“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”

A woefully inadequate adage if ever there was one. You might proudly proclaim this to be the case to any and all who will listen, but odds are you’re not made of stone and therefore words may indeed do you harm. Harm doesn’t necessarily have to be of a physical nature, it can be a mental process as well. In the case of words it could simple be that the accumulation of taunts could be chipping gradually away at you self-esteem and your feelings of well-being and self-worth. Eleanor Roosevelt, that woman of the most pertinent sayings and sentiments, once said;

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”

In effect what she is saying is that the person being called the names is the one in control. Whilst it certainly might not feel like that at the time, words other people use in your ‘direction’ do not have to make or break you, it is your choice whether or not you take on board what is being said to you by them, not theirs… even though they might think so.

So why are some words chosen over others to implement in verbal warfare? What is it that draws people to them or makes them consider the words as insults? Is it lack of personal ownership of the words by the person using them?

The words chosen (or specifically the ones I am thinking of in this instance) are ones considered by society to be of a derogatory nature…usually by those they are being aimed at. I am thinking here of are racial slurs, which I choose not to name specifically at this point, since no good can come of it and also because of my own demographic, as you can see in my avatar picture (yes, that is me, I am putting myself behind the words I use in the name of honesty) I cannot claim any ownership of those words and therefore would not dream of even employing them in this context.  Also slurs of a gender/sexuality based nature which I will name and reference, due to ownership (in this instance defined as: The relation of an owner to the thing possessed; possession with the right to transfer possession to others, thank you Wordweb) in a loose term anyway.

Also included within this spectrum of words that are used as insults are words that for many appear to have lost their distinctive definitions, yet the sentiments behind them remain the same, such as; retard/retarded and spaz. This also seems to suffer from a regional acceptance, for example in mainstream America they seem to be a natural part of the everyday lexicon, the acceptance of which flummoxes me completely, that is the difference behind the meaning of words within a language that is singled out by the name, in this instance English.

There are also everyday words such as; idiot or stupid… words whilst sounding fairly innocuous to some can be desperately damaging to others. Are the inferences from these words really any better or worse than others? I can understand that most don’t take them seriously as insults and I am not claiming that the meanings of those two words are as serious (in a way) as racial or homophobic slurs are or are at least considered, I’m just putting them out there as ‘food for thought’ as it were.  Yet they remain far more acceptable in daily usage, no thought is given over to the use of them or the consequences for that matter. What about the damage they can cause, is it better of worse?

I’m not here to give definitive reasoning one way or the other, merely opening up the floor for…cogitation on the subject. Neither is the purpose of this… ‘rambling’ to talk specifically about racism or homophobia, though I suspect that I will talk about both at some point on this blog whatsit…since both are things I feel quite strongly about.

First let’s talk about homophobic slurs, since this is a topic I feel I can genuinely comment on since I am gay.

The term ‘practicing homosexual’, I sneak that in there purely to proffer the response ‘I pretty much have the hang of it thanks’ is something I find desperately irritating and derogatory (along with saying someone is ‘a gay’ they aren’t ‘a gay’ they happen to be gay), I mean, are heterosexuals classed as ‘practising’? It infers that we aren’t as good at it as they are (I’ve never had any complaints is all I’m saying) but hey ‘practice makes perfect’ after all. 😉

Other slurs such as; fag, gay (‘that is so gay’… ‘what, are you gay?’), queer, dyke, faggot, homo etc, seem to have found some place within acceptable everyday word usage. (This is not me advocating the use, merely expressing incredulity at the fact) Teachers rarely prevent it or cull it’s use from their students lexicons, especially in USA schools I’ve noticed, (by the fact that it is often written into the scripts of TV shows as something that is apparently perfectly acceptable to say to it’s teen audience), often no comment is passed at the use or to the user, something I find entirely irreprehensible.

Personally I don’t find these words offensive in the least. Now, before the one person who appears to be reading my mutterings fires off an instant volley of e-mail vitriol at my rampant homophobia, let me explain. I don’t like that people consider them to be such weighty, distasteful words that they are perfect insults, far from it. However, I don’t find them to be insulting. I have no problem with my being gay (probably a good job really, all things considered) and would use the words quite freely to reference myself with no qualms, I wouldn’t dream of applying them to others, certainly not without their express acceptance, and even then I think I would baulk at the idea… I also consider the people who are around me when I use the words quite carefully.

Ironically, of all the things they said and did to me during High School, it was the homophobic names that bothered me the least. Generally they just made me laugh, not because I thought they were particularly witty, but because of all the things they’d chosen to hurl at me, the one they thought the most insulting, was the only true thing they ever said about me. I owned the words they flung at me, they were mine. I think they found this the most confusing thing about me, that I found these particular insults funny, because if I’d turned round and used them on them there would have been horror and outrage and much blustering, which would have been funny in a different way.

What I could never understand however was why they thought ‘fag, queer, dyke’ were the harshest and most hurtful things they could say to me? Personally I just found them lacking in imagination, (not that I wished them to think of names that could potentially be worse, I just wanted to be left alone). If those are the worst words that can be said to someone, why are the worst? What makes them such horrible things to say? Also, if they are that horrible, then why are they in the English language?

This is certainly not about me and my woes from High School, I could no longer care less, I have moved on and away from all that crap. I’m thinking about why certain words are used and others dismissed.

The racist slurs, such as the ‘n’ word, (which I will not be typing out, not now or ever as I find it completely inappropriate and just rude), are derogatory terms, they are designed to denigrate and oppress a very specific group of people, for no other reason than simple minded bigotry over the fact that the skin colour is not the same as that of the people using the terms, it boggles the mind, truly it does. Like the colour of anybody could make even the slightest difference to their personality compared to anybody else’s?

Look at the KKK… well, don’t actually, they don’t deserve even that recognition, but consider them in a non-literal way, they based the entirety of their operations on the colour of a persons outsides. Was it just too quiet of an evening for you to mind your own bloody business? Looking on from the outside all you can see is idiocy, ignorance, bigotry and blatant unapologetic racism, for what end? Where exactly has it got them?  Sadly I am not here to slam the KKK either… though I do, vociferously and the BNP just as much if in a more outspoken way as they are within my own country and I can take a valid stand against them.

The ones that truly confuse me are the uses of retard or spaz. Why are these now ‘acceptable’ to use? What suddenly makes them more acceptable than others? When I was in High School (I know, here (s)he goes again…) a lot of people used to call others spaz or spaccer, which is also inexcusable, I could never understand it. I knew a guy who actually was ‘spastic’ (I’m unsure if there is now a more PC term for it or not, I’m using the term his mother used to me), a lovely, funny, sometimes droll, chap, I didn’t understand (and still don’t for that matter) why people used the ‘disease’ he had as an insult. It made him unable to use his body, unable to be independent, his mother used to have to get up several times in the night to turn him over so he wouldn’t come to harm while he slept. That woman was one of life’s hero’s, not because she pitied her son, or did it out of some sort of duty, but because she wanted to do everything she could possibly do for him to give a better life, to give him the life she thought her son deserved. She worked tirelessly on his behalf. Why then is this an insult?

What about using the terms ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’ are these really any more acceptable? Recently I have tried to be using these terms less, particularly in reference to myself, why sling slurs or disparagements upon your own character when you don’t have to, it’s not a great way of showing that you like and accept yourself. Maybe these are more psychological words? Say them to children often enough (or anyone else for that matter) and perhaps they will come to believe that about themselves, or take that as the lowest denominator and use it as an excuse to not do well in school, live up to the name as it were, as if it really were deserved. They are words that are bad for the self-esteem and just unnecessary…but then aren’t all insults wholly unnecessary really?

I have often wondered if people put others down simply because they are unhappy and don’t understand the other person. Or they don’t understand themselves, or hate that aspect about themselves… in which case despite their actions they deserve pity; it must be a truly horrible thing to be in constant conflict and denial of who you inherently are.

I don’t truly think that the reasoning behind such word usage is so arbitrary or simplistic, but I’m sure there is a strong element of that involved.

This didn’t end up where I thought it might; it took off on its own flight soon after undertaking the maiden voyage. I feel that I haven’ even answered my own questions, more like added fuel to the questing beast and opened up the floor to more thoughts on my part. Then, I never did make any claims as to answers for anything, so maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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About Nerdsbian

I am a nerd for ALL seasons. I am a genderqueer Librarian who unsurprisingly likes reading...a lot But I love being outside too...sometimes even reading at the same time. Also animals, any and all of them. Never yet met one that didn't get on with me and vice versa. I do a couple of different voluntary jobs (animal charity related) and have recently completed my MA.
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