the stag's daughter (doe_witch) wrote in linguaphiles,
the stag's daughter

A sociolinguistic and etymological challenge

Not to beat a dead horse, but while r_blackcat's post on ableist language was mostly struck through, it's prompted me to make an inquiry about something I've wondered for years. It's arguably the kind of question that belongs on a community more directly centered around issues of privilege, discrimination, etc., but since we have a bunch of etymology-enthusiasts here, I think it makes just as much sense to ask on linguaphiles.

The nature of using insults and pejoratives is, well, to be insulting and pejorative. But as many people, myself included, make a continuous effort to use disparaging language that only disparages the target object without also implying that some social group is bad, they also find that suitable terms and expressions are rare. Going beyond higher-profile words like "bitchy" or "retarded," or even verbs like "to gip" and "to welsh," I've lately tried to eliminate phrases from my speech/writing like "(x) is lame," and "(x) sucks," because of how the former is ableist (as discussed in the inciting entry) and how the latter suggests that performing fellatio is a negative quality (so call that misogynist, homophobic, or both?). But roadblocks still appear. As at least one comment mentioned before, even words like "moron," "idiot," "stupid," "psycho," and "crazy" carry ableist baggage with regard to mental health or aptitude.

And yet I am hopeful that there must be some really juicy, excellent words out there that could be substitutes. My challenge to you word-collectors, then, is to see how many pejoratives we can list that should only speak ill of the noun or listener they're tied to. Pejoratives derived from dominant/privileged social groups don't work since they still reinforce general stereotypes, so saying, "That's so white," doesn't count. I'm personally pleased by the widespread Internet (and even now offline) usage of "fail."

Just to make it fun: Don't feel confined to English.

If the list isn't very long, of course, I don't want to start a debate that the moderators would consider off-topic for the community, but within the confines of sociolinguistics, I'd still like to hear people's thoughts on:

a) At what point could or should a word be treated as losing its negative social baggage? On the one hand, words applying to the mentally ill like "crazy" still immediately suggest mental illness in a disparaging sense, but on the other hand, I think most contemporary English speakers would not immediately place the same connotations on "moron" as they would on "retard" (despite how the words have both fundamentally denoted something identical). Does this disconnect make "moron" an acceptable word but "crazy" unacceptable?
b) With regard to ableist language specifically, where is the line between a criticism that speaks ill of the disabled and a criticism that makes legitimate sense? It does seem insensitive to deaf persons to ask a hearing person whether they're deaf just because they didn't respond to what you asked them, but what if you think someone without a mental disability did something unintelligent and you wish to criticize their intelligence? Even if you just say they're mentally deficient, would this be placing a premium on some standard of intelligence that therefore disparages those who do not meet it? How can you "properly" say that someone made a poor decision and that the workings of their mind are questionable? Can you do this at all?

Please bear in mind that for both a) and b), nothing I have asked actually is an expression of my own opinions in this; rather, I'm just taking some connotation distinctions down the road to what I feel are some of the logical/philosophical conundrums that face people who care about "doing better" (again, myself included). And once again, feel free to discuss languages besides English in all these regards.

tldr. Have at! Just don't use pejoratives for each other, please...

Edit: I should probably note, since just about every pejorative is figurative language of some kind, it might be almost impossible to list words that imply inferiority in any creative way that doesn't speak negatively of some other item. The question is, what can we come up with that's suitably excoriating but that doesn't reference humans/human traits and that also hasn't already been appropriated from something non-human in order to marginalize a group of humans.
Tags: censorship, colloquialisms, communities, cultural perceptions, etymology, euphemisms, idioms, insults, politics of language/political language, semantics, slang, sociolinguistics, speaker judgements, taboos, usage, vocabulary, words

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

← Ctrl ← Alt
Ctrl → Alt →
← Ctrl ← Alt
Ctrl → Alt →