No More Crazy Here

No More Crazy Here August 2, 2013

The other day I put up a post in which I said that I think Glenn Beck is bipolar or manic depressive. A colleague messaged me on Facebook and called me out on it, suggesting — politely — that I try to avoid using language that marginalizes or diminishes those who struggle with mental illness. As I reread the post, I realized that she was right and I sought out some advice on how to change the language I use.

In particular, I sought the advice of two bloggers on this network, Miri Mogilevsky and Kate Donovan. Both have written bravely and extensively about their own struggles in this regard and both are very knowledgeable about mental illness and about marginalizing language. And I want to thank them for taking the time to talk it over with me and educate me no the subject and to do so with kindness and understanding. I also want to thank Lily Wololo for bringing it to my attention in the first place. It’s important to have friends who are willing to call you out but do so not in a “you’re a horrible person” way but in a “you can do better than this” way. And it’s important to listen to them and take their concerns seriously rather than being defensive, which is not always easy to do.

Miri’s advice was good:

My own position on this is pretty simple: the only time one should use mental illness-related terms to describe a person or that person’s behavior is when they know for a fact that that person has either been diagnosed with that mental illness by a professional, or self-identifies with that mental illness because they believe that they have it but perhaps haven’t been able/willing to access professional mental healthcare. Further, mental illness-related terms should never be used in a derogatory way. Just as it’s offensive to call someone “gay” instead of boring or stupid, it’s offensive to call someone “crazy” or “bipolar” instead of “wrong” or “harmful,” which I’m sure are two things that definitely apply to Glenn Beck.

But it’s a convenient shorthand to call someone crazy, loony or insane. Everyone knows what we mean by it, that this person has ideas that are beyond the pale and so disconnected from reality as to be utterly absurd. I use those terms constantly here and always have and I’m sure everyone knows that I don’t intend to disparage those who really do suffer from some form of mental illness. But that isn’t really the point, is it? If it makes those people, many of whom I care about a great deal, uncomfortable and makes them feel more marginalized than they already are, I need to try to find other ways to express myself.

Miri gave me a link to a post by Jennifer Kesler offering some replacement words. Writing is what I do and words are what I love; it may not be easy, but I’m going to try to stop using these words, at least to describe people rather than ideas. I may still slip up now and then, and if I do feel free to call me out on it.

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  • demonhauntedworld

    I think it’s sound advice not to use such clinically specific words as “bipolar” or “manic depressive” – but to be consistent, shouldn’t we also shy away from using words such as “idiot”, “moron”, “dumb”, “lame”, and “crippled”? At some point, we have to step off the euphemism treadmill.

  • Thanks for this. 🙂

  • daved

    Whew. For a second, I thought you meant you weren’t going to feature the output of people like Glenn Beck any more, which would be a shame.

  • It’s not easy to pull these out of your writing and speech patterns – I’ve been trying myself, and I know I still screw it up occasionally. But it’s also good to see you doing the same!

  • matty1

    Maybe we need new insults that target the things that we actually find offensive about someone e.g “That guys such as conservative”, “stop being a right winger”, “I bet he vote Republican”

  • Over the last few years I’ve noticed my invective has become more problem-targeted and specific, and I manage (I think!) to almost completely avoid ableist terms while preferring topical abuse. It’s really spurred my creativity and has revitalized my vocabulary with gems like “bootlicker” and “fascist goon” – they’re much more composable. WWHLMD? (What would H.L. Mencken Do?) It’s an opportunity to level up one’s language, though it makes me pause for a moment and wish I could read Mencken’s comments on certain blogs. Or, perhaps, Mark Twain fulminating about Glenn Beck… *sigh*

  • matty1

    This is something I struggle with myself, it is so easy to slip into ‘crazy’ talk and tell myself “it’s ok because I don’t mean mentally ill” but really is that any different from calling someone gay and defending yourself by explaining you didn’t mean homosexual?

    The thing is I should know better, I suffered from clinical depression at one time and I know from the inside that mental illness is not zany fun or wildly unrealistic views. Maybe one day these words will be as acceptable as ‘nigger’ and I think we might be all be better off for it.

  • Drew

    I’d tend to agree with avoiding clinical terms like bipolar or manic without some sort of formal diagnosis.

    The only problem I see is that “wrong” or “harmful” just don’t convey the depth of how off the mark, or outside the bounds of reality or rational thought someone is. Perhaps we should make up a representative word to substitute.

    How about “Fischery”?

  • zippythepinhead

    I would suggest “pinhead”, but Bill O’Reilly ruined that for all of us.

  • rmsc

    Is “wingnut” out, too?

  • No more, “crazy”.

    Hmm, okay.

    Rand Paul = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Ron Paul = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Newt Gingrich = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Bill O’Reilly = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Glen Beck = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Brian Fischer = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Ted Nugent = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Ted Cruz = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    John Boehner = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Mitch McConnell = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Sean Hannity = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    Mitt Romney = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopath

    The RCC = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopaths

    The SBC = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopaths

    The GOP = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopaths

    NRA = lying fucking piece-of-shit sociopaths

    It has, I admit, a certain economy but it tends to make my vocabulary shrink.

    Batshit KKKrazzee is not and, I’m pretty sure, never intended to define a condition of genuine mental illness.

    FWIW, I don’t generally refer to those who are mentally impaired or who suffer from some variety of psychological illness or mental defect, as “crazy”.

  • CaitieCat

    Thanks for this, Ed.

    @1: yes, words like lame, idiot, moron, dumb, and crippled are words I don’t use anymore. English has the largest vocabulary of any language in the world; it doesn’t seem like a huge challenge to find ways of saying insulting or demeaning things that are both inventive and considerate. When I insult someone, I want to insult that person, and without bouncing my shot off a bunch of other people on the way.

    In similar ways, I avoid using genitalia to insult people. I don’t call people dicks, or cunts, or the various related versions; I like dicks and cunts, why would I use them as insults? I think there are probably a few people around here who’ve got the rough side of my keyboard, but I try hard to do so in ways that won’t hit anyone but they whom I’m shooting at. I don’t think it’s affected my ability to cut loose, either.

    Other considerations about possible ableist language people might want to think about include trying not to use “speaking” or “hearing” when I mean reading and writing, and not using “blind to X” as meaning “unaware of X”, and things like that. I do so by simply re-reading my post when I’m done, and altering anything I find which might be harmful to someone I don’t mean to harm. We’re fortunate in having a language which is intensely rich in different ways to say the same things.

    Closer to our atheist home, I don’t say “Old or New Testament” anymore, as I try not to centre Christian views of those books. For me, they are the Torah and the Christian Bible.

    Note I’m not saying you can’t use any of those terms. I’m saying I try not to use them, because I think empathy is the prime positive social lubricant in our world. You don’t want to, that’s fine, I’ve no hell to dismiss you to, nor would I if I had. I mention them only so as to spark additional discussion along the lines of what Ed’s proposing in the OP.

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    There is no more important skill that a person can have than being able to admit being wrong – even when the spotlight is focused and the pressure is on the person in the wrong.

    I completely agree with this shift and have been hoping for it for some time, but even if you and I (and Miri, and Lily, etc) were somehow missing some fundamental point that made it right and important to call a will to inflict violence “crazy” or an immunity to being called out on self-contradiction “bipolar”, your public ability to say that you were wrong is a great great thing. Even in that hypothetical world, you would be free – with this skill – to examine new evidence and change position again.

    I offer thanks to you not merely for an effort to change language; I thank you for role modeling the most important skill that social, fallible humans can have.

  • Karen Locke

    Thanks, Ed, for admitting that your choice of language was wrong and you’re changing. Well done.

  • Here are a few words from Newt Gingrich’s playbook: abuse of power; anti- (issue): flag, family, child; jobs; betray; bizarre; bosses; bureaucracy; cheat; coercion; consequences; corrupt; corruption; crisis; cynicism; decay; deeper; destroy; destructive; devour; disgrace; endanger; excuses; failure (fail); greed; hypocrisy; ideological; impose; incompetent; insecure; insensitive; intolerant; lie; limit(s); obsolete; pathetic; patronage; permissive attitude; pessimistic; punish (poor …); radical; self-serving; selfish; sensationalists; shallow; shame; sick; stagnation; status quo; steal; traitors; urgent (cy)

    Many work to describe the current crop ‘o conservatives.

  • Brian63

    Seems like this would apply also to the phrase “Worldnutdaily” and you will just have to go back to the intended name of “Worldnetdaily.”


  • I hope ‘cretin’ is OK, as its probable origin is Swiss French word for ‘Christian’.

  • And if, like me, you realize that everyone is partly mad, insane, crazy, that only those lacking in self-awareness deny this, then using words like madness or insanity are merely references to the normal crazy side of the human condition. A lot what gets called mental disorder as part of the normal continuum of madness.

    Our often hobbled, rational capacity is only the tip of the mental iceberg. To a large extent, we’re governed by non-rational, non-conscious activity that is often quite nuts, but that same non-rational activity is also essential to functioning well as human beings. We would be deeply impaired without this non-rational, non-conscious underpinning that does most of the work–the work that can’t be handled by the 5+/- 2 conscious processor.

    Ironically, an emphasis on medicalizing and a disease mentality that is supposed to strip away the moral judgment, ends up marginalizing people, otherizing madness and separating people into those who, at the extreme, wrongly think of themselves as utterly sane, as opposed to those categorically different mentally ill people.

    For me, and this is the kind of thing that often enough gets said in conversation with clinician friends, a response to he’s insane, might be: yeah, but whose sane? This isn’t to diminish the pain often associated with certain variations of madness, it’s more of a reminder that we all live in glass houses when it comes to being nut and the point is to avoid slipping into considering the most deeply troubled as somehow less human in their affliction.

  • gshelley

    Does this mean it is never appropriate to call a person “crazy” I would have thought it has to be off limits for someone diagnosed with a specific mental illness.

  • kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    I hope ‘cretin’ is OK, as its probable origin is Swiss French word for ‘Christian’.

    Cretinism is an actual medical diagnosis that designates the severely stunted mental and physical growth caused to a child by untreated maternal hypothyroidism.

    However, it is a rather rare condition in developed countries, since our diets are supplemented in iodine, and hypothyroidism rarely goes undiagnosed for very long.

  • I have thought about this issue a lot in the past with respect to a couple of other things that Ed referenced in similar ways. I have come to the conclusion that we should be able to draw such comparisons if they truly do share aspects with mental illness. I have a couple of reasons for this but first my full disclosure is that I have Tourette Syndrome, associated ADHD and likely OCD and have considered criticizing Ed in the past for his linking Glenn Beck to “Nazi Tourettes”. But preventing him from making the comparison, even through criticism, troubled me and I ultimately pushed it out of my mind.

    So why would I not mind Ed using a term like “Nazi Tourettes” as a person with TS?

    It comes down to the fact that all the various mental disorders, diseases, and problems end up looking like the ends of spectra with “normal” in the middle when you dig into the scientific literature as I have since I was diagnosed four years ago. Right now I am reading a review where tics are compared to habits in terms of the circuitry and plumbing involved and I have no problem seeing what Mr. Beck does being compared to an irrational, meaningless knee-jerk response. An extreme on the end of normal. My tics are ultimately meaningless and I find Mr. Beck’s comparisons as meaningless and Ed’s comparison realistic in lots of ways. Bi-polar, Depression, OCD, Autism, Schizophrenia, TS and many more are the extremes that give definition to what most people call normal.

    These comparisons are in fact informative because there is no normal. Many of these things are turning out to be what patterns remain when you shatter the idea of normal and try to figure out what patterns we humans really sort into. All the above conditions can be arrived at through nature and nurture and nurture includes the sorts of mental habits that people like Mr. Beck let themselves get into after a lifetime of irrational emotional gesticulations. What else is there to compare such irrationality with than a mind with a related problem that is in fact being used to study and inform science of what “normal” is?

    I see the word sociopath up there. At it’s base it basically means that one is somehow pathological to society and how exactly is that defined? By society. Lots of different groups within society. I’ve been called a sociopath for refusing to vote for Democrats or Republicans without specific demands being met (has to do with party structure denunciations of police-state enabling and charging the current and previous administrations for being complicit in torture for the D’s). Why would I take that argument from the surrounding society? Or the argument about comparisons between mental illness and the behavior reflected in “unaffected” individuals that is called normal? What matters is how the analogies and comparisons are used.

    So Ed I would hate to see you stop using such comparisons because they do in fact have value, including rhetorical value. Don’t yeild such a weapon lightly when all that you may need to do is to find more creative and specific ways of wording things. Humor included.

  • royandale

    Crazy, bananas, flaky, wack (and wacky), ding-a-ling, gaga (yeah, her), bonkers, potty, tetched, cracked (like the website), cock-eyed (like me and my eye), loopy, loony, screwy, screw-loose, meshuga, batty, dippy, nutty, nutter, loco, crackpot, daft, mad (like the magazine, like the TV show, like the hatter), delirious, raving, mental, off, cuckoo, kooky, buggy…

    And many, many, more, I’m sure. Then there are the ones from the umpteen other languages on this Earth, to which so many of the above words owe their etymology.

    I love the intention, here, and my greatest admiration is for people like you who are shown they’re doing something wrong and do something about it. But you’re going to have a hell of a time, language-wise, with this one. Worldnutdaily, as was pointed out, is just the beginning, and as time goes on there will be many more. The parsing will become onerous indeed.

    Seems to me the intention – don’t marginalize people who unwillingly suffer from debilitating mental conditions – needs to take into account those who seem to willingly embrace irrational thinking. (Talkin’ to you, Rand Paul.)

  • davem

    Wow, what a load of political correctness here. Ed, your writing will be pedantic, and duller. You must be crazy.

  • vmanis1

    I’m quite careful about not using words suggesting psychiatric conditions or intellectual incapacity outside their actual domains. I do make an exception for `idiot’, because it has acquired a connotation of suggesting that whatever the person’s intellectual abilities might be, s/he doesn’t use them effectively. Thus, it seems reasonable to say that Steve King, Louis Gohmert, Virginia Foxx, and the rest of that crowd are idiots. However, I have noticed that in recent years I have become fonder of the word `jackass’, or `horse’s ass’ (yes, I know that those two `ass’es have different origins) instead.

    Similarly, I do take exception to the assumption, often in evidence here, that all homophobic bigots are ipso facto gay or lesbian. Certainly there are some who fall into that classification, such as Peter LaBarbera (often known as `Porno Pete’), one of whose hobbies seems to be getting photographed next to attractive men in assless chaps, or one of the subgroups of the extreme-right French group `Manif pour tous’, consisting of a group of very attractive young men who seem to like protesting marriage equality by getting photographed without shirts on in various odd homoerotic poses.

    But most homophobes are just bigots. One doesn’t need a theory that they are repressed LGBTs to explain their behavior, any more than one needs a theory that George Wallace was a repressed African-American to explain his. (In fairness to Wallace, he moderated his opinions somewhat late in his life.)

    As for the phrase `political correctness’, I have no use for it. I try to make my speech and writing courteous and respectful on the one hand, and precise on the other.

  • Morgan

    I think this is the right thing to do, Ed, and I’m glad to see it.

  • demonhauntedworld

    @1: yes, words like lame, idiot, moron, dumb, and crippled are words I don’t use anymore. English has the largest vocabulary of any language in the world; it doesn’t seem like a huge challenge to find ways of saying insulting or demeaning things that are both inventive and considerate. When I insult someone, I want to insult that person, and without bouncing my shot off a bunch of other people on the way.

    What about in non-insulting contexts?


    “The tugboat towed the crippled ship to shore.”

    “The committee was deaf to the concerns of the attendees.”

    “The lame horse had to be euthanized.”

    “The speaker was struck dumb by the asinine question.”

    Or if it’s a thing being criticized, rather than a person:

    “The idea was so moronic that it was ignored.”

  • lynxreign

    I’m glad to see it, it is a hard thing to do.

    How about you also stop using “hysterical” which essentially means “irrationally, overly excited, like a woman.”

  • CSB

    @27: Given nodern usage of the term, I’m not really sure that’s a battle worth fighting. It’s not even like “bitch” where the term has different connotations when used in reference to a man than it does in reference to a woman; saying that someone is acting hysterical carries the same meaning regardless of the subject’s gender. Claiming that “hysteria” is a sexist term because of its etymology just seems too close to saying that “lady” should only be used when referring to a female baker.

  • John Horstman

    @11: No dice. Using “lying” in a derogatory fashion can be marginalizing to compulsive liars. Using “fucking” derogatorily is sex-phobic. Using “piece-of-shit” derogatorily is body-shaming. Using “sociopath” derogatorily is marginalizing to people who have impaired or absent empathy responses. Anyone else want to propose any invective at all that I can’t problematize? (Don’t actually bother – you can’t, and that’s the point; the harshest thing you can say if we actually want to avoid language that potentially marginalizes anyone is “I disagree,” and even that presupposes a certain model of personhood, agency, and ego that is not universally accepted.)


    I’m on board with eliminating language that treats unproblematic features or conditions as though they were undesirable or bad (e.g. “gay” as a slur, racial epithets, feminine-gendered epithets – I”m okay with masculine-gendered epithets because IMO there are very serious problems with normative masculinity, mainly related to violence, exploitation, and empathy suppression – age-based epithets), but I seriously think this particular trend is unjustified and potentially harmful. I have bipolar disorder, and that makes me super-energetic and -animated sometimes (hypo-manic: it’s type 2, though I should note I haven’t had a chance to read through the published version of the DSM-5, so the classifications may have changed) and seriously depressed sometimes, generally for no particular reason (though I’ve identified plenty of triggers). This sucks – it is not a desirable condition. Additionally, people should not necessarily take my statements at face value, as accurate assessments, and should absolutely subject my reasoning to extra scrutiny because my reasoning and interpretive mechanisms are unreliable. Having bipolar disorder absolutely should render me marginal in contexts where affective evaluation is important – if I describe a situation as hopeless or say everyone at a meeting was boring or hostile or somesuch, you shouldn’t believe me without independent verification. *I* don’t believe me without independent verification (at least with respect to my affective evaluations), because I’m perfectly aware my brain is broken. Using “bipolar” (or “crazy” for that matter) as a metaphorical epithet is fine in plenty of contexts because having bipolar disorder is problematic in a variety of ways, both for the sufferer and those around hir.

    Discriminating on the basis of relevant abilities, conditions, or features is not ableism, not a bad thing. A lot of these objections strike me as resulting from essentialist treatment of language and a refusal (or perhaps inability) to parse context. Obviously, you’ll do what you wish (and set commenting policies for your blog as you wish), and you’ve now decided that you’re going to avoid the sort of language in question; that’s just dandy. However, I do disagree with the assertion that metaphorical or literal ability comparisons/evaluations should not be used as epithets, as well as the underlying idea that marginalization is always bad.

  • Cuttlefish
  • Gvlgeologist, FCD

    I propose, in the same way that “santorum” has been redefined, that “nuts” be redefined to mean, “typical right wing attitudes, speech, or actions, that demonstrate a clear disconnect with reality, whether deliberate and willful (Beck, for instance) or through ignorance”.

  • Robert B.

    Wow, thanks.

  • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I think the arguments against using diagnostic terms or community-adopted labels as insults are sound. I think the arguments against words like “crazy” which have an extensive track record of use and a broad understanding completely divorced from mental illness per se are much weaker, and I don’t find them persuasive. Please know that the latter set of arguments are not a monolithic position of people with mental health issues. All people with bipolar disorder are “bipolar” unless midiagnosed, but most people with mental illnesses are not crazy, and I suspect most crazy people have no diagnosable mental illnesses, but are memeopaths instead.

  • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Let me rephrase slightly for precision:

    All people with bipolar disorder are “bipolar” unless midiagnosed

    All people diagnosed with bipolar disorder or presenting symptoms consistent with it are in some meaningful sense “bipolar” unless they’ve been misdiagnosed. I’m aware that people don’t necessarily have exactly the typical presentation that results in stereotypes “bipolar” connotes.

    Also: this

    who are willing to call you out but do so not in a “you’re a horrible person” way but in a “you can do better than this” way.

    cannot be emphasized enough.

  • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I hope ‘cretin’ is OK, as its probable origin is Swiss French word for ‘Christian’.

    As I understand it, the consensus is that etymology only matters if considering it hurts rather than helps your case that the word is “okay to use.”

  • Speaking as a person with schizoaffective disorder, I have mixed feelings.

    On on hand, of course we shouldn’t throw around medical diagnoses as if they were insults. We seem to all agree that can be damaging to those who suffer with those disorders.

    On the other hand, there may have been some truth to the idea that Beck has bipolar disorder. At one time his Wikipedia page mentioned that he might have it, I believe. His weird mood swings and his constant fluctuation between conqueror and conquered certainly mimic a lot of how I feel. Wikipedia no longer has anything about bipolar disorder but does say he has ADHD and considers himself a “borderline schizophrenic.” His symptoms may be related to his previous substance abuse but who knows for sure? Probably just him and his support team.

    My point is that some people have very irrational beliefs and actions. I see no problem in calling these things crazy or delusional. But to say that someone has bipolar disorder for yelling or has schizophrenia because they think God talks to them…? That’s probably a step too far.

  • This:

    “having flaws or cracks shaky or rickety; unsound; having flaws or cracks; shaky or rickety; unsound · Slang used to express approval, pleasure, wonder, etc.: now …”


    “Definition of CRAZY. 1. a: full of cracks or flaws : unsound b: crooked, askew. 2. a: mad, insane <yelling "

    and this:

    crazy adj. , -zier , -ziest . Affected with madness; insane. Informal . Departing from proportion or moderation, especially: Possessed by enthusiasm"

    are all from a quick google.

    Crazy don't always mean "mentally ill".

    Saying that some asshole like Glennie Blek is "crazy" is at least as accurate as saying that he's got an identifiable and cataloged mental health problem–and far less pejorative than calling him the lying fucking asshole that he is.

    What's next, no more "butt fuckers" when we're talking about RCC paedophiles?

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  • Doug Little

    Please tell me that batshit insane is still ok? I’m not sure how else to describe most of the people Ed posts about.

  • ischemgeek

    No, batshit insane is not okay for the same reason crazy’s not okay.

    If I may make another point on ableism: I strongly recommend excising “stupid,” it’s it’s pretty much a socially-acceptable version of the commonly-accepted-as-not-okay slur retard, in my experience as someone with speech impediments, fine-motor issues and adult-diagnosed developmental disability who was called both words quite prolifically growing up. Doesn’t take Captain Observation to realize that people mean the same damn thing when they’re calling you stupid because they know authority figures won’t even make a token effort at punishment like they will for retard.

  • Stupid–adjective 1. lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; dull. 2. characterized by or proceeding from mental dullness; foolish; senseless: a stupid question.

    doesn’t mean “retarded”; nor is “ignorant” a synonym for retarded.

    Your “experience” notwithstanding, I know plenty of people who are to the bone stupid and others who are bright about the moneymaking and social advancement of self aspects of life and willfully ignorant about much else. Correlation and cause are different things.

  • CaitieCat

    democommie, your comment was considerably short of empathy, responding to ischemgeek’s personal experience of the use of the words in derogatory attacks on them with dictionary arguments showing “you’re wrong!”. Given that ischemgeek was expressing a opinion based on personal experience, this is…somewhat underempathetic, let’s say. If you don’t feel like you want to avoid those words, if this argument from personal experience doesn’t move you, then use them as you will. But you really oughtn’t try to imply that someone’s personal experience is wrong.

  • mudpuddles

    As someone who suffers from mental illness (and is currently in the midst of a depressive episode) I tend to disagree a little bit with this:

    Further, mental illness-related terms should never be used in a derogatory way. Just as it’s offensive to call someone “gay” instead of boring or stupid, it’s offensive to call someone “crazy” or “bipolar” instead of “wrong” or “harmful,” which I’m sure are two things that definitely apply to Glenn Beck.

    I think it may to some extent be down to semantics, and to a degree it is perhaps cultural. I have in the past been institutionalised for my own safety. I am fully and painfully aware of the stigma of mental illness, and I have had my life all but destroyed not only by my own struggles but by the reactions of people I once classed as close friends and who turned on me when they heard about my condition. Yet I never take offence when someone uses the word “crazy” in the context that Ed used it. As in, “that idea is crazy”, or “that person is crazy for saying that”.

    Maybe its because here in Ireland “crazy” is not commonly understood to mean “mentally ill” so much as “utterly illogical” or “far outside what is reasonable”. I have no problem hearing someone being called crazy, (or nuts, or a looney, or a moron) because in my country – where awareness of mental illness is at a high point in the midst of an economic downturn which has seen levels of severe depression and generalised anxiety disorders, and incidents of suicide, skyrocket – those terms are widely used to mean something far less than “suffering from a clinical illness and in need of psychological intervention”. So personally I do not think “crazy” is in any way offensive in the context of Ed’s post.

    But, having said that, I would take offence to the terms “manic depressive”, “mental” etc being used in a derogatory fashion. It would be very difficult in Ireland to get away with using “mental”, “schizo” or “mentally ill” as an insult, even in jest, as in “wow that’s so dumb, are you mental?” – because there is a reasonable chance that the person you are talking to might have experience of mental illness, and they certainly will know of someone close who took their own life (it really is that serious here). So, as I say, its perhaps dependent upon the cultural context.

  • alyosha

    Oy vey zmir!! Where has the humour of language gone? It’s meshugge!

  • Caitie Cat:


    “democommie, your comment was considerably short of empathy, responding to ischemgeek’s personal experience of the use of the words in derogatory attacks on them with dictionary arguments showing “you’re wrong!”.”

    is incorrect.

    I did not say he/she was wrong. I said that THEIR experience notwithstanding, I (ME, PERSONALLY, AS AN INDIVIDUAL) have NOT had the same experience. Therefore, they might be assuming that their experience is universal and indicative of a universal norm. Not so.

    The rest of your comment proceeds from that assumption.

    You may or may not (some people do NOT read my comments; yeah, I know, hard to believe!) but I actually use the word, “crazy” on an infrequent basis. A term that I do use, “teh BatshitKKKrazzee” is generally used to denigrate the shit-for-brains crowd that tends to cluster on the ReiKKKwing of MurKKKan politics.

    Words such as “cripple”, “disabled”, “Mongolloid” (its variant Mongoloid idiot), “Spaz”, “Fairy”, and numerous other racist, misogynist, xenophobic and other slurs were common to the point of banality in my family’s and my peer’s speech when I was a child. I don’t use the vast majority of those words in my adulthood and haven’t for many years–precisely because I know them to be slurs and know them to be wrong.

    words like “crazy”, “wacko”, “doofus”, “idiot”, “moron”, “douchebag”, “asshole” and many others that I DO use, here and elsewhere are overwhelmingly used to describe people (or their actions) who are deliberately ignorant or undereducated as a matter of religious or political principle.

    That you choose not to use such words is fine. That I choose to do so is my business and, of course, whoever’s blog I use them on.

  • Jacob Schmidt

    I did not say he/she was wrong. I said that THEIR experience notwithstanding, I (ME, PERSONALLY, AS AN INDIVIDUAL) have NOT had the same experience. Therefore, they might be assuming that their experience is universal and indicative of a universal norm. Not so.

    Oh, for fuck sakes, no. The point is not that the experience is universal. The point is that the experience exists. There are people who are made uncomfortable and who are made to feel inferior by some terms we often use because those terms have been used to harm them. In consideration of them, I try to abstain from those words. Simple as that.

  • nathanaelnerode

    I use “crazy”. And “insane”, which is a legal term but not a clinical term, and where the root is “unsound”. And “deranged”.

    We need a word for “of extremely unsound thinking”, which does not attempt to make a specific diagnosis (because we are unqualified to do that much of the time, but we sure can spot extremely unsound thinking).

    And bluntly, yes, we need DEROGATORY words for this, because the whole point is to disapprove of severely unsound thinking. I appreciate ischemgeek’s dislike of “crazy”, but until s/he suggests an alternative derogatory word for deranged thinking which is better, “crazy” is the best I’ve got. It’s not a diagnosis or former diagnosis, it’s not a reference to obsolete bigoted theories, etc.

    I say this from a particular context: a very large number of people I know including many of my friends and myself, have had specific mental illness diagnoses. No, don’t use clinical terms unless you’re actually trying to make an amateur diagnosis, which you almost always shouldn’t.

    “Crazy” isn’t a clinical term, and in fact clinicians will avoid it like the plague. People who have actually suffered mental illness tend not to be as averse to it. “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” – William Tecumseh Sherman


    “even if you and I (and Miri, and Lily, etc) were somehow missing some fundamental point that made it right and important to call a will to inflict violence “crazy””

    That’s not always crazy, but sometimes it is. And sometimes it is right and important to refer to it as such. I think you and Miri and Lily ARE missing a fundamental point here.

    Some of the people who conducted the invasion of Iraq actually are on record as believing that the invaders would be greeted with flowers. This was not merely wrong. This was *crazy*, and the people who believed it were crazy. Do you have a better word to describe that belief?

    I’ve used “delusional” in the past, but that is an actual clinical term (and although it seems appropriate to me, I’m not really qualified to diagnose). I genuinely do suspect the “shower us with flowers” people of mental illness by the social paradigm of mental illness — their mental state was interfering with their functioning — but I wouldn’t dare to diagnose what.

    You cannot make “crazy” and its entire *rather short* list of synonyms (nuts, bonkers) off limits. We actually have a surprisingly short list of words to describe grossly unsound, fantastical, unrealistic beliefs.

    Most of the suggested alternatives to “crazy” in Ms. Kessler’s post *do not have the correct connotations* of severely malfunctioning thought processes which are needed for a situation like this. “Misguided” is not sufficiently derogatory, “irrational” and “illogical” have connotations of pretension on the part of the person saying it, “senseless” has entirely different connotations, etc.

    “Nuts” has about the right connotations. Note that Ms. Kessler herself is OK with “nuts” and “crazy”. But she finds that other people are complaining about them too.

    So no, this intermittently-crazy guy is not going to stop calling the crazy crazy. But I don’t call the crazy “schizophrenic” or “bipolar”, of course.

    “Seems to me the intention – don’t marginalize people who unwillingly suffer from debilitating mental conditions – needs to take into account those who seem to willingly embrace irrational thinking. (Talkin’ to you, Rand Paul.)”

    Bluntly, I know at least one institutionalized person who seems to genuinely like being crazy and is deeply unhappy when the delusions and hallucinations are suppressed. Willingly embracing not only irrational thinking but also delusions — it happens. And I don’t think it only happens in people who are sufficiently dysfunctional to be institutionalized. Human mental states are on too much of a continuum for that.