Is it acceptable to use the term "slavery" as a metaphor?

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by Pithikos, Apr 6, 2013.

  1. Pithikos Registered Member

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    I was at a dinner last night with about 10 people, one of whom was black.

    At some point on a discussion, I said "working is slavery" and the black person got offended. He didn't admit it but he made a big fuzz saying that using the term "slavery" is diminishing the word's meaning etc. He got further saying that I live in a bubble and that I should learn about what happens outside of my bubble. I remained calm but have since been thinking if the fault was mine or what the problem is.

    Do you think using the term slavery as a metaphor like that shouldn't be used?
     
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  3. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    The guy did have a point, I guess.

    You get to choose whether to work or not - slaves generally do not. Real slavery is generally considered a breach of basic human rights. Working is not. etc.

    There are other examples of language losing its punch, though. "The traffic driving over here was murder!" No, murder is where somebody dies a violent death at the hands of another person. Mild inconvenience is not quite the same thing.

    "The Bulldogs losing that football game was a tragedy!" No, Othello is a tragedy. Children dying of preventable illnesses is tragic. Somebody losing a football match is not.

    "This biscuit is awesome!" No. Seeing a vision of Jesus descending from a cloud in front of you is awesome. Biscuits are merely tasty or enjoyable.
     
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  5. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    I don't think it's racial so much as hyperbole. There are still slaves worldwide, people who cannot leave their jobs due to being confined, or due to the threat of violence if they try. To use that to describe a voluntary job is somewhat hyperbolic; it would be like an obese person missing lunch in a third world country and saying "I am starving to death!"
     
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  7. LaurieAG Registered Senior Member

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    Thrall is probably a better word to use.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/thrall?

     
  8. Pithikos Registered Member

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    I thought all of you were right until I found out that the term slave can have the meaning of just "working hard":


    The American Heritage� Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright �2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
    Collins English Dictionary � Complete and Unabridged � HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003
    Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, � 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc.
    n., v. slaved, slav�ing. n.
    Oxford dictionary
    Merriam-Webster
     
  9. Pithikos Registered Member

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    74
    Depends on what you mean with "voluntary job". I am sure many people get any work they can get in order to survive. That doesn't really gives them a choice. It's voluntary only if the person has his dream-job.
     
  10. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    ?? Everyone can quit and get another job. They may not WANT to do that, but that's their choice. At least in the US, having a crappy job (or even being unemployed) does not mean death.
     
  11. rodereve Registered Member

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    216
    I think it's how you use the word.

    "Ugh, I've been slaving over this dinner all day." This is more attuned to the "working hard" definition

    The way you used it, I think, actually meant slavery in the context of colonial slaves, and testament to that is the fact you didn't even know the other definition when you used it lol

    Well the original question is not whether or not to use slavery for its actual meaning (whether it be slavery or working hard) but as a metaphor. And I think metaphors are OK if they are not meant in good taste, and I don't think you were meaning to offend him.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    24,690
    We use "slave" as an outrageous exaggeration all the time. A wage slave might say, "my boss is a slavedriver. Smokers were called nicotine slaves sixty years ago, before tobacco was added to the list of addictive drugs. During the militant feminist era in the 1960s, housewives were derisively dismissed as slaves to their husbands. Grace Jones sang a song titled "Slave to the Rhythm."

    The word "slavery" isn't used as often as "slave," even in its dictionary sense, but it is also used as an exaggeration.

    Oscar Mandel summed it up in "The Gobble-Up Stories": "Freedom is that particular form of slavery which we happen to enjoy."

    There are almost no taboos in American English anymore. We call people "Nazis" just because they devote a lot of energy to their favorite cause, such as grammar Nazis.

    I have to say that I might think twice before using the word "slavery" hyperbolically (I don't think it's really a "metaphor" in this case) around a black person whom I don't know very well. Maybe you'll decide to do so too, from now on. Nonetheless, my advice to the fellow would be, "Chill out, dude. It's just a word."
     

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