Evergreen State flaunts its virtue once again by policing language

December 7, 2018 • 9:15 am

UPDATE: According to reader Benjamin (see comments below), the motion didn’t come up for a vote, contrary to what some websites say. This may have been due to public pressure/embarrassment.


This time it’s the word “covenant”, which apparently conjures up—for some of the Outrage Brigade—images of “cultural genocide”, the European-settler elimination, oppression, and ill treatment of Native Americans, a wrong that’s not in question. The connection is a bit oblique: settlers made “covenants” with Native Americans; I can’t speak about the history of that of what it led to, nor did the College in its resolution below. But you can’t rewrite any wrongs of this sort by redacting a single word,  especially a word that almost never has anything to do with Native Americans. One university, however, disagrees.

Two days ago, the The faculty of The Evergreen State College (TESC, also known as the University of Antifa) voted on a motion to replace the word “covenant” in all College documents. Apparently, as some websites suggest, the motion passed, and so “covenant” is gone, expired, singing with the choir invisible. Here’s the motion and a snarky response:

The word “covenant” was used in the faculty handbook in numerous senses, most of them agreeing with the first definition given in the Oxford English Dictionary (below)—simply a solemn agreement:

This is a new level of language policing, as the “covenant” that’s the subject of the resolution is only one of many uses—and not the most frequent use—of the word. But TESC says it has has a “nation-to-nation agreement” with the Tribes of Washington, and perhaps someone on one end got offended.

But if you try to find that agreement, you won’t (or at least I couldn’t). What you’ll find is a list of TESC covenants (click on screenshot) that have nothing to do with “cultural genocide”:

What’s next: should they ban the word “solution” because it was used by the Nazis as the “Final Solution”, a reference to the extermination of European Jews?

I can’t add much to the video on the kerfuffle made by TESC graduate Benjamin Boyce. Be sure to watch till the end, because there’s something awesome at 7:36.

TESC is slowly circling the drain, and will go down even faster if nonsense like this gets publicized. Yet they don’t even try to remedy the kind of oppressive and authoritarian ideology that is responsible for the College’s declining enrollment.

68 thoughts on “Evergreen State flaunts its virtue once again by policing language

  1. Well, what about the Jews and their covenant with Yahweh? I guess viewing Raiders of the Lost Ark is right out because every time they mention the Ark of the Covenant there will be cascade triggerings.

    1. No worries, as you could never screen that film on Evergreen’s campus. Imagine the outcry! It’s about a cis-het white man who steals valuable artifacts from the brown bodies to whom they rightfully belong.

    2. Gen 17,9

      And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.

    3. Yeah WTH? We need to stop using “covenant” now? Are they serious?

      Agreed “covenant” goes back to mythic Biblical times and in itself is problematic in that it could justify bloodshed as the Israelites trekked back from Egypt to Canaan. Thankfully none of that seems to have actually happened. But the term remains as an innocuous reference to mutual agreement.

      I admit I am triggered by the use of covenant as a neighborhood homeowners pact which in actuality covers for asymmetric power structure where someone gets to dictate the color and type of your shingles and type and shagginess of lawn. There used to be covenants that excluded minorities.

      But why eliminate usage of the word because it happened to be associated with bad stuff.

      The Mayflower Compact was paternalistic and Puritan. I hate that. Therefore compact car is verboten.

  2. I expect the reference is to the famous Covenant Chain in early Colonial America that governed peace between the Colonials and the Iroquois tribes and others. If I recall correctly from my history books, the Colonials might have cheated a little.

  3. Hmmmmm, we also used words like “treaty,” “gun,” “blanket,” “trail,” “the,” “a,” “them,” “of,”….There are a lot of words this faculty needs to get about banning. Maybe they’re planning on having separate meetings and statements on every word that was ever used by any colonialist or war-monger throughout history (only the white ones, of course. Not that one should have to say that, as only white people have ever stolen lands or gone to war with non-white people. Every other country and group has been pure and never oppressed or taken from anyone else).

    1. Add ‘separate’ and ‘equal’ to your banned list, as both words were brutally misused for decades under segregation.

  4. “What’s next: should they ban the word “solution” because it was used by the Nazis as the “Final Solution”, a reference to the extermination of European Jews?”

    Surely you jest, dear host! Jews are oppressors. They do not get to benefit from the great social justice wheel that will crush all injustice as it rolls ever bravely o’er the bones of the privileged.

  5. Is there a single word in any language that can’t be perverted? By the way, my King-James-trained notion of the word implies not only commitment, but sacred commitment, e.g. between god and humankind. Using it in a course-description seems to be overkill, when all that it means is ‘mutual obligation.’

    1. Yes, that was my first thought, too. The only place I frequently encounter the word “covenant” is in religion — specifically, making a “covenant with God.”

      Maybe Christians will now step in and start screaming about religious persecution, and we could have a little snowflake fight.

      1. By the way, my King-James-trained notion of the word implies not only commitment, but sacred commitment, e.g. between god and humankind. Using it in a course-description seems to be overkill, when all that it means is ‘mutual obligation.’

        My thoughts exactly!

    2. I would actually agree with removing it from course descriptions on those grounds – i.e. that it’s too heavyweight a word for the context. ‘Agreement’ or even ‘rules’ would be more appropriate in those contexts.

      BUT the motion’s pseudo-PC objection to use of the word is pure BS.

      I think we seriously need to look critically at the word ‘Good’, since its use has been so often prejudicial. ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ for example. The Bible is often referred to as ‘The Good Book’ when we know it is full of the most appalling events and elitist, discriminatory attitudes. By the word’s very use, we imply that other equally valid social constructs are somehow bad, or defective.

      In future, ‘g**d’ must be replaced by ‘optimum’ or ‘preferred alternative’ or ‘beneficial option’ or ‘amelioration’. There’s more than one way to skin a cat (PETA are you listening?)
      All commentators will obey this cov… community agreement, if they know what’s ameliorative for them.


  6. If we’re gonna ban words based on how badly they’ve been used to screw Native Americans, I should think “treaty” would be first to go pining for the fjords.

  7. Shaw’s quip ‘Youth is wonderful. What a pity it’s wasted on the young.’ has never seemed so apposite as today.

  8. The attempt to control language is the hallmark of both the crank and the totalitarian (the later being a crank with power).

  9. Won’t covenant get replaced by its synonyms and become associated with Native American genocide? Then the Authoritarian Left will have to call for the retirement of those words too. Perhaps they haven’t thought this through.

    The banning of words and phrases has a certain neat symmetry with the forced introduction of new words and phrases. We used to use the word “handicapped” but that got replaced by “differently abled” because the former was used in a derogatory way. How long before “differently abled” gets used in a derogatory way? My guess is right-wingers have done it already. I can hear Trump using it now using his snarky tent-show voice. They’ll need to retire “differently abled” soon.

    So where does it all stop?

    1. Many of the words we use today were built specifically to avoid stigmatizing people. “Retarded” was intended to replace “mentally deficient” and other less-than-polite terms, to give one example. “Moron” and “idiot” were introduced for similar reasons; in fact, there’s a chart that differentiates when it was considered medically appropriate to use each term. These words seeped into common usage, and became slurs.

      Haven’t seen any right-wing folks use “differently abled” in a directly derogatory manner. Mostly they say it sarcastically to mock the Language Police tendencies of the left. The insult isn’t directed at disabled people, but rather at the people who insist we label them “differently abled”.

        1. It’s called the ‘euphemism treadmill’

          If we want to change, for example, attitudes regarding people with certain disabilities, we need to work on those attitudes, not try to change the language. As long as people will be thinking bad things about another group of people, changing the language won’t do a damn thing, as the above illustration suggests.

          1. In fact, it may make things worse as telling people they can’t use a perfectly good word irritates the hell out of them and makes them want to lash out in response. Unfair or unreasonable behavior on both sides increases polarization and the general level of anger.

          2. ‘Differently abled’ has that exact effect on me – intense irritation. Because the phrase is such patent nonsense. Most disabled do not have any ‘different’ ability, they just have one less.

            I have sympathy for anyone with a disability, I try not to let it be swamped by irritation at the glass-half-full Pollyanna pretence that they might have some compensating advantage.


          3. Sympathy for the disabled can get you into hot water in some circles. You know, for instance, that some loons with blind loved ones take intense umbrage at the idea of the blindness being cured. The idea that blindness is a problem to be cured is somehow offensive to them.

          4. Same with deafness. There’s a community that don’t want to be helped by cochlear implants. Their outrage at the suggestion that they could be helped is BS, of course, but I can understand why they might not want to be “cured”. They have spent their lives (or part of them) as part of a tight community. They don’t want to give that up. Clearly it is a choice that each individual has to make and there’s no reason to get angry about it, unless some idiot is trying to force it on them. Of course, if the person is a teenager, this can result in a big argument.

          5. “It’s called the ‘euphemism treadmill’”

            (sensu Pinker) Beat me to it. Also known as euphemism creep; both phrases Google-able.

            We can only take comfort in the knowledge that the worst offenders today will someday be annoyed by whatever the coming generations decide to “correct.”

          6. I read the article regarding “Baby It’s Cold Outside’ with some amusement yesterday, because in this particular case, far leftists are arguing that the song is evil and bad based on today’s standards…it doesn’t get a pass based on the time in which it was written. However, these same leftists will turn around and say that ‘idiot’ or ‘moron’ are unacceptable terms because 100 years ago they meant ‘retard’ and even though they no longer retain that meaning, we should avoid their usage based on how they were used a very long time ago.

            Regressive leftists, forever incoherent.

          7. Well said. This is one of my biggest gripes with the current social justice movement: the extreme concentration on language. You cannot change people’s attitudes by forcing them to say different words, or by having them hear different words. Words will always refer to the same things and people, no matter which words are used.

            I think it’s also well-known that forcing people to stop using perfectly cromulent words on the grounds of some censorious group’s own presumptive moral authority is more likely to cause other people frustration and ingrain in them a willful refusal to change their attitudes. The constant demands of changing words and phrases (e.g. handicapped–>different abled, sex change–>sex reassignment surgery–>gender confirmation surgery, etc.) seems more like a desire to always be doing something, regardless of efficacy, and often a petty attempt at a display of power and moral superiority as well.

          8. “”often a petty attempt at a display of power and moral superiority as well.””

            Yep, which, as you stated, will only turn people away from your movement, not change their minds.

            I have found that I am open to change provided my ‘teacher’ is understanding and empathetic. If they tell me im an immoral waste of skin for not immediately and precisely echoing their views right down to the last letter, I will resent them.

            And this is because, for many narcissistic regressives, the goal is not to win hearts and change minds, the goal is power and attention.

          9. Well said again. Nobody likes being talked down to, which is something this movement and even Democrats in general seem to forget more and more every day. Hillary calling tens of millions of people a “basket of deplorables” was this failed political strategy in a nutshell. If you want to make significant changes, you usually have only two choices: dialogue with empathy and kindness, or brute force (which often requires violence). If you want to win people to your side, the former option is the only viable one. There is on occasion a third choice, which is bringing attention to issues to engender empathy in others (as MLK and his followers did so skillfully), but this also requires that you talk to your audience, rather than at them.

          10. Lavatory / toilet / bathroom / restroom / …. is probably the best-known example of that. Not only failing to mask the ‘real’ meaning as soon as the usage becomes commonplace, but ruining a lot of what were perfectly specific words (‘bathroom – the room with the bath/shower in it’) in the process.


          11. And the Canadian “washroom”. I think toilets is accurate most of the time but to Canadians it sounds rude.

          12. “Toilet”! Don’t you know what people do in those! You can’t say such a thing.

            Interesting side note: did you know that Psycho was the first Hollywood film to completely show a toilet, not to mention a flushing one? Apparently, the censors did not think toilets were appropriate to be seen by the public. Until then, nobody had ever seen a toilet, anywhere, ever. It’s a good thing the censors were there to keep them from the knowledge of their existence. But Hitchcock just had to ruin it for everyone. People saw it and started asking, “what’s that for?” and “what do people do with those?” These uncomfortable questions eventually led the public to the realization that people pee, poop, and fart, and society has become irreparably depraved ever since.

          13. I always find myself thinking that a “restroom” is the last place I would go for a rest. Incidentally, lavatory [Latin: Lavere, to wash] and toilet [French: toilette – washing oneself] are both earlier euphemisms. Let’s just go back to shithouse and urinal.

          14. I may have my etymology wrong, but I believe “restroom” comes from the days when (at least in the ladies’ public bathrooms at posh places) there was a separate room attached in which to lounge and apply makeup.

      1. Have not seen any parking spacing markings changed yet. They all still say handicapped. Same in rest rooms and other places. The change will be a major undertaking.

    2. My children’s friends would insult fellow schoolchildren by calling them ‘special needs’, which was brought in to replace mentally handicapped.

      1. Clearly the pushback should be against intended insults, not words. Virtually any word or phrase can be used as an insult. The Authoritarian Left is always looking for some kind of shortcut.

      2. True. And regrettably, the moment I hear ‘special needs child’ now, I automatically assume it’s a euphemism for some appallingly behaved obnoxious disruptive brat who just needs putting firmly in his place.

        Now I *know* that’s not what the term means and 99% of ‘special needs’ children are probably not like that. But a combination of the obvious clunky euphemism and my own cynicism leaps to that conclusion.


    3. It never stops — it’s the Red Queen syndrome.

      But it serves a purpose for dominance hierarchy among SJWs. For those who keep up on the latest terminology changes can both display their elite wokeness, while chiding laggards who still use yesterday’s PC term.

      1. Imagine the shock on their faces if we were to cancel all their words! I’m sure we could come up with a creative connection to racism, sexism, or X-ism for virtually any noun or verb. And we would be so virtuous!

  10. This is EXACTLY like Andrew Schlafly banning the word “comrade” from his “conservative Bible” translation because of the connection with Communism.

    In extreme cases, this can be justified, as in the case where no Western European Tibetan-Buddhist communities display the swastika symbol. But the difference is that the primary and perhaps –>only<– exposure of Western Europeans to the swastika symbol is via Nazi Germany.

    By contrast, the word "covenant" (and "comrade") have a long and honorable history in Western culture, including the "Covenant with the League of Nations", as one can see from the many examples of it's usage, cited at "dictionary.com", the first of which is "Fed-up doctors want that too—and many have begun to reclaim the covenant between doctor and patient."
    from The Health-Care System Is So Broken, It’s Time for Doctors to Strike

    (Of the various Tibetan Buddhist swastikas I have seen here is one that ought to be safe to display.)


    1. Regarding the Buddhists: I assume this was also by their own choice, rather than mandated by those around them. I’m curious if there’s evidence to the contrary. Regardless, it’s an important distinction because, assuming they made that change of their own accord to be inclusive, it was their choice based on their own principles.

      1. It’s a pity that Hitler screwed up such a neat and graphically satisfying design. It also neatly tiles the plane.

        One of the more minor crimes of the Nazis, I guess.


        1. When I say ‘screwed up’ I mean ‘brought into disrepute’. I should be more precise in my wording.

  11. It’s Evergreen’s fault in the first place, using the inflated term ‘covenant’ to mean simple agreement. Check the box if you agree to these terms. Pompous asses.

  12. There seems to something like linguistic homeopathy at work here. As if any negative connotation a word once had — no matter how forgotten or buried it is in the past (i.e., no matter how dilute it has become) — is suddenly assumed to infect present day users or actually reveal them as holding reviled notions.
    Surely there are words whose connotative wounds are still fresh and are wisely avoided. But “covenant?”

  13. Funny, I never think of covenant as an academic term; it doesn’t occur once in our faculty handbook. You wonder what TESC’s founders were thinking. I can imagine they thought they were distinguishing themselves in a progressive fashion.

  14. Mr. Coyne,

    I wanna let you know that the faculty decided not to proceed to vote on this motion Wednesday, likely due to public pressure. I’ve heard they might be revising it, and that, no, Evergreen does not have any Nation-to-Nation agreements with Washington tribes.

    By the way, I’d love to interview you over Skype some day — and I also want to thank you for securing for my channel a smart commenter base when you reported on my initial reporting of Evergreen.

  15. A* word that reminds me of genocide is “genocide”. Let’s ban it and then we can all pretend that genocides do not happen.

    *I originally wrote “Another” but then I realised that “covenant” does not remind me of any genocide (being born on the other side of the Atlantic). However, my strongest association is with Christianity. The first time I encountered is was in relation to Christ’s New Covenant with God (I only later found out that there had been an “Old Covenant” that God made with the Jews).

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