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>I’m going off the rails on an [ableist slur redacted] train. Also: Cat poll!

>

Well, discussions about my second Scott Adams piece over on Feministe (which was basically identical to my post here) have now been completely derailed by a number of commenters who’ve decided I’m “ableist” because I used the word … “idiot.”  That word, they have decided, is offensive to the “cognitively impaired.” If you want to wade into the mess, here’s the comment that, while polite in itself, started the long slide down this particular rabbit hole. You can see my responses in blue further down in the comments.
I consider this kind of language policing to the EXTREME! to be bad for feminism (and frankly insulting to people with disabilities), and I’m glad a number of others have stood up against it in the comments there.  I don’t think that the language police are in the majority at Feministe, much less in feminism at large. But these debates are so frustrating that many feminists who disagree with the language police end up biting their tongues and/or just walking away. At some point I may post more about this fraught topic here.
In the meantime, I’m am conducting a little poll about cats. Please click the appropriate button in the graphic above. Clicking it won’t actually do anything, but I’m pretty sure what the results are going to be anyway. Go kitties!
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If you enjoyed this post, would you kindly* use the “Share This” or one of the other buttons below to share it on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or wherever else you want. I appreciate it. 
*Yes, that was a Bioshock reference.
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Prosey
9 years ago

>I just recently had a similar incident occur because I used the word "crazy" ~ *sigh* ~ and as the daughter of a mentally ill person, I'm the last person who would use the word "crazy" as a disparagement of the mentally ill. Words are benign…intent and context behind the words are what matter. *shakes head* And I say this as a card-carrying member of the feminist axis of evil…

Ozymandias
9 years ago

>You can take away my use of the word "pussy" when you pry it away from my COLD, DEAD HANDS. I think there's a distinction between words like "retard" (pretty much just offensive), words like "special" or "crazy" (closely associated with ableism, but can be used in an otherwise unrelated way; judgement call) and words like "idiot" (the people who use "idiot" to mean the mentally disabled are the ones who are actually being offensive). And of course there are contextual differences too. I comment on Shakesville and I'm careful not to use any terms that could possibly be offensive, because that's the culture there. On the other hand, on my own personal blog I'll call a crazy person a crazy person, as it were.

Ozymandias
9 years ago

>OTOH, it is interesting as a writing exercise to try not to use any word ever found offensive. "What about gypped? Damn, no, offensive to the Roma…"

victor
9 years ago

>you reap what you sow

Elizabeth
9 years ago

>You are insulting women by mention sow which used to be used to describe a pig. You think women are swine!

Elizabeth
9 years ago

>And no, I am not saying I think that. I am saying that is a hysterical reaction.oops! I said hysterical, I must think women (and the men who love them) are overly emotional creatures who get offended at nothing.

Marissa
9 years ago

>Prosey – actually, no, it's not the intent that matters. Using words that are derogatory creates an atmosphere of disrespect for people that those words are aimed at. I actually am trying to cut "idiot" out of my active vocabulary. And I've written about how we use the word "crazy" here and here.And I was just reading a post on Hoyden About Town, talking about how calling people out on the language they use isn't about being offended. Generally, when someone says to me, "you shouldn't use that word, it's hurtful to this group of people," I listen to them and then make an effort to not use that language in the future. All the arguments against making such an effort sound to me, too much like the justifications that people use for telling rape jokes, or for using "gay" as an insult.

Rachel Swirsky
9 years ago

>"And of course there are contextual differences too. I comment on Shakesville and I'm careful not to use any terms that could possibly be offensive, because that's the culture there."Sure. I don't comment there because I don't like that culture. (Not particularly the "calling out" aspect of it, but other things.)Generally, Feministe is a place where there's a high watermark for what's considered ableist. I don't always agree with the terms that are singled out. But why exactly is the Feministe community not deserving of that respect?Re: gypped, I actually consider that pretty out of bounds, at least for social-justice-oriented discourse (which is what we're talking about). I mean, one hopes (or at least I hope) that you wouldn't say someone Jewed you out of your money.

girlscientist
9 years ago

>I agree with you. Avoiding the use of "retarded," "lame" and "gay" in a pejorative, Katy Perry-like way? That makes sense. But banning the use of "crazy" and "idiot" is going one step too far, especially when these terms have been used to designate people who don't act rationally or who don't think things through for a long, long time. There are many things that could be changed in language to make it less needlessly harmful, but right now I think feminism has bigger fish to fry. Once rape has been eradicated, women earn as much as men, abortion is legal worldwide and chores are equally divided, maybe we can start worrying about the harm that the word "idiot" does to the cognitively impaired when it's used against people who think they are much smarter than they actually are. But until then, we have more important battles to fight.

Rachel Swirsky
9 years ago

>"I agree with you. Avoiding the use of "retarded," "lame" and "gay" in a pejorative, Katy Perry-like way? That makes sense. But banning the use of "crazy" and "idiot" is going one step too far"OK. But the argument a couple years ago went, "Avoiding the perjorative use of "gay" and "retarded?" That makes sense. But banning the use of "lame" is going one step too far."It's not about the words inherently. There are far too many abelist/sexist/racist/etc words to purge them all. Retarded/gay aren't actually inherently worse than idiotic/lame. It's about PWD and their anti-ableism movement being granted the right to decide what language being used to refer to them is okay.The difference between whether "black" or "colored" is the more polite term? Historical, not inherent, and actually reversed at least once. And this was (appropriately) decided by the people affected.

Rachel Swirsky
9 years ago

>(BTW, I totally argued that banning "lame" was too far. I also argued that banning "crazy" was too far. I find it irritating that "idiotic" has been highlighted because it's a fucking convenient word. But I never got all defensive about my right to use "retarded" because that had been stigmatized before I got involved in social justice writing, and so it wasn't ever a new thing I had to adjust to. I just accepted it. But if my arguments about "crazy" and "lame" are accurate, then the same thing should basically apply to "retarded."The only difference was my emotional reaction. "Retarded" had already been successfully tabooed so I accepted that without arguing.Anyway, more thoughts @ link, and then I'm going to withdraw from this thread/probably post on Alas eventually — http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2009/06/16/why-not-to-use-the-word-lame-i-think-im-starting-to-get-it/ )

Marissa
9 years ago

>OK. But the argument a couple years ago went, "Avoiding the perjorative use of "gay" and "retarded?" That makes sense. But banning the use of "lame" is going one step too far."It's not about the words inherently. There are far too many abelist/sexist/racist/etc words to purge them all. Retarded/gay aren't actually inherently worse than idiotic/lame. It's about PWD and their anti-ableism movement being granted the right to decide what language being used to refer to them is okay.Repeating this because I think it needs to be repeated.

Nymeria
9 years ago

>David, I really like your blog, but.. I think you're a bit overly defensive here. I know that lots of people have THE PC POLICE in their minds whenever people ask them to not use sexist/racist/abelist, etc language, but to me it just makes sense. If you look at these words, historically they've been used to hurt people. I don't think people are intentionally going "LET'S PICK SOME RANDOM WORD AND PICK ON PEOPLE WHO USE IT JUST FOR KICKS". I think they're people who have had these words used to hurt them, or know the history behind them to make it awkward whenever people use them around them. It just kind of makes you go "Oh, surely they don't mean it in THAT way." Which, I'm sure they don't. I'm sure you don't, either. But. There are people who still refuse to stop using "gay" or "faggot" as insults because they don't feel that it means the same thing anymore. They don't intend it in THAT way. But it still hurts. And I don't think it's being overly PC Killing The Feminist Movement With Your Bullshit to ask people not to do that.

Amanda Marcotte
9 years ago

>I support you. Some people see liberalism as a contest to see who can "win". They, I don't think, will ever be productive or satisfied. You are both, so there you go.

Amanda Marcotte
9 years ago

>Also, the shaming of "crazy" is missing the point. That some people are crazy against their will doesn't mean the willfully crazy can't be called out, anymore than the fact that some people are mentally disabled means I can't call the willfully ignorant "stupid".

Amanda Marcotte
9 years ago

>Eliza: I'll point out that Pandagon's comments are as strong as ever, and that's because the Word Police are beat down like motherfuckers (a word that insults people who lovingly fuck their mothers). So you're probably right.

Marissa
9 years ago

>@Amanda The "wilfully crazy" can be called out without using language that marginalizes people who are being neurologically atypical. Interesting that you centre the perspective of people who are using hurtful language (aw poor babies feel like they're being "shamed") instead of the experiences of people who are actually hurt. The exact same argument can, and has, been made about words that we no longer find acceptable. You could easily replace "crazy" and "stupid" in Amanda's comment with "faggot". I don't understand how people are comfortable making such arguments. Also: Some people see liberalism as a contest to see who can "win".What in the sweet mother of fuck is that supposed to mean? What kind of contest are people trying to "win"? Who can be the most "politically correct"? I think you're mistaking people's efforts to not step on others, for efforts to make you look bad. Good job centring yourself, again.

Pam
Pam
9 years ago

>Wow, that's one site where I will definitely not be joining in on any discussions. Kinda enjoyed Diane K's comments, though.

Marissa
9 years ago

>"… who are neurologically atypical." No "being". Need to proof-read my comments.

ithiliana
9 years ago

>The first attempt I made met with "we were unable to complete your request." I don't know what the problem was (probably too long a comment).Second try, and sorry if it turns out to multiple post.A useful post: http://hoydenabouttown.com/?p=9735I've spent the last few years working on thinking through and discarding language and attitudes that were transphobic (picked up because of intense immersion in radical white feminist texts from the 1970s) and ableist. Some parts of fandom where I hang out are trying to do the same–and coining new terms (which are sneered at by other parts of fandom).I like dickbiscuit myself. Very satisfing in the mouth :>

ithiliana
9 years ago

>2nd half of comment (if the original problem was length).The defensiveness in support of using terms like "lame" and "retarded" and others reminds me too much of the false claims that all of western civilization would fall if "Ms." became common usage (it did in some places, not rural Texas where I teach), and if "he" was changed from meaning "universal human being but really only those with dicks" (which it was–my writing textbooks now all embed gender neutral writing as a recommended style along with a slew of other 'rules').The Romany are still persecuted–so the attitudes expressed by "gypped" still exist. The Welsh (all four of my great grandparents were from Wales) not as much, but I still don't like the term "welched/weshed" on a debt. As Kenneth Burke says, "Language is never innocent."It always strikes me as intriguing what bit of language some people have to cling to and why.

ithiliana
9 years ago

>Cat poll: dang, forgot this part, maybe it was why comment got trashed first time.Cats: we haz seven of them (down from thirteen, all spayed/neutered, all because of work with animal rescue).

Marissa
9 years ago

>On cats: I've never had one, but they seem nice enough.

Raoul
9 years ago

>What happened over at Feministe can best be described as niggardly. DO YOU HEAR ME? NIGGARDLY, I SAY!!!

Emma
9 years ago

>David, I really enjoy your blog and am grateful for what you're doing here. I was excited to see you posting at Feministe, and think that's been fun to read too. I wish the process of editing your posts from here to make them more appropriate for that community had made you a little more prepared for this.I really don't care if you continue to use "idiot"– I personally have no plans to stop using it. And I agree that those derails can get very tiresome. They're not interesting to the majority of people who click through expecting a different discussion, and they're not good for the community if they happen all the time.But Amanda is flat-out wrong that people point out that language because they are hoping to "win" anything. None of us are here because we just love arguing about an abstract progressive ethic that we believe doesn't affect anyone. Rather, I think most of us care about reducing harm to very real oppressed people. I hope you'll consider that, if the words you're asked to avoid ever seem laughably normal, you'll consider that that's because in our society hurting and insulting entire classes of people is normal.You don't actually have to stop doing every little thing someone complains about in order to be a good feminist. But please don't seriously suggest, as a writer, that reconsidering your words and context isn't a valuable activity– no matter what conclusions you draw. No matter how much you disagree with those commenters or how frustrated you are that that discussion got off-track, I really don't think insulting them here after their community welcomed you is becoming.

Diane K
9 years ago

>@PamWhat can I say? I see people who are way too damn touchy and I simply can't stop poking and laughing. It was the (warped) way I was raised.

Raoul
9 years ago

>Kitties: yes please. Family has a 17yo shelter rescue who is worshiped as a household god.

Elizabeth
9 years ago

>Raoul, I will have to ask you to resign immediately.

Raoul
9 years ago

>You'll have to prove I'm White first! Bwahahahaha!

Diane K
9 years ago

>Aw man, and I just got banned. Is it still trolling if you actually believe everything you wrote?This is the most fun day I've had on the internet in months.

captainawkward.com
9 years ago

>That thread…Jesus…I think the original comment – "Hey, this word has a history you might not be aware of" was a bit of a derail but was polite and sincerely meant, and hey, I learned something I didn't know. It's when other posters came in demanding that you change your post IMMEDIATELY and in one case threatening "I will roll over your precious privileged toes until you beg for mercy. I will not allow anyone to erase our lived experiences" that took it to a…(the word on the tip of my tongue is "crazy" but I don't want to commit ThoughtCrime!)…let's go with 'deeply unfortunate' place.There was no room for you to respectfully disagree, and honestly no way you could win. I agreed with Florence's comments and think she pretty much won the thread with her link here.

Elizabeth
9 years ago

>Is that a requirement? *has no idea how to do the real word police thing, she just wanted to use a 12 year old political reference.*

Sam
Sam
9 years ago

>Yeah, I'm pretty sure that doublespeak is one of the main reasons I've largely stopped giving a shit about a lot of things.

Eliza Doaslittleaspossible

>@AmandaOne reason I still LIKE reading Pandagon is that people actually still comment there and whenever the Lame Police show up, everyone ignores them or shoves them in a cupboard or … whatever happens to them. Anyway,The difference with "lame" and "gay" and "retarded" is that "lame" pretty much in our modern language has one meaning. It used to mean "physically disabled" and now that meaning is almost never used. The meaning now is something around "dull and stupid." "Gay" went from being "happy" to "homosexual," and then saw the tween population try to shift it to being another "lame." "Retarded" has held dual meanings for a while, meaning both "being mentally slow" and also "being slowed." Language changes.You wouldn't say "gay" to mean "happy" and you wouldn't say "lame" to mean "disabled" nowadays. You see it in older books, but both words have transformed into something else. And you probably just shouldn't say "retarded" much at all, unless you're talking about fire or something.I guess it just seems like wasting time to get all offended over words that don't even commonly mean what they used to mean. There are bigger battles to fight, even linguistically. If you think "idiot" is a bad word because of its history, don't use it, but don't get pissed if other people use it. Although not quite the same thing, it's about as useful as trying to get your grandma to stop saying the n-word or your grandpa to stop saying horribly sexist things. I personally try to avoid using "girl" to refer to women over a certain age. But I don't bother other people who do this. That would be lame.

Sam
Sam
9 years ago

>Damn, I mean Newspeak. I was thinking of Doublethink.

Pam
Pam
9 years ago

>@Diane KLooks like you can't say anything over at Feministe unless you've used snark-checker on your comment before posting.

Captain Bathrobe
9 years ago

>I used to think "retarded" was harmless, until I had a job working with learning disabled adults. One day, we had a conversation about the use of the "R" word, and the shame and humiliation they expressed at being called "retards" taught me never to use the word again. As a rule, though, I'm not big on policing language overly much, as it tends to derail important conversations. I'm more than happy, however, to respect the wishes of individuals with a specific disability to not use a term they consider pejorative.

Sam
Sam
9 years ago

>Ooh! I wrote an article about this in university once! Specifically, Gay and Retarded.http://mondomagazine.net/2008/lexipoeia-offensive-content/One thing I can add is that changing the word doesn't change the attitudes. The reason that you can insult someone by calling them "special" now is that there was a movement to get rid of the term "retarded", as it was seen as derogatory. So special was used instead, and it got all the old connotations attached. I forsee a similar future for "atypical" to mean "crazy".Example from conversation in the not too distant future.Crazy Steve: I don't think women should be able to vote. They can't penetrate things with their genitals!Megan: Well, that certainly is a (deliberate pause) neurologically atypical line of reasoning you're persuing, there.

DarkSideCat
9 years ago

>I am with Marissa and Rachel on this one. Besides, it is not really too damned hard to avoid using these terms. Asking marginalized people to just shut up and take it is far harsher than asking for small edits to vocabulary. "Insulted and attacked" for being called out on one's privileged use of harmful language is impermisible, but it is perfectly find to insult and attack the marginilized group. Well, as an aspie who used to have PTSD and depression and who had a narrow miss with being misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, let me tell you that I cannot see the word "crazy" without wincing. It has been thrown at me time and time again, including by people of power, to deny me access and services (one doctor told me to stop "acting crazy" before dismissing me without even bothering to test for a health condition that ended up costing me six years of exhaustion that deteroriated down to the point of hallucination and health risks that could easily have killed me). These words contribute to our suffering, our loss of freedom, and even our deaths. So forgive me for feeling not a bit of pity for those who are too fucking lazy to bother to stop using certain words. You want to know if I have had fights over ablism outside of the internet? Yes, I have had them again and again and again. With principals, teachers, professors, doctors, administrators, classamtes, parents, siblings. But, then again, as a person with disabilities, I have far less choice in that matter, don't I? I have sat in rooms and listened to people question my very personhood and my right not to be locked up against my will over these issues. Try that out and then get back to me about how very hard your life is because you were politely asked not to use certain terms.

triplanetary
9 years ago

>I was called "four-eyes" in school once. It hurt. I'm not saying that pain stays with me today, or that I consider that an example of marginalization.But I'm not going to deny unprivileged people of any stripe the right to express offense at the use of a given term. It's your choice whether or not you care. But you're not the one being persecuted here, as DSC said.There's also another angle to it. Like Marissa said way up at the top of the thread, sometimes it's not just offense. When someone uses the word "gay" pejoratively, I don't feel offended. But I do feel a certain amount of contempt for the person who said it. Of course, I'm bisexual but I easily pass for cis, so I reap a lot of privilege in that area, so if others are outright offended by the word "gay" used pejoratively, I understand entirely.

David Futrelle
9 years ago

>Crap. The internet ate a nice long comment. (It was my fault, not blogger's, for once.) Anyway, what Capt. Awkward said. Beyond that, a few other thoughts: I am certainly happy to avoid using language that contributes to the further marginalization/stigmatization of a marginalized/stigmatized group. Darksidecat, you make a pretty persuasive case for avoiding the word crazy. As someone who has suffered from depression for most of my life I've long been troubled by the stigmatization of mental illness. But because I don't get called "crazy" I have probably vastly underestimated the ways in which that word can be stigmatizing. But it's one thing to bring up these issues, and another to do, well, whatever you want to call what happened in that thread. These weren't people who had been stigmatized by the word "idiot." These were people who were declaring themselves offended by proxy for others, and presuming to speak for them. And trying to roll over everyone who disagreed. It was a pile-on; it was a kind of bullying. Reading that thread in fact "triggered" a friend of mine who faced a similar kind of intellectual bullying in college. I spelled out more of my thoughts in the comments there; I may try to pull them together in a post here. Or a may just let it drop.

anthonybsusan
9 years ago

>I'm actually deeply appalled by the Feministe debacle (I've been posting as Sarah J.), particularly because it's being supported by the moderator. Said moderator seems incapable of acknowledging exactly how extreme the comments have been.It's a problem I've encountered in feminist spaces. I advertise my blog on Feministe, when I actually have time to update it, and sure enough I got a bitchy post from someone over my use of the word "crazy." Important info: my use of the word "crazy" regarded Janet Folger Porter, who masterminded the "testimony" of two fetuses in the Ohio statehouse.I replied to the bitchy comment by mentioning that I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and will therefore use the word crazy as I damn well please. End of troll.

triplanetary
9 years ago

>I replied to the bitchy comment by mentioning that I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and will therefore use the word crazy as I damn well please.There is some flexibility as far as this goes, certainly. Being bi, I have a couple gay friends that call each other and me a fag occasionally, and it's all a good larf. I suppose it's like the n-word (which, being white, I don't use). But if someone ever asked me to stop saying the word fag in their presence, I'd stop immediately. Because it is super-offensive.I don't doubt that you're similarly sensitive with your use of the word crazy. I'm just commenting for the sake of conversation.

anthonybsusan
9 years ago

>Oh, I agree that context is vital. I've tried to argue that point on Feministe to no avail. And there certain terms I do feel are always ableist: schizo, the r word, etc. Similarly, it bugs me to hear anyone use "bipolar" or "schizophrenic" or "OCD" casually. If you don't have the disorder, leave the word alone, because you clearly don't understand the implications of what you're saying.I suppose what really bugs is that the worst Feministe commenters (and the troll on my blog) don't claim to be people with disabilities, yet they've apparently appointed themselves the grand high arbiters of all that is ableist. I resent that. If you don't have a diagnosis, you haven't faced the sort of discrimination I've experience and you do. not. speak for me.

Johnny Pez
9 years ago

>I agree with Amanda. Once you let the language scolds dictate your vocabulary, you can no longer call your keyboard your own.

Johnny Pez
9 years ago

>Oh, and regarding the kittehz: two.

cboye
9 years ago

>I'm totally on board with what (almost) everyone has been saying. Yes, the words we use matter. Yes, if I were unknowingly using a word that made you feel hurt or marginalized, I would stop immediately.But on Feministe (I've also noticed it in parts of the Tumblrverse), it's actually difficult to have a conversation on any topic because, for every reply that actually addresses what you said, you get a whole cascade addressing your wording. It's a problem when your language use expectations are actually preventing communication.

cboye
9 years ago

>BTW, 0, but hopefully 1 soon. I'm at the humane society too, and it's just a question of which one.

triplanetary
9 years ago

>BTW, 0, but hopefully 1 soon. I'm at the humane society too, and it's just a question of which one.Good luck! If I ever had a male cat, I would name him Captain John Sheridan, Welcome to Babylon 5. Not John. Not even Captain John Sheridan. Captain John Sheridan, Welcome to Babylon 5.If I had a female cat I'd name her April.

Elizabeth
9 years ago

>Makes me think of Daniel Tosh's joke about having a restaurant named "Thank you for calling, how may I help you?"

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