From time to time I find the need to step in and remind commenters about my comment policy. This time, it has come to my attention that a number of my commenters have slipped into using ableist slurs. I slip in this area myself sometimes, and not long ago I had to edit a post because I’d accidentally used one here on the blog. This post is not a condemnation but rather a call to do better—and a reminder that ableist slurs are banned by my blog’s comment policy.
What are ableist slurs? Words like crazy, insane, dumb, lame, retarded, moron, and idiot, to name a few. When we use words like “moron” and “idiot” as insults we stigmatize mental disability, and when we use words like “crazy” or “insane” as insults we stigmatize mental illness. When I first started trying to weed these words out of my vocabulary, I did so because they are ableist, but I soon noticed an unintended side effect—my language became at once more precise and more damning. Rather than simply writing Donald Trump off as “crazy,” for example, removing ableist slurs from our vocabulary forces us to describe Trump in a more direct and critical way.
I find that we as a society use the term “crazy” in a very lazy way. The same is true of similar terms, such as “insane.” We use these terms as a sort of catch-all when there are generally far more specific and accurate words available for what we are describing. We use the term “crazy” when we could use other terms, such as illogical, lying, ignorant, uninformed, bigot, toxic, rude, self-centered, egotistical, smug, selfish, pompous, self aggrandizing, entitled, misinformed, misled, confused, absurd, fraud, obtuse, shallow, or extremist.
In other words, instead of “Donald Trump is crazy!” we can say “Donald Trump is an pompous egotistical blowhard whose uninformed and bigoted ideas promote violence toward marginalized populations.” Or if we want to keep it short, we could say that “Donald Trump is a bigoted lying piece of shit” or that “Donald Trump is a smug, self-centered asshole.” Any of these statements convey more meaning and with more gravity than “Donald Trump is crazy!” and each does so without stigmatizing mental illness or downplaying the full horror of Donald Trump by comparing his utterly horrendous views—views that are very calculated and extremely harmful to very real people—with mental illness.
The same is true of essentially every other time we use words like “crazy” or insane.” Instead of “My ex was insane!” we can say “My ex was an emotionally abusive asshole” or “My ex was a chronic liar utterly devoid of empathy.” While those who defend ableist slurs accuse people like me of being “PC” or exercising “censorship,” I would argue that excising ablest slurs from our conversation has the potential to make our vocabulary richer and our insults or judgements more powerful.
But whether you decide to remove ableist slurs from your vocabulary or not, consider this a reminder that ableist slurs should be kept out of my comment section.