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The Greyhound

Misused and offensive words drag down discourse

It would be safe to say that words are our main vessels for communication, as even if you are speaking or writing, it is all in reference to a word that represents an object or an idea. Therefore, with such power in our words, we should take special care not to use the wrong ones. But in our society we have taken older words that were once commonplace and twisted them into terms with these incredibly negative connotations. Our words carry a lot of weight, and that means we have the responsibility to choose the right ones, in some cases for the sake of our society.

For some reason the first word that comes to mind is feminist. It began as a term used to describe someone involved in the women’s movement, a movement that called for equality for women in the political, social and economic realms. It was a truly powerful change in the world, and that should be a term that we use with high regard. And yet, it has morphed into a way to put a woman “back in her place” if she is being too opinionated, too passionate or sometimes too right. I have faced this in my daily life, most recently at work in a disagreement. I happened to have a different opinion about a solution to an issue, and because I vocalized my ideas I was suddenly a “crazy feminist.” I realize that I should not have been offended, but it upsets me that I was because that was a really awesome movement and he said I was part of it in a negative way. When we deface and defame important movements for the purpose of putting someone else down, our culture is impacted in the future because it takes away a piece of the importance every time.

Another great example of a term being misused is the word retard. This began as a medical term to describe a person with developmental disabilities, which is now the politically correct term. It has been removed from medical dictionaries because it could not fully and accurately describe a disability, but for some reason it has moved into common vocabulary. It is now being used as a word to describe anything stupid, dumb, boring or even funny. But what most people do not understand is how hurtful this term has become. It specifically targets a group of people as being stupid, dumb, boring or funny. Compare it to your friend running into walls with a bucket on his head to a boy with a developmental disability. Those two things are not even sort of related. Despite the fact that this word is no longer used, it will always have an association to developmental disabilities, and that should be respected. Developmental disabilities are not something to be laughed and joked about, neither is weight, social class or skin color. The word retard is never truly appropriate to use in any context, and it is hurtful, inaccurate and its use lowers the moral standards of our collective global culture.

In the last few years, incredible strides toward total equality have been made in regard to the homosexual population. But even with marriage equality and benefits, for some reason we still use the word gay to be negative. Instead of simply being a description of sexual orientation, it is used a negative word to designate something as lame or anything different from the norm. The phrase “Dude you are so gay,” is strangely a common way to insult and alienate someone from a group. That should not be the connotation the word has, because those things, as explained before, have nothing to do with each other. If a person is acting differently, that does not mean they are gay, it means they are different. If our society continues to promote and ignore the inappropriate usage, slowly it will become an issue again to be gay. Our language choices may slowly associate the word gay with wrong, stupid or bad once again, which would be a gigantic step back from the equality and freedom America screams we support.

These words are just a few examples of common insults or terms we use to put a person or an idea down, which just lowers the integrity of our world. Our words convey so much about ourselves, and when we choose words hastily, it can have a serious impact on those around us. If we are truly going to go out into the world and change it, we should eliminate words from our vocabulary that proliferate negativity, hostility and immorality.

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Misused and offensive words drag down discourse