13 May 2009

Why it bothers me when you say "lame".

"that's dumb."
"that's so stupid."
"that's gay."
"that's retarded."
"i'm such a spaz."
"that's ghetto."

This post is not about semantics, censorship, or "political correctness". It's about understanding the power of your words, and being intentional about them.

Even though I've gotten used to it, I still flinch every time someone uses "gay" as a pejorative, using those three letters as a sociolinguistic bridge to connect a complex social & sexual identity & experience with a much simpler concept: "bad".

By re-purposing "gay" like that, people reassign the meaning of the word, co-opting a signifier someone else's identity. By misusing it so often and without regard to context, they dilute its significance. It becomes a cheaper word, less valuable and less meaningful.

To me, it may be a mere annoyance at times, a frustration at others, or the last straw on a really bad day. What I'm saying is: when people use a term that has special significance in my life in a negative way, it does me harm, even if only a little.

And I like to operate in a harm-reduction paradigm. If we can make the world a little less bad, a little more good & safe & loving, then why shouldn't we?

Convenience: that's the answer I get most often when I call people out on saying "lame". It's convenient to say "lame" to express non-functionality, interpreted broadly. So "lame" becomes a blanket expression for all minor discontent.

My problem with that is: a) "lame" is a word that has special significance to people with disabilities*, b) your repurposing it therefore does harm, and c) being imprecise in your language compromises your own integrity**.

And of all the daily choices we make without thinking, from how much water to use in the shower to where to get our food to where to go to school to what job to take to what religion to follow, this is one of the most manageable, actionable. It is only a small task to choose to be intentional with our language and respect the power that our words have to hurt or help other people and ourselves.

So, I am asking you to take this small action: when you find yourself about to slip and re-purpose a word that is not yours, reconsider. What is the real message you want to express? It's probably as simple as "I don't like that." And if it's more complex, take the time to allow yourself the freedom to express complexity! It makes life richer for everyone.

* regardless of whether a person's specific experience has anything to do with mobility, because it's a signifier. see metonymy.

** um, this is a rather involved point may seem like a stretch but is deeply related, while perhaps more tangential to the specific point I'm making here. See "The Four Agreements", for example.

1 comment:

Its dangerous business walking... said...

what if....... one IS partial owner to the word and chooses to use it when another person does something like ...make a simple situation far more difficult than it needs to be and thus it becomes a dramatic situation...
AM i allowed, being well involved and in many ways Part Of the gay community, to say "that's gay" ...because really, that...

OR what if i use it in a positive manner... i.e. if Jared were to have some really open-minded, independent, enlightened, wonderful though and my response was a very positive, supportive "that's really gay of you jared" ...would anyone object to that re-purposing?
I think I have found an anorexic line between re-purposing a word and stating a fact. ;)

Just being a smart-ass. I don't Really mean it... entirely.