Thinking time – language

29 Oct

(Please see note at the end)

So many thoughts on this topic.

During the recent shitstorm that prompted the very brief blogger blackout, the issue of language came up. (Among a multitude of other issues, for another day)

In many of the blogs I read there seemed to be at least one person describing Kathleen Hale as ‘crazy’ or variants thereof. I know I used ‘unhinged’ at least once–and I wish I could take it back.

Because words do have power.

Emotional abuse, after all, is often inflicted through words.


Simply because this word or that word don’t offend me doesn’t mean I can ignore the fact that they are offensive to many other people. I now know that certain words hurt people in certain specific ways, because those people have spoken up.

Society as a whole slowly, eventually wakes up to these things, though in the past it took decades for change to happen–change that is often challenged and uneven. Nonetheless, social change does happen and it shapes our language just as it shapes our lives.

Otherwise, we would still be calling homosexual men, f-word, and Black people, n-word, and any person of Latin American descent, “illegal”.

Yes, sadly, there are groups of people who cling to these derogatory terms, with the full intent to inflict harm (see Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptists for an example), but in general, most people agree that there are words that, on their own, are hurtful.


Personally I don’t see this as a matter of political correctness (that much maligned phrase), as much as a matter of taking a bit of care with the feelings of other people. Without obligation. Just because.

It costs very little in terms of effort and the benefits may very well be great.

Please note, however, that I am not on a crusade to change people’s behaviours or perceptions on anything.

In fact, I am pretty tired of having Ann Somerville (who labels me a tone troll and can go nuclear at the drop of a hat when discussing…well, pretty much anything else), show up every-fucking-where this week, to chide those people using words that imply mental illness to explain KH’s behaviour.¹


Whether we care enough about potentially hurting random strangers online (or in casual conversation) enough to think twice about how frequently, thoughtlessly, we toss out certain words, is up to each one of us.

Like the blogger blackout.

Like pretty much everything else in life.

As for me, I’m taking it as challenge. It will require a bit of effort to get into the habit of using other terms to express my bewilderment, indignation, shock, anger, etc. Kris very helpfully provided the link to this post which offers many alternative terms. Seems like a good starting point.


¹ I believe that Ann herself used the term cognitive dissonance at some point, somewhere in the many, many, many trails I’ve chased this past week. She may want to grab a mirror sometime.²

² Not going to hold my breath, though. I thought several members of my family were good at holding grudges, but Ann could easily teach them how it’s really done. Yet, she considers herself qualified to welcome me to adulthood.

* * * *

Update May 8, 2022: edited to remove slurs and ableist language, while writing about blogging with integrity

5 Responses to “Thinking time – language”

  1. Lori 29/10/2014 at 3:20 PM #

    So I’m going to get some hate directed at me but I thought that article on DA was silly (not to offend any silly people out there). Seriously (not to offend any serious people out there) but to consider words like crazy or batshit (not to offend the mentally ill or those covered in bat guano) as ableist is taking things to an extreme (not to offend any extremists out there).

    Words do have the power to hurt but they have the power we give them. I’m fat. Always been overweight (always). Used to be the worst thing that someone could call me would be fat. Someone called another person fat and I’d cringe. Fat. That horrible, horrible word.

    Except I had to take the power of that word away. Fat is a descriptor. Not a condemnation unless I make it that way. Someone calls me fat and I agree. Yes, I am fat. But that doesn’t describe me. Or it describes only one part of who I am.

    Batshit crazy describes Kathleen Hale’s actions. They don’t condemn anyone with mental illness. The person with mental illness who feels hurt by the words well, that’s a battle they need to fight. And not by taking language on. Because in that instance I’d say check out the word crazy in the dictionary and you’ll see it really isn’t using your picture as its descriptor.

    I thought Kris was brave to write what she did but I disagree with the idea that language is to fault. The armchair diagnosis’ of KH’s actions were stupid and I hate when people try to prove how smart they are by making them. But to condemn language completely, as she did, because she’s vulnerable to it goes to a place I’m not willing to go to.

    Calling someone a faggot or nigger is wrong. Calling someone crazy who obsesses about another is not. And taking all negative descriptions and internalizing them when they aren’t about you… that’s not my issue. And I won’t make it so.

    Sorry but to me that’s just crazy.

    • azteclady 29/10/2014 at 3:26 PM #

      I’m not going to hate you, Lori, I’m just going to disagree.

      But like I said, it’s not my vocation to change anyone’s mind other than my own about any issues. I present my case, as best I can, and whomever reads my words is welcome to agree, disagree, or argue (or all three)

  2. Lori 29/10/2014 at 8:16 PM #

    Agree AZ. And this is one of the few places I feel I can safely disagree. I’d never say the same things on DA because some of the commenters there are amazingly nasty and hold a grudge.

    But I do think that some of this ableist language discussion is self indulgent to the max.

    Just my opinion.

    • azteclady 29/10/2014 at 9:09 PM #

      Regarding disagreeing at DA: it has been better for a while, since Jane implemented the commenting policy, but I understand where you are coming from.

      I also think–and this is why Ann Somerville constantly calls me a tone troll–that the vitriol puts people’s backs up, so that many who would be willing to consider the issue will knee-jerk in the opposite direction.

      Speaking for me, the decision to make this change came despite AS and others’ rants. Definitely not because someone screeched at me all over creation.


  1. Blogging with Integrity | Her Hands, My Hands - 09/05/2022

    […] I blogged about how language can be used to harm, and about my decision to do better, but I didn’t tag many of my reviews of books where […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: