Brandon Robshaw: English Usage #13


You can't spend two minutes on Twitter these days without coming across somebody accusing somebody else of "hate" towards some group or other. Not "hatred", which used to be regarded as the correct noun form. Just "hate". Stark. Uncomplicated. Monosyllabic. Whence this transition from "hatred" to "hate"? My theory is that it came about as an abbreviation of the term "hate speech" (where "hate" was being used adjectivally).

I cannot say I am a fan of the term. It always sounds rather simple-minded to me. It's a form of begging the question. Of course hating other people is bad, so if somebody has said something hateful, well, then obviously they must be in the wrong. But all too often the hatefulness is simply assumed. Look for it in any specific utterance the accused has made and it is not at all easy to locate.

The casual over-use of "hate" in this sense has diluted its strength. It now often seems to mean little more than that the accuser disagrees with something that's been said and is angry about it.

Being angry tends to make one feel righteous but is no guide at all as to whether one is actually in the right. The reverse, in fact. Bertrand Russell perceptively remarked that in cases of disagreement he saw anger in himself as a sign that he might be wrong: "If someone says that two and two equal five, or that Greenland is on the Equator, I merely smile and pity their ignorance. But if someone puts forward a claim that makes me angry, this is a sign that my own certainties are under threat." (Or words to that effect; I quote from memory). Generally speaking, then, I'd say that the angrier party in a dispute is usually the one who feels the more insecure about their position, and that is usually the person hurling accusations of "hate".

Dr Brandon Robshaw lectures for the Open University in Philosophy, Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. He has written several children’s books including a philosophical YA novel, The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers. He and his family starred in BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner. You can find his website here.