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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.