The latest controversy stems from a deep confusion about how language works.
A “descriptivist” is someone who studies how language is used. A “prescriptivist” is someone who tells other people how to use language correctly. And while these are often framed as opposing camps, they need not be: A thoughtful descriptivist realizes that strongly established usage patterns should generally be treated as rules by someone who wants to communicate effectively; a thoughtful prescriptivist realizes that the rules emerge from constantly evolving usage patterns.

There’s a certain strain of prescriptivism, though, that merely seeks to impose rules on other people’s language, often on nothing more than one’s own say-so. Overwhelmingly, these folks are harmless-if-annoying self-appointed “sticklers” who insist, for example, that you must not split infinitives or start sentences with conjunctions. But ill-founded prescriptivism also rears its head with political terms, and we’ve been seeing a bit of that lately from the woke left.

Some academics who study racial matters use the word “racism” to mean not “dislike of people on the basis of race,” which is how most people use it, but rather something like “prejudice plus power” or what is more clearly called “institutional” or “systemic” racism — meaning, conveniently, that members of minority groups by definition cannot be racist.