Saying what I mean

I’ve been trying, not as successfully as I’d like, to watch my language, as suggested almost a month ago by Arwyn, a blogger I like very much. In brief, she asked readers stop using colloquial terms for mental illness (insane, crazy, nuts) as slang. It’s really hard to do, and so easy to rationalise as not being so important (seeing as everyone does it).

Initially I took the challenge somewhat nihilistically for that reason, but the idea stuck. And over the past few weeks I got to thinking about language, as I often do. In general, I’m careful about language, although moreso in writing than in speech. I try to think before I speak. I don’t swear that much. I try to be clear (but I often fail).

And when it comes to anything health-related, I have opinions. I dislike the possessive form of eponymous diseases: Alzheimer disease, not Alzheimer’s, because the disease belongs to the person who has it, not the person (usually the man) who first defined it (or decided to name it). I’m careful about not defining people by conditions or characteristics they have: it’s a person with HIV, not an HIV patient. I’m sure most people don’t think of these things day-to-day if at all, but they’ve been part of my work for long enough that they’ve affected how I speak as well.

And then there’s mental illness. Somehow, it’s accepted in our society to take these words, which mean serious, life-changing things for some people, and apply them to trivial issues. I hate how people use “schizophenic” when they mean “multiple personality disorder”, and when it comes to actual names of conditions I would never apply them to anyone or even anything. The slang needs to join them.

I think many people would dismiss this as too PC, but words mean things. And using fewer of them because we’re over-using some inappropriately leaves us all poorer. So for me, that means binning “crazy”, “insane” and “nuts” (they can join “gay”, “retarded” and “lame”) and saying “ridiculous” or “pathetic” or “tiring” instead. It means saying what I mean.

6 thoughts on “Saying what I mean

  1. Weird timing, I was looking for a book to read at mum’s earlier today and one of them had that same concept as a blurb. See if you can find Usage and Abusage, maybe it will have some tips for how to get through the awkward phase.

  2. I’m pretty sure my dad has mentioned this book too. Were our parents talking to each other (or in other words, are you the Kat I think you are)?

    I think the main thing, for me at least, is not to try and censor myself but to think about what I mean and say that instead of something sloppy.

  3. Great post.
    My mother (grammar teacher)reprimanded me last month when I said, “I’ll have to change my methodology.”
    She nearly spit at the vile word and said, “Why do people have to add flowery endings to perfectly sufficient words? METHOD will do, Call a spade a spade, and not an ‘agricultural tool.'” ! Once a grammar teacher, always always.

    Re: mental health terms, with songs that use words like “bipolar” as an adjective, I think you’re in the minority, but this is something that hopefully will change. The way we use these terms is part of what keeps stigma attached to mental health illness moreso than other illnesses.

  4. Popping in from your twitter. :) Very great post; words mean things and I think all too often in our rush to be heard we forget that and say things we really don’t mean.

  5. Thanks so much Jen! I’m still catching myself quite often… hopefully am getting better but it doesn’t always feel like it.