So, I’ve been contemplating my use of language, particularly those defined as ‘rude’, for a while now. I’ve been trying to stop using words whose origins are in disablist, homophobic, racist and misogynistic language. Words which are racist are, culturally and politically, more likely to be frowned upon; although the number of Scottish people I hear using “chink” and “paki” never fails to shock me. I also still visibly twitch when I hear British people say they are going out for a fag. For me, that word will always be homophobic. That is the context of the word where I grew up and I can not remove it from my personal-historical context. I also think its telling that the use of the word ‘gay’ as an insult is increasing exponentially in teenagers as it is rooted in both homophobia and misogyny. They are both part of the backlash to Feminism as well as the Gay Rights movement [notably I think the issue of gay marriage has kicked off the homophobic backlash]. The refusal to remove these words is an example of heteronormative privilege (and the I’m all right so you must just be whiny bullshit favoured by those who refuse to acknowledge that their behaviour is anything less than perfect).
It’s been much harder to remove words which are disablist and misogynist. There are obvious words like ‘retard’ and ‘spaz’ which most people, with an ounce of compassion, have already removed from their vocabulary. But, there are so many common words whose origins are rooted in disablism, particularly of people suffering with their mental health, that it’s very hard to stop using them. Words like idiot and moron are so culturally ingrained that calling people on it just provokes whinging about ‘political correctness’ (that term bandied about by rude people demanding the right to be rude regardless of the hurt it causes others). But, these are all obvious terms of insults. It’s the much more casual “are you insane” or “have you lost the plot” [which I’m ashamed to say I’ve used today] which are extremely harmful because they don’t seem to cause harm. It’s the very “innocence” of their usage which reinforces the very harmful cultural practices we should be challenging.
I’ve tried to stop using any words that fall under this rubric and replaced them with words like nincompoop [my new favourite word] and buckethead (a la SGB). But, really, once you’ve removed insults which don’t originate in homophobic bullying, or demeaning mental illness or denigrating genitalia, you are pretty much reduced to poop-based insults like a 5 year old. I love the word nincompoop but even its origins are questionable. Yes, language evolves but, sometimes vocabulary should simply be erased rather than evolved or “reclaimed”; even nincompoop.