Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Years Resolutions, and the Language We Use

i came back to edit the previous post because i realized that i'd used the word crazy, when i totally didn't have to.

i like to think i'm generally pretty conscious of oppressive language - i don't spend time with people who use words like retarded or lame, i think about the history of words, not just how they're used now (see my embroidery piece about the word "pimp"), i ask people not to use offensive terms around me, etc, but crazy, insane, nuts, etc still slip by my radar way more often than i'd like.

i have mixed feelings about a lot of the misogyny and body hate and consumerism mixed in with new year's resolutions, and for a long time adamantly refused to make any, but in the last few years i've seen the value of self reflection and making commitments to yourself (though i still don't think it has to be january 1st! why not your birthday? or one of the solstices?).

but anyway, the base of pretty much everyone's resolutions are to improve themselves in some way. no one resolves to be an asshole more often, right? i'm still thinking on new year's resolutions for this year - the first one is to keep my house clean, so i've been frantically cleaning for two days to be able to start off fresh.

but improvement is pretty much the base of my overall new year's resolutions, which are really just continuations of previous personal commitments anyway. i want to live my life as honestly, authentically and affectionately as i can. i want to be proud of the things i've said and done, of the messages i send out into the world, of the people i let into my life. i want to be conscious of my privilege, and to accept feedback about it graciously. i never want to perpetuate oppression in any way, either directly or indirectly.

which leads me back to the first few paragraphs of this post. oppressive language.

i'm going to quote from the pimp post, because i was apparently feeling pretty eloquent when i wrote that -
words have power. words are SO freaking powerful. remember as kids "sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me"? what about "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can break my heart"? changing your language is an incredibly powerful political act. refusing to use or promote oppressive language, THINKING about what the words you say mean, those things lead to so much more. your language is something that YOU can control, regardless of what laws are passed, what funding is unavailable, what stupid thing a politician did, regardless of how much time or money or energy you have available to volunteer and get involved. your language affects your thoughts, and those of the people around you. it's a small thing, but something that can have a huge impact throughout your life.

okay, go back, and read that again. seriously.


maranda, who's pretty fucking fabulous, wrote an amazing post about the word crazy, that i totally recommend that you go check out.

and if you're new to thinking about language and oppression, especially in the context of dis/ability, FWD, Feminists With Disabilities, has a great series about ableist language, including some words that i'm sure you've never stopped to think about before.

this year, take some time for self reflection, and go further than the usual "i'm gonna get healthier" type of resolution. personally, i'm much more interested in emotional and spiritual health anyway.


felicity said...

Thanks for this, Amy. And for your "pimp" post. Great pieces, both.

Digital Misfit said...

Another great post.
I cringe whenever I hear words like "retard", "gay", "lame" and "mental" used inappropriately.
I sometimes try to gently correct the offender, but I am usually met with an "Oh Heidi whatever!".
As an Atheist, I also avoid using words like "God", "Jesus", etc as exclamations (though I still use OMG, but I consider it to be Oh My Gosh). I will sometimes mock my Atheist family members who still use Theist language.
Now I DO still use the word "crazy" on occasion. I like it. I am a person with a mental illness (agoraphobia and anxiety disorder, combined with depression). I often playfully refer to myself as "crazy chick". Crazy can be good. We all have our unique brand of crazy (without it, we would all be rational, logical Vulcans). Crazy quilts are fabulous!
"Crazy" should NOT be slung around like an insult, much like the word "fat". I am a crazy fat bitch, but if someone I dislike calls me one, you had best bet I will be coming at them armed with a vocabulary of words they are not equipped to understand.
Then again, I also have ulcerative colitis, but I still use the word "shit".
I do aim to be conscious of my language use. The English language is filled with so many fantastic words to choose from; it would be a shame to let them go to waste.

Damn - just realized my comment is almost as long as a blog post. Sorry for that. This is just a topic that interests me.
I have no health-related resolutions this year (of course I would like to get healthier, but I will not set myself up like that). I DO plan to learn to crochet, quilt, and make a purse!
Big huge hugs and Happy New Year to you xox

Anonymous said...

Okay, so here's where the craziness begins, and how stupid political correctness takes flight!

First, if you read the definition of the word crazy, there is more than one definition, and most have absolutely nothing to do with any sort of mental illness or stigma to any sort of mental illness. But there are many more definitions of the word that should not carry any stigma at all! And the fact that you are so upset about using the word crazy, yet you throw out the f word without so much as an apology or a backward glance, well, that tells me a lot about your character!

Oh, and just so you know, I looked up the definition on and there are 10 - yes, 10 definitions! And yes, the first definition is about mental illness, but the second definition is "senseless; impractical; totally unsound", which proves to me, my friend, that as your post today fits that definition, you ARE crazy!

Goodbye, removing you from my blog roll after only 2 days, and so will not miss it!!!

Anonymous said...

Amy, you rule. I'm glad this discussion is happening (again!). The history of words really interests me as well; how they began, where they were derived from, and what they seem to mean today. I'm also really into reclaiming words, and 'crazy' is one of them.

I used to be really anti-new year's resolutions as well; it just seemed like they were always about losing weight, and ugh. A few years ago, I finally figured out that they can be whatever I want them to be, and also, self-improvement is a constant goal of mine, so hey. I like making resolutions all year 'round, but the new year has just recently felt to me like the biggest fresh start of all (sort of); like, if so many folks are making resolutions for self-improvement, then there must be a lot of good vibes going around in the universe, so it's a good time to do it. I check in on my resolutions all the time, rather than just get bored of them by the end of January.

Thanks for linking to my post!

AlwaysInspired said...

I have become more aware of how I use words after working at the High School in my town. It really irks me when the kids refer to everything as "gay" and I make sure I let them know it is certainly not appropriate. Words are just that, words, but when they are used to hurt they are never ok. I still haven't figured out how the word gay became a way to describe something as negative.

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