There's a campaign to encourage people to rethink the words they choose to write and say. Today, March 3 2010, has been chosen as a day to focus on these issues.
Words matter, language matters. When people decide to use as slurs and insults, words that originated as diagnostic labels for various disabilities and/or for various categories of mental illness, real and manufactured ("hysteria") then they contribute to a culture that marginalises people. Disabled people are dehumanised by these words. A society that tolerates the use of slurs like r*t*rd and sp*st*c as equivalent to stupid, useless, pathetic, hateful or annoying, legitimises the hatred that leads to the abuse, murder, forced drugging and sterilisation and discarding of so many disabled people in this country and all around the world.
Some people whine about the "language police," "PC gone mad," their "right to free speech" and how "no one has a right not to be offended." They make a case to keep insulting, belittling, minimising and dehumanising people like my son who have developmental disabilities just so they can slag off their mates or sound hip and cool on someone's blog or YouTube comments. But if someone wants to keep acting like an entitled and callous arse, that's their call.
There's a fantastic series on Ableist Language at the FWD/Forward blog discussing specific words, their origin, the damage they can do and suggesting alternatives. As expected, the usual arguments in favour of the right to
There's one argument the non-creative who prefer to keep right on insulting and degrading developmentally disabled people use that isn't in the list. It's the "euphemism treadmill" argument, and it's explained in this blog comment;
This sort of process (words becoming offensive and being replaced by new terms that end up becoming pejorative over time only to be replaced by more and more cumbersome and ridiculous expressions and so on and so forth ad infinitum) is known as the euphemism treadmill. And people who keep insisting on keeping this treadmill going are fucking retards (I hope the actual innocent retards forgive me for using this innocent word pejoratively).The Blog owner responded to this inanity with, "Fucking right!"
Can I have a facepalm?
OK, that's me shut up then. I wouldn't want to contribute to the "euphemism treadmill." Keeping all hip and raging against the PC police is far more important than listening to the people whose lives are directly negatively affected by your words and committing to making a few simple substitutions.
My understanding of what this commenter calls the "euphemism treadmill" is the positive effect of disability activists who have influenced the language used to describe people with their attributes. "Wheelchair bound" is out because people who use wheelchairs find the term fucking ridiculous and limiting. If people who are blind prefer not to be referred to as a "the blind" and people who have epilepsy quite reasonably don't want to be called "epileptics" then should those of us who are not in these groups get all bothered by their "disgraceful assault on our right to speak as we see fit"? Should we return to a more paternalistic era (as if this one's not bad enough) when we allowed doctors, psychologists educators and others with power-over to dictate the terms used to describe people, or might it be seen as fairer that, as people gain more agency over their lives, they and only they have the moral authority to dictate the language used to describe these lives.
There's more about this on Here Be Dragons post; Ban the R-Treatment:
A lot of people think that The R-Word campaign is just about a disablist slur, but it’s the medicalization of atypical learning and social behaviour that’s dehumanizing, hence the basis of all slurs for people considered inferior are medical terms which caused the euphemism treadmill in the first place.Another thing about the previous comment is the distinction made between the "fucking r*t*rds" behind this drive to substitute language that demeans with the language of their choice and the "actual innocent r*t*rds" whom s/he hopes will forgive such pejorative use of this "innocent" word.
They're the same people, these "innocents" and the ones who annoy you (and confuse you?) so much with their attempt to improve they way they're discussed and to stop people using using their discarded diagnoses as the epitome of the put down. And what makes them "innocent" anyway? They're almost all adults so in all likelihood, they're as much of a sinner as you or I! I hate this trope that developmentally disabled people are seen as innocent and child-like even when they're full grown men and women. It's another way in which they're dehumanised.
If you want to, go ahead and use r*t*rd and similar terms as insults. I reserve the right to think of you who do as arrogant, rude, insensitive twerps. To the rest of you who might decide that on reflection, it might be decent to chose other words that don't have such power to hurt and harm, please pledge your support to eliminate the demeaning use of the r-word.