September 1st, 2021
Let’s talk about words. Specifically, the kind we use to describe people or things we think are dumb or just plain weird.
You know the words.
We were talking yesterday about a situation that’s all too familar: what do you do when somebody says something that’s uncomfortable for you without seeming like an uncool jerk yourself?
For example: when someone refers to a person who is odd in any way as “special ed” or “someone who rides the short bus” or “retarded.”
Usually, what I do is ask: “What do you mean by that?”
What happens next is always very telling.
Do I think anyone who uses phrases like that is an awful, disrespectful human being who needs to be cancelled immediately? Of course not.
But do I think they’re lazy? Undeniably.
Because when someone tries to explain what they meant by what they said, they’ll often say something like, “Oh, I meant they’re stupid.”
And when you ask why they didn’t just use the word “stupid,” they’ll either not be sure, or tell you they’ve just always used that word, since they were young, that it doesn’t mean the same thing to them.
Regardless of the fact that even the least educated adult has a good idea of what words hurt other people.
Because when it comes to using words in a society, it does not matter what a word means to you individually. It matters more what it means to the society as a whole.
That’s the root of all language and communication, if we’re being honest.
And I’ve been that person. I’ve made racist jokes, ablest jokes, sexist jokes, using subjective society and how I saw words reflected in pop culture as a barometer for what was acceptable, generally unaware of the harm I had caused or could cause, but very aware of the humor people attempted to wring from them.
Having deaf parents and an autistic child has definitely made me more aware, but no less guilty.
So the point I’m trying to make is the question that I try to ask, and I hope maybe you’ll remember it the next time you use a word or a phrase that means nothing to you, but could be the most hurtful thing something else could hear.
What are you trying to say?
Just say that.