Words Mean Things by Patrick Chapin

One of the most compelling voices in the Magic community, Patrick Chapin “The Innovator” is a member of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame and the author of Next Level Magic.

This article contains profanity, including gay and racial slurs.

“Don’t be a faggot.”

When we communicate, it is not just some trivial exercise. It is not about repeating words in familiar patterns, like a machine.

Real communication is about conveying meaning.

I generally don’t use the word “nigga” (or its various analogues)—not because it is taboo, but because it tends to obscure meaning, rather than convey it.

I spent a number of years in prison. During my time there, I dwelt in an awful lot of circles that used the term very freely. In public settings, it would have been inappropriate to use this language. However, it is a term that has taken on many ironic reversals and additional meanings over the past thirty years, and when it was just me and people I knew, it was generally acceptable for Caucasians, such as myself, to use the term and be referred to by this term.

However, just because the group had accepted this language doesn’t mean it promoted healthy thought patterns. If I can say it another way, a way that is clearer and contains more real meaning, why would I cling to a word that can cause misunderstanding and confusion?

“Don’t be a faggot.”

We can go on about how that word doesn’t mean what it used to, so people shouldn’t be offended by it, but in the real world, that hurts people, particularly ourselves. It influences how we think, and not necessarily for the better.

Words mean things.

Many boys grow up in environments where they are pushed around or otherwise made to feel inferior. Sometimes they are bullied. Often, fathers, brothers, or other older boys will assert themselves as “the dominant males” over the younger ones.

These older males provide the models that the younger ones use to formulate their worldviews and their strategies for interacting in life. If a boy’s role models use bullying and abusive behavior to try to control the people around them, this provides a blueprint for the boy to follow, often long before they are even aware of it.

The Magic community contains quite a few adolescent boys. A common phenomenon in adolescent boy cultures is the use of rape slang, which reveals a lot about the nature of rape.

Rape is about power.

Some men treat or see other people, usually women, as objects rather than as human beings: trophies to be fought over and won; dogs to be commanded and punished for misbehaving. At its core, rape is about power over an individual, making someone submit to one’s will and transforming that person into an object or an obedient animal.

Part of it is an attempt to release anger and frustration, but the release is only temporary. Because of this, the rape mentality generally leads to repeated behavior.

What does this have to do with using the word “rape” as slang for “won by a large margin?”

When someone uses the expression, “He got raped,” they are generally just repeating something they’ve heard someone else say. After all, if you or a loved one has been raped, the expression is a lot less funny.

“He got raped.”

I used to do commentary for the Top 8 of Pro Tours sometimes, way back about ten years ago. Back then, there was a rotating cast that included Chris Pikula, Brian Weissman, Brian Hacker, Brian Kibler, Randy Buehler, Michael Flores, Matt Place, myself, and more.

During the Top 8 of a Pro Tour, I was in the booth, in a role not unlike the one I adopt from time to time for SCG Opens. Between rounds, a WotC employee pulled me aside and asked me to watch my language. I was taken aback. What had I said? I wasn’t swearing.

“It’s not cool to describe one player as raping the other.”

I hadn’t even been thinking and obviously didn’t mean anything by it, but here I was, a dumb kid who didn’t know anything about anything, and I was using rape slang in the official WotC commentary.

Now here is the part that makes me look back and cringe.

My response was to try to explain to this person—who was only representing the interests of a company that sells games to people of all ages—that “rape” doesn’t always mean forcing someone to have sex. It is also “slang” for beating someone badly.

It’s amazing how much you know when you are 18.

“Words mean things. If that is how you talk when you are with your kid friends, that is your business, but if you want to interact with the adults, you are going to have to face the reality that words mean things. You aren’t talking to hear yourself speak. Whenever you talk, whoever can hear you is your audience. Remember what it is you are doing.”

I felt like an idiot. Despite knowing everything (I was 18, so kind of a given), I realized that just as chronic swearing is a symptom of a shortage of intelligence, so too is the inability to adjust one’s language to the situation at hand. Looking back, I didn’t even consider at the time just how inappropriate that kind of language was in an official capacity, let alone in any kind of public forum.

However, it is not just being mindful of the language we use in public. The language we use behind closed doors influences our thought process.

“Don’t be a faggot.”

The expression is said to have nothing to do with sexuality, a way of saying, “That’s not cool.”

At its core, this expression means “Homosexuality is so not cool, the most powerful way I can condemn your action is by suggesting that it is as bad as being homosexual.” That may not be one’s conscious thought process, but that is what they are saying.

The use of “faggot” as a derogatory term stems from hateful origins towards both women and homosexual men. Eventually this led to its popularity as a term boys say to each other in an attempt to assert their own masculinity by challenging the masculinity of other boys (following the example of those around them). In this context, “faggot” is not a permanent identity, such as one’s ethnicity or name. Rather, it is fluid, an identity that one seeks to avoid, such as being “it” in a game of tag. Many boys play this game of tag for years, back and forth with other boys.

“You are a fag!”

“No, you are!”

That’s adorable, but words mean things. If that is how you talk when you are with your kid friends, that is your business, but if you want to interact with the adults, you are going to have to face the reality that words mean things. You aren’t talking to hear yourself speak. Whenever you talk, whoever can hear you is your audience. Remember what it is you are doing.

When we are at a Magic tournament, we are confronted with a whole lot of people, many of whom we don’t know all that well. It can be very tempting to try to assert our masculinity by challenging the masculinity of others.

Want to know a secret?

If you are actually secure in your masculinity, you have no need for such petty tools.

What’s more, use of this language speaks volumes about a person, and the people around them pick up on the message between the lines.

Do you think Brian Kibler uses those words? What about Luis Scott-Vargas?

The words we use shape who we are. They influence our thought patterns and steer how we approach things.

The reasons to avoid such language in public settings, such as a Magic tournament or Facebook, are obvious. After all, when you are talking, everyone who can hear you is your audience. We did not come to this game accidentally. We are intelligent. We have more effective ways of communicating.

However, reconsidering hateful speech publically is only part of the equation. It’s not about the word itself; it is about the thought process. This thought process is toxic, and if you indulge in it in private, it will influence you in public.

You know why rape and hate slang continues? The same reason all slang does — because of people repeating it. From experience, I can tell you, it is relatively easy to clean up a circle’s language. If you resolve that something isn’t cool, it doesn’t take long for it to impact the circles you run in. That circle reflects who you are but also leaves impressions on you. If you do not impress on it, it will impress on you.

I am blessed with a number of close gay friends who have greatly enriched my life. Each of my experiences leads me to believe that potentially shutting out a percentage of people from my life by using hateful language is a huge mistake.

We all have our own path to walk.

There is room for an awful lot of people to live lives that are not identical to our own. What is right for someone else is not necessarily right for us, and what is right for us is not necessarily right for them. Why not give them the benefit of the doubt, especially if they are not hurting someone else?

No matter how tempting to try, we can’t make everyone else do what we want. What we can do is decide who we are, right now. It might not be the same as who we were yesterday, and that is okay.

When we see someone making fun of someone else at a Magic tournament for being different, we have lots of options. Are we someone who joins in, attempting to assert our masculinity? Are we someone who just tries to fit in with the crowd? Are we someone willing to stand up for someone who is outnumbered? Are we someone who is just afraid to say something, fearing becoming the next target? Are we someone who believes it is wrong to treat someone badly because of their race, sexuality, or gender?

Obviously none of this is to say that censorship is the answer. Words mean things, and if a given word is what you really want to say, more power to you. Rather, I’m trying to dispel the naïve notion that just because you might not be offended by a word, it doesn’t mean it’s not harmful and needless. Look, I am always touched when a straight, white American male is not offended by something, but maybe we are forgetting what it is we are doing.

There is a real temptation to defend slurs by arguing that the burden is on the other person to not be offended. After all, can’t anyone just say they are offended by anything? The thing is, asking someone if they are offended by something isn’t particularly fruitful. You don’t think it just puts all the pressure on them and risk being hated more? Likewise, a single person saying they are offended by something doesn’t make it offensive. It is a piece of evidence that helps build a case, but declaring something offensive does mean other people are offended by it.

Using slurs is harmful, not just because of the possibility of offending someone. It is harmful because of the implications. It makes people uncomfortable; it’s disrespectful; it’s bullying; and sadly, it leads to influencing the victims to go out and find victims of their own.

Words mean things.

Whenever people do something differently, someone is going to lash out against them. Maybe they’ll laugh at them, ridicule them, or hate them. People are scared of change, and they fear what is different from them.

Recently, I heard a young man, who considers racism obviously stupid, verbally attack a transgender individual he had never met.


What had this individual done to earn scathing slurs in front of countless people?

They had succeeded at something the boy wished he could succeed at.

Here we have a boy who considers himself a moral authority, who realizes the foolishness of racism; and yet when confronted with someone different from him, he didn’t even realize what he was doing.

Just as any woman who Top 8s a major event is greeted by some percentage of boys who hurl degrading remarks about her gender, someone transgender and successful is greeted with hateful slurs. Why?

It’s hard enough to live a transgender life. What do we gain by making their life harder, more painful? You don’t have to agree with all of someone’s choices or even understand them. However, if they aren’t hurting someone else, why attack them? Why be cruel?

In my experience, an awful lot of young men playing Magic have had some experience with racism. They’ve come to realize that it is not useful and not who they are; not as many Magic players have interacted with transgender individuals, so perhaps looking to broaden our perspective is worthwhile.

Imagine what it is like, everyone telling you that you are wrong about who and what you are. It can be a pretty tough spot to be. Imagine a bunch of people telling you what you should or should not be, say, or feel, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s going on inside of you.

Being transgender can be like that.

You may disagree with the actions someone is taking, and it may not be something that meshes with your worldview, but are they are hurting anybody? There is no question the life they are living is potentially fraught with hardships and pain, and you are certainly not obligated to do anyone any favors. However, do you really need to torment them and make their life harder? What does that accomplish?

Maybe they will eventually evolve their views. Maybe you will eventually evolve yours. Still, if neither of you changes your views, so what? No one needs to be hurt.

Picking on people in a position of weakness (such as being different from everyone else and having to deal with a world that is not built for them) is an act of cowardice. Whether using slurs because of anger or hate or using them out of ignorance of the implications of slang that carries with it pain and negativity, you have the choice to decide for yourself if that is who you are, or if you are better than that.

You also have the choice to act when you see someone else repeating this noise, without even thinking. I know I am so thankful for that individual who talked some sense into me all those years ago. People may push back, as confronting the truth can be scary, but they may thank you someday.

The signals you send to the world dictate what the world brings you. Make a statement to the world that you are full of kindness, courage, or love, and the world will bring you experiences to match. Make a statement that you are a coward, insecure, or full of hate, and the world will bring you experiences to match.

You want to win more at Magic?

You want to succeed more at anything you do in life?

Be strong. Be open-minded. Be courageous. Be a force for positivity. Be the greatest version of yourself you can envision.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

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#1 MTGBattlefield on 12.10.12 at 11:13 pm

Words Mean Things by Patrick Chapin…

Your story has been summoned to the battlefield – Trackback from MTGBattlefield…

#2 Heavy Meta #8 - Masters of Subliminal Cheats & Profanity - ManaDeprived.com on 12.14.12 at 6:53 am

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#3 Heavy Meta #8 - Masters of Subliminal Cheats and Profanity | MTGCastMTGCast on 01.01.13 at 5:14 pm

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#4 Still Had All These! » Weekend Windfall – 1/4/12 – The New Year on 01.04.13 at 7:04 pm

[…] of every wanna be (like me!) and their Godawful tournament reports. And Patrick Chapin wrote two important pieces on Magic's social system and […]

#5 Legacy Weapon – Disqualification : ChannelFireball – Magic: The Gathering Strategy, Singles, Cards, Decks on 01.09.13 at 10:02 pm

[…] We don’t have the power of judge or jury, but we do set the tone, and that has influence. As Chapin wrote last month, “words mean […]

#6 Discussion on ‘Words Mean Things.’ | Liberate The Void. on 06.19.13 at 9:51 pm

[…] I would like you all to click on this sentence, which will link you to the article in question. […]

#7 » GDC Reflects on EDH in 2013 General Damage Control on 12.31.13 at 1:24 am

[…] EDH that you read this year? This article technically came out last year, but Pat Chapin’s “Words Mean Things” is one of the best articles I’ve ever read about the social aspect of the game, which is a […]

#8 LSV Nails the Issue of Gender and Discrimination in the MTG Community | Quiet Speculation - Learn. Trade. Profit. on 03.18.15 at 2:55 pm

[…] (unhappy) occasion to link a 30-year-old man (?) to Patrick Chapin’s excellent article “Words Mean Things” in response to him trying to  use the asinine argument, “They’re just […]

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