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.