Thursday, April 30, 2009

Connie Schultz may have a point: Purge Ohio law of a needlessly hurtful word

Connie may be right. I probably shouldn’t have referred to Frank Jackson, Jane Campbell, and Mike White as ‘tards a few posts ago. It was a thoughtless slur denigrating an entire class of retarded people, people who happen to be a certain way and have no control over that circumstance, and I apologize for it. Jackson et al. play country-bumpkin dumb and act stupid, but we suspect they can also act alternatively. We hope.

As Connie points out, our language is losing a lot of its color, strength, and power to the well-intentioned bowdlerizations of public servants who would aspire to be custodians of political correctness, and emasculators of public discourse:

"There was a time when the word 'retarded' was considered acceptable," Stewart [Republican State Sen. Jimmy Stewart, of Athens] said. "I think we all recognize that language changes over time. Words that didn't used to be seen as offensive now are. It was only recently that 'imbecile,' 'drunkard' and 'lunatic' were taken out of language in the Ohio code. . . . It's time to eliminate 'retardation,' too. It won't change everybody's mind, and it won't stop everyone from using the word in a derogatory way, but it's a start."

It's a good start, and way overdue. And what took us so long? I'd be quicker to lunge at the legislature if I weren't so embarrassed that it took me longer than it should have to recognize the injustice. As my 21-year-old daughter pointed out to me this week, calling someone a "reeee-tard" is still common among her peers, and always intended to deride.

In addition to the problem of the neutering of the language by proscription, we have coming at it from the other side the problem of word-hijacking—“gay” for instance as a reference to things homosexual, and “urban” as a near-synonym for the racial “black” (which used to be the polite and respectful “Negro”), adding nuances where they didn’t exist before, eclipsing original meanings. They’ve even hijacked the rainbow and made it so a man can’t wear a pink shirt without drawing some sort of commentary.

You just have to wonder what’s going to be left to language, colors, and symbols after a while, with all the expurgation and confiscation. Perhaps we can go an underground loaded-word-retention movement, or begin to speak in code, or in Latin: Semper ubi sub ubi. Ah, there’s a start!

What words would you like to keep? What words would you like to take back? What associations would you like to put to sleep?

Is there a basic imbalance in a culture where strong, loaded words get put away, yet common words are assigned loads, codes, and nuances they never had before?

Purge Ohio law of a needlessly hurtful word -- Connie Schultz - Connie Schultz, Plain Dealer Columnist -


  1. "always where under where"
    you want to get rid of the word "hopefully" I would guess...

  2. What words would I like taken back? How about "Overseas Contingency Operation" for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and "man-caused disaster" for terrorism?