piranha: red origami crane (Default)
[personal profile] piranha
spurred by a post from the ever-thoughtful [personal profile] coffeeandink i think it's time that i attack my own ableist language. for example, i use terms such as "lame" and "dumb" to disparage myself, and i believe i should stop. not with the disparaging, mind, but with side-swiping disabled people while i am doing it.

i'd never call a person with a disability "lame" or "crippled" to their face (or behind their back, or even just in my mind), and i thought that was good enough. i also used the justification that those terms i liked best were outdated. but i missed the fact that they still carry their history, and that people who're living with a disability are often all too aware of the history and of its remaining echoes, and how that affects their treatment today.

saying "that was a lame excuse", or calling some software "cripple-ware", or using metaphors such as "the government remains deaf and blind to the plight of native peoples" still support society's negative attitudes and often false beliefs about disability. and why in the world should disabled people be designated the go-to folks for us temporarily abled folks expressing the particular suckiness of a situation? that seems quite wrong to me. and it goes deeper than being wrong because it hurts their feelings; it's also wrong because it reduces them to this one sucky thing, and because it gives altogether a false impression of what living with a disability is like.

while it'll take some getting used to (old habits are hard to break), i don't consider it a hardship to do without those terms -- it's not like english has a shortage of colourful words if i really feel moved to insult. heck, it could be a fun challenge to come up with good ones that don't put down an already disadvantaged group.

here's my starting list of words to no longer use to disparage something or somebody: blind, crazy, cretin, crippled, deaf, dumb, idiot, imbecile, insane, lame, moron, paranoid, psycho, retarded, schizo, spaz, stupid, using something as a crutch. please call me on them if you notice a slip-up. and you might consider your own use, at least in my journal. i am not gonna police them, but i appreciate mindfulness and support for a habit change.

i don't doubt there are more words like that; feel free to share any you think are problematic, and why. i am consolidating comments on dreamwidth because i want to keep them all in one place for this.

on 2009-06-21 07:03 (UTC)
torachan: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] torachan
I find the hardest to cut out of my language is dumb, because no one else seems to realise it's problematic. While retarded and lame and gay are common in the general population, they aren't among people I hang out with, but I have never seen anyone besides myself bring up dumb. (Though it's also hard because it feels "lighter" to me than stupid, so substituting stupid doesn't always have the same feel to me. I still manage to avoid using it probably 98% of the time, though.)

I didn't even realise cretin was problematic. (Not that it's a word I've ever used to begin with.) Same with spaz. I only realised a few years ago that it came from spastic, which referred to people with cerebral palsy. The only way I'd ever heard it used was to mean airhead, so I had assumed it was a made-up word.

on 2009-06-21 08:29 (UTC)
submarine_bells: jellyfish from "Aquaria" game (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] submarine_bells
It's something I think about, and try to be aware of, although I don't always succeed. One thing I find tricky is finding good, innocuous terms that are not only descriptive but express my level of frustration/exasperation/whatever clearly. I'm still looking for useful terms, but so far the most plausible ones I've come up are the following:

- when someone does something unutterably foolish (e.g a bit of particularly dangerous driving) I'll call 'em a "peanut". Doesn't really mean anything, but it can be interpreted as referring to the size of any relevant attribute that one may wish to comment negatively on, and is nicely explosive when said with a bit of emotion behind it.

- rather than referring to an action or person as "retarded" or "insane" I'll take it a step further and wonder if they're in fact brain-dead. I suppose from one point of view it's the ultimate disability, being basically dead; but it seems to me to be less offensive than some of the alternatives. I'm not sure about that one, though, so if someone feels bothered by it, I'd welcome hearing about it.

- one I've recently picked up from re-watching West Wing - "Jackass!" is a nicely emphatic expression of annoyance, and I think fairly safe on the ableist front..?

What expressions have you come up with that work for you and avoid ableist language? If you've got anything better than anything I've come up with, I'm all ears. I'm having difficulty in particular finding viable alternatives for "stupid" type phrasings that don't sound rather a bit Mary-Poppins-y for my tastes... "well, darn! That was inconvenient. And isn't that person being uncooperative and rumbunctious?" I mean, it gets the point across, kinda, but does lack vehemence. :-7

on 2009-06-21 09:41 (UTC)
supergee: (alchemy)
Posted by [personal profile] supergee
Millions of working people voted for George Bush because they are stupid, because they think badly, and this is a bad thing. Forbidding this sort of terminology by treating it like bad words for race, orientation, or physical disability makes us all a little bit stupider.

on 2009-06-21 11:25 (UTC)
deane: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] deane
Huh. I never knew that 'cretin' was originally meant to describe someone with a deformity. I thought that it had always just meant someone lacking in moral character.

Of the words on your list, the one that stumps me most for a suitable replacement is 'paranoid'. 'suspicious' is the closest that I've come up with, but it's not good enough. Roget's is no help, either.


on 2009-06-21 22:02 (UTC)
eagle: Me at the Adobe in Yachats, Oregon (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] eagle
Hm, that's a good point. It's one that I use to encompass a set of attitudes that seem similar to, but are much weaker than, the clinical psychiatry term. I suspect this may be a place where the language is sloppy and I should try to use a term that more directly describes behavior.

Suspicious is sometimes good. Where I use the term, I'm usually referring to exaggeration of other people's criticism, pretending to be persecuted, or treating criticism as ad hominem attacks. I suspect that for me the best replacement would be to just say those things rather than rolling them into paranoid.

I think it's a great idea to stop using terms for mental illness as general insults, although I'm going to have a hard time doing that. But I think it may be worth the effort. Another benefit for me will be that it will discourage me from doing armchair psychoanalysis, which is nearly always a bad idea.

on 2009-06-21 22:47 (UTC)
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] firecat
"excessively suspicious"

"conspiracy theorist"


on 2009-06-21 12:45 (UTC)
green_knight: (Dies Nefaries)
Posted by [personal profile] green_knight
For me, 'lame' is a horse word, not a people word, and I'm unlikely to give it up - I have never used it to refer to a person, and I cannot recall it used to refer to a person, either.

'Insane' as 'outside of ordinary human behaviour' is another word I would find hard to replace. I would not and do not use it for mental illness, and my more than I use stupid for people with a low IQ. Of the list, stupid is the word I can imagine least to not use because I do not see any alternatives (at least not ones that are more insulting.)

I'm uneasy with calling _people_ stupid, because that contrasts with my use of it; but stupid ideas and actions are part of all our lives.

If this was a stupid thing to say, I apologise.

on 2009-06-21 13:50 (UTC)
zxhrue: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] zxhrue

here's my starting list of words to no longer use to disparage something or somebody

it's the disparage part that rings true to me. but also why I won't feel uncomfortable using 'lame' in a descriptive fashion e.g. (all applied to myself) 'lame back, lame knee, two lame feet but I am as as yet only partially disabled'. wish I had my OED with me. I'd like to see some usage history for some of these.

in the mean time, you may want to add 'pariah' to your list. still quite an offensive word in tamil. and by extension I'm thinking about my usages of 'out-caste' and 'untouchable'.

on 2009-06-22 07:15 (UTC)
zxhrue: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] zxhrue

hmm. I was thinking more of the non-disparaging, descriptive uses of the words. e.g. social pariah (or out-caste); pariah dog (an actual UKC category for several breeds of purebred dogs, as well as a generic term for feral dogs in south asia...but I drift, as none of these words are actually ableist.

on 2009-06-22 11:38 (UTC)
zxhrue: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] zxhrue

pleonastic FTW -- according to Carol Pozefsky who answered just this question here:


"Outcast stems from the Scandanavian word casten which first appears in a 13th century book called Ancrene Riwle . Casten meant 'throw' and was related to the Old Icelandic word 'kasta' also meaning to throw. The word 'castaway' as a noun appears before 1475 and 'outcast' simply one who is cast out (or thrown out) is first noted in 16th century English literature.

The prefix 'out' stems from the Old English word 'ut' The Middle Dutch uut, the Old High German uz and the Swedish and Norwegian ut and Danish ud. They all mean the same thing, OUT!"

I do note with interest however that it has subsumed the meaning of it's homophone (out-caste) and for that matter, that of pariah as well. it's times like these that I really miss my OED, cause again, I'd like to look at usage patterns for both outcast and pariah since it seems that the former only preceded the latter by a century in being assimilated.

on 2009-06-21 14:32 (UTC)
Posted by (Anonymous)
I like this post a lot! I do use "stupid," especially for certain counter-productive choices; I think that is more useful than it is specifically offensive to certain people, but I'll think about that. For "blind" I generally use "obtuse" or "oblivious," I think. I use "jerk" a lot--unfair to masturbaters but not in the same way, I think.

It's funny how common, short words can express emotional power, but so can rare, longer words: I'm a big fan of "egregious."

Nellorat from LJ

Re: stupid

on 2009-06-21 22:53 (UTC)
submarine_bells: jellyfish from "Aquaria" game (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] submarine_bells
Ah yes, "git" is a good one that I've gotten plenty of mileage out of. And for extra oomph, one can go with "charmless git", or even "clueless, charmless git" for the utterly irredeemable waste-of-space types. :-)

Re: stupid

on 2009-06-22 11:40 (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] redbird
How do you feel about "clueless"? To me, it doesn't necessarily mean there's something inherently wrong with the person, because ignorance, unlike many other attributes, is changeable, and is where we all start out.

on 2009-06-21 18:03 (UTC)
benedict: Well, it's a person. With a bag on their head.  Perhaps they are sad? Perhaps they're just embarassed. It is hard to say (bag onna head by wendleberry)
Posted by [personal profile] benedict
I appreciate you not using schizo anymore.

on 2009-06-21 20:05 (UTC)
Posted by [personal profile] matthewdaly
I look forward to seeing where this path leads you. I agree that our language is very rich with insults, but it seems to be like a field that is heavily mined. An insult is a device for comparing your target to something that you and your audience commonly agree to be contemptible, but how much of that common agreement also derives from the same unjust prejudice that you are attempting to confront here? In a more basic sense, if you believe that everybody deserves dignity then how does that compromise your ability to impugn the dignity of your rivals? I don't have answers to these questions at the moment, but I wonder if your quest is being more careful about your words or a more fundamental shift in your thought processes.

I would speak in defense of only one word on your list: "idiot". I couldn't easily find anything charitable to say about Henry Goddard or his works and the long-term impact they have had on our language. (And, while on that subject, "imbecile" and "feeble-minded" are the companions of "moron" and "idiot" and I suspect that you would wish them on your list.) But "idiot" had a longer history, originally meaning one whose education did not provide the ability to appreciate a well-reasoned argument more than a poorly-reasoned one. That's a powerful concept, and one that we would use every day if there were a word for it. (I am often regretfully reduced to "rabble", and perhaps you don't think much of that either. ^_^) I suppose that nothing good would come of trying to reclaim it, but it does seem like the one word that deserves to be buried in hallowed ground. Linguistic pejoration is teh suck.

Re: ixnay on ableist language

on 2009-06-22 03:25 (UTC)
Posted by [personal profile] matthewdaly
Heh. If marginalizing Bush voters were really a crime, we'd need more jails. But I'm totally in agreement. On a practical side, if one decides to write off opposition voters as beneath your outreach (either from being "insane", "stupid", or "evil"), one is only delaying the betterment of the world because that takes consensus and THAT takes dialog. Besides, I want to think that I am on the side of the ideological spectrum THAT LIKES PEOPLE! Ahem.

As always, you have my respect for doing the right things for the right reasons. May the road rise up to meet you, and may the wind be ever at your back.

Re: ixnay on ableist language

on 2009-08-06 03:13 (UTC)
softestbullet: Aeryn cupping Pilot's cheek. He has his big eyes closed. (Politics/ family)
Posted by [personal profile] softestbullet
Yes. A lot of Bush apology falls along those lines -- "He was manipulated! He did the best job he could!" See: the movie W.

on 2009-06-21 22:56 (UTC)
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] firecat
Thanks for the concise write-up of this issue. I know I use some of these words in a pretty unconscious way, and I would like to become more conscious of my choices and options in this area.

If I use those words around you and it seems I did it less than consciously, feel free to point it out.

(I am likely to continue to use crazy, especially to refer to my own mental health issues. I am likely to continue to use stupid because I tend to think of it as referring to behavior that results from lack of paying attention, not as referring to a disability. However, I welcome counterarguments on either of those choices.)

Re: stupid

on 2009-06-22 07:11 (UTC)
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] firecat
From another comment:

it will actually be more helpful to me to dig down a bit about a "stupid" action of mine and see what's underneath. was it really lacking in intelligence? which kind of intelligence? was it careless? reckless? thoughtless? lacking judgment?

This makes a great deal of sense. And I like that it's a positive reason for avoiding certain language. (I'm all for not offending people by accident or thoughtlessness, but I like positive reasons.)

I like your examples about "Bush voters." Knee-jerk dismissal of people on one side of the political spectrum by people on the other side has distressed me for quite a while now. (Some people I feel very close to and who are no fools* are Bush voters. I can't just dismiss them. However, it's really difficult to get a dialog going.)

*Hm, what do we think of that word?

Re: fools

on 2009-06-26 04:30 (UTC)
sasha_feather: Retro-style poster of skier on pluto.   (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] sasha_feather
I like "fools": it's occupational. Fools being court jesters, etc. It's a good word, with some nuance to it, and is not offensive.

on 2009-06-22 05:42 (UTC)
emily: (english)
Posted by [personal profile] emily
I remember, maybe a few years back, Tiger Woods made a comment using the word "spaz" and it blew up into a huge thing, especially in the U.K. where I think people were more aware of the word's origins. That was the first time I ever knew it was problematic; I hadn't been aware before, and had only ever heard it used to describe people acting generically ditzy and hyperactive.

I pretty much have to keep a whole mental box dedicated to those words I unthinkingly picked up in elementary school as acceptable to use - retarded, moron, etc.

on 2009-08-06 03:21 (UTC)
softestbullet: Aeryn cupping Pilot's cheek. He has his big eyes closed. (Arcade Fire/ (lies))
Posted by [personal profile] softestbullet
I picked up "f*ggot" in elementary school and assumed it was a play on "maggot" for many years. *sigh*

on 2009-06-22 11:44 (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] redbird
I don't know if this is even indirectly spun off the Wiscon panel discussion, but in that conversation, someone (maybe [personal profile] jesse_the_k?) pointed out that a crutch is a good thing: it's not the problem, it's part of a solution, or can be. Yes, the metaphor is about overreliance or laziness, but we should reclaim the concept of a crutch: it's a tool that helps people get places or do things when they otherwise might not be able to. (From a certain angle, most tools are such: if it's reasonable to use an automobile for mobility, why not a couple of shaped pieces of wood?)

Re: a crutch is a tool

on 2009-06-22 23:32 (UTC)
eagle: Me at the Adobe in Yachats, Oregon (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] eagle
It may just be that crutches are way, way older than eyeglasses or hearing aids, giving the language more time to go through semantic drift. That transformation of term (from a specific concrete object to a fuzzier metaphorical concept that's related to the use of the object) is apparently extremely common and natural in languages, and crutch is a very old word (goes back to Old English).

Re: a crutch is a tool

on 2009-06-23 01:04 (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] redbird
History of tech digression: I know what you're getting at, but eyeglasses are quite old enough to have left room for semantic drift: they've been around at least since the middle ages (possibly earlier outside Europe, but certainly by the 15th century in Europe [I'm working from memory and am fuzzy on whether it's "14th century" or "1400s"]).

The earliest microscopes used lens-making techniques borrowed from opticians. Bifocals are a couple of hundred years old.

Re: a crutch is a tool

on 2009-06-23 01:26 (UTC)
eagle: Me at the Adobe in Yachats, Oregon (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] eagle
Yeah, I mixed two things with much different time scales (history of crutches and history of the word) and realized it somewhat after I posted it. Eyeglasses are plenty old (always older than I expect, but I was sort of vaguely aware of that). For crutches, I was partly thinking of how they go back in myth at least to Oedipus and the riddle of the sphinx and have existed probably for about as long as people have. That, of course is meaningless for semantic drift in English, hence the confusingly incorrect part of my comment. But does open the possibility that English got the word complete with existing extra connotations.

I think 14th century may still be relatively recent compared to crutch as a word in English, which may date back as far as the beginnings of Old English in the 5th century given the similarities of the word to a word in Old High German. But I don't have an etymological dictionary that can date it, and glasses certainly have been around for a while as well.

Re: a crutch is a tool

on 2009-06-23 01:00 (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] redbird
Program item 38, "Rethinking Disabling Metaphor," panelists Jesse the K, Deanne Fountaine, Elise Matthesen, Sandy Olson, and Georgie Schnobrich. I posted a little about it as part of one of my Wiscon posts:

The panel on "Rethinking Disabling Metaphor," on the ways that casual use of terms like "lame" or "crazy" as all-purpose dismissals of people and ideas can both be painful to some people who hear them, and create or reinforce prejudices, was good. The moderators had to remind a few people of the focus of _this_ panel, that similar uses of, say, "that's gay," were beyond the scope of what they were trying to do in 75 minutes. But some good ideas were shared; one useful thing the moderators did was point out that you can't just tell people not to use idioms or metaphors, you need to provide and use different ones. So they collected a few from other categories: for example, that an idea is half-baked or doesn't hold water.

I think there was at least one write-up in either the LJ or the DW [community profile] wiscon community.

Re: a crutch is a tool

on 2009-06-25 06:21 (UTC)
aquaeri: My nose is being washed by my cat (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] aquaeri
In addition to redbird's comments, I read at least one, if not two review posts about this panel. I thought one of them was by [personal profile] badgerbag (who does frighteningly extensive wiscon panel writeups) but I can't find it at the moment. I'll figure out how to use the magic dreamwidth time machine so I can see my reading page the week after wiscon, because I'm pretty sure that's where and when I saw those posts. And I honestly thought that Wiscon panel and ensuing discussion around here was the reason you were onto ablist language.

I know it's also something [personal profile] sqbr concerns herself with but she didn't go to wiscon (although she might have discussed it with someone who did).

I'm floating around in the "starting to care about this issue"-o-sphere. One thing I've decided is important for me is getting rid of labelling (insulting and belittling) people, and focussing on actions and ideas. Not that that will necessarily make everything okay :-) but it's a useful mental exercise for me to try to think that way.

One of the Wiscon suggestions was "half-baked" for bad ideas and I immediately decided that when confronted with bad ideas poorly reasoned, I could say/write "that's not just half-baked, you haven't even got the right ingredients together". I don't want (anymore) to call bad ideas names that imply mental impairment, because most people I've met who had mental impairments do not (or could not) come up with the kind of spectacularly bad ideas I most want to be scathing of, and it's best to leave them well out of the argument.

One thing I wonder about the metaphorical associations of crutches vs glasses is: it's often bookish/academic bodies that use glasses. However physically decrepit, they often have high social capital from their bookish/academic tendencies.

Re: a crutch is a tool

on 2009-06-25 07:57 (UTC)
aquaeri: My nose is being washed by my cat (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] aquaeri
Yes, I think it's reasonably likely coffeeandink is following on from Wiscon. Yay for google! I think those two would be the posts I read, although I'm not sure how I got there from here (I'm not subscribed to them either) so it would have been a long hard slog for me to find them via the routes I had in mind.

All credit to Sasha for the good crutch

on 2009-06-26 02:54 (UTC)
jesse_the_k: Purple and black ring socks emerge from black leggings into green basketweave Keen mary jones (loved it all)
Posted by [personal profile] jesse_the_k
Thanks to [personal profile] submarine_bells, I've found this thread. 'Twas [personal profile] sasha_feather who came up with the "good crutch" metaphor, which I just adore!

Words can't express my glee at seeing this topic discussed in so many places, though that doesn't stop me from trying.


piranha: red origami crane (Default)
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