Hey everybody! How are you fine people doing today?
I want to take a momentary break from reviewing and bookish shenanigans to talk about words. Specifically commonly used words that are also slurs.
Trigger warning: I’m talking about slurs so assume this post will be full of words you may find offensive. I’m using them in a way I hope is constructive, educational and will ultimately make us all (slightly) better people. However, if you can’t handle that, you may want to click out of this window and go look up kitten videos or whatever floats your boat. You have been warned.
The intention of this post is not to rehash and complain about known problem words (I mean, we all know that if you call someone retarded/faggot/cunt you’re probably going to cause a problem, right?) Same goes for profanity. I understand that some people find it offensive, but being crass is not the same as being hurtful. Also, have you been to this blog before? I don’t want to speak for my co-bloggers but, while I do try and keep my language mostly clean on the public interwebz, fuck and co are words I hold near and dear to my heart and no amount of telling me swearing is classless and unladylike (barf) will convince me to give it up. /sidebar rant.
I would also like to point out that this post is coming from a fairly American-centric position because, hey! I’m American. I have been informed that depending on what language you speak, there can be different connotations to words, for example different words for crazy can be directly referential to mental illness, but also sometimes not. I can’t give you my opinion on this because, despite my best efforts, my brain appears incapable of learning non-English, but I figured it was worth throwing that out there.
ANYWAY. I’m talking about the insidious little words that lurk in many of our vocabularies simply because maybe we’ve never considered how they could be offensive. I’m talking about the crazies, the insanes, the lames, the dumbs, the blind and deafs, the cocksuckers, the buttmunchs, the twats etc. I’m intentionally sidestepping racial ones because that is an entire post in its own right and it’s one I feel I’m no way qualified to handle.
Before we go any further, let me make it clear that I am not coming from a place of enlightened lecturism. Those words I mentioned? I’ve used them (if you go back through my previous reviews I’m sure you’ll find some of them). Hell, I still say crazy and stupid and idiot because they’re so deeply ingrained in my vocabulary it’ll take awhile to completely excise them. Up until about two years ago, the term ‘ableist’ wasn’t on my radar because I have been fortunate enough to not have to deal with these kinds of issues myself or in my family. What I’m trying to say is I am admittedly ignorant but I want to learn and I’m asking you to teach me.
Now, maybe this is incredibly presumptuous of me, but it seems fairly unlikely that I’m alone in this. It also seems like it’s one of those things that people don’t like to admit ignorance about and let me stress that I completely get this. It also seems like it’s something that people have the attitude that ‘you should know better’ which is both not necessarily true and also shames people into keeping their mouths shut therefore bypassing an opportunity to learn a thing. I think that we can all benefit from an open and educational discussion and hey, maybe we’ll grow a little as people.
For any of you that don’t know, a pejorative slur is a word or grammatical form of expression that expresses contempt, criticism, hostility, disregard and/or disrespect. This is the point at which I planned to list a number of common ones but it turns out the internet has done my homework for me and I also don’t want this post to have a five digit word count. This site has a really great post on ableist slurs and benign alternatives and Wikipedia has helpfully collected lists of LGBT slang terms and ethnic/religious/regional slurs. Obligatory disclaimer about them not being comprehensive, but you have to start somewhere.
It should be mentioned that many words have dual meanings (as Wikipedia points out, the term ‘hacker’ is both a term for computer criminals and people who are good with computers) and it can also be argued that the meaning of words can grow and evolve through common usage (seriously, what does ‘literally’ even mean anymore?). What it comes down to is it’s up to you what you should or shouldn’t say. I’m not the boss of you, do what you want.
However, I am a huge believer in making informed decisions and I think it’s important to at least know what you’re doing so you can figure out where your lines are. Personally, if I’m going to piss someone off, I want it to be intentional, like me saying ‘you’re an asshole and I want to smash your face in’ not unintentional like saying ‘ohemgee that shit was craaaazy’ without realizing that by describing a wild night as crazy, I am diminishing the importance for people with real mental issues.
A common argument that comes up is ‘well, x has come to mean y and if I can’t say x, then what am I supposed to say when I mean y?’ I understand this thinking, I’ve been there, but I also think it can be kind of lazy, especially among the bookish/writing community. We’re creative word people, we can’t come up with something better? What if next time you find yourself thinking ‘but I just don’t know what else to say’ try asking yourself what it is exactly you’re describing and use that word instead? Instead of using bipolar as a catchall term for being moody and/or indecisive, maybe try saying moody and/or indecisive. Want to call someone a moron? Try twit or, if you’re feeling more colorful, an inane fuckhead or douchecanoe. (I suppose I could say something about considering whether or not you actually need to insult another individual but let’s be real, sometimes people piss you off and you want to express that). The point is, there’s an entire universe of words out there and that only includes the ones that have already been invented.
Honestly, it’s a can of worms. Once you start thinking about it, you (and by you I mean me, but roll with it) start to question so many phrases that seem innocuous and it’s a little mind-boggling how many of them have shitty origins. But hey, I like a challenge. I’m not saying I will never say anything offensive again because that’s ridiculously unlikely. I’m sure there are loads of words I haven’t even begun to consider the problematicness of, but the point is, I’m going to try. How you feel is up to you. I’m sidestepping the ‘is everything a bad word/are we getting too PC’ debate because I constantly flipflop on how I feel about that and it’s not really my call on whether or not people should or shouldn’t be offended by certain words. The reality is they are and all we can do is decide how we’re going to react to that.
So now I open the floor to you, gentle reader. What do you think? What are some words that bug you and why? What are your alternatives? What did you eat for lunch yesterday? (I don’t know, just say something so I don’t feel like an asshole shouting into the void).