“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
The older I get, the more I realize how wrong that childhood axiom really is. Words have power. Throughout history, the right words, spoken by the right person, have been used for good and for evil. They’ve given hope to the hopeless, and they’ve been used to convince entire nations to do unspeakably nefarious things. Words convey our most powerful emotions: love, hate, anger, joy.
We need to talk about words, specifically, ableist words. One all-too-common practice of headline writing and casual speaking is flippantly using ableist vocabulary, which may cause some people real emotional harm. I’d like to see a shift away from this type of language, which I’ll get to in a moment. Obviously, you’re the only one who can determine what words you want to use in conversation or in writing, so I’ll preemptively say, no, I am not advocating censorship (beat you to it, comments section), but rather, just some thought into future word choice.
Ableist language is any word or phrase that intentionally or inadvertently targets an individual with a disability.For the most part, these words are filler, nothing more. Examples of ableist language include “crazy,” “insane,” “lame,” “dumb,” “retarded,” “blind,” “deaf,” “idiot,” “imbecile,” “invalid (noun),” “maniac,” “nuts,” “psycho,” “spaz.”
Each of these words, when used flippantly, can be extremely insulting to individuals who find themselves with physical (“lame,” “invalid,” “dumb”) or mental (“crazy,” “retarded,” “psycho”) disabilities. A full explanation of why these words are so problematic, along with alternatives that can be used can be found over at Autistic Hoya.
I was reading through the latest issue of Cosmopolitan (don’t judge me). On the cover in big, bold letters were the words “Crazy Hot Sex: Be the Best He’s Ever Had” (Can’t say that particular story would be of much use to me, anyway, but I digress). A friend of mine pointed out that use of the term “crazy,” was ableist. She was absolutely right. We’ve become so desensitized to this type of language that we don’t even notice it when it’s right in front of us.
Just looking through recent posts here on Thought Catalog, you can see just how pervasive this language really is. Below are 15 examples of articles (by some amazing authors) that use ableist language in the headline. I understand why these terms are used: they draw in readers through mild hyperbole.
How To Tell You’re Becoming The Lame Friend
Quit Your Lame Job And Get A Life
Employer Responds To Woman Quitting Her Job Through Video With A Lame Ass Parody Of The Original
Stop Sending Me Lame Texts
60 People On ‘The Best Lame Joke They Know’
The 9 Most Insane Moments Of The Golden Globes
He Drank His Own Pee And 34 Other Insane JD Salinger Facts
11 Totally Insane Scientific Theories People Used To Believe Were True
8 Crazy Things Every 20-Something Is Guilty Of
Here’s 10 Videos Of The Crazy Things That Happen On The New York City Subway
11 Crazy Things You Won’t Believe Used To Be Legal
25 Crazy News Headlines That Will Make You Laugh Yourself Silly
Stop Sleeping With Dumb Dudes — Here’s How To Stop Them
The 25 Dumbest Clients Ever, In The History Of The World
Teens Aren’t Over-Sexed and Over-Digitized, They’re Young And Dumb
Maybe you’ll call me overly PC, and that’s fine. When it comes down to it, though, if there’s a less harmful way of saying something, I try to err on that side of things. If you disagree with someone, rather than calling them “crazy,” try one of the following: illogical, irrational misleading, lying, not thinking, incapable of critical thinking, an asshat, a dipshit, irrelevant, rationalizing.
Not only will your writing be more descriptive (unless you chose “asshat” or “dipshit” from the above list, in which case, maybe it’s not all that much more descriptive), but you’ll avoid the collateral damage of offending innocent people. All this, though, is entirely up to you. I am not out to language police anyone, nor do I believe any of these words should be censored. Every once in a while, though, it’s good to take a look at one’s actions and choices.