The Foulest Words I Know

I've been working lately on cleaning up my language.

Not for F-bombs or impolite references to excrement; those I still employ with unladylike abandon. But there are other words--fouler words--that I'm trying to quit saying, even if most folks wouldn't think of them as obscene.

Lame, Bitch, Crazy, and Sucks are my worst offenders. They insult by implying similarity or relation to groups of marginalized people. The mobility-impaired. Women. People with mental health issues. People who have sex with men. They're a way of saying "this thing is bad because it's like these people who are bad." That's ugly, and I don't want to do it anymore.

Sometimes I'll hear another phrase and look it up only to discover--yup. Super-racist. Or sexist. Or otherwise offensive. "Indian Summer" is the most recent. In the same vein as "Indian burn" and "Indian giver," it's using '(American) Indian' as shorthand for untrustworthy, unreliable, and/or fake.

Some people seem to think I try to be intentional about my words because I'm 'politically correct' and 'scared of offending anyone,' but that's not actually true. There are plenty of people I don't mind offending. But I do mind marginalizing people. I mind picking on people who don't have the societal power to make me answer for it. I mind bullying.

So choosing words I actually mean isn't about trying to look virtuous. It's about trying to be decent.


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Posted on October 24, 2012 .