Growing up I was a huge fan of the late George Carlin. He and Richard Pryor were my two favorite comedians.
Carlin and Pryor were known for their generous handling of profanity. My mom certainly didn’t approve of their language, so I had to sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to see her on HBO.
Speaking of language, Carlin had a sketch that had been with me for decades. He talked about how the use of “soft language” or euphemisms hid the truth. He said most Americans have trouble dealing with the truth or accepting it, so they invented soft language to protect themselves.
To explain this, he gives a glaring example of how the medical condition known as “shell shock” in World War I became “battle fatigue” over several generations during World War II. In the 1950s, during the Korean War, the same condition was renamed “Operational Exhaustion” before we finally ended up with “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” as a result of the Vietnam War.
His point? With each iteration, the severity of the disease is massaged so as not to be as severe as it really is: the complete shutdown of a nervous system due to the extreme overload placed on it in combat. Over the years we’ve learned that you don’t have to go to war to suffer from PTSD. By now you’re starting to see where I’m going.
George made different jokes about everyday things, asking the audience: When did toilet paper become toilet paper, car accidents became car accidents, and doctors became health care providers? I can tell you, the first time I saw the words “pesticides” printed, I almost spat out my coffee (sorry, spat out involuntarily). I’ll say I’ve spent quite a number of years agreeing with George, but they say we get softer with age and I don’t see it that way now.
All of us in the industry have been exposed to public scrutiny for decades for perceived misuse of chemicals, fertilizers and water. We have made tremendous strides in the past few years and worked to get the message across that we are responsible stewards of the land.
According to the USGA and GCSAA Golf Course Environmental Profile, water use on golf courses accounts for only 0.5 percent of total daily water use in the United States. And the advent of IPM approaches to turf grass management has resulted in a reduction in input.
So what’s the problem you ask? I am willing to bet the vast majority of John and Jane Smiths in the world only think of one thing when they hear the word pesticide – DDT. And when they hear the word chemical they most likely think of the kind of skull symbols that are so familiar in cartoons.
If we want the public to understand that we are using crop protection products responsibly and that we are using a lot less than the public thinks, we should probably stop speaking the word together. If you give an interview in print, on the air, or online and say something like “We don’t use chemicals in an irresponsible way” it is unlikely to help in any way because the only thing the public heard you say ” we … use chemicals “.
If we are to change public perception, we must follow the same strategy that George made fun of all those years ago.
That item in your budget should be called your plant health budget, and the products in it should consist of fungicides, insecticides, wetting agents, plant growth regulators, plant health activators, crop protection products, and even lawn stress reducers.
A good friend of mine told me that he had an English teacher who said that words are tools and the most important thing is how to use them. I think this is a great message that we all understand because we are best when we have a good tool kit. Please let us use these tools for us and get our message across.
Sure, it’ll take a little getting used to. But if we want the world to understand that we responsibly care for the earth, using science and an integrated approach to best management practices to create a sustainable environment for our customers to enjoy, we cannot continue to use antiquated words .
While we’re at it, can we please stop posting pictures of rooms full of pallets when your early order arrives? Again, all the public knows is what they’re thinking, and they think they’re seeing piles and piles of … well, you know the word.
Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is Superintendent of the Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina and a past President of the Carolina GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.