Image: Woman cleaning a keyboard. (via shutterstock, all rights reserved)
I have lately realized I have a problem: I have some bad language habits. I use ableist language.
Ableist language is language that stigmatizes people with disabilities. They are lazy words that lean on some old, bad tropes to get the job done. I am determined to break these bad habits. One way of doing that is to make a list of words I’m going to quit using and commit to it publicly. I am capable of finding better words.
These are lazy words that lean on some old, bad tropes to get the job done:
Crazy – The problem with “crazy” is that it uses people with mental illness as a metaphor for something that I don’t like, disapprove of, or – occasionally – that I like. Either way, there are better choices.
Insane – Another one of those metaphors-gone-wrong.
Lame – “Lame” always means something bad or insufficient. People with mobility disabilities are neither.
Cretin – Oh, I used to love this word! Then I found out that it was a really ugly slur about people with mental disabilities. Oops.
Idiot / Idiotic – Another one I have used a lot, and I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I know better.
Blind – as in “That politician is blind to the truth.” – Yep, a metaphor. But it backfires and makes something bad out of literal blindness. I can do better.
Dumb – Originally it meant “unable to speak” but quickly came to mean “not very intelligent.” Now using this word is just… unoriginal. (See, I can learn.)
What ableist language do you use? If you are brave and want to do an inventory, take a look at this post from Autistic Hoya. Or you can ask yourself – does a word I use refer to a disability? Can I think of another word that will convey my meaning without using an innocent person’s life for a negative metaphor?
If you think this is all “politically correct nonsense,” imagine for a moment that some fact about you – say, the color of your eyes – has suddenly come into common use as a slur:
- That idea is positively blue-eyed!
- Ugh, she’s such a straight-hair!
- Oy! If I have to listen to one more quote from that freckled commentator!
- What’s the matter with you? Have you suddenly become brunette?
Jewish tradition teaches us that words are powerful. They create realities.
Let’s create some better realities – according to Genesis, it may be as simple as watching our words.
6 thoughts on “Cleaning Up My Keyboard”
Oh, you can bet I’m going to repost this! Thank you, Rabbi Adar!
Ha!!! I knew you’d be on it like a duck on a June bug! I hope you will also call me out when I mess up.
Now we need to come up with substitute words that carry the same punch but don’t imply prejudice. For example, when my boys were kids they would insult each other by calling the other a booby (which is pretty innocent itself), but my much younger daughter misheard it and started using “bee-bo” instead. It stuck. To this day, we use beebo for lots of things.
The article I linked to had some good suggestions. I’m challenging myself to think about exactly what I mean. Better to say that I think so-and-so is a fraud than to call him —–, because then I am including my reason.
Gimp – been using it too long to remember. Now that you made me look up the word it generally means “a person who limps or is lame”. It’s also the name of a very popular photo software program. Several of the words you listed are also in my vocabulary. Good topic Rabbi Adar. Shalom