Labels vs. Tags

I think I've written before about how I get annoyed with people who say they hate labels.  Lines like "Labels are for soup" piss me off.  But lately I've been rethinking my position on that topic. Not that my actual philosophical stance has changed at all.  I still think it's absurd to say that people can't be described in a useful way by naming qualities they have, including sexuality, religious affiliation, nationality, fandom, etc. -- especially if you take particular note of which of those categories they choose to list, and which they choose to avoid.  (For example, Nerdfighter, bisexual, nongendered and atheist would all be high on my list.  American, though technically applicable, would not.  At all.  Anywhere.)

More to the point, I think that the disagreement stems from a fundamental semantic disagreement -- I think the word 'label' means a different thing than what these anti-labelers think it means.

The "Labels are for soup" cliché illustrates this pretty well, actually.  If you have a can of soup labeled "Tomato Soup," you expect it to contain tomato soup.  If it contains tomato soup with mushrooms, you would feel misled.

On the other hand, if for some reason you had a can of soup that employed internet-style tags, and one of those tags was "Tomato Soup," there would be nothing intrinsically misleading about the presence of that tag.  You wouldn't (I imagine) feel cheated if you bought some soup that had the Tomato Soup tag and it also contained Mushrooms.  (I mean, if you'd cared to check, you might have also found the Mushroom tag.)  But that tag also provides useful information about the soup.  If you were searching for varieties of tomato soups, that soup would appear in that search.

I think of labels, that is, the words we use to describe the categories into which people fall, as being more like tags than labels in the traditional sense.  So, in future, I intend to (try to) use the word "tags" instead of "labels."

Word choice!  It's important!