Breaking Your Bad Vocabulary Habits
In a recent article, Alisse Marie wrote about her unwavering contempt for individuals who use the term “feminazi,” a term which seems to equate active and determined women’s rights activists with Adolf Hitler’s army from the Second World War. Her article was a spirited backlash against the injustice of being compared to something so indescribably horrid. While insensitive comments on articles where individuals are putting their own person experiences and beliefs on the line are not surprising, the extent to which people will defend their upsetting language is almost impressive.
For example, a comment on Alisse’s article said the following:
People are called “nazis” about something when they have a strict and unwavering agenda and are intolerant to opposing views, to a fault (obviously the nazis were in the wrong for what they were doing, but they didn’t feel that way). Ever heard of the ‘Soup Nazi’ from Seinfeld? What does he have to do with nazis? He doesn’t kill anyone. The reason people have coined the term “Feminazi” and labels you with it, is because you do the same.
In layman’s terms, we can no longer be offended by an undeniably offensive word because someone didn’t mean it in that way. Oh, okay. But wait, no, that’s wrong. Why? Because when using words that were created in and still carry a negative connotation, it’s pretty safe to assume that people will still respond negatively.
Therefore, when someone calls you a feminazi, intentional or not, they’re saying you’re being similar to someone who perpetuates genocide. Comparably, when someone uses slurs in casual conversation they are using negative, triggering words that offend individuals who are part of the oppressed group that their words target. Even if that’s not what they’re talking about or the implication that they want to make, it’s still there. Words are powerful, and it’s important to choose them carefully.
According to the second edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, there are 171,476 words currently in use in the English language. What does this mean? It means we, English-speaking individuals, have an enormous array of options in regards to communication.
I’m happy? Well I could also be cheerful, chipper, content, delighted, ecstatic, gleeful, gratified, jolly, joyful, joyous, jubilant, light, merry, peaceful, on cloud nine. Sad? I may be bereaved, bitter, blue, cheerless, despairing, dismal, down, gloomy, low-spirited, melancholic, pensive, pessimistic, sorry, somber.
You get the point.
With the myriad of ways we can express ourselves, why do we choose to do so in words that alternatively create quite negative contexts and can act as triggers that eradicate safe space for those around us?
Let’s stop saying “I’m going to kill myself if…” I don’t finish this paper, if I don’t get this internship, if this class doesn’t end early, etc, etc, etc. Realistically speaking, if you don’t finish your paper in time for a deadline, you probably won’t kill yourself. But the person standing next to you when you make that facetious comment about jumping off a bridge might be considering suicide, and who knows what impact your words could have on them? I don’t know how it started, but somehow, if anything negative arises, some of our generation has decided that it is appropriate – even amusing– to equate it with mental health issues that result in suicide.
Let’s also stop using the words “gay” and “retarded” as descriptive words in situations where they are not applicable. That person in your seminar class is not “gay” because of his dedication and constant participation. A confusing and unsatisfying situation is not “retarded” just because you don’t understand it.
And a feminist is not a Nazi simply because they strongly believe and pursue equal rights.
These words, whether you mean them or not, belittle complex and, in some cases, incredibly painful issues. Not only that, they also expunge all progress of eliminating stigma within discussions, and they create a hostile environment in which individuals are uncomfortable being themselves.
Using words without thinking of their impact is one of my biggest annoyances. It literally makes me shake with anger at times. Don’t get me wrong, though, I don’t believe that our entire generation says these phrases as a deliberate means to mock individuals (at least, I hope they don’t). It’s a habit. Common words and phrases find their way into our vocabularies and become second nature, so much so that when we say it, we aren’t necessarily thinking about what it means or where it came from– or the triggering effect it may have on the person who hears it.
The point is, however, that we need to start thinking about what words we are using and what they mean in a greater context. Steven Aitchison, the creator of Change Your Thoughts blog says it takes 21 days to break a habit; let’s start now.
Written by Nikki Gladstone
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