I just can’t think of the right word….

I’ve written a couple of times about casual homophobia – language and phrases we use that others could easily find offensive – words like ‘dyke’ and ‘faggot’ and phrases like ‘no homo’.

Well, a group of students on Duke University’s campus joined together to form Think Before You Talk, a group raising awareness about this exact thing. Their group addresses other language too, not just homophobic words, but words like ‘retard’ and ‘slut’ and phrases like ‘man up’ and ‘don’t be a pussy’.

Their campaign, You Don’t Say, and the group itself, quite frankly, are coming under a lot of fire for the message their promoting.

This is obviously a horrible message to promote...
This is obviously a horrible message to promote…

If you take a moment to peruse either Facebook page (the links are provided above), or click on this link, you’ll find people responding with comments claiming censorship and calling the students the ‘Thought Police’.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, isn’t the name of the group ‘Think Before you Talk’, not ‘Think Before You Talk Or Else’?

These students aren’t forcing anyone to stop using these words. They’re bringing awareness to the impact those words and phrases might have on other people. According to this site, there’s over 1,025,000 words in the English language.

So why can’t we use one of those other words instead of calling someone a bitch? Why can’t we stop saying ‘that’s so gay’? No thesaurus you pick up will suggest the word ‘gay’ in place of ‘stupid’. There’s no reason to equate gender with strength or inferiority. And why is suggesting this ideology regarded as censorship?

Honestly, when I hear someone say something is retarded or gay, I question their level of intelligence. I question their ability to form complete, well thought out sentences, and I certainly question their capability of carrying their end of a conversation, regardless of the topic.

I don’t want to make assumptions, but I wonder how some of these people would feel if heterosexual had the same connotation as homosexual does, or if ‘straight’ were somehow synonymous with ‘stupid’? And again, with all the words in the English language, why is it even necessary to use these ones in the first place?

Yes, I understand that in some countries, these words have different meanings (the only one I can truly think of is the word ‘fag’). But unless you are from the United Kingdom or have spent a great deal of time there, that’s really no excuse for using the term, especially when you’re referring to a gay man. These words are said with hatred behind them, or they’ve become so casually used that we’ve forgotten the potential impact of using these words.

I spent a summer working at a camp for kids and adults with mental and physical impairments. At some point in time, I’m sure these people and their families heard the term ‘retarded’ used in conjunction with a medical diagnosis. And I’m sure, at other times, they heard the term used in an attempt to make them feel less than human. I was guilty of using this term in a derogatory manner, when I was a kid and didn’t fully understand the impact my words had on someone else.

Contrary to popular belief, Betty White did not originally say this. Comedian Sheng Wang did...
Contrary to popular belief, Betty White did not originally say this. Comedian Sheng Wang did…

Is it really necessary to tell someone to stop being a pussy? Referring to a woman’s genitalia as a sign of weakness is actually pretty ludicrous. Especially when you take a moment to consider what a woman’s vagina is capable of.

That doesn't look very tough to me...
That doesn’t look very tough to me…

And why are testicles considered a sign of strength? If they’re so strong, why does America’s Funniest Home Videos receive so many videos of groin shots?

This is not about censorship. It’s not about the Thought Police. It’s about being aware of what you’re saying, and who you’re saying it to. It really isn’t that hard to come up with other things to say than calling someone or something ‘retarded’ or a ‘bitch’.

You won’t be charged with a crime if you call someone a pussy. Though, if you do use that sort of language to actively intimidate someone, you might be charged with a hate crime, and that’s perfectly okay by me. This isn’t a ‘soon we won’t be able to say anything without upsetting someone’ situation. These words have been given a negative connotation. If you want to call your vagina a pussy, that’s fine, but you certainly don’t need to call someone else that.

In the end, it’s about affording everyone the dignity they deserve. Demeaning, cruel language can be just as hurtful as physical intimidation. Whether you mean it in a harmful nature or not doesn’t matter. Telling someone they’re a pussy, even if you mean it in a ‘I’m just messing with you, man’ nature, can have a seriously negative impact on that person. In essence, it’s a form of censorship, as it can keep someone from speaking their opinion, or disagreeing with something they feel is wrong.

I can’t stop you from saying those words. No one should. You should just stop saying them all on your own. They’re unnecessary, derogatory, and hurtful. And there’s at least one hundred other ways to say what you actually mean.

5 thoughts on “I just can’t think of the right word….

  1. miracharlotte May 7, 2014 / 7:25 am

    I think people have to remember that language is living and evolving. All those people who think they’re being censored today would agree that some things that we’re okay to say 50 years ago would be completely unacceptable today. They just have a harder time with the perspective that acceptable language is also changing within our lifetimes.

    Who wants to go back to a world where women are barefoot, pregnant chattel who can’t vote or determine their destiny? Who in the same way, 50 years in the future is really going to want to go back to the non-inclusive world of the 1980s?


  2. thenarcissistwrites May 13, 2014 / 12:18 am

    It’s true these words are not appropriate. However, I had someone the other day complain about me using the word “moron.” Said it was on par with using “gay” or “retarded” as an insult. At some point you gotta draw the line…


  3. Teri_Jourdan May 13, 2014 / 7:38 am

    I agree, but at the same time, the word ‘moron’ was actually used in the same context as ‘retarded’. The word was coined by Henry H. Goddard, an American psychologist and used to describe those with mild intellectual disabilities.

    Essentially yes, we can’t omit every word in the English language for fear of it insulting someone, but we also need to know the origin of words before using them.


  4. Avi Bernshaw September 6, 2014 / 6:54 am

    “Pussy” is an abbreviation of pusillanimous, so that one is incorrect .People offended by it are on the same level as thinking “niggardly” is racial.
    The rest, yeah, pretty much.


    • Teri_Jourdan September 6, 2014 / 7:43 am

      While that may be correct, there’s much debate on the origin of the word. If you actually do the research, there’s numerous potential origins, including those directly linked to female genitalia. But the connotation of the phrase “Don’t be a pussy” and the word itself, while incorrect, is widely understood to be referencing female genitalia. And then that implication becomes sexist in suggesting that having a vagina makes you weaker.

      Besides, those that say “don’t be a pussy” aren’t most likely even remotely familiar with the word pusillanimous. And if they are, then they have disgusting grammar because pusillanimous is an adjective, not a noun.


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