What’s in a word? A whole lot, actually
Editor’s Note: The language in this article may be offensive to some readers. The purpose is to educate students entering university about offensive terminology so that we don’t hear these terms on campus.
The words we use impact people. Our society is striving to be more accepting, but some of the language we unthinkingly use is demeaning to entire groups.
Language is ever evolving, and we need to evolve with it.
Although it can be difficult to change our speaking habits, working to remove the following words from our everyday vocabulary is important.
Turning historically oppressive words into slang is not okay. Words have an impact, and choosing the correct words will help to make sure you are communicating effectively.
In addition to these phrases, it has long been established that the N-word and the other F-word are deeply offensive to members of the black community and LGBTQ+ community, respectively. Those words should only be used by members of each community for the purposes of reclaiming them and should never be used by those outside of those communities.
It doesn’t matter if
- Your “favourite rapper says it”
- “They call each other it”
- You “have a lot of friends who are black”
- You “have a lot of friends who are gay”
- You were just joking and you didn’t mean it as an insult
It’s hate speech and you shouldn’t use those words.
Definition: Full of cracks or flaws; not mentally sound
Why it’s insulting: From being considered evil forces to being put in insane asylums, those who have been called “crazy” have been treated harshly. Although we are encouraging people to get help and take care of their mental health, these issues are still stigmatized due in part to phrases like this one.
“That’s so gay.”
Definition: Happily excited; homosexual
Why it’s insulting: Originally the term “gay” meant full of joy. The meaning of this term has changed over time. When people use the phrase “That’s so gay” to mean “lame” or “stupid” it implies that being gay is bad, undesirable, or inferior, which is insulting to people who identify as gay.
Definition: “I’m not a homosexual.”
Why it’s insulting: A person says this to assert that what he is doing or saying should not be interpreted to mean that he is gay. The person who says this assumes that men should have certain behaviours and feelings depending on their sexual identity rather than being able to express themselves and act the way they would like.
“What a retard.”
Definition: Slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development
Why it’s insulting: The term “mental retardation” means low IQ (Intelligence Quotient), but has been used negatively as an insult to the point where many prefer the more polite terms “intellectual disability,” “learning disability,” or “learning exceptionality.”
“That’s savage” or “He’s savage.”
Definition: Not domesticated or under human control; lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings
Why it’s insulting: To you, it might mean “that’s cool” or “he’s fearless,” but this term has a history in colonialism and using it as slang fails to acknowledge the impact of genocide on First Nations Peoples that resulted because white Europeans considered them to be savages.
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