Intensive Purposes

This post is not about The Last of Us Part Two, which I have been enjoying immensely. It’s also not about She-Ra and The Princesses Of Power, which I have been joyfully devouring. Nope, this one is about a turn of phrase.

Particularly “for all intents and purposes.”

Apparently, the phrase is one of those that people regularly get confused for “all intensive purposes.” I didn’t know this was a malapropism, perhaps because I’d never heard the phrase “intensive purposes,” but more likely because, an avid reader, I undoubtedly came across “for all intents and purposes” in writing before hearing it said, and so it became one of those things that just clicked (“ah, yes, that’s that thing I’ve heard”).

But when I, a few years ago, learnt about the malapropism, I’ve found myself checking every time I write the phrase, making sure that I didn’t slip and write “intensive.” Even though I never have, and tend to doubt I will unless I find a purpose that’s truly intense. Nonetheless, it’s something I do just in case.

Is this mixup something I’ve personally had to deal with? No, not at all. But is it something I should be aware of? Oh yes, certainly. It’s a thing that exists, and given that I’m aware of it, it’s something I have to watch out for.

Sometimes it’s easy to get really caught up in our own experiences and our own views of the world. Just because I’d never heard of “intensive purposes” prior to finding out about the malapropism doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A lot of things are that way.

Take women in refrigerators. This is a term coined by Gail Simone to describe the trope in comics (and really a lot of media) of having a female character killed or maimed (usually quite brutally) in order to provide a male character with angst and motivation. It’s so-named because of a Green Lantern comic wherein the hero returns to find his girlfriend killed and, uh, stuffed in a fridge. It’s a tired trope because it reduces female characters (and it’s almost always women) to little more than plot devices, one that is predicated on violence against women and withholding of agency. That’s not to say it can’t be done well, just to say that it’s often done poorly.

I first learnt of this trope maybe a decade or so ago, during a deep dive into TV Tropes. I remember my first response being a defensive one; it’s a cool plot device, and it’s cause for plot progression and difficult backstories. What’s the problem? A lot of learning later, and I came to reckon with its problematic nature and how, sure, it’s fine here and there, but we’re well past that point and the onus of storytellers is to find better ways to make their plots happen without ‘fridging a woman.

These days it’s something I’m acutely aware of, and something I also get very annoyed by (my main takeaway from Deadpool 2 is they took an awesome female character from the first one and ‘fridged her in the first act and I’m still mad about it). This doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist prior to my knowing about it, just that it’s something I was unaware of and now have no excuse to not perpetuate it. If I kill off a female character in one of my stories for manpain, I’m a part of the problem.

Not to belabor the point, but the important thing is to be open and learn. There’s stuff that mayn’t concern you personally but are still existent in society. It can be misunderstanding “intents and purposes,” it can be a crappy narrative trope, it can be far more important issues out there that we are fortunate enough to be ignorant of. So shut up, listen, be wrong, and learn to be better. It can be a lot to deal with, but there’s a real reason for it; it’s something that’s gotta be done with intensive purpose.

Remember: Black Lives Matter. Even if you’re fortunate enough to not be affected by systemic racism, it’s something to be aware of and fight against. Please take a minute and help.

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