I love words. I always have. I discovered very early on that words, when chosen with forethought and care, have tremendous power. Power to heal and power to hurt; it’s up to you, Grasshopper, to use them wisely.
You’ll notice the title of this post is politically correct, which is what I’m planning on grumping about this evening and it ties into my opening up there. Essentially, words only have the power we allow them to have. Don’t believe me? Go hang out with a bunch of five and six year olds and you’ll quickly learn what I mean. All it takes is five kids chanting in a sing-song tone “Sally likes green lolly pops!” to bring Sally to tears. Why? Because as a child, she doesn’t realize those words don’t have to hurt her. She just lets them. More to the point, we let ourselves hear the intent behind the words as they are spoken and fly off the handle. So, that kind of contradicts my “Words have power” theme if it’s not really the words that are causing the problem, eh? Not really…
Let’s think about the words mentally retarded. When I was a boy, it was perfectly all right for an adult to say that a child was mentally retarded. It meant the child had developmental issues and that was that. However, some brilliant child took the ed off the end of the word and called someone a retard and a most glorious insult was born. I can’t tell you the joy using that word brought to so many children in my elementary schools! So, suddenly mentally retarded sounds a lot like retard and now that phrase is bad! So, they’re not mentally retarded. Suddenly they’re special. Wait though, I thought all children were special? Okay, so they’re not special. Hmmm…oh wait, I know! They have a developmental disability! Okay, that’s better. Wait, don’t say the developmentally disabled boy! That’s not okay! You’ve just labeled him! He’s a boy with developmental disabilities! What?!?
Do you see the problem yet? No? What are you, retarded? ? The point is that every single one of those new phrases means the same thing! No matter what fancy words you wrap around it, they all mean the kid’s not right in the head. Mentally retarded, special, developmentally disabled or shit-for-brains, they all mean the same thing. So, where does being PC get us? It makes everyone feel better about the fact that they’re referring to the retarded kid but being nice about it. Whatever…if it means the same thing, it is the same thing.
So, how does this equate to Words have Power? Political Correctness is all about words having power. Someone along the way realized that if you call someone black or brown or yellow or whatever they might get insulted. So now we have all these different types of Americans. Now you have to know all the right ways to place your words when talking about the next door neighbors Downs Syndrome disaster. Who the fuck cares? I actually spent an hour and a half meeting at work several years ago arguing about how we advertise that we have services for people with disabilities.Everyone wanted to use some other phrase to basically say the same thing. I finally got frustrated, turned to the CIO at the time and said in a nice loud voice, “What’s the big deal? I always thought the word cripple worked just fine. Why’d they go and change it?” The beauty of that one moment will live with me through the rest of my life. The whole room went into an agonized silence. You could literally see people desperately trying not to laugh, others trying to look horrified, and more actually being horrified. Luckily the CIO got the joke and actually did laugh. He also got the point. He picked a phrase and that was the end of it. But it was amazing how much power the word cripple had. And that’s not even one of the bad ones. Don’t believe me? Drop the N-word in a meeting sometime. (Notice that word has so much power even I won’t spell it out). Words have power because people let them. I used to let the phrase White Trash send me into a fury. Why? Because I am White Trash. It’s my heritage and I was horrified by it. Now, I realize they’re just simple words and I laugh when I hear them. I don’t let mere words hold sway over me but I have tremendous power to control others because so many people do.