity

As I have already said in this post, I like words.

But some, I don’t. It might be because they “sound bad” to me, or it might be the way people use them with other words and create horrible images that reflect their horrible views of the world they live in.

Because words matter, and after a year of attending a seminar in cognitive poetics, I have become much more sensitive to this: words matter in the way their usage reflects how we see the world.

For example, we associate the upward direction with changes for the better, and the downward direction — with deterioration, and hence we speak of e.g. “uplifting stories” and “down-trodden workers”. Or we see certain actions as involving a transfer even if what is “transferred” is not a material object but, say, a piece of information (consider e.g. “leave a message”).

This leaves room for endless mooning over particular collocations that strike you as meaningful: you hear someone use an expression, and then you have something to analyse cognitively when you’re on a bus, or something. But it can also make life very annoying.

For instance, if you search for “virginity” in any collocations dictionary, the entry you’re sure to find is “lose virginity” (some also give “take away virginity”). You’ll find the same results in any language corpus and, needless to say, you’ll probably hear the word used that way more often than any other.

And if you think of this in cognitive poetic terms, like I do, you’ll soon be mad because you’ll see the error in it. These words put together show virginity as a thing you can transfer, something you can lose or take away from somebody, when in fact… it’s just a state.

You’re in this state, and they you might stop being in this state, but the moment this changes — the moment you stop being a virgin — isn’t an act of losing or taking something.

Like all error, this may influence the way we think about the world in stupid ways: for instance, some people see virginity as a value to be protected when in fact what we should protect is not made-up values, but people’s safety and health.

Of course, it may well not bother you at all, but I can’t just pass over it. Not as a cognitive poetics student, and certainly not when I’m in my annoyed mode.

Because, like all error, it’s annoying.

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Published by

mulan92

I'm an unprofessional writer, reader and translator. I'm also a walking, breathing and listening addict. And I love being all that.

2 thoughts on “Word Issues #4: Virginity”

  1. I agree, the expression “lose your virginity” is very judgmental and condescending, even if you use it towards yourself. It makes it seem like growing up and gaining experience is a bad thing because it makes you less valuable as a commodity. You’re no longer a batch of fresh strawberries. You’re jam material.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It gets worse. Look at a bottle of olive oil. The lowest grade is “pure.” The better stuff is extra virgin–more virgin that virgin. Don’t think about that for too long or your mind will melt. What it actually means is the first pressing. But the implication is that virgin is good and after that? As Pawel said above, it’s all just jam.

    Liked by 1 person

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