What’s In A Word?
Today I want to tackle how a single word can cause huge ripples of distress and harm. That’s because a word is not just a word. We are constantly evolving and the use of language evolves with us. So read on to learn about how you can become more considerate of the words you use without making people scared of speaking, learning and asking questions. The default these days seems to be to point the finger when in reality it should be to gently educate.
Words Can Be Problematic & Abelist
My grandma was blind, if she was still here I would love to ask her how she feels about the idiom “turn a blind eye”. Now I’m not good with idioms so I had to google what this meant and it means pretending not to notice something. I don’t understand why people can’t just say “I’ll pretend I didn’t see that”?
As my grandma is no longer with us I asked a member of our online community who is registered blind
Naemi said; “I don’t mind if people would say this because I mean, we also say see you later or it was nice seeing you. So that’s no problem. It’s usual language and I don’t feel annoyed by it. I use it myself. I mean how strange would it sound if I say feel you later? lol”
There are loads of these idioms out there and I will be honest I’ve never thought too much about them. Maybe it’s because I struggle to understand them so don’t really use them myself.
Falls On Deaf Ears
Another one is “falls on deaf ears”, now this means that you are pretending not to hear someone. So purposefully ignoring them. Now I’m not sure if this is my neurodivergent brain but I can see why this would be offensive to the deaf or hard of hearing community. It’s like saying they are purposefully not listening or ignoring you.
What’s In A Word?
So What Other Words Are There?
As an Oasis fan, I’m going to talk about the word mad. Because if you know Oasis or you were into the brit-pop scene like I was in the 90’s you’ll know that “Mad for it” was a popular saying from Liam Gallagher. It meant that you were keen, excited and ready to party.
Mam’s Gonna Be Mad
When I was a kid my mam would get mad at me if I was naughty. I’d say to my brother “mams gonna be so mad”. This was in the 1980s, and in the 1980s times were different. That’s not an excuse it’s just that people did and said things that they wouldn’t dream of doing or saying today. I was smacked when I was naughty, I was smacked when I wasn’t naughty but she thought I had been naughty. However, my mam would never do that today and I’m sure if she is reading this blog she will be feeling awful at this point.
What’s In A Word?
I can’t say that people don’t smack their children today because that is not true, we only have to turn the news on to see that some people do. I’d like to hope that the majority of people know that hurting a child is unacceptable. Corporal punishment is done to cause physical pain to someone. Even the thought of inflicting physical pain on my children makes me feel sick.
We Need To Make A Change
So what I’m saying is that if the majority of people no longer smack because we have evolved as humans and we understand that this isn’t an acceptable form of punishment. If we can do that we can also learn and understand how language can affect people and make a change here too.
Lots of us use ableist language and words every day without even thinking that they may cause harm or upset. Everyone holds an unconscious bias about something. I once heard a story about a teacher who didn’t like the name her daughter had chosen for her newborn baby. This was because in her class she had taught a child of the same name who had been quite a handful. That’s a form of unconscious bias.
Do you know the best way to challenge your unconscious bias? It is to educate yourself and if you’re still with me you’re doing just that.
Forget what you’ve said in the past and focus on the future. You now have the opportunity to change your vocabulary and use different words.
A couple of months ago our CEO sent out some marketing emails using the word Insane. Jenny didn’t think about this when she was writing these emails, she had been influenced by other marketing campaigns and was trying to stand out. Following this email, a small number of our followers did email us and they were quick to point out the ableist use of the word Insane. There was one very aggressive email which we would not even entertain. We did however take on board the points of those kind people who took the time to tell us how it made them feel and why we shouldn’t be using it.
We are all educating ourselves all of the time.
What’s In A Word?
It’s 2021 and we have so many ways to do this. Listen to people, read articles, listen to podcasts. Follow disabled people and listen to how ableist language really makes them feel.
Listen To How Abelist Language Makes Disabled People Feel
When you say you’re depressed but really you’re just a bit sad it takes away the reality of depression. Depression can be life-threatening and trivialising things like this are not good for our already struggling mental health.
Not Everyone Will Be Offended
While not all disabled people are offended by language. Take Naemi’s quote above about the idiom “turn a blind eye”. Some people are and you have no way of knowing if what you say will affect them negatively.
So surely the best thing to do is think about the language you use and avoid using language that is harmful to others?
Err on the side of caution – it’s not that hard really.
And if you do get upset by the use of someone’s language please take a moment, stay calm and explain why this is harmful. Most people are unaware and really do want to know so that they don’t do it again.