The other day I was watching an episode of Law & Order SVU. The perpetrator in this case was outwardly a clean-cut pillar-of-the-community, but behind that mask was a psychopathic killer (which is an apt metaphor for many corporate executives, but that’s a different rant). But one of the clues someone noticed was that he never referred to his wife or son by their names, it was always MY wife and MY son, and it was clear he meant those in the possessive sense.
This reminded me of something that has been lingering in the back of my mind for some time. Many years ago I knew someone who’s husband published a book which did not contain the verb “to be”, this was done for a specific reason which I forget and didn’t quite get at the time. But this got filed away in the back of my mind and years later it popped back up and I though that “to be” isn’t the problem, “my” is the problem, that is, “my” in the possessive sense. Ever since then, this idea has lingered in the back of my head and whenever I am about to use the word, I try to think of ways to avoid it, and do so when possible. But, as is so often the case with english, the word has two senses: possession and relationship, e.g. “my computer” versus “my uncle”. The latter is almost impossible to avoid. I know this is a weird thing to contemplate (let alone do), but language and culture go hand in hand, and one can influence the other. So maybe avoiding the words that imply we own other beings may help to get our culture to a place where such ideas are repugnant. Maybe wishful thinking, but it can’t hurt to try.