I admit it. I use the word “idiot”. A lot. Just this week alone, I’ve used it in reference to Michael Bloomberg (for thinking that banning supersized sodas in New York is going to have any effect on obesity rates), Jay Townsend (the Communications Officer for Republican Representative Nan Hayworth, for saying, “Let’s hurl some acid in the faces of those female Democratic Senators who won’t abide the mandates that they want to impose on the private sector.”), and my best friend’s ex-boyfriend.
I Feel Like An Idiot…No, Wait…
Melissa McEwan over at Shakesville reminded me of something important yesterday, though. “Idiot” is ableist language. So is “moron” and “imbecile”. They’ve all got pasts as sordid as “retard” when you get right down to it. It all just goes further back in history, and we’ve started to forget.
I’ve known about all this for a long time. I learned in training to be a Developmental Services Worker that “idiot” was historically used to refer to someone with a very low IQ. Several American states have only just updated their language to remove “idiot” from their laws, and changed outdated laws such as those that prohibit “idiots” from voting.
But I forget.
I really don’t think that very many people know that when they use the word “idiot” they’re using a term of widespread oppression toward people with disabilities. But, as commenter Hellianne explained on Shakesville when McEwan reminded someone that “idiot” was ableist and therefore not acceptable on the site: “It is precisely because the term is used as a derogatory term and because it originated as a label for a marginalized, unprivileged group that it is not welcome in this space. The age of the term isn’t really relevant; the point is that it designates a disability as an inherently negative (and hateful, in this case) thing.”
It may not seem like a big deal. But imagine if we started to use some of the language related to the oppression of other groups that has now fallen out of favour. Think of some of the racist terms that (for good reason) are no longer used anymore. Use your imagination. I don’t want to say them here.
I need to be more careful with my words. I need to make more of an effort to remember.
Thank you, Melissa and Hellianne, for a much-needed reminder.
Do you use any words that you know you shouldn’t, out of habit?
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