camtivists or activain?

When I spoke in London earlier this year I got a very polite but firm request that I not use the word activism in my bio, and I was surprised. Since then my friends Fiona and Charlotte have been tutoring me on terminology as we have tried to find words we could all agree on. "Activism and empowerment - very scary words to us Brits," said Charlotte.

Fiona wrote a really good blog on this last month called Am I an activist?

So when these wise women call themselves activists they're actually being far braver than I am, raised by activists who might even be called radicals.She said "Activists have dreadlocks, beards and dirty black tee-shirts with the "Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament" across the front." To which I have to confess that I was arrested at 17 for protesting a nuclear submarine... but I don't have dreadlocks and I do shave -- my legs. I've never chained myself to anything. I come from the Ghandi, MLK school of activism: the nonviolent, teach-in, daisies in the gunbore school. These days my activism is done by keyboard and when in person I try to wear clean clothes.

Some of this is language, I know, but some is cultural temperament. Charlotte cracked me up with the lengths to which her countrymen will avoid confrontation, pointing me to this:

"A peculiarly British indirect technique is to use hesitation devices, and to avoid showing certainty. British comedian John Cleese memorably demonstrated a British and American having dinner in a restaurant. The American was direct:
Can you pass the salt, please?
The British speaker used hesitation:
Could you … um … er … pass the … um … thank you.
(The listener had guessed his requirement long before he finished the sentence.) This particular technique is (a) unteachable and (b) undesirable to teach."

So, a guest blog from Charlotte is in order, thank you, Charlotte!
Campaigning for activism

Never did the "Two nations divided by a common language" quote become more apparent to me than my recent conversation with Laura about activism.  Over her side of the pond, activism is seen as "encouragement of evangelism (the act of sharing one's beliefs) -- in organized missionary work or by personal encounters and relationships with others", whereas here in the little old UK, activism is more "a policy of taking direct and militant action to achieve a political or social goal".

Here, we campaign as in "An operation or series of operations energetically pursued to accomplish a purpose".  Laura is uncomfortable as her definition runs closer to "A series of military operations undertaken to achieve a large-scale objective during a war".

So should we become camtivists or should we activain?


  1. "When I spoke in London earlier this year..." many people can begin a blog with those words? You're pretty amazing, you know?

    I love the semantics over campaigning and activism. Whatever gets the job done, I'm all for it!

    "Collinsivism" about that term??

  2. Maybe it's a generational thing? I'm Gen X and I would say most folks my age shy away from the "activist" label because it has negative associations with rioting and sit-ins and the other extremes of the Viet Nam War era.

  3. FYI, I'd say that we Canadians lean towards the British style of behaviour!


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