Replacing ableist and mental health exclusive language (crazy, insane, whack, ...)
Vernacular mental health terms are used in everyday language as a nonspecific indicator of extreme value judgement or deviation from an expectation or norm. Examples of words include 'crazy', 'cray', 'insane', 'whack', 'mental', and 'retarded'. I think we can criticise the language on numerous grounds:
- It normalises poor mental health as something extreme or atypical
- Where the language is used to connote a negative value judgement (example 3) it reinforces the association that "poor mental health" = "bad"
- It can be triggering to people with mental health issues because of the way they are or their condition is perceived or because of experiences they have had
- It can be imprecise, in the sense that there are often more contextually appropriate words to describe the specific quality being discussed
- "This new track from Lone is insane!" -- positive use cf. 'extremely good'
- "I can't believe Tesla bought all that BTC, that's insane!" -- neutral use, no value or ethical judgement, observing deviation from typical or expected behaviour cf. 'unexpected'
- "Trump is fucking insane" -- negative use cf. 'extremely bad'
- 'wild' -- I use this particularly for positive and neutral connotations
- 'ridiculous' -- for the negative connotation
- Something more specific to the context, e.g. "Trump is fucking evil", or "This new track is banging", or "I had a hectic morning" instead of "I had a crazy morning"
- Why has 'retarded' faced so much backlash and fallen out of acceptable usage, but other terms like 'crazy' have not?
- Are the criticisms valid and do they apply to all of the examples? Are there more grounds to criticise this language on that I have not listed?
- Are there other ways the language is used which is not covered in the examples?
- What alternatives do you use?
- Is use of crazy/insane/mental/... common in non-English languages? If not, what is used instead?
Thanks for your input! 🙏
Probably because people who used to be called retards were often very visibly mentally challenged, which made them an easy target and in turn, easy to defend. Other mental illnesses tend to be more invisible. Also the other terms are not as specific as retardation.
In my opinion, no. I'll try taking it one by one.
I don't think it normalizes it, I think it is simply a reflection of the fact. Words like crazy, retarded, etc. are used to describe situations, things, people that seem atypical/extreme to the observer. If everyone were mentally ill, it wouldn't be used. I don't know if that's a good thing, but I don't want to live in a word were mental illness is the norm.
But poor mental health is bad. It means that you as a person are in a bad spot and need to either get yourself out of a hole or get help professionally. It shouldn't be celebrated or normalized.
I agree here. But I don't think we should extend this to general words like crazy or mental.
Spoken language is often imprecise and relies a lot on the context of the situation. I wouldn't hold precision as paramount as long as everyone understands what's being said. Your own alternative example:
I'd argue isn't very precise, but everyone understands the meaning of it because of the context.
I also have to wonder, when topics like these come up, where it ends? An alternative like wild could be construed as an insult to indigenous people living in jungles and forests, i.e. societies that by our standard could be described as wild, even though they may or may not have a structure and simply have maintained this lifestyle for whatever reason. At least one group has been contacted before and prefers to go at it alone. I'm sure they don't care that we use the term wild. And it's the same here. Do "crazy" people even give a fuck we call things crazy? It reminds me of the whole latinx discussion, where (a few) Americans are trying to force a change onto a language ill-fitted for it, and the people actually using that language have overwhelmingly elected not to use it. So again, where does it end?
As for me personally, I don't use alternatives. I've used the word retarded in the past, though I only take care to call people that when they are obviously not mentally challenged, and use it as a form of supercharged stupid. I've also been called retarded by friends, though I'm not on the spectrum of anything. Words only hold as much power as you give to them, and if you don't give them any, you gain the magical ability to not care. That's why only the people close to you can legitimately hurt you with insults, because they know what to attack. I don't give a fuck if you call me stupid or retarded, because I know that I'm at the very least of average intelligence and not mentally challenged.
I think this increasing sanitization of language leads nowhere, and I like my languages colourful. Swears can be used to enhance meaning, making language funnier or more interesting. Kindness has it's place, but so does banter, though respectful friends should accept that the latter is not for everyone.
I get where you’re coming from here and used to believe a version of this myself, but I now actually believe this to be a comforting fiction people use, especially online, to escape accountability for language. I only ever see it applied in cases like this, where it is used to excuse potentially harmful language, but I never see it used elsewhere, as it might be logically applied.
Let me explain what I mean: I don’t believe that you wrote what you wrote out of a belief that words only have the power that their audience gives them. I believe that what you wrote comes from a place of conviction and is an attempt to convey values and argument backed by your own experiences and sentiments, all of which fail the test of being solely substantiated by their audience.
What you’ve shared here means something independent of its audience. It probably meant something to you to write it, and it probably means something to the many people that will read it as well. To push for a completely one-sided paradigm denies this, and I actually believe it contributes to the very thing you decry in your post: the erosion of language. Furthermore, I feel it does so in a way that’s far more deleterious than sanitized language.
If words are only given power by their audience, then it becomes both trivial and correct to shoot down your entire post in bad faith. All I have to do is ascribe any power to your words that I want, and respond to that in kind. For example, if I simply responded “lol, this guy hates disabled people” you would probably rightly feel that your thoughtful, effort-filled words had been unfairly and summarily dismissed. You would probably feel I had mischaracterized both you and your argument. But in conceding all the power to me, you’ve effectively given me license to do so, and left no recourse for yourself. You would, of course, be free to ignore my words, but that’s sort of the point: this way of thinking puts your thoughtful words on the same level as a malicious troll. It gives ground to the worst actors and erodes the standing of those who go through the time and effort to imbue their words with meaning.
For the record, I don’t actually believe you hate disabled people, nor do I believe that such a snipe is valuable discourse in the slightest. I actually think that kind of thing is terrible, and I hate it, and I’m someone who believes that words should carry more cultural weight than they currently do. I say all of this to point out, however, that if words’ only power exists in the domain of the audience then the paradigm you’re arguing for undercuts your own advocacy and self-expression, to say nothing of that of others, in a pretty chilling way.
IMO there's a case to be made on both sides of the equation. I've been on the receiving end of harrassment (and gave support to a lot of people in such situations) and it's a reach to comfort yourself with "words are meaningless unless you give them meaning" when you're receiving tens, hundreds or even more threats/insults a day.
But then again, that's not the words themselves that affect you in those cases. It's the knowledge that so many people out there have such strong negative feelings towards you, especially if they don't even know you. There's no meaningful difference between "fuck you r*** i hate you" and "I would kindly like you to enjoy the consequences of a variety of deadly diseases". If anything the latter's worse.
Standalone they don't have much power, you get desensitized very quickly, it's the pile-up that gets ya.
However, when it comes to the words themselves, they really only mean what we collectively decide they mean. So when a bored teenager decides that a particular word is bad/offensive to them and wants it removed from somewhere, giving that a lot of weight just rolls right into the "Where does it stop?" that @Grzmot mentioned. I can plain and simply decide, for example, that the word "ignore" triggers me because I used to get ignored a lot in primary school, and tell you you should use "disregard" instead. I could even build a convincing case of it. But the word "ignore" is not, collectively, a word that carries negative/offensive meaning and if you decided that I'm right, you'd be adding such a meaning on to it.
Real story: Because of a very bad experience with an ex (that culminated in an attempted suicide), her nickname used to trigger me quite a bit. Her nickname was a common, cutesy-flowery English word and at some point my best friend told me "get the fuck over it, you can't be stuck on this and just ignoring anything to do with that word, it's stupidly childish" and he was 100% right.
So this is where personal responsibility comes in. What I needed was a slap in the face to remind me to ground myself in reality. The last thing I would have truthfully needed there was extreme empathy and my friend being a yes-man telling me "you're right, we should find a way to cut that word from your vocabulary".
And just because it potentially affects a group of people doesn't make it any more valid. There's only a real case to be made when the intent behind the words start to be negative lyself, or evolves to be used negatively (as "negro" did over time for example). "Retard" has been used almost exclusively as an insult the past decades, so it makes sense that it's recognized as negative. But right now, people trying to cut things such as "black", "insane", or "master" from a language which overwhelmingly doesn't use them negatively are, in my opinion, crazy. ;)
I think there are definitely people who take the concept of inclusive language way too far, and I absolutely have my qualms with them. Individual circumstances should not always be accommodated and hardship is often a precursor to resilience.
I think where we diverge is where you talk about groups, because part of the ideal of inclusive language is recognizing harm done to groups of people specifically and attempting to minimize it. Your situation with your ex (which sounds awful by the way, I'm so sorry that you and she had to go through that) is individual to you and can't be extrapolated to a larger population, but if we consider for a moment that it could, wouldn't it make sense to consider how a simple tweak might make things easier for a large number of people?
Even if you disagree with that though, we can also consider how your experience with your friend snapping you out of it is not necessarily generalizable. We don't know that everyone will have the same response. For many people, such a response might have made things worse. And even if we definitively determine that the one correct outcome is snapping out of it, what do we do if not everyone can get there immediately, and some need more time than others? There are so many reasons to consider why harm minimization is worthwhile, even if it is an over-accommodation.
I also think an important point of this, which you talk about, is the underlying societal prejudice. I actually think part of the reason people get so hyper-focused on inclusive language is because of widespread inequality and discrimination. If we had better outcomes for people, the need for inclusive language wouldn't be as prominent because violations of it wouldn't be felt as a further twisting of the knife that's already in and spinning. I also think part of the reason people are hyper-focused on it is because they've lost faith that society will do the right thing (this is especially true in America, which still refuses to leave the ground floor of racism and prefers to throw petulant tantrums in the lobby rather than trying to ascend to anything that even begins to look like justice). As such, in the absence of meaningful political reforms, language is something that everyday people can control, so that's a lever that they're choosing to pull.
Since you're mentioning America, i do want to raise the issue that a lot of the language changes being pushed for by americans are very specific to US situations and yet have rippling effects throughout the anglosphere and even in non-english countries.
The fact for a lot of non-americans like myself is that we have to put up with our culture being dictated by what happens in the US a lot of the time and there's a lot of frustrations stemming from that. And the most blatant example of that is being asked to say "african-american", when, no, the person in question is most definitely not american.
And yeah I gotta say, I've been extremely frustrated by that in the past. Well-meaning americans worrying about cultural appropriation, who end up telling non-americans to change the way they speak.
This absolutely jumps between languages btw. The most shocking instance I can recall is being asked, by a french native, not to say "oriental" in French because it's insulting. And he was just
.. wrong. In french it translates as "eastern", and can be used of most areas that have an east/west divide although usually refers to asia. Usually you would refer to for example "musique orientale" rather than "musique asiatique" if you were talking about music from Asia.
So this is an example of English language usage permeating to French for no reason other than "this is how Americans do it". And as someone who speaks more english than my native tongue I'm guilty of doing that: i use english colloquialisms all the time, even catch myself saying "Poland" instead of "Pologne" or "Canette" instead of "conserve" (we have two distinct words for a can as in a can of beans/tuna and a can for drinks). But then I don't call out people who speak better French than me :)
Anyway yeah I hope this gives some context to my frustrations with american political correctness. The way I've experienced it is almost entirely through its own cultural appropriation.
That’s entirely valid, and I have no doubt that I’ve probably contributed to that effect, and I’m sorry. We Americans have this distortion field where we feel like we’re the world’s center of gravity. I try to be aware of it myself but it’s definitely still a blind spot for me. If you (or anyone else reading this) ever feel that I’m being insufferably or overbearingly American and am steamrolling your culture, please let me know. I genuinely want to know when I’m guilty of that.
Also, for what it’s worth, “African-American” is contested over here too. It’s still in common usage and is relatively “safe” as a term, but I’ve seen all sorts of valid pushback on it for a variety of different reasons. “Black” is starting to be more widely used and is likely poised to take its place as the common cultural identifier sometime in the near future.
Eh don't sweat it. I usually do call people out on it so if you haven't heard me say it, you haven't done it (or at least to me).
Interesting about "black" being more accepted. We had something similar a couple decades ago with the term "gay" in french, where it drifted more towards an insult and "homo" was the more correct thing to say. Now it's the other way around and the latter is insulting (that is, the abbreviation is insulting, the full term homosexuel is fine ish but you don't hear people using it).
So these are good examples why I feel it's important not to blindly accept when someone says "this word offends me" but rather, weigh the evidence. To summarize:
For groups, you may well be appropriating the voice of someone who doesn't want you to speak for them. This goes whether or not you're part of that group. Example: I find the classic french stereotypes (baguette and accordion) lame and offensive. If I encounter one, I don't say "this is offensive to French people", i just say "I personally find this lame and other french people might too".
For solitary situations, personal responsibility comes into play if it's a word that affects you for personal reason. In my situation, I never explicitly asked people to stop using the word, but I also went out of my way to avoid it. What if I had asked people to stop using it though? Would i have stopped at that word? Her named triggered me just as much -- and it's a pretty common name! What happens if I meet someone with the same name as her?
For insults, the intent to hurt is usually clear. And I feel like "please don't use that word, it's insulting" is a WAY better response than "please don't use that word, it's offensive". It certainly frames things a lot better.
It's interesting to also think about how "that's gay" used to be derogatory (and still is to some extent) and used in a similar way to "that's retarded", and yet the former has been reclaimed while the latter term hasn't. If you think about it, it is because of appropriation, as there are very few people who can identify with that term and are able to have their own voice on the internet. So while the gay community has reclaimed its own identifier, and the black community has as well to some extent, what do you call someone who doesn't have the vocabulary to tell you what they wish to be called? Best you can do is not insult them.
To the more general terms: insane, crazy, silly, etc; I would certainly fall into that group at points in my life. My entire maternal side has schizophrenic tendencies, I've had that to deal with before. My paternal side puts me at risk of Alzheimer's, my biggest fear, though thankfully I have avoided it so far. I am so happy to have overcome my mental issues long ago but even if everybody in the world had to deal with these things, i can't possibly see how these words are derogatory to me or others afflicted just because you think the latest Game of Thrones episode is insane or something.
And frankly I do see that as personal responsibility as well. You said above, what if the situation with my ex had affected large groups of people... Well, hasn't it? The guy/girl who asks people not to use the A-word where A is Arnold or Alice or whatever the name of their ex is, that's pretty common actually. You avoid using it around them for a while but frankly, after some time, you should not entertain that anymore.
There are also people who live traumatic experience where, sure, you may want to avoid using a word around them such as "rape" or "war", but you should not go around asking random people not to use that word just in case someone who has had those experiences is listening. Not only is it infantilizing yourself or others, but it can also silence the very horrors that you or others lived through.
Much of the activism and work to remove the r-word from legal and medical contexts has been done by folks with intellectual disabilities. Here's a thread with more info, which begins:
Hey Adys, sorry for the late reply. I've been a bit busy!
You have lots of good points in here. I especially like using "insulting" in place of "offensive", simply because people tend to respond negatively to any allegations of offense and that's a pragmatic way of routing around that cultural roadblock. I'm also in full agreement that we should "weigh the evidence" when it comes to people's self-advocacy, but I think that's genuinely hard to do fairly.
It's been my experience that people tend to fixate on the most extreme edge cases and argue against them, then substitute the entire topic for the edge case. Basically, they'll point out a slippery slope that's a mile a way from where they stand and then refuse to take a single step on account of its "threatening" presence. We do not have to consider every single person who has ever been offended any little thing, and I think way too much focus is given to these edge cases and they carry far more rhetorical weight than they should. I think there are a lot of terms and phrases that exist in the ground before the slope, however, and that we should consider those, like you identified, on their own merits.
I do think that can be difficult, however, because we often shut down the voices of minority cultures by using their minority status to override them. It's easy to not think that a lot of harm is done by conventional usage of the word "crazy", for example, because the percentage of the population that would be harmed by its usage is small. It is trivially easy to say "most people aren't offended by this therefore it's not offensive" when the very nature of the word will make that true by default.
For example: back when "fag" was commonplace on reddit, gay people would be downvoted to hell and back for questioning it, and the top comment in any discussion about it was always one of widespread support for its usage. By putting a word that harms a minority of people to a referendum of majority culture, majority culture usually wins out. I got to watch that culture not only deny my self-advocacy quarter, but I also got to watch them pat themselves on the back for their "principled" usage of the term, which in some ways was more infuriating than being outright discriminated against.
When we consider inclusive language, I think we have to go out of our way to identify, elevate, and consider the voices of the people most affected by the language in question. In doing this, I think what gets seen as a coercive mandate from the outside can instead become an empathetic one.
I don't go into detail about it too much here because it's somewhat identifying for me, but for years now I have taught classes composed exclusively of people with disabilities, primarily cognitive ones. Over the years, my experiences with those individuals has helped me to see the need to eliminate ableist language from my own discourse. I've worked to remove words like "stupid" and "dumb" from my vocabulary. This didn't come about out of a public shaming for using those words -- it came about because I saw the damage they had done to people first hand and realized that I was passively contributing to that.
There are certainly people who take a coercive approach to inclusive language, but, by and large, the people I see advocating for it are merely trying to do it as a way of raising awareness -- a way of saying "hey, this hurts me and/or people I care about". Unfortunately, I think many people are primed to interpret that advocacy as coercive even when it's not. I'm someone who believes strongly in inclusive language, but my message is never "you can't say that" but is instead "here's why you might consider saying something different". Unfortunately, few people hear that message for what it is and will instead assume the worst: that I'm gleefully pushing English down the hill towards an Orwellian, doubleplusungood dystopia.
Saying "fag" is no longer commonplace on reddit even though the demographics didn't change. Gay people are still a minority; straight people are still the majority; so why aren't we still drowned out? Why don't I have to wade through homophobic slurs while I'm there anymore?
It came about because of connection and empathy. People started to care more about people like me, empathize with our experiences, and understand the harms that we had faced. Some people certainly stopped using the word only because they might face moderation, but by and large most people stopped using the word because they came to understand its harm.
"Fag" is more definitively damaging than a lot of other terms, but the principles that apply there can still apply when we consider other terms. I think the best thing we can do when we hear a call for inclusive language is consider whether our empathy has a blind spot. Are the people who are trying to change the language trying to alert us to something? And are we willing to hear them for what they're saying? I think many of us have been trained online to have a kneejerk overreaction that escalates conversations on this topic.
What does this mean?
I disagree here. My argument was made in good faith, a response like that would've been made in bad faith, which I think is an important distinction to make. A single comment like that between lots of well thought out arguments gets lost and doesn't matter to anyone. But like @Adys' said in his response:
I agree! I firmly believe that your good faith has a meaning and a value to it that exists independent of audience. I don’t like the idea that your good faith effort should be lowered to the level of bad faith commentary, but believing that words only have the power we give them does exactly that. It means that no one is forced to acknowledge or consider your good faith effort, because they can just choose their own interpretation and feel justified in doing so.
I know I sound like I’m arguing with you but really I’m trying to affirm that the type of discourse you’ve provided here is valuable and meaningful in its own right and doesn’t deserve to be eroded.
I’m asking this not as a challenge but out of genuine curiosity: has this been your experience online? I come to Tildes to get away from comments like that, which I believe are endemic on social media. I actually think that type of discourse has become the de facto standard for places like Twitter and reddit, which traffic almost exclusively in one-dimensional bad faith hot takes.
But doesn't that audience decide if it is good or bad faith? Text exists to convey meaning, if someone interprets in bad faith (e.g. saying that I hate disabled people) it's just a different way of giving all the power to the audience. It's just a different audience that interprets good faith into my argument and responds with a beautiful well thought out comment like here.
Nah, which is why I've adopted the attitude that you've then quoted. You find out very fast that a lot of people just have nothing interesting to say. Reddit is good for memes and porn. Actually it's fantastic for those two. You learn to abandon it (like you've done) or you learn to revel in it (like I've done).
I think the audience can make a judgment about that, but their judgment is neither comprehensive nor binding.
I guess a different way of getting at what I’m trying to highlight would be: do you you feel your comments have worth before you submit them to the community? Is it entirely our response that determines their value in your eyes? I’m asking these genuinely, not as barbs, I promise.
Don't worry, I'm not taking these as such, I find this conversation quite interestingwhich is why I sneakilyhid a compliment somewhere (and I hope you do too :) )! These additional responses help because I wasn't getting your point entirely in your first reply, but now it is quite clear to me what you mean.
I suppose I feel like they have worth, otherwise I would not be posting them. But obviously the main purpose of a comment on an internet forum is to communicate with people and ideally learn something new. It's pointless if no one reads it or cares (if a tree falls and no one hears it and everything) and the community not engaging with it might lead me to not try again in the future. Would you say that there's a difference to creative writing, which the author might see as having more inherent worth? After all, it never needs to be shared.
I’m finding it interesting as well, and I appreciate your continued engagement in good faith and no worries I appreciated the compliment!
If creative writing is often a fundamentally private activity defined by having no audience (I know this isn't always true but it's good for an anchor point), I believe communication is a few steps away from that. Importantly though, I don’t believe it to be at the opposite end of a spectrum where it is solely defined by its audience. We can’t separate it entirely from its audience, but we can’t define it solely by its audience either.
This is why I find the “words only have the power we give them” argument unsatisfying. Not only do I feel it enables bad behavior, but it’s often made by people who actively divorce themselves from the worth of their own expression. You entered this thread to make a thoughtful, measured argument, and then you undercut the force of your own argument entirely to justify using potentially harmful words. Even if you don't believe they're harmful, meaninglessness as a framework lets the potentially bad words stand free only by razing the value of all the other words. Talk about collateral damage!
Assembling a strongly worded argument about how words are meaningless is like buying a first-class plane ticket only to choose to spend the entire flight crammed in the smelly lavatory. It's counterproductive, and the intent of the action (a nice plane flight/a meaningful argument) is nullified by its outcome (a shit experience/the meaninglessness of the argument's building blocks).
Even if you don't consider the words in question in this topic harmful in the slightest, please consider the idea that your thoughts, advocacy, and arguments all have worth on their own. And I'm saying this as someone who outright disagrees with many of your points! :D
It's unfortunate that this notion has become so common. As somebody who currently identifies as Latino and uses the term Latinx, I can tell you that white people are not forcing me to use the word. I use it because it respects the preferences of my immediate trans and nonbinary Latinx friends and because it recognizes the wide range of gender identifications among the members of my ethnic group. Latinxs who are gender-questioning, too, appreciate the flexibility the term provides in allowing them to express their ethnic identity while respecting the complexity of their gender identity. The fact that there are many Latinxs who reject the use of the term does not mean it is an example of an unnecessary and misguided shift in language; rather, that rejection is far more attributable to transphobia. As such, I'd caution you against using it as an example for the point you're making here.
I really don't want to nitpick here, but if people reject the term, should you be using it to describe them?
...Why not just use hispanic? It's already gender neutral without bastardizing the language.
In regards to my claims, I was referring to this.
Sure, there's some tension there. I was considering using Latinas/os in that particular case in order to effectively communicate that I was talking about trans-exclusionary Latinas/os (which is what I will call them in the next paragraph for clarity).
It's important to note that the claim of trans-exclusionary Latinas/os against "Latinx" and the claim of Latinx trans and nonbinary people in favor of "Latinx" are not equal and opposite. Trans-exclusionary Latinas/os being offended when I call them "Latinxs" isn't the same as trans and nonbinary Latinxs being offended when I call them "Latinas/os". The rejection of the term is founded upon gender-based prejudice, the embracing of the term is founded upon a desire to create a more inclusive society. So you ask if I shouldn't be calling the former group "Latinx" if they don't want to be called that, but their reason for rejecting it is based in immoral prejudice, which I don't think is legitimate.
You might say it's unfair to call everyone opposed to the term "Latinx" trans-exclusionary. I don't think being opposed to the letter (as opposed to the spirit) of the term "Latinx" is wrong, necessarily. It is really awkward to say, especially if you are speaking in Spanish and not English. Some have suggested that we use e instead of x to denote gender neutrality, which I find to be much more fluid and easier to say, but whatever we decide to call people has to end up being the product of conversations where everyone is heard and respected.
@SheepWolf has already explained why Hispanic can be problematic. Respectfully, the fact that you're making uninformed suggestions like this about what we should call ourselves should be cluing you in to the fact that you don't know as much about this as you seem to think you do. Frustrations with the limitation of "Hispanic" are actually what led to the coining of the term Latino in the first place. I'd also ask you to question your use of "bastardization" with reference to the language. What is so bad about loaning the x gender-neutrality construction from another language? Is there such a thing as a "pure" or "correct" Spanish that the x is violating? How could you square the existence of such a "Standard Spanish" with the regional differences in how Spanish is spoken in countries across the world, and with Spanglish variants spoken in the United States? Are those bastard languages too?
Polling from Pew suggests that over 75% of Latinxs haven't ever heard of the term, so to say that they "overwhelmingly have elected not to use it" is not quite the full picture. To focus excessively on the data, though, would be a mistake. The issue in contention here is not the number of us who use or don't use the term. The issue is who are we including and who are we excluding when we use the language that we do, what values do we have and what kind of society do we want to live in.
That was the main point of me calling it bastardization. In my opinion, languages evolving usually happens because people speaking it have found a simpler or more comfortable way of saying something and it spreads. Latinx is a painful term to pronounce, and applying that rule to other words in Spanish makes it really problematic ( e.g. amigxs) which is why I fear it would never spread. Your suggestion with the e makes at least phonetical sense.
It wasn't a suggestion, it was a question. My Spanish is pretty bad, I don't live in the US, where this conversation is taking mostly place, it's the reason why I am in this thread. Hispanic is a word that gets used a lot so there had to be a reason why people weren't using it.
I've said my piece, now I'm conversing with people to learn what they think about it and how their opinions differ in a collaborative effort to grow wiser in the end. I don't claim to know anything about the subject, although if you feel that is necessary to write something like this, it seems I've come across as rather different in my intent.
Yeah, I definitely didn't understand "hard to pronounce" from the "bastardization" comment. It's a word with a lot of baggage with regards to legitimacy and purity, so thanks for making your point about pronunciation clearer.
Often suggestions can be framed as questions, I acknowledge now that you did not mean for it to be prescriptive. I didn't mean to cut short the dialogue with my comment, and I appreciate that you're looking to ask questions and learn in the shared space. I hope the conversation was able to complicate the idea that Latinx is a term other people came up with and are trying to impose on us. It's worth recognizing that many of us do, in fact, use and identify with Latinx.
There might be more to it, but I believe because the term applies only to the portion of the Americas comprising the Spanish-speaking countries and not Brazil (mainly Portuguese-speaking) and maybe some other places. There is "Ibero-America" but I'm not sure if it's commonplace.
Interesting, I thought the terms were interchangeable. In that case it makes sense.
An article talking about this just so people have a source to read
Edit: I actually think this source is clearer
Mainly because it (as said by @SheepWolf) mostly associated with Spain and the Spanish, although Hispanic originates from Roman Hispania which includes modern Portugal, so you can argue otherwise. (Although this doesn't include the Guianas, although I have no idea if they call themselves Latin-americans along with the Spanish speaking nations and occasionally Brazil.)
More importantly, the word Hispanic is not gender neutral in Spanish or Portuguese, unless you think Hispânico (not sure if the accent applies in Spanish, this is all based on my conjecture as a Brazilian) is gender neutral.
On the other hand, as person with bipolar disorder, I like using "crazy" to refer to situations which I'd like to describe as "lacking coherent explanation", because I know what that actually feels like, and I really mean it when I say it. And I don't really feel like this "others" me.
I feel like a ton of people have been in a situation that could be defined as lacking a coherent explanation. I wouldn't say that it's something unique to the mentally ill.
Because crazy denotes that something is out of the norm with a person, so therefore it fits a situation that is out of the norm.
Thank you for chiming in as you're the first person I've actually heard from who has a strong feeling about this word.
Reading through a few of these examples, and knowing what I do about language, however, has me at a bit of a loss. Why is the word "insane" okay? My understanding of this word's definition and connotations is that it has both historically been used in medicine to describe individuals (the phrase 'clinically insane' comes to mind) which may or may not have deserved such a diagnosis and the definition itself ascribes mental illness to the person.
While I agree that we should work to shift language to be more inclusive, especially for those who are less privileged than others, I feel like mental health related terminology has an exceptionally difficult battle to fight. Medical terminology only makes this more complicated because that means we need to push on more than one front and the introduction of these words will slowly trickle into the vernacular by mean-spirited individuals.
It's unfortunate that people don't universally dislike this word or others (I think the r word has much stronger sentiment to help remove it because it has so many substitutes to describe things that are bafflingly unintelligent) because I think the disparity of who is upset and who isn't makes it easy for bad faith actors to say well how come someone else with the same illness as you is okay with it and you arent - stop being a snowflake!
I'm not sure where I'm going with all this, other than to say thank you for bringing up that you do not like this word and I wish we had a better census of people with different brains to understand exactly which words are problematic. I know I certainly struggled with how to word of my choices in this very reply because there's a distinct overlap between some of these conditions and actions or states of being which reflect abnormal human behavior that arises as a result of differed thinking.
Ah okay, thank you, this is helpful.
Unfortunately even this thread seems to be fraught with potentially problematic takes. I'm sorry if you ever feel unwelcome to discuss this here, as I value your opinion and I have found even this short conversation very useful.
I, like many here I’m guessing, have seen arguments about inclusive language come and go many times before in many different communities over the years. It’s one of those battles in a long-standing culture war that I don’t know if we ever actually find any new ground in or if we just continue to salt the earth beneath us.
I’ve thought a lot about what to say in this thread, as someone who very much values inclusive language, and I’m going to try to do my best to bring something to the table that isn’t a retread.
The common argument I’ve seen regarding this topic many a time before and also present in the comments in this one is that a push for inclusive language is the result of hypersensitivity, and the solution isn’t for people to change their language but for others to care less about the language being used. My question is this: why shouldn’t we care?
It’s hard to convey in text that I mean that question not in a challenging way but in an imploring one. To me, it’s a question that’s outright yearning for an answer. My phrasing is not “give me an argument for why we shouldn’t care, I dare you” but the much more existential “what makes us think that not caring is valuable in the first place?” What is driving that bus? Why is that our destination? Seriously: what do we gain from that?
Recently we had a topic discussing What’s hard about being a man?. Many of the men who responded identified difficulty with emotional expression, both within themselves and under pressure from society. The top comment there from @Greg has the following line which has stuck with me ever since I read it: “The visceral reaction to a man who truly fails to cope is almost one of disgust.”
I know the conversation here isn’t specifically gendered, but I see some of that aforementioned “visceral reaction” in the sentiments that live here and among this topic at large elsewhere -- that an emotional response to language is a version of "truly failing to cope" -- something deserving of near-disgust. And it always makes me wonder: Why is it so wrong to feel something in the first place? Why does the ideal solution always seem to involve divorcing ourselves from that? What, fundamentally, is wrong with feeling, and feeling deeply?
Now, I understand that there are probably some people champing at the bit right now because the focus of this argument isn’t usually feelings on their own but the specific phenomenon of hypersensitivity, or an overreaction or disproportionate feeling to otherwise normal stimuli. Thus, what I’ve identified probably feels like a willful misdirection.
I genuinely do think there is such thing as hypersensitivity as a real phenomenon, and I have much that I personally could say about it, but I think genuine discussion of that is inhibited by the assumptions baked into the common response we see to inclusive language. The reason I even brought up the question about feelings in the first place is that I believe, when we limit ourselves to a paradigm that opposes feeling from the outset, nearly any emotional response will look like hypersensitivity. This makes identifying any actual instances of hypersensitivity impossible, as it leaves so little room for genuine, valid emotional response.
Time and again, that’s what I come back to in these conversations: the sense that we can’t actually talk about meaning meaningfully, because there’s a fundamental tilt towards willful meaninglessness as an ideal. Furthermore, that does not coincide with my own experience. I am someone who has had discriminatory language used against me. I have felt the pain that it caused deeply within me. Am I wrong to have felt that? Am I wrong to express that? Am I wrong to not want to have others have to feel that way either?
Sharing my story has been one of conflicting responses. When I share the things that have been said to me and how they affected me, I'm often met with empathy and understanding. That's horrible, people will say. And it was. But when I even question whether people should be able to or outright encouraged to say stuff like that about people like me, I'm met with a nearly opposite response: a paternalistic and infantilizing assumption that everyone else knows my own experiences better than me and would have had a better response than I would have to the hateful language that I have faced. They wouldn't get emotional, their subtext says. They wouldn't feel that. And shame on me because I did.
I'm not saying this to take a dig at someone who might have a different response. After all, they very well might be right -- we all respond differently to different situations. Instead, I'm using this to ask: why is it that we seem to value the non-responder over the responder? Why is my genuine, lived human response less valued than their hypothetical, fabricated one?
Inclusive language often gets framed as a limiting of human expression. A muting of self-expression. A graying of colorful language. Why do we not offer enforced stoicism the same critiques? How is that not its own form of limiting, graying, muting, just by different means?
I also know there's pain on the other side too. Inclusive language is a paradigm of harm minimization, but I've seen it used to create its own harms -- to unfairly villainize people and seek retribution rather than peace. I think some people have weaponized the concept to deal damage rather than understanding. I think the often "rational" rebuttals we see to the concept belie a hurt that the commenter by their own framework can't necessarily admit to, because they too are arguing for the casting aside of feelings -- even if it means their own. It's okay to feel put off by this topic. It's okay to live in that and explore it a bit. Where does that negative feeling come from? What can we do about it? How might we change things for others in the future? These are the same questions inclusive language asks of us, but we can't ever get to answering them if we shut feeling out entirely.
I’m not saying we should abide every complaint and toss out every questionable term. I honestly don’t even know where a lot of my own lines are regarding language, and some of my biggest criticisms on this topic historically have been aimed at people who take a concept I value greatly and treat it so dogmatically they lose sight of its intent and purpose. There are also those who extend it so far it collapses under its own absurdity -- such a strong devotion to seriousness that it accidentally wraps all the way around to mockery and undermines the concept's very foundation. I am bothered by these, because they erode a concept I consider vitally important and woefully misunderstood.
But when I look at this topic from a bird's eye view, I feel like there is so much unexplored territory. There is a vast swath of unexplored territory between "feel nothing" and "feel everything". I think we've given a lot of airtime and credence to the "feel nothing" side. Maybe let's try leaning a bit more the other way -- just a little bit -- and see where it gets us?
The essence of this comment gets at something I've noticed as I've aged - I've both began to feel more and started to value feeling itself as more positive. Humans are emotional creatures - we don't just deeply experience emotion, our entire life is centered around it. What we remember most in our lives are moments of extreme emotion. Childbirth brings many extreme joy and traumas shape our very behavior. When we look back at our lives, we take note of accomplishments but when we question regret and measure our lives on a death bed, it's relationships we value... I should have spent more time with my kids or spouse or I wish I had volunteered more. We don't wish we spent an extra 20 hours on that one important project.
I think you're absolutely correct to point out that measuring the worth of something shouldn't be based on how well we can divorce emotion from it. I believe it's an implied or inherited idea from science - divorcing from emotion is necessary when we create and test a hypotheses. If we have a bias we must do our best to cast it off in order to avoid false interpretation.
But I think we've internalized this notion of pure unadulterated analysis from the realm of processes which do not require humans into the realm of humanity and that is a mistake. When we wish to test whether an equation which describes gravity works, emotion is unnecessary and hinders our ability to measure and evaluate it accurately. However, when we are dealing with fundamentally human concepts like language, culture, and motivation, discounting emotion is harmful to analysis. Emotion is a necessary component because humans are emotional and their very behavior is shaped by it.
This thread is an example of this misplaced sense of value. The alienation of minorites such as those who are upset by the use of certain words is probably more important than many arguing against linguistic drift truly realize. Emotion is precisely what makes it so important. You cannot simultaneously argue in this fashion and also advocate for better treatment of those who are mentally ill in good faith because you are directly contributing to the problem, even if it is not done intentionally and the harm is minute in scale. There is an emotional toll to this dismissal and refusal to adapt which oppresses and causes real harm to other individuals which is realized through reduced quality of life, reduced ability to contribute, decreased satisfaction and motivation, and many other negative quality of life outcomes.
I believe you're on the right path to question others as to why emotion is so easily discarded when there are very few humans who do not chase and value emotion above all else. After all, ascribing worth to something is a behavior ultimately aimed at maximizing happiness and minimizing fear and uncertainties.
How is this not just moving the conversation onto words that dont effect you? Many people with disfiguring illnesses or other deformities/disfigurements know how horrible the word horrifying is. Irrational is used all the time as a slur against women. People who grew up in fundamentalist religious households often hate the word evil because of how it is used a moral cudgel.
Devil's advocate somewhat, but it's really not that simple, the lines in language are almost never easy to draw. Here's another example: "silly" (a word you suggested using in a different comment) vs. "crazy" (a word you're against using). Taking sections from etymonline for each:
So "silly" meant something more like "idiotic" decades earlier than "crazy" was being used to refer to mental state. Previous to that, "crazy" seems to have been more of a descriptor of objects, similar to "cracked". Why is "silly" okay to use when it was used for centuries to call people feeble-minded, pitiable, and weak?
This is what I've been struggling the most with - many of these terms seem like an arms race between medicine and the vernacular. Medicine uses something, humans adopt it to be used to describe others who do irrational or absurd things, then medicine moves on to a new term and this just goes in circles for apparently at least hundreds of years. It makes substitution extremely difficult and I don't really know a good way forward.
I think this is the crux of it, to some extent.
There are words that have obviously moved into the realm of offensiveness that, when used, signify some sort of callousness on behalf of the wielder.
But, there are others that people have grown up using without giving a second thought to that could be interpreted as offensive to certain people. It’s not always lack of tact that causes those words to be uttered. Instead, it could be complete ignorance to the fact that those words can have harmful effects. So, it just may take another to point out potential offensiveness when those words come into play.
And, of course, if you insist on using those words after being informed… Well, then.. you’re a huge <<offensive term>>.
Copying my opinion about this topic from another comment chain because I feel like it is works here as well:
My opinion on "cancelling" a word is basically identical to my views on most other moral questions which is "everything is a shade of gray and there isn't going to be a universal answer that fits for everything." Language, morals, and cultures all change over time. Drawing a line in the sand that holds universally for all cases and for the rest of time is asking to fail. I think the best we can do is hear people out when they tell us they are being harmed by our actions and as an individual decide if we are OK with that or not and deal with the the effects of that decision with those individuals.
Now for some new thoughts I came up with since writing that ;)
I've been missing pure mathematics and ML so I'm going to make a needlessly complicated analogy just so I can think about it in terms of set theory :P
I feel like language is very similar to regression to improve accuracy in ML. Thinking of the English language as a set (a collection of distinct elements or members), with two subsets for "harmful words" and "unharmful words" and
harmful ∪ unharmful = english. In other words, every word is either harmful or unharmful. Then our personal lexicon is the best fit we can find that includes all the unharmful words and excludes all the harmful words. However, regression doesn't always give us a perfect match. Sometimes the model categorizes data points. Sometimes you need to make a new model because something about the data has changed and so it isn't a good fit anymore. Humans with language are similar. We make our best attempt to find the collection of words that are unharmful. Our models aren't perfect because we aren't omnipotent about the present and future. Cultures and time can change what words are harmful and what words aren't. If someone tells us that a word we thought wasn't harmful is, that should be a clue that the word might be miscategorized. The more people that tell us a word is harmful, the more confidence we should have that we mischaracterized the word or that the underlying data has changed and we should consider making a new model that characterizes it correctly.
Unlike "retard", it has been so long since "crazy", "insane", and "whack" have been used in a medical context that the vast majority of people aren't even aware of what they meant in the 19th century.
I don't see any sense trying to undo a century of language evolution.
They aren't useless, they are context-sensitive slang. Some more profane examples of words with varying definitions include "shit" and "fuck". We use words like these to accentuate ideas and add color to language, not enhance specificity. They don't belong in your doctoral dissertation or testimony to Congress, but they are perfect for talking about the action scenes in the latest blockbuster with your friends.
I think you're missing the point where these words haven't been used to disparage groups of people in a very long time. What they were used for a century ago is irrelevant. Language changes over time, it is not static. These words aren't like the n-word or f*g, which are actively used to spread hate.
I don't believe someone saying "That movie last night was insane!" is disparaging anyone.
I think that is a different situation though. Someone is applying a negative adjective to you because of your condition. You could replace "crazy" with any negative word that never had a clinical definition (like "dipshit") and I think it would still be just as thoughtless and cruel.
Context and intent are both important factors.
The n-word hasn't gone through the same dilution and transformation though. It has an actively used, hateful definition that is still the primary definition. It will be virtually impossible for that word to see any rehabilitation outside the black community until its use as a slur is a distant memory.
I think this is actually the key. In the vast majority of circles I don't really think there are meaningful amounts of social consequences for using this language and its use is both common and widespread. Asking people to change their behaviour (which is a non-trivial task) in the face of essentially zero applied pressure in the real world isn't going to work. Perhaps there are many people that wish that weren't the case, but anecdotally as someone who has been on medication for mental illness, I could not care less about people using the term "crazy" or "insane" despite having felt literally crazy before.
Putting aside for a second that I fully agree with you that it isn't hard.
"It's hard" is a bad defense of any view because lots of shit we do every day is hard! It's hard for me to remember the names of the people I talk to sparsely, but I wouldn't walk up to someone and say "sorry, remembering your name is too hard so I'm just not going to try" because that's such a dick thing to do. It's hard for me to discuss certain topics with my partner (sex, finances, the usual) because I never learned how to communicate about those subjects growing up. That doesn't mean I should just give up and never learn how to talk to them about those things. If my boss asked me to do something and I said "No, I'm not going to even try to do that. It's too hard" he'd either tell me to shut up and do it, or tell me to start looking for a different job.
Sure, there are instances where difficulty is one of many factors that goes into making a decision, but I keep seeing people in this thread use "it's hard" or "I think it is stupid" as the main and only points for not changing their language. That just doesn't work for me.
Yea that's a totally fair take. I certainly wouldn't use the language if someone in my friend group asked me not too. However, I think that this
is incorrect. The word crazy is used today frequently as a stand-in for abnormal -- I don't think people using it are engaging in othering unlike similar offensive words that have a clear and tangible connection to an other.
Edit: Removing the use of the word you because it gives a more aggressive tone than I wish to convey.
that's the whole point! you are explicitly saying things that are crazy are abnormal. That's an example of what othering is. This is saying "here is normal. That is the ingroup. That thing is crazy => abnormal. That puts it in the outgroup". It is describing the normalization of othering as the defense that people aren't using the word to other.
I want to add to this but I didn't want to keep editing an old comment. The use of the word crazy meaning something entirely different IS THE END RESULT OF YEARS OF NORMALIZING THE OTHERING OF PEOPLE. The reason people use it for xyz is because of decades of normalization. Crazy is the prime example of the end result of normalizing the othering of a group in the macro. What people are describing as a defense for why we should continue to use the word crazy in whatever fashion we want is using the end result of the problem as a reason why we should not address the problem.
So the word abnormal is also othering? I'm not sure I follow what you're saying?
When someone says "I had the craziest day today" they're not engaging in othering. If someone says "The crazies are out tonight" they totally are. Context is important and unlike say "retarded", 99% of the time the word crazy is not used in the latter context, in my experience.
I think this is searching for meaning where there is none. It's using the standard lexicon of today to describe a day outside of normal experience.
Language is such a transitive thing that there are undoubtedly many hundreds of words that have terrible histories and thousands more whose dark histories are lost to time. We shouldn't be surprised about that, given our history as a species but I also don't think we need to be chained to that either.
Interestingly enough, a quick google tells me that crazy didn't even originate from mentally ill but rather from an old Norse word, krasa which meant "to shatter".
The key here is that people from the group subjected to that history are telling you the word causes harm to them. Just because a language is transitive doesn't mean words magically lose their historical context. I don't know if this is your intent, I would like to believe it is not, but this reasoning is similar to the same as "It doesn't harm me and it would be effort for me to change, so I am telling the victims that they need to stop feelinig harmed by the word because people currently use it differently." I try to assume the best possible interpretation of people's comments. I am not attacking you. But that is what I hear and feel when I read this message.
If it helps, I've been prescribed anti-psychotic drugs before to treat psychosis. I know all about the battles that people suffering mental health issues face and therefore I feel completely fine weighing in with my opinion here. I don't think it's fair to just paint everyone with mental health problems as being onboard with getting people to stop saying "crazy".
If my message came off as saying the whole community is in agreement, I apologize. Communities are never going to fully agree and have everyone be on board with something. There are black people that don't have a problem with the n-word, there are members of the LGBTQIA+ community that don't care about any homophobic slurs. There are people of Romani descent who don't view g*pse as a slur. I don't think it is ever accurate to paint a community as having a homogeneous view on any topic. I don't want to or mean to try and speak for an entire community. My point was that these are opinions that aren't limited to tildes and are happening within the mentally ill community at large. I think my answer to "how many people does it take to cancel a word" does a better job of explaining my thoughts.
To be blunt, I'm not quite sure why you think that is bad. Mentally ill people are outside of the normal experience just as ill people in general are outside of the normal experience.
And this sucks, but that's not what I'm talking about.
Mental illness is not normal and should not be normalized because it's inherently unhealthy and unsafe. To steal from the top comment, it's a sign that you as a person are in a bad spot and need to get out or get professional help. Pretending otherwise is untrue and causes harm.
To nit-pick your point about what constitutes normal, I'd consider watching that specific football game to not be normal. Regardless, watching football is a normal behavior done by the vast majority of Americans. This is a pretty standard definition of normal.
Perhaps considering mental illness outside of the "normal" does lead to marginalization, and sometimes oppression. That's bad, of course. But it seems to me that just as illness (like, say, a broken leg) isn't unilaterally ignored or thought of as normal, mental illness shouldn't be either.
I did not. What I meant to express in my last paragraph was that while normalization fixes marginalization, it's not the only or anywhere near the best solution, and introduces several new problems. Marginalization can be solved without normalization.
I do think that it's unsustainable to continually let a common, loosely-negative word remind you of something beyond your control, and I think that's mostly on you.
Okay while I sympathise with this argument, it's so much easier for a reader of tindall's comment to stop using a word than it is for her to completely change how she feels about the word that I don't find it conscionable.
Like, even if you aren't going to stop saying things are crazy, the least you could do is
I realise you haven't directly done this here, but you are arguing for it
I think "illness" here is overly broad term and doing a bit too much heavy lifting.
If I have a broken leg, that's an "illness" I can go to the doctor to have treated. Or, I might have type 1 diabetes. That's also an "illness" I go to the doctor for, but it's a chronic illness as opposed to an acute one like a broken bone. I have no expectation that the doctor is going to cure my type 1 diabetes, only help me manage it for the rest of my life.
(in more precise medical terms, a broken leg is an injury while diabetes is a disease: "a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure or function of all or part of an organism, and that is not due to any immediate external injury")
Crucially, if I have an acute physical injury, such as a broken leg, we've normalized treatment of it. We don't normalize having a broken leg in the sense that ignoring it, letting it set on its own, then limping around for the rest of your life is the ideal solution.
If I break my leg, and tell my work I need light duty while I'm on crutches, or time off for follow-up physical therapy appointments, that's generally (the abysmal state of paid medical leave in the US notwithstanding) accepted and not socially stigmatized.
If I have alcohol use disorder and decide to check myself into inpatient rehab, we'd like to think that seeking treatment for that mental health issue is normalized and not stigmatized, to exactly the same degree that seeking treatment for a physical health issue such as a broken leg is. I don't think that's the case today.
And similar to type 1 diabetes, there are some chronic mental health conditions that cannot be "cured", only treated or managed. Autism spectrum disorders are one such example. There has been a major shift away from the idea of "curing autism" and towards normalizing it, and away from classifying it as a disease. ASD is not "inherently unhealthy and unsafe" as you say. It's just a way that some people's brains (including mine) are wired differently. There's no moral hazard in normalizing it because no amount of stigmatization is going to drive me to seek a "cure".
Sure, and I think Type 1 diabetes is probably a better parallel than a broken leg, that's just what I came up with at the time.
Right, and it was never my intention to classify it as such. Like you said, there's been a shift away from autism being thought of as a disease.
I feel like we really should distinguish between “normal” which really should mean “product of reasonable circumstances”, and “typical”.
Like, the “typical” American watches NFL football. But it’s certainly “normal” for an American to not watch NFL football.
The “typical” person does not have a cold. But it’s totally normal for a person to have a cold.
The “typical” person has 2 fully functioning legs. But it’s “normal” for a person to not have 2 fully functions legs.
I really think when people want to “normalize” mental health, they want to “normalize” it in the same way wheelchair ramps help “normalize” being unable to walk.
To be clear, normalizing mental health and self-care is great, sorely needed, and I'm all for that.
Agreed - and this can be extended to all disabled folks. Disability is considered abnormal by a lot of folks, when it's actually a very normal part of the human experience. Disability only seems strange to many people because 1) disabled people were (and sometimes still are) excluded from public life and 2) ableist thinking makes us "other."
Ok I am going to take a step back here because I feel like we are talking in circles and I want to try and break the loop.
I don't think people today use the word crazy with the intent to other people in most cases. That said, we have seen from this thread and can see in discussions with the larger mentally ill community that the use of this word does cause harm to the members of those communities regardless of the original person's intent or the context the word is being used in. Once someone learns that harm is caused to the community, it is up to the individual to decide if they want to change or not and accept any resulting outcomes (for example, mentally ill people will feel uncomfortable talking to you)
The word crazy is is part of the standard lexicon of today because of decades of normalizing the othering of the mentally ill. That normalization is how we got to this point today. The question here is should we pretend like that normalization never happened and continue to do harm to the mentally ill community, or to acknowledge the decades of normalization and make the decision to not cause more harm?
Edit: I guess there is a slightly different third option which is to argue that that normalization never happened.
Hey no problem, I understand the point you guys are making however:
I think there is another way to frame this -- that this is a can of worms with no logical endpoint. We can find hundreds, maybe thousands of words that have normalized othering at some point in their history. Some probably no doubt deserve to be cancelled. If there is widespread suffering coming from use of these terms I'm all for it but I (as someone in that group) don't think crazy ticks that box. I guess a related (completely serious) question would be "how many people does it take to cancel a word?"
My opinion on it is basically identical to most other moral questions which is "everything is a shade of gray and there isn't going to be a universal answer that fits for everything." Language, morals, and cultures all change over time. Drawing a line in the sand that holds universally for all cases and for the rest of time is asking to fail. I think the best we can do is hear people out when they tell us they are being harmed by our actions and as an individual decide if we are OK with that or not and deal with the the effects of that decision with those individuals.
Yea for sure. If someone I knew asked me to stop using this word I would expend a great deal of effort to do so. Where I diverge I guess is on the quasi-'calls to action' that this should be a wider trend in society because it just ends up in absurdity. For instance, even absurdity originally implied deafness and could just as equally be subjected to such treatment. And on and on.
I thiink this gets into a whole larger discussion about how I think language is fake. There's nothing stopping me from creating a new word and deciding what it means. If I manage to get the word to catch on with a critical mass of people (and with the internet reaching a huge audience that is possible) then that's a part of English now. How much internet slang has become parts of the common lexicon? I have no problem looking for alternatives or creating new words for things if it minimizes harm to others. I don't think it absurd to abandon words because we abandon words constantly, its just a matter of if we do it on purpose or if they get lost to time.
I have two severe mental disorders. There is also a suspicion that I might be autistic. I don't really care. But English is not my first language, I might be more sensitive otherwise. That said, similar expressions in Portuguese have no effect on me. People don't use these words literally, the meanings have shifted. They allow for useful metaphors.
I do take issue with the pathologization of evil. Some people are just plain evil, they have a foundational character flaw. They require no diagnostics.
I have struggled with mental illness (depression and ADHD type issues) and I'm really not bothered by "stupid", "insane", "crazy", or any other words like this in common usage. "Retard" is unique because it was a medical term that became an edgy insult, but it was never fully okay to say - like, that's not an insult you'd see appearing in a Disney movie. Even the "Let's Get Retarded" song by the Black Eyed Peas was censored to "Get It Started" for the radio.
There is a lot of stigma for mentally ill people, especially those who have periods of disability where they are unable to perform at work/school or properly care for themselves. Asking to people change their language really does nothing against these harmful stigmas about mentally ill people seeking assistance and accommodation. It does nothing to address the fundamental power structure in place here where only a certain portion of humanity is afforded dignity or basic sustenance because we believe that people must "earn" it. The stigma only hurts mentally ill people because our power structure allows for those things to be withheld from them. For example, if everyone was guaranteed housing, the stigma against mental illness would never result in the mentally ill becoming homeless.
The euphemism treadmill does not feel like meaningful inclusion to me. It would make me feel coddled instead of like I was being accepted and respected. My symptoms for the most part are harmful, and they person they harm the most often is me. (And it's not just because of the lack of accommodation, my depression could torment me even if every aspect of my life was perfect).
One of the only contentious and upsetting exchanges I had on Tildes was very early on when I asked someone to not use the r-word, and someone else got very offended that I'd dare censor someone. I can't remember how that turned out (I don't think that person is around anymore?), but it has made me pretty wary of having this discussion anywhere online.
That said, I wanted to link to a very well-known resource (at least within the disability community): Ableism/Language by Lydia X. Z. Brown.
Personally, I do my best to avoid basically all these words and phrases; the ones I still have trouble with are those that are rather ingrained through habit — for example, I don't call anyone stupid or idiotic, but I do refer to myself as such when I'm mad at myself, which is a bad habit even without the ableism.
Also, I guess I have one more general point — using slurs in a discussion about them, particularly without content warnings, could easily mean that the discussion ends up missing the voices of people directly affected by them. If I had an upsetting history with the r-word and my disability meant it was historically applied to people like me, I might not feel comfortable posting in a thread where people used it multiple times with no warning.
I do understand the need for clarity about what words we're talking about, but something to keep in mind.
Thanks for the reference to Lydia X. Z. Brown and their work, and for your point about not necessarily quoting slurs verbatim when discussing them -- I will keep that in mind for future. :)
I do want to emphasize one thing in the part that I quoted, having read your more recent comment - for a lot of disabled folks, it's less about offense and more about the ableist ideas that such phrases and words reinforce. Personally, while I won't call someone a bad person for using words that are so common in our vernacular, I think using "crazy" or "stupid" is ableist no matter the context (sans reclaiming them, or in fiction, etc).
I'd say the reason "retarded" has faced backlash is because it's quite connected to it's mental health usage. Retarded refers to a concrete diagnosis or group of diagnoses, so calling someone retarded has connotations for actually retarded people (the term has fallen out of favor. A more current descriptor is probably "developmental disability".)
Meanwhile, calling someone or something crazy or whack is (1) a more accepted and widespread part of our language and (2) a lot less directed to specific mental disorders or mental disorders in general. Someone can call stuff whack (best translation into german would be "bekloppt" btw, which goes with the "whacked on the head" etymology quite well) and it will not affect people who have mental health disorders. One, because we use different terminology. "Crazy" is no longer close to a diagnosis and not how we talk about mental disorders, so it's acceptable to use as general language. Two, because even connotationally, crazy (etc) does not refer to a specific disorder.
As for my own language? I avoid "retarded" and similar terms, because I see them as likening an undesirable quality in a person to a specific group of disadvantaged persons. I don't avoid crazy/insane/whack/bekloppt. I have genuinely not heard of any instance of those terms causing harm.
I'll toss in a slightly edited copy/paste of a post I made in a discussion about capabilities of bot moderation:
Derogatory language will always be around so long as people have passionate disagreements and/or irrational hatred. The issue isn't necessarily the words themselves, but the context behind how they are used. Yes, it is rude to call people retards. Retard was originally a mental diagnosis, and it became a slur outside that scope. The medical terms changed, but the slur did not. So it becomes a cat and mouse game of trying to have medical terminology to describe mental problems and outpace rude usage. Give it a few years, and people will use Bipolar as a slur for excessively emotional.
I recall that there was a transition somewhere in the late 90's from homophobes saying fag and queer to just saying homo instead. The statement isn't any less derogatory, it's just a different word being used in the same sense. The problem isn't to blacklist the word, but to dismantle the feelings behind the derogatory use of said word.
Did making the n-word so incredibly taboo, such that even I won't use it in a discussion relevant to it, actually stop people from being incredibly racist? I would contend that it did not, it just shifted racists to using other words that are just as derogatory. And now we're in this weird situation where we have black musicians singing and selling it to everyone, white people profiting off of it, and white listeners such as me being scorned for singing the lyrics (outside the privacy of my home) as I would any other song I love.
Ultimately, making words taboo adds to their power. Consider all of the other profanity in our language. The entire concept evolved out of class structures, where the slang of the lower classes was considered profane by the upper classes. Censorship of profanity additionally doesn't really accomplish much, and I would argue is much more harmful overall because of the cat/mouse problem.
It's perfectly fine to think less of a person using certain words on a personal level, and to give them a warning/ban in a given community if they're derailing conversations by using them. But remember that the deaf, dumb, blind kid can still play a mean guitar.
Isn't that the point of not using a word associated with mental illness or disability to mean "bad"? When I set out to remove "stupid" from my vocabulary, I'm also trying to dismantle the idea that intelligence has moral value.
Half the point the OP was making was with respect to removing the words from usage altogether, regardless of positive/negative/bad connotations.
And that's why intent is more important than the word itself. The difference between "They are stupid/dumb/etc because they're not smart" and "Don't be stupid by smashing your ex's windows with a golf club."
At the end of the day, there's going to be negative words, they're going to be used against people (with and without disabilities) and ideas in both positive and negative fashion, and willfully changing those words isn't going to do much besides confuse people.
It's an endless treadmill, because removing the offensive word today means new people will take offense to the new word tomorrow if the underlying sentiment doesn't change. I still hear lots of people say "no homo" instead of "stop being a fag," is that an improvement after 25 years?
Those... aren't that different? I don't really understand the distinction you're making here. To me the latter means, "don't act like a person who isn't smart." Which is still valuing intelligence in an ableist way, and also implying that someone who isn't smart will do morally bad things. There are plenty of other ways to say that sentence, like "Don't be an abusive asshole by smashing your ex's windows with a golf club."
I want to thank everyone for their input on this thread. 🙏 I'm glad to see wide range of perspectives here: people with mental health issues who are against this vernacular (but may support reclaiming it); people with mental health issues who don't care about it; people who are concerned about the slippery slope of the policing and politicization of language; people who are concerned about specificity of language and how accurately and succinctly words can express our ideas.
I have a friend who does have mental health issues and is offended by ableist language, so that's my personal motivation for trying to remove it from my own vocabulary.
It seems like context, audience and speaker identity are extremely important in deciding if a word or speech act is acceptable, and I am reminded of other discussion we have had on the site in the past about gendered language, personal responsibility, the Karen slur, and death of the artist. On a large scale or macro perspective there are general questions like "is it OK to offend people?" or "is it OK to say/do something which may offend people?", "is it OK to offend a specific person?", and "do I have a responsibility to not be offended by other people's actions or speech?". At a more specific level, perhaps we could frame the litmus test for speech as "if the audience were to encounter this sentence given the full context of the discussion and knowledge of the identity of the speaker, are any of them likely to be offended?".
For all of these questions I think if the audience is the public or a private sphere is going to have a very big effect. In the public sphere, there is a much wider range of lived experiences, and depending on the medium of transmission, the audience (i.e. anyone/everyone) is less likely to have full knowledge of context and speaker identity. Consider the difference between an essay posted on someone's website (context and additional author info readily available), vs. a tweet thread (context is fragmented, author background available through bio and more tweets), vs. a quote from either source in a news article or another essay or another tweet (context removed and author identity obfuscated). These are all examples of transmission in the public domain but the scope for causing offence grows as context and identity become more difficult to obtain, which leads to higher likelihood of misinterpretation or misunderstanding, and opens the original author up to deliberate misrepresentation when quoted.
Compare this to any private sphere (a conversation amongst friends, a personal journal entry, letters circulated amongst a small group, ...) where context and identity are arguably innate -- we are a member of that audience because we are already familiar with the context or the identities of the other participants. In private spheres, we are less likely to cause offence with 'extreme' language and we are more likely to automatically filter or shape our language to suit an audience we are already intimate with.
Sorry for my ignorance, but what does “whack” mean in the context of mental health?
Also how does ‘mental’ convey value judgement about mental health, I’ve always seen it as meaning mind blowing?
No need to apologise :)
My understanding was 'whack' is derived from 'wacky' or 'wacko'. According to Collins, it appeared in the 19th Century as "a person who behaves as if he had been whacked on the head" . But within the last 60 years it has been used as a pejorative term for people with mental illness.
'Mental' is definitely overloaded and the use of it to refer to 'madness' is more of a British usage .
What negative descriptors or insults should I be using?
I often end up saying that something is silly or dumb.
What "good" ways of pointing out bad things do you use?
The article I linked in my post has quite a long list of alternatives towards the bottom: https://www.autistichoya.com/p/ableist-words-and-terms-to-avoid.html
I often use "ridiculous" or "wild."
This snippet from this link actually highlights my biggest problem with trying to forcibly mold inclusive/exclusive language, specifically by making terms taboo:
This term in particular is the inclusive terminology for disabled/handicapped. It was formed by merging handicapped and capable, as a way of saying "just because I am handicapped does not make me unable to do things." It was (is?) very prominent at the Special Olympics as an empowering statement.
If this is indeed considered an ableist phrase by many now, this kind of re-enforces my thoughts about how it's a cat/mouse language game that doesn't really have any winners.
Language changes, and language also differs between people in the same group. It's not an attempt to catch other people out or shame people who didn't "keep up." It's folks finding the words they want to use for themselves, and changing them sometimes.
I don't know the history of "handicapable" within the disability community, but I do know that there is a growing consensus among many disabled folks that euphemisms are patronizing. So not taboo, just... Indicative of a particular mindset when it comes to disabled people. Folks often say that "disability isn't a bad word." We can't do some things because we're disabled, and that's okay! But words like "handicapable" and "diffability" erase our experiences as disabled people who face both limitations of our bodyminds and the barriers put in place by inaccessible society.
Of course not everyone feels this way. An even more obvious division in language within the community is "person first language" (PFL) — person with a disability — versus "identify first language" (IFL) — disabled person.
You can probably tell I fall on the IFL side of things for the most part. I consider my disability an adjective like any other. I'm a tall person, a white person, a disabled person, etc. And many other disabled folks feel this way; it's a pretty common preference for autistic folks, for example. On the other hand, from what I understand people with intellectual/developmental disabilities often prefer PFL.
I feel like most people in the community are like me — we have our preferences when it comes to language, but as long as people are willing to listen we don't mind explaining them. (Of course, I have no patience for explaining why slurs are bad.).
EDIT: you say there are no winners, but I'd say marginalized groups having a say about how people refer to them is a win.
Sometimes it certainly feels like it is a shaming of people who don't keep up. Especially when the scope of offensiveness continually expands. I like to think of the keeping up problem like this:
Generation 1 is called X.
Generation 2 takes offense to being called X because it became a slur. Wants to be called Y.
Generation 3 takes offense to Y for same reason as Generation 2, wants to be called Z.
Generation 4 takes offense to Z for being patronizing, want's to be called X.
So on and so forth. It gets especially complicated since there's several generations living at any given time, and that it's entirely possible X,Y, and Z are offensive upward or downward the generational chain, you end up in an endless transition of language that doesn't do much to solve any underlying stigmatization problem.
Even the above is ok, in terms of people deciding what they would prefer as an identifier. But it's one thing to say "Please don't call me X because I don't like it." It's another thing to say "Don't use X to refer to other things because I don't like being called X." The ableist language discussion seems to be focused much hard on the latter and not the former.
Languages change all the time, yes. Over time, the words that are seen as offensive today will eventually smooth out and be far less so as the stigmatization fades. "Literally" has lost that war through cultural appropriation of using it incorrectly. I'd argue that many of these ablist terms will go through that same process, if they have not already. As the term gets broadly applied in more general and less specific uses, it has less power as a specific offense against any one group.
It's one thing to say "Please don't call me X because I don't like it." It's another thing to say "Don't use X to refer to other things because I don't like being called X." The ableist language discussion seems to be focused hard on the latter and not the former, and that's what I consider an exercise in futility and frustration.
I mean... this is partly because it's also political. Yes, many individuals don't want their disability or diagnoses used as insults because it's triggering or offensive to them, which is why you should be a decent person and not use words around people who ask you not to. But as a group, another reason we don't want these words used to mean "bad/unusual thing" is because that's the thing we're still trying to break down - the overwhelming societal idea that disability and mental illness are somehow bad or wrong (in a moral sense).
You seem focused on the fact that changing the language we use as a result of other people co-opting our disabilities and illnesses as insults won't "do much to solve any underlying stigmatization problem." But 1) the alternative is just letting other people decide how we get talked about and how words relating to us get thrown around, when we're the ones affected by the outcome. And 2) I don't necessarily think that's true. Part of the conversation, beyond "please don't use these words, especially this way," is why they hurt us, personally, politically, or both. The main problem is that a lot of people immediately get defensive about the first part and don't stick around to listen to the second part.
But like... calling Donald Trump "crazy" (a common thing on Twitter) when you mean "evil" or "ignorant" or whatever is stigmatizing. "Please don't use that word, it conflates mental illness with being evil," is a valid criticism and is fighting stigmatization.
I feel this topic could fall into a greater discussion on language policing. I would like to ask how using ableist words, like the examples in the OP, differ from examples of homophobic or racist language e.g. using faggot or gay in a neutral or negative sense in casual conversation, the n-word (hard r or not), etc.
I can't remember the actual origin, but I vaguely recall similar arguments being made when, "It's OK to be Takei" was popular a few years back. Likewise a more recent discussion regarding GitHub and Master-Slave terminology and this thread and this one from 2+ years ago. Grzmot brought up the Latinx topic as well.
You could make a new thread about it. The more the merrier, maybe.
I’m barely going to contribute but can I say as an American that I just learned that “spas/spastic” is considered like a horrible insult in the UK? Over here it’s just like a low-grade juvenile insult no worse than calling someone stupid or something.
I can't remember the last time I heard it in the UK and I'd be horrified if anyone I was friends with used it. Similar to mong/mongoloid.