“Don’t use that word!” This new, weird battle cry being barked by presidents, governors and protective moms somehow persists in the Land of the Free. Even casual conversation can be a tricky affair these days, with unlikely words laying in wait like landmines set to explode by the slightest touch, often causing unwanted clarification, heated debate or scolding.
When the Trump administration informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the use of seven specific words and phrases would be prohibited, it was widely viewed more as an overt attack on science than as a condemnation of word-choice or terminology. Attempting to remove vulnerable, diversity, entitlement, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based from the lexicon is tantamount to sponsoring a book burning bonfire complete with marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate - the difference between banning words and burning books being negligible, as the true motive behind both is to quash ideas.
In similar fashion, a gag order issued to EPA employees and banning DOE staff members from using the phrases climate change or Paris Agreement leaves millions of Americans wishing that the President would shift his focus to these seven sacred words instead: will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution (including the First Amendment) – words that are part of a promise he made.
Of course the first list of seven words was brought to us by the genius George Carlin, who in 1972 gave us the ‘Seven Words That You Can Never Say on Television’. Remembering that at that time ‘television’ meant CBS, NBC and ABC only, the list holds up surprisingly well after forty-six years, with at least six of the seven still conspicuously absent from network TV.
In 2018 it is truly difficult to know who has decided what word is offensive to whom, when it was decided and whether it is still taboo. Here are seven words to approach with caution:
1. The ‘N’ word
This is the record holder for most consecutive centuries on the Extremely Offensive Words or Phrases list. Attempting to remove this abysmal term from common usage is like trying to clean a greasy pan without soap - it will not go away. As art imitates life, black entertainers frequently include the ‘N’ word in their art, sending a confusing message to many of their white fans. It might be time for everyone to stop using the word, whether ending it in “ a’ ” or “ er ”. Of course prejudice is taught in the home and as long as education by the unwitting continues, there will be ignorant people calling other people names. It would be nice to never hear this one again.
2. Holiday Party
It is true that Holiday is from Holy Day, but it seems an unnecessary reach to decide that since it connotes religious tradition it must be updated. For educational institutions, a December gathering may instead be called an End of Semester Party. For a business office, an End of (fiscal) Year Party may be more appropriate. ( Oy! )
As a term of economic stratification and not racial stratification, using ghetto to describe the so-called ‘black urban environment’ reveals the mostly sub-conscious way it is used to substitute for black. Similar to the way ethnic is sometimes inappropriately used.
This could be a very hurtful word if used inappropriately. However, it is now apparently inappropriate to use this word to describe Tinkerbell and other mythical creatures of that ilk. The politically correct phrase you must now use is airborne humanoid that possesses magical powers.
While in office President Obama signed a bill prohibiting use of the term in all federal documents. This ancient word meaning rise or east, refers to the eastern part of Asia and differentiates the people, the cultures and the languages from those of western Asia and Eurasia. Some find it offensive when used to describe people, although it is rarely if ever uttered disdainfully and usually carries an amount of respect.
Lame was commonly used in everyday speech to describe a physical disability or a limp. In the 20th century it has come to mean uncool, inept, or generally crappy. Its connotation of referring to a disabled person may be why many now find the word hurtful
This word, with the emphasis on the first syllable, can surely be used most hurtfully. The idea that the person at whom it may be hurled is usually more or less unable to defend themselves makes it worse. No thinking person should/would/could ever direct this word at another soul.
Retard, with the emphasis on the second syllable, is good word. More precise than slow, it carries with it a sense of stunted maturation that slow or lengthen do not. “The growth of the corn was retarded by the late snowstorm” is a perfectly fine, descriptive sentence. Even so, there is a faction of concerned citizens that genuinely believe that completely removing the word retard from our shared vocabulary will be a solution to the pain its isolated use inflicts, and sincerely expect you to stop using it!
Language is alive. It cannot be imposed or decided. Rules or laws may be imposed or decided, but language lives on, on its terms.
If things that are said didn’t cause others to disagree, or be angry, or have hurt feelings, there would be no need for a law protecting free speech!
Arguing against the use of a word is fighting the wrong battle. Words are not inherently bad, evil or hurtful – if they were, follar, scheisse and cul would be inappropriate for this article. Without intent, words are nothing more than sounds and collections of specific squiggles we call letters. That lily white kid rapping along in his car is not being disrespectful by singing that word – he just doesn’t get it. Baby boomers that refer to people with almond eyes as oriental are not being disrespectful – that’s what they were taught in grade school!
Even if retard was magically removed from existence, mean will always find a way to be mean, and language would come up with another word or phrase just as hurtful. The battle that needs to be fought is against ignorance. Perhaps if the money and energy spent fighting a word was spent promoting the fact that all people are special and precious and valuable, some small amount of change might occur. Instead of trying to limit us and our language, help enlighten us.
In 2018 it is easy to know words and their accompanying intentions and actions that are positive and solution-oriented - Do use those words! Here are seven that we can all employ with carefree abandon: brotherhood/sisterhood/peoplehood, consideration, mutual respect, kindness, love, unity and Peace.
Top Photo by Bonnie from Kendall Park, NJ, USA || CC-BY-2.0