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Friday, 1 June 2012

A Girl With The Cane Confession...

I admit it. I use the word "idiot". A lot. Just this week alone, I've used it in reference to Michael Bloomberg (for thinking that banning supersized sodas in New York is going to have any effect on obesity rates), Jay Townsend (the Communications Officer for Republican Representative Nan Hayworth, for saying, "Let's hurl some acid in the faces of those female Democratic Senators who won't abide the mandates that they want to impose on the private sector."), and my best friend's ex-boyfriend.

I Feel Like An Idiot...No, Wait...

Melissa McEwan over at Shakesville reminded me of something important yesterday, though. "Idiot" is ableist language. So is "moron" and "imbecile". They've all got pasts as sordid as "retard" when you get right down to it. It all just goes further back in history, and we've started to forget.

I've known about all this for a long time. I learned in training to be a Developmental Services Worker that "idiot" was historically used to refer to someone with a very low IQ. Several American states have only just updated their language to remove "idiot" from their laws, and changed outdated laws such as those that prohibit "idiots" from voting.

But I forget.

I really don't think that very many people know that when they use the word "idiot" they're using a term of widespread oppression toward people with disabilities. But, as commenter Hellianne explained on Shakesville when McEwan reminded someone that "idiot" was ableist and therefore not acceptable on the site: "It is precisely because the term is used as a derogatory term and because it originated as a label for a marginalized, unprivileged group that it is not welcome in this space. The age of the term isn't really relevant; the point is that it designates a disability as an inherently negative (and hateful, in this case) thing."

It may not seem like a big deal. But imagine if we started to use some of the language related to the oppression of other groups that has now fallen out of favour. Think of some of the racist terms that (for good reason) are no longer used anymore. Use your imagination. I don't want to say them here.

I need to be more careful with my words. I need to make more of an effort to remember.

Thank you, Melissa and Hellianne, for a much-needed reminder.

Do you use any words that you know you shouldn't, out of habit?

Visit Shakesville: http://www.shakesville.com/

Image credit: cteconsulting / 123RF Stock Photo


  1. Like you, I use 'idiot'.  This past week in reference to a rep from Medtronic, the company that makes my son's pain pump - there was a screw up and she was too busy to take or return my calls for a month and when the physician intervened, she asked "Are you mad?".  Sheesh, eejit!

  2. That's definitely a situation in which "idiot" springs to mind, Donna. I find it interesting that it's gotten so automatic for me, and I wonder how...

    Did you get the pain pump situation resolved?  To have them not return your calls for a month is inexcusable.

  3. I remember we used to say in high school that everything was "gay." Despite the fact that we had gay friends.... -Cass

  4. Oh, I remember too. Not particularly proud of it now. If I had kids, I'd explain to them why I'd not want them to do the same, and hope that the teachers at their school came down a little harder on students that they heard doing it.  I wish that people had talked more to us about it.

    Did we ever ask our gay friends how they felt about it? Would they have told us the truth?

  5. Because I grew up in a VERY white area, I can be pretty clueless about racial terms that are not obvious. The toddler age boys in my family are often referred to as Boo. I finally looked it up after a couple black folks closed down in conversation when I referred to my young son as "my b**" or a "cute little b**". Wow. I am trying to remove the word from my vocabulary and am frustrated at how hard that is.

  6. Nutmegg, I too grew up in an area that wasn't racially diverse...and while my parents knew enough about racial terms to teach up which ones we shouldn't be using, I saw plenty of people using them because they didn't know any better. And for some words, like "idiot" or "retard", they've become such a part of the way that the culture talks that it really is difficult to stop using them without a lot of vigilance (I've lost count of how many times I've heard "idiot" on TV today).  But that's part of what makes the whole issue so sad as well, imo - and, for me, worth becoming more vigilant.

    But I can only speak for myself. I really don't care what word choices others make. I would hope that they'd do it as consciously as they're able to (given that sometimes people don't know that a given term is offensive to someone) and realize that their word choices have consequences - but I can only really control the word choices that I make.

    Just thoughts I've had today.

    Thank you for commenting, Nutmegg! :)