Word Power

I found an old newspaper under my desk and quicly looked over the front page. Clinton White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, never known for tact, characterized liberal activists as retarded, with a short expletive attached. The word retarded is unacceptable no matter how it is used. It hurts others and cheapens us.
What no one will admit is that we all use some variation of that term in safe circles, where friends excuse each other’s bad taste and simply laugh it off. Who has not used the term, retard, never to be quoted or at least attributed. The most sensitive among us can wink and break ranks with the righteous to say things the wrong way.
The power of language to define or wound can not be denied. All of us know expressions that demean, based on race and gender or mental health. I once heard a surly neighbor call my father a cripple. Unkind language keeps narrow-minded attitudes alive. Most of us agree there are haters out there. Old language feeds old prejudices. In our society, one group or another always draws the short straw.Too ofen, it is the sick, maybe you and me.
“Words are loaded pistols,” Jean-paul Sarte wrote. Of course time passes, and language standards change. What is acceptable at one point in history can offend and leave people in disbelief later. Words also reveal public prejudice toward sickness.
New York City’s respected Hospital for Special Surgery used to be called the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled. Georgia’s first state psychiatric facility was the Georgia Lunatic Asylum. You could not make those up. They are particularly egregious examples of ignorance disguised as acceptable language.
The word crippled no longer is tolerated. The Newington Home for Crippled children in Connecticut was changed more than a generation ago. Crippled always seemed neuteral to me as I grew up. It seems harsh now. Maybe any word Charles Dickens used is automatically off-limits. Tiny Tim needs a name change fast. Ask a guy on a cane about words. Walk a mile in his prescription shoes.

12 Responses to Word Power

  1. Jenny June 23, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” We said this as children, but as adults we know it isn’t true. Words can and do hurt. I believe we are mostly a product of our environment. If we hear it at home….we believe it. As a parent of 2, I truly made an effort to not use words that would label a group of people. My upbringing was such that everyone, no matter sex, nationality, disability etc, was a gift from God and deserved our love and respect. I was fortunate …. some are not. 🙁 Our job, I believe, is to break down those stereotypes/hurtful words/labels and show and teach others to treat EVERYONE with love and respect and lose the labels. Side note: Jason DeSilva’s documentary “When I Walk” is on the PBS series POV (Point of View) tonight, June 23. It documents his journey with MS. Sorry I don’t get how to Bold the font. 🙁

  2. A.H. June 23, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    Jenny June 23, 2014 ,/bat 11:57 am #

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” We said this as children, but as adults we know it isn’t true. Words can and do hurt. I believe we are mostly a product of our environment. If we hear it at home….we believe it. As a parent of 2, I truly made an effort to not use words that would label a group of people. My upbringing was such that everyone, no matter sex, nationality, disability etc, was a gift from God and deserved our love and respect. I was fortunate …. some are not. 🙁 Our job, I believe, is to break down those stereotypes/hurtful words/labels and show and teach others to treat EVERYONE with love and respect and lose the labels. Side note: Jason DeSilva’s documentary “When I Walk” is on the PBS series POV (Point of View) tonight, June 23. It documents his journey with MS. Sorry I don’t get how to Bold the font. 🙁

    • Jenny June 23, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

      Thank You!

  3. A.H. June 23, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Pleased to be of service.

  4. Louise June 23, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Well here’s some honesty about a thought I had the other day. I came across a story about housing being built in CT for people “with MS and people with intellectual disabilities.”
    The correct sensitive language was used, but I was upset by the grouping. At least it didn’t say MS and other intellectual disabilities.

  5. MB June 23, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    Disability euphemisms are also a problem. “Differently-abled, special needs, handicapable—what’s up with those? In an attempt not to offend, people veer toward patronizing and sometimes just plain silly terms. “She was once metabollically challenged but now she’s a size 6.” OK…

  6. Jeff June 23, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

    There is not only the effect these words have on our conscious mind, but our subconscious as well. When we think of ourselves as “crippled”, we are telling ourselves that we are flawed and casting some doubt or shame into our subconscious. I know some of you are reading this and thinking BS – as I would have not too long ago. But now I think that we should do everything we can to put our minds in the best place for us to succeed. i used to jokingly refer to myself this way – to disarm others and maybe seek pity – but now I never use the “C” word!

    • Richard June 27, 2014 at 8:54 am #

      Jeff-

      I don’t think that is BS at all. Attitude and self-esteem are hugely iomportant. Don’t doubt yourself here.

      R.

  7. Jeff June 23, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

    BTW, just saw this post from Meredith. Some really good advice!

    http://www.everydayhealth.com/news/meredith-vieira-balancing-act/?xid=tw_everydayhealth_sf

  8. nancy s June 24, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    Hopefully, kids will learn from the book, ‘Walk Two Moons’ – “Don’t judge a man until

    you’ve walked two moons in his moaccasins”.

    P.S. Since I live near, I’ll be interested in the apartments being built (mostly) for people

    with MS

  9. Scott June 28, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    Clinton ?

    • nancy s June 29, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

      Simsbury