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OFF CENTRE: Wild words – ‘hater’, ‘snitch’ and such


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: Wild words – ‘hater’, ‘snitch’ and such

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“At the end of the day.”

YOU REMEMBER when a certain politician wrought a mighty local resurgence of that expression? The cliché had had its day in the sun and had run until night catch it and nearly lick the stuffings out of it and probably thought it had put it to bed – though not to dead.

And so it languished.

But the politician worked some magic and soon “at the end of the day” could be heard morning, noon and night from both the enlightened and those who never knew that a little learning is a dangerous thing. The expression, in a manner of speaking, was having a field day.

I did try to knock the living daylights out of it, but it just wouldn’t call it a day.

Cliches – like the ones I’ve been having some fun with here – don’t win any awards for freshness of diction or engaging expression, but they tend to be harmless enough.

Not the case with some other over-popular words and expressions.

“Hater” is one.

Now, for a long time we knew the verb “hate” – to feel intense dislike for someone or something – but these days the noun “hater” has dimensions that were never associated with the original verb. And dangerously so. 

Exposing a flaw

The prevalent use of “hater” follows, in my experience, the Urban Dictionary’s definition: “A person that simply cannot be happy for another person’s success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person . . . . [T]he hater wants to knock somelse [sic] down a notch.”

Over and over the term “hater” in the above sense is shot at someone who simply expresses a criticism of one’s favourites (you or other people you like).

The offended person interprets virtually any negative assessment of them or their faves as unjustified, bad-minded and as always an attempt to bring them down a peg.

Apart from suggesting overconfident mind-reading, such use shouts self-absorption and sycophancy more loudly than any well balanced human being would consider appropriate.

Come on: someone says of a supposedly successful you or someone you like (often a celebrity) that your pants or your idol’s should not be worn so low in public as to expose butt crack or underwear, and they, out of unhappiness, jealousy or God-knows-whatever-bad-what, are trying to pull down somebody?

How come you can deem other people bad-motived and ill-intentioned when they criticise you or someone you like (say, Rihanna – thus the talk about “Rihanna haters”), but don’t think the same of yourself when you criticise Admiral Nelson or Rosemary Alleyne or Charlie Sheen or that fellow worker?

On those occasions you don’t seem to view yourself as a “hater” too. Otherwise, why, Mr/Ms/Mrs Pot, would you call a kettle black?

Seems like two-faced, self-indulgent dishonesty! That’s where the use of the newfangled “hater” will take you.

Another word that doesn’t do the user any favours is “snitch”.

When I was growing up the only uses that I knew of that verb or its noun were in connection with underworld types threatening the worst to those who would inform against others of their own criminal kind.

So snitch and snitching were words that seemed right at home among thieves and other lawbreaking types. People who were not criminally bent or recklessly disloyal to the best virtues never used the term back then. 

Nowadays, though, the word snitch is widely used to refer to the act of responsibly informing about a crime or other infringement against society’s best standards. As though that is a dishonourable thing – as though we all belong to a circle of criminals. Even little children, in whom any right-thinking person would wish to see evidence of moral sense, are using the word to condemn someone who reports what should be reported.

So if we see the illegal, the socially corrosive and inform the “authorities”, we are now doing something bad. We snitching. The worse thing is not the activity that gave rise to the informing; oh no, the real crime now is the telling.

You now risk not only payback from misdoers but also scorn from “good” fellow citizens.

Social irresponsibility

Our (black people’s) own music not infrequently disparages reporting misdeeds, thereby glorifying social irresponsibility, seeking to turn our own into the morally indifferent.

I suspect, though, that if, God forbid, somebody rapes the mother of one of these performers, they would want the neighbour who saw that strange man climbing back out through the window to inform the police.

Finally, the strange case of “judging”. In the face of social misbehaviour, one of the proudest proclamations these days is “I am not judging you/him/her”. Who is so devoid of standards that they can manage to live without moral assessment of others – even if only for their own protection?

Look, I would generally warn people off of making harsh, mind-reading, vilifying judgements of the actions of others. After all, our next “sin” is right around the corner – so self-righteous strangling of another becomes none of us.

But why do we have to become seeming moral vacuums if the ethically troubling flies in our face?

Only the other day I saw a lot of people falling all over themselves trying to avoid even the merest suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of a woman who was in front of them unrepentantly admitting to having affairs with three married men. The frequent remark? “I don’t want to judge you.”

And I found it hard to believe that these people would not “judge” a “domestic abuser”, a spanker (they were Americans), a deadbeat dad, an intolerant person, a thieving bank clerk.

The need to avoid being venomously severe should not silence all judgement. Sensitivity to victims and concern about the public weal still cry out for it.

Yet it seems that an advertisement has gone out for membership of the society, with a critical requirement being: language use that evidences self-centredness, mindless partiality towards favourites, a passion for following the crowd, a penchant for double standards, and a clear lack of moral backbone.

Too frequently, children and fools get to playing with “sharped-edged tools”, including careless words that suggest low values. Don’t join them.

• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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