Guest Post by Wiley Reading
One of the first rules I learned in my Feminism Immersion ExperienceTM is that the words you use matter. The Associated Press agrees, as do many who’ve been advocating for more inclusive “people-first” language for decades. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, used the term “citizen of color” in 1963, and the term “Person of Color” was already widely used by the time I was born in 19881. In the twenty-four years since, we’ve made great strides in changing our language to eradicate slurs and bigoted terms, more accurately describe marginalized groups, and avoid stereotyping populations.
Most of the country has a sense of the real linguistic Bad Guys. You know, “the n word,” “tr*nny,” “the r word.” Much of the country is aware of the lower-level offenders: “dyke2,” “bitch,” “spaz.” Some of us are even sensitive to terms that have only recently been recognized as inaccurate or outdated: “hermaphrodite,” “Hispanic.”
I want to talk about the words we forget about. The ones that either seem so harmless that it seems unimportant to replace them, or the ones that are so ingrained in our slang that it seems nearly impossible to avoid them.
These words matter too. And it’s not as difficult to find workarounds as it might seem. I can think of dozens of these little linguistic landmines, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on three: lame, crazy, and tacky.