Tomato, Tomato (What's in a Name, Pt IV)

We live in an ever-changing, evolving world of social interaction. Politics, art, literature, media, and a myriad of other spheres of influence shape our culture, and in this hyper-speed age of connectedness, this evolution happens at a faster pace than ever before in the history of humanity. This being so, the words we use when we communicate change as well. They always have. They always will.

Take for example the use of the word “myriad” above. In saying “a myriad of other spheres of influence”, we meant “a whole lot” or “countless”, but prior to the 15th Century CE, it meant—specifically—a thousand of a thing, so a “myriad of horses” meant a thousand horses. This change of meaning was accidental, and simply happened over time as a culture decided subconsciously “Wow. A thousand is a whole lot, and nearly uncountable, so when we intend to reinforce the idea of bigly-hugeness, we might as well just say myriad because that's a whole lot, and nobody's going to count anyway!”

Other words change as a result of a conscious shift by society. Words fall out of favor, and are replaced by others that better convey meaning, are less weighed down by stereotypes, or are more neutral in meaning or intent. No one refers to those of Germanic decent as “Huns” anymore, nor do most people of good conscience say “I was gypped!” when they were swindled or cheated on a deal by “an Indian-giver”, because these informal terms all have a great deal of ugly, racist baggage towards the Roma and Indigenous American cultures (respectively) dragging behind them.

At times, entirely new words (neologisms) are invented that encapsulate a specific concept that may have recently come into public consciousness, but had up to that point no word to precisely describe it. A good example of this type of word is “grok”. Created by science fiction author Robert Heinlein in his 1961 book Stranger in a Strange Land, and embraced most notably by the computing and programming cultures of the late 20th and early 21st Century, “grok” is defined as “understand (something) intuitively or by empathy.” In short, it means to so deeply understand a thing consciously, subconsciously, and unconsciously that one simultaneously experiences all aspects of that thing in its fullest, deepest ways. So, to “grok” something implies a both a sympathetic and empathetic connection to the thing in question, not merely an intellectual understanding.

The words we choose to use can and do shape the public discourse on a topic as well, often correcting misunderstandings or misrepresentations (intended or unintended) of the past. Reaching back to the term “Indian” above, this term is now considered less culturally appropriate as “Native American”, “indigenous”, or “First Nation” when referring to the non-European native inhabitants of North America (the USA and Canada). Using these terms shows a respect for these peoples and their history that had long been missing from the cultural dialogue, and this change in terminology has helped advance (in an arguably very small way) the cause of indigenous peoples in public consciousness.

Further, the insistence of using old, outdated, and antiquated terms—either through ignorance or spite—often causes insult to the group in question, or damages the forward progress of a cultural reexamination of a concept. For example, at one point in time in the recent past, the term “retarded” was commonly used in clinical psychology in reference to those living with certain cognitive differences or impairments. Over time, the stigma that resulted through the use of this term (both as an insult in its wider public use, as well as a greater appreciation of its less-than-concise ability to encapsulate the actual clinical phenomena in question) made it fall rather far out of favor. Yet for a certain segment of mean-spirited people, their insistence on continuing its use to describe either people, actions, or results by saying “It's just a WORD!”, “We've always used it before!” or “I didn't mean it like that!” (while obviously meaning it “like that”) shows their use is pejorative at a minimum, and more often than not, fully intentional in causing discomfort and stigma with its use.

So where does that leave us with the terms “cannabis”, “hemp”, and “marijuana”?

As a culture and society, we've come a long way with regards to this plant, and its legitimate use and re-inclusion into public life. It's been a long fight, and quite frankly, the fight's not over. There is still significant stigma attached to this plant, and we still have a way to go in deprogramming decades of propaganda and misinformation. To do so, those of us who consider our position to be as advocates for the factual representation of this plant and its utility—be it for personal health and wellness, ecology, nutrition, agriculture, or industry—should feel it incumbent upon ourselves to help shape the public image of cannabis-hemp by using the most fair and relevant terms, while avoiding (and at times, calling people out for) the use of terminology that has stigmatized the plant and the people who use it.

  • The term “cannabis” can and should be used when referring to any sub-species of the botanical genus cannabis. As a catch-all for both psychotropic and non-psychotropic types, this is most accurate, but does lean towards a regular description if the former. All hemp is cannabis, but not all cannabis is hemp.
  • The term “hemp” can and should be used when referring to any varietal of cannabis grown for industrial, fiber, or seed use, or in the case of flowering plants, those whose THC content is less than .3% and is grown, harvested, and processed primarily for its CBD content.
  • The term “marijuana” is laden with both negative prohibition-era stigma as well as racist undertones that should relegate the word to the dustbin of history. However, having been culturally relevant throughout the fight to end prohibition, it remains a touchstone in music, movies, and literature that shouldn't simply be tossed out with the bathwater. But its allowance there should not be a point of support for its continued use in discussions today. Conscientious advocates today that are helping to destigmatize CBD and hemp's use and inclusion in modern life tend to avoid its use in public conversation in favor of cannabis and/or hemp in order to both help denote legitimate distinctions between the plants, as well as a needed shift cultural attitude. One could argue that repeated or continued use of this outdated term signals that one does not see the distinction valid, relevant, or possibly both.

And so this is where we ask you, dear reader, to help keep that change in attitude alive and moving forward. No one here at Cool Beans Distillate would insist anyone use a word over another unless it was factually inaccurate. But having said that—and with all the information provide to you in this series of blog posts—we ask that you help move the public discourse on cannabis-hemp forward by making word choices informed by knowledge, facts, history, and a cultural sensitivity that de-stigmatizes this amazing natural resource, and strips away the cultural baggage of years of propaganda.

Words have power. By now, we hope you truly grok that. You have the ability to help shape this conversation, so please, choose wisely.

And as always, stay cool...