I would first encourage the dear reader to take a quick peek at the Ableist Word Profile at FWD/Forward: it is relevant.
This post will be discussing harmful language & trigger warnings apply accordingly.
In my experience, I find that English-as-first-language (EFL) speakers do not think about their language as much as English-as-second-language (ESL) speakers. The latter have to constantly think about what they are saying and how they are expressing it, so they can best get their point across. And it is perhaps this that leads to the great difference in reaction when talking about words & the spaces in which these words are employed & expressed.
Language evolves. That fact is undeniable. Language is a manifestation of social attitudes, & used to justify societal norms.
What I would like to point out is that language co-opts existing words & gives them new connotations, rather than inventing new words.
Let’s use a perfectly harmless example: singular they.
When we consider that ‘agnostic he’ as a universal marker of human beings erases women, we need to propose a new word that has the same denotation, but without the connotation. & as per my assertion, we find that language co-opts a plural pronoun ‘they’ rather than employ a gender neutral singular such as ‘ou’ or ‘ze’.
So it’s not such a stretch to understand that words that are used to harm & marginalise can be co-opted to have new connotations.
This is the important bit: their denotation does not change.
Let’s use this example: crazy.
How many times have you heard it? That’s crazy. I drove like crazy today! That’s a crazy scheme. I’m crazy for chocolate.
When you say ‘that’s so crazy/insane/lame/retarded’, & your connotation is negative, your enthymeme is: people with disabilities (visible or invisible) are undesirable. Unpleasant. Thoughtless. Reckless. Absurd. Terrifying. Silly. Preposterous. Irresponsible. Unthinkable. Unbalanced. Outrageous. Inappropriate. Scary.
When you say ‘that’s so gay’, & your connotation is negative (as it so often is) your enthymeme is: homosexuals or any ‘unmasculine’ behaviour is undesirable. It’s not edgy; you’re only reinforcing heterosexist norms.
When you say ‘moron/idiot/halfwit/stupid/schizo/psycho’, again with negative connotation, your enthymeme is: certain types of intelligence (i.e. neurotypicality) are better. Neurodivergence and/or invisible disabilities are lack of intelligence or foresight. They should learn at the same speed you do, react the same way you do, adapt to the same tests you do, and communicate the way you demand them to. Or else.
When you say ‘you’re so OCD/multiple personalities (MP)’ & add a ‘knowing’ chuckle (this connotation is slightly different): you are asserting that OCD and/or MP are ‘cute’, ‘cool’ — they are Other, for you to gawk at & dehumanise. There is no way to communicate the psychological effects of either of these, so it is simplified & repackaged into something acceptable, or desirable. & you are laughing at it when it’s not funny (at least for OCD, I cannot speak for MP).
When these words are used by an able-bodied person, a person in control of all their thoughts & actions, they become weapons of sociocultural attitudes. & I think anyone watching the coverage of the Giffords shooting would have realised from the vitriol & unnecessary scrutiny given to the shooter’s state of mental health. & Wednesday’s post should give you an idea of what societies in general think of people like us.
I mentioned EFL speakers vs. ESL speakers at the beginning of this post. Let me come back to this: the only negative reactions to the recontextualisation of language I have had is from EFL speakers. ‘We didn’t mean it that way’, they insist. ‘You’re being too PC.’
Your enthymemes is either: everyone does it so it’s ok, or that words don’t matter, or that intent is fucking magic.
Can you see that this logic fails on both empirical & normative grounds? I am disheartened by the fact that people do not wish to confront the little things, or when they do, it’s a demand of cookies from either Weds or me, that they’re not using harmful words isn’t that awesome? These spaces are important to us, considering people like me have to deal with people demanding our movements be restricted, our personal details monitored, & that we should be locked up. Where I grew up, I could not even get a diagnosis (& accordingly, medicine), fuck, I couldn’t even see a therapist because it would mean jobs were automatically closed to me.
So it’s a relief once in a while if you said driving recklessly instead of driving like crazy. Though I guess that’s just an insane idea, eh?