Saturday, May 14, 2011


There is a law on the Vermont books that allows for a marriage annulment in the case that one spouse or the other turns out to be a "lunatic" or "stupid."  Personally, I find that amusing--not because I think it applies to my own marriage, but just to know it's there in case Mike decides to vote Republican in the next election.

The reason this came up was that it was mentioned a recent newspaper article.  Our governor has signed a bill that is aimed at eliminating language that is deemed offensive to people with disabilities.  There will be a commission formed to review laws and suggest alternative wording.  Not a bad thing, but I wonder if it altogether a good thing.

I understand that words can be hurtful.  I remember well enough being the kid with funny cowlicks in her hair and crooked teeth and chubby thighs.  In those days we were taught to ignore it.  Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me.  At the same time, we were taught not to be rude and not to hurt another's feelings--I think that shows awareness that words can hurt.

I was a special education teacher for a long time and I know that one kid calling his buddy a "retard" or a "spaz" for something like dropping a pencil on the floor was just a joke to the two of them--but very painful to the learning disabled or the physically challenged student sitting two rows over.  We always tried very hard to raise sensitivity to the power of words and it was a never-ending battle.  Once kids stopped calling each other "retard" they started calling each other "sped."

So how far can you go to sanitize the lexicon?  And, then, how will it translate into the future.  Today's neutral words become tomorrow's offensive words.

Do I think it is not worth the effort?  Not at all!

The thing is a word is just a word.  Meanings shift with context.  It seems to me that it is intention that does the real damage.  If you learn that something you have said was hurtful to another you apologize and you both move on.  However, if you keep doing the offensive thing that becomes more than hurtful; it becomes abusive and just plain mean.


  1. Oh, Olga, you make me laugh about your husband voting Republican.

    I agree with what you have to say about the harm that words can do. Intention is the real problem though, just as you say. Some use their words and actions to abuse. That is a very sad thing.

  2. Yes, I laughed about your husband voting Republican too. If mine does, the operative word would be "history!"

  3. But, which side are you on, on this bill, please?


  4. The problem is that words seem to evolve in meaning by innuendo and what means one thing 20 years ago and something much more horrible or even less bad 20 years later.

  5. Republican would be bad but a vote for the Donald would be grounds for serious action.
    It would be nice if legislation for civility would work but it is something that must be taught.

  6. I really liked this post, Olga. Important and well said. Only a teacher would have the understanding of how words are often just words.

  7. You were a special ed teacher? No wonder I like you. Special ed teachers are so good at seeing the gray in the world because they really understand that we are not identical cogs.

  8. I like this post too, especially the "Republican" part, but also the message that it is 'intent' behind words that is the real issue. Kids frequently do not know the deeper meanings behind words, and don't have those meaning as thieir intention. adults can be expected to know better and think before they speak.

  9. I'm all for changing language. I can't tell you how many of my students who spew filth and ignorance, as well as bias. And about things they do not understand. It starts with the children.


I appreciate readers' comments so much. You don't even always have to agree with me.