Ableist language

Take a second and think of somebody very stupid.

Who did you picture? George Bush? Paris Hilton? Wile E Coyote?

Ever greeted someone ’with open arms’?
People like you make me sick. Whoops, I just typed the word sick. Looks like I’m ableist too. Time to run! ’Run’, oh crap…
Words and their definitions gain and lose solidity over time. A few hundred years ago, a ’witch’ was an evil thing to be feared by adults and kids alike, while now it’s a mild insult, depending on good delivery (otherwise it can be very underwhelming). Context, bitch.
In the empirically awesome Breaking Bad Jesse Pinkman says ’bitch’ around 50 times in total, each utterance oh so sweet. I’m partial to the word among friends. The great thing about the modern definition is anyone can be a bitch, in a good or bad sense. In my opinion, calling a male a bitch holds the same weight as calling a female a bitch, since the general definition is no longer tied to the female sex. ’Life’s a bitch’ does not mean ’life’s an unpleasant woman’.
It’s the same when it comes to supposed ableist language – words and phrases that are said to damage and misrepresent the disabled community, whatever that is. Look, if you start talking to me about, say, how you’ve had a run of bad luck lately and that your words keep falling on deaf ears and that you’re seeking a blind miracle, I won’t pull you up on it (’pull you up’ could offend those who lack physical strength, right?). Why not? 1) I would hardly have noticed and 2) You didn’t offend me.
Am I seriously supposed to be offended when someone ’takes a walk’ with me? Am I expected to puke forth my identity and self-esteem whenever somebody announces they ’can’t stand the heat’? The topic gets slightly less silly (oops) when it comes to words which still hold strong association with disability. Call me a spastic in a bar and I will kick you so hard your muscles will spasm (nah, I’ll just scowl at you and shake my head… less effort). But if you were to figure out a way to call me a spastic in a manner that’s creative, cool, self-aware and ironic all at the same time, I commend you. Yeah, good luck with that one – and, please, don’t try me in a quiet cafe filled with kids and their grandmothers. Ok I will admit it’s tough to slide such a tainted word into conversation, but the point is it can be twisted like any other. It’s already been twisted once into an insult over the years – its original medical definition relates (you guessed it) to muscle spasticity.
If expressing a bad, ’mad idea’ (gathering together all the world’s fire engines and destroying them in an atomic explosion) degrades the intellectually disabled, then what about the ideas that are brilliantly mad (bobsleigh to work day, anyone?), do they somehow validate the group? Is the phrase ’break a leg’ glamourising or degrading to us folks in wheelchairs, and who’s to say? Some people with disabilities identify with the label ’crip’; are they ableist toward themselves?
I think we should be trying to knock down limiting barriers, not erecting new ones. If everyone took ableist language seriously, I think we would be even more hesitant to talk to each other, disabled or not. Sure, some people are offended by each word in the long list, I guess. I feel for those people: they can’t sit through a film, cartoon, phone call conversation or virtually anything involving at least 5 minutes of dialog without feeling degraded. Some people are sensitive to words, others can’t sleep over the thought of them and many are like me and don’t see enough reason to care. This is far from being a universal community thing.
So I’m reluctant to start reviewing my language just yet. Well, there is one word that I might consider avoiding. From now on I’m replacing ’fun’ (yes, having fun is apparently ableist) with the obvious synonym ’buttsmear’. Have a good buttsmearing day. I love me some buttsmear. I can  tell you’re up for a good bit of buttsmearing today.


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