Word Nerd Wednesday: Problematize

Yes. Apparently, problematize is a word. I don’t like this word, and I like its meaning and implications even less, but I don’t choose words here solely on the basis of how they make me feel. The goal here, if I can manage it, is to learn something along the way. For those of you already familiar with the word, indulge me in my ignorance, and I hope the combination of my snark and enlightenment don’t bore you to death.

Before we get into the implications of the word and why the concept makes my head ache, we should define the term. So here goes, from the Oxford English dictionary:



  • Make into or regard as a problem requiring a solution.

    Example: ‘he problematized the concept of history’

Maybe I’m over thinking this, but when I saw this word used, and gave a bit of thought to its implications,  it occurred that our entire social fabric has been torn in pieces precisely because of this tendency. It has permeated every sector of our society and culture. We have problematized everything and the result has been disastrous.

Everything is a problem now. The names of our founding fathers on schools and government buildings has been problematized. Being white has been problematized. Being black is a problem, as is being a woman, a man or a child. Being a Christian is a major problem to a lot of people.

The Cambridge dictionary blog even discussed whether dictionaries, words, or indeed, language itself, is problematic:

However, English is the language of a culture that does often associate the colour white with things that are pure, with no dirt or no faults – with being “as white as snow.” And the culture also often associates the colour black with bad things, so there are many idiomatic expressions that use these positive and negative senses of the words white and black. (For example, white knight, someone who buys a company to save it, and black knight, someone who tries to take over a business when the owner doesn’t want to sell it.)

Since ancient times, many human cultures have associated day/light/white with perfection and goodness, and night/dark/black with danger and evil. That is not itself a racist thing. What is racist is taking this association of whiteness with purity and blackness with evil, and applying it to people – when people who happen to be paler see themselves as better than people who happen to be darker, and then use their power to treat darker people unfairly or cruelly.

The use of the words white and black to describe people’s skin (and yellow and red, which are offensive, and brown, which is often now used in a positive way to include Latinx people) developed independently from the use of colour words in idioms. But idioms that didn’t originally have anything to do with perceived race feel, to many people, as though they do – particularly the ones that associate a colour with either purity or evil. So it really doesn’t matter where an idiom came from: what matters is how it makes our fellow humans feel when they hear it. It is perfectly possible to find other words and phrases to express our ideas so that we avoid offending people. The language is rich enough.

Note that despite starting out with a relatively sane explanation of meanings and context and calling some common sense to this increasingly senseless hand wringing over nothing, they eventually capitulate. It doesn’t matter that these words and phrases are completely devoid of racial overtones. it only matters that some people feeeeel as if they do. And that, is a problem.

That’s the thing about problematizing things. Ever-shifting standards that reflect the whims and emotions of whomever, whenever, is a never ending source of angst and grief. We really need to get off of this merry go round.

Truly, there are plenty of genuine problems to solve without problematizing the benign because we’re too lazy, unimaginative, and entitled to make the hard choices required to actually change things for the better.

True change requires that we change as individuals, and most Americans are fully invested in the lie that things will get better if they can force you and I to change, to their benefit of course, while they contribute nothing but opinions, supervision and Twitter activism.

Happy Wednesday?


13 thoughts on “Word Nerd Wednesday: Problematize

  1. Elspeth says:

    I thought it was just one of those cultural, made up terms that people use to make a point. I am always turning random words into verbs like that.

    But like you, when I saw that respected curators of the English language (like OED) had legitimized something so silly, I figured it warranted mention.


  2. hearthie says:

    I think that their goal is to “problematize” all of reality. And Western Culture. -sighs heavily-

    To discuss your examples, I am perfectly happy to be rid of “that’s really white of you” as a compliment because … well, that IS a racist way to talk. Saying, “he has a black heart”, however, doesn’t call up the same casual racial good/bad thing. (One calls up a skin color, the other the absence of light).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Will S. says:

    I suppose one could say that it is a more succinct way of saying “making a mountain out of a molehill”, but that idiom is quite well-known and understood, and therefore preferable, in my opinion…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. hearthie says:

    But Will! if we called it *that*, then we’d be saying their “problem” was a molehill! -faints in horror- Gracious! No, they’re doing the Good Work of identifying Major Societal Sin!


  5. professorGBFMtm2021 says:

    Born to win!The heart&soul of discipline!Play it louder than hell, ELSPETH!It’s our turn to show the world!Demanding to be tested,not to be forgotten!For the glory of the king!we’re fighting the world!we fight for the king!sing it MANOWARtm in 1996!From a battle I’ve come!To a battle I ride!I always liked you better than the other female commenters on DALROCK and the entire MANOSPHERE elspeth,even though I do like you HERTHIE,you we’re always no.1 with myself like MANOWARtm singed!You obviously could understand better what ROLLO TOMASSI calls ”THE FEMININE IMPERATIVE” or what, I and my ex-VEITNAM 68 year old black JEHOVAH WITNESS buddy at PHYSICAL-REHAB after our at diffirent years brain-strokes, called ”WOMEN PRIVILIGE”,which rollo and others on DAL’ would prove everytime!By trying to help SUNSHINEMARY see the truth!I, of course need not GAME!Being 6’3” and barely caring about life(especialy MONEY & DRUGS!) is all the GAME, I have ever needed!Nurses as young as 24 years old are shocked I’M not in my 20’s ever time as I non-chalantely go through their life in various hospitols in our fave southern u.s.a. elspeth!I love learning words too!You know about POWER-METAL right!?That version of heavy metal that is basicaly CONAN THE BARBARIAN meets LORD OF THE RINGS as music?Best shown by MANOWARtm and such COURTLY LOVE ballads as ”KILL WITH POWER”,”HAIL&KILL” and THE CROWN&THE RING:LAMENT OF THE KINGS”!All of these songs we’re playing on my local IHEART-CHURCHIAN radio station last night when I wrote SHARKLY at LAUGHING AT FEMINISM!Then GBFMtm’s ”O.N.C.ONECOCRULEBETASBUTTHEX” started playing!2021 is going great for guys like myself!See my obvious humor elspeth?This is what all of us in the U.S. need now right!Instead of more uniting!Speaking of which!?”WARRIORS OF THE WORLD UNITED!”MANOWARtms 2002 courtly love ballad that had everybody dancing at IBX TOYKO dance club last time I was there in toyko a month ago!P.S.I just got started a few months ago rocking&rolling thru the east coast!PATRIARCHYP.S.HI WILL.S, I remember all your commenting on dalrock and linking to interesting articles!You think your work would go unnoticed by us more classical music influenced heavy metal fans will?Thats what POWER-METAL is!Listen to MANOWARtm’s main album 1989’s ”KINGS OF METAL” ELSPETHP.S.My first g.f. who saw my non-chalante styling&profiling and my impressive blonde hair at age 6 years old,while I was 7 years old, became a professor so why not her ”love of a lifetime”as FIREHOUSE in 1989 sung, the ole’ new GBFMtm too?FEMINISTP.S.WOMANOWAR.the feminist tribute manowar band is not popular with MANOWARtm themselves!Let alone with manosphereans!Rollo tomassi told me some guy came into a rough heavy metal/country&western bar in chicago like the BLUES BROTHERS shouting ”WOMANOWAR boss!” and got swarmed by SPIKED gauntlet guys in chains like a officer in blue, like ICECUBE rapped in ”f@#$ tha police”!Thats how serious this unknown to even DALROCK and the ”lolz…GBFMtm” war is!Humor or truth you decide! right elspeth!?


  6. Elspeth says:

    @ professorGBFM:

    I’m not sure I’m following your comment, Professor.

    One thing I can say for sure is that the fake calls for unity are just that, and I don’t know how all of this is going to end.

    God knows, though.


  7. Elspeth says:

    Thanks for the heads up. I thought I recognized part of the handle (GBFM) so I let it out of mod as a courtesy in case it actually was the old sphere commenter GBFM.


  8. haoyando says:

    Love your post. Yes, the intentions are really important. There are times people favor black and brown. I was conceived after my mother consumed black rice, black beans, brown rice for half a year. LOL. This is probably why I am darker than all my cousins. Hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

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