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Language Matters: Pride Week

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Cities around the U.S. are hosting Pride Parades and other LGBTQ celebrations this month, sometimes as part of a whole Pride Week of activities. Now regular and noncontroversial, these have also become so popular that promoters need just the word “pride” to convey the message that the events recognize the LGBTQ community. There’s no need to specify a “Gay Pride Week” or an “LGBTQ Parade.”

George Segal sculpture Gay Liberation in Christopher Park, Stonewall National Monument

George Segal’s snow-white-painted bronze sculpture ‘Gay Liberation’ in Christopher Park, New York City, part of the new Stonewall National Monument. Photo by Critical Lens Media

Pride is a main factor in every parade that celebrates a particular nationality or culture. But no one needs to be told that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade expresses Irish pride. In modern times at least, there’s never been anything controversial about Irish-Americans expressing pride in their heritage.

On the other hand, the gay rights catchphrase “out and proud” is a response to the widespread persecution and marginalization of LGBTQ people that has been par for the course for centuries and begun to break down only in very recent decades. And that only on some parts of the planet.

Two other words associated with the LGBTQ community, “gay” and “queer,” have both fallen out of use entirely in their original meanings of “happy and carefree” and “strange or odd” respectively. While that was a philological loss, we have reasonably close synonyms for both. English doesn’t have a word that could sensibly replace “pride.”

Also, “gay” and “queer” are adjectives that can easily become a) pejoratives and b) terms of pride in one’s identity. When they became identified exclusively with the class of people others denoted them by, we had to say goodbye to using “gay” and “queer” generically.

“Pride,” by contrast, is a noun, and one that we use in countless settings. It also has a multifaceted meaning with positive and negative shadings. Our “pride and joy” is something (or someone) we happily point to. But pride also “goeth before the fall.” “Out and proud” is good. “Proud and egotistical” isn’t. “Pride of the Yankees” is an honorific. But “pride” in its hubristic sense is also one of the traditional “seven deadly sins.”

So if your town has yet to experience its first Pride Week or Pride Parade, you’ll know what it is when it does arrive. And I wouldn’t worry about losing the proud word “pride” in the proud sense we’ve used it for over a thousand years.


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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.