Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When "He's So Gay" Meant "He's So Happy" (2)

please click here for part 1

Language in the English speaking world has been for the most part hijacked by narrow minded people who have cavalierly decided that certain words should not be used because they might offend people.

I will concede that certain definitions of a particular word are indeed hurtful, but expunging an entire word because of that one definition, is incredibly close minded at best and 1984ish at worst.

I am a child of the seventies and thus do not believe in the nonsense that is called "political correctness". I subscribe to the belief that a word is just that, nothing more and nothing less.

I grew up believing that there was no ulterior motive when a particular word was spoken. I knew what the normal aspect of a word was and I knew what the abnormal aspect of a word was, and I adjusted myself accordingly.

For example, let's take the word "gay". The definition of the word that I grew up with is the actual title of this post: gay meant happy. Gay did not mean "homosexual". In fact, the way I described someone who was homosexual, was calling them "homosexual". The now accepted definition of the word, which in my personal dictionary is #3, did not come into common usage until the mid 80's, when I was in my early 20's.

The accepted definition is such a common place occurrence and practice that when people try to use it the way it was originally intended, they get jumped on.

For the record, the Gay Nineties does not mean that people were homosexual in the 19th century, it means that people were happy and carefree.

Example #2: "retard". We all know that the abnormal aspect of the word is highly offensive and as such, most people don't use it like that. Because of that highly tuned sensitivity to that particular aspect of the word, trying to use it the way it was originally intended is often compared to hopping in a rocky minefield with one arm tied behind your back.

My early exposure to the word "retard" was confined to two distinctly unique worlds: music and medical.

In the musical world, the word "retard" meant "slow". So if you were playing a piece at a tempo of allegro (brisk, lively) and the word "retard" popped up, that meant you should slow down the tempo of the piece.

In the medical world, I was also exposed at an early age to the longer version of the word, which was coupled with the word "mental", and this was due to two main factors: my mother, who was a nurse during my childhood, and the group home, both private and state that were located just down the road from here I currently reside. The phrase "mental retardation" or "retarded" wasn't used in my family to describe someone who had Down's Syndrome. The phrase "Down's Syndrome" was used instead.

One other little fact: in the Psychiatric world, the word "retard" is often used as a medical diagnosis to describe someone of low intelligence (non-Down's Syndrome). This is something that I'd learned while entering old prisoner's records in a large database maintained by the CT State Library.

There are numerous other examples of other words that the language police are trying to expunge, simply because one particular definition, be it slang or otherwise, is either offensive to a normal person's sensibilities or shameful to a particular group's sensibilities. However, with this post, I wanted to concentrate on the two words that seem to bring out the most hysterical/overkill responses in all facets of society.

So, armed with your personal knowledge and memory, are there any words that you can think of that people have been trying to expunge from normal usage, simply because one particular definition of the word happens to be grossly offensive to normal people?


  1. When I started working in the medical field, "mentally retarded" or "mental retardation" was standard. In the early 90s, I had the onerous task of retraining myself to use "persons with mental retardation."

  2. If you call someone a gay retard does it cancel out?

  3. Mama Z: We pretty much have the same problem here. After much heated debate that strangely enough pitted the do-good p.c. activist against parents who had children who were mentally retarded, the state agency that dealt with that segment of the population changed its name from the Department of Mental Retardation to the Department of Developemental Services.

    But people still know it by its old acronym DMR and call it by its old acronym.

    Charles: Nope, I don't think so. It creates an improper double negative.

  4. In my line of work, all of us who have a diagnosis embrace the word "crazy" - it's the PC people without diagnoses who want to give it the chop. Like our teenage youth group signed up a team - and the captain, who is 16 and has ADHD, wanted to call it "Insanely Awesome People." Which to me would have been funny and great! But the parents said no.

  5. M: You're right, that would've been funny and great, not to mention sticking it to those who would try to make you feel guilty about using the word in the first place.

  6. So true, people have just become too fickle or something. You say gay or retard, no matter if it is in the happy or music context it's a shameful thing to say, you should never say that, blah blah blah. Pathetic really.

  7. One of the "PC" things that drives me nuts is when people can't accept that words like "man" and "mankind" do not necessarily LITERALLY refer to only MEN. This results in words like "womankind" and "chairperson" and the reworking of Star Trek's famous "where no man has gone before" line.

    There are tons of words in the English language that have more than one meaning -- why can we accept, for example, that the word "hand" can either refer to a literal hand OR to helping someone out, but it's so hard to accept that "man" can EITHER refer to an actual man, or to human beings in general? If I say, "can I give you a hand," are you expecting me to literally chop off the end of my arm and give it to you? Of course not -- the meaning is understood from the context. And everyone UNDERSTANDS what is meant by "mankind"... but because people choose to take offense at something totally innocuous, we have to change the word. Grrrrrr...

  8. Pat: What really bothers me about this p.c. nonsense is when people try to apply today's nonsensical word (African-American for example) to historical events/times.

    Lisa: If you want to read a prime example of this nonsense James Finn Garner has reissued his "Politically Correct Fairy Tales" for the Kindle/Nook. Fantastic book series that reworks classic fairy tales for the p.c. crowd.

  9. Don't quote me on the authenticity of this claim as it is something I heard from George Carlin.

    But during one of his stand-up performances, he says that the word fuck originally meant to strike or hit something, like with a stick.

    Easy to see how it has evolved into what it is today... with all the men and their "sticks" fucking everything.

    It seems no word is safe to use these days!

  10. Dan: So very, very true.

    I think the ultimate offensive word right now is "black".

    Calling a black person "black" is apparently the second worst thing you can all them.

    And what bothers me the most is people re-writing American history and calling all blacks, no matter what the time period, "African American".

    You simply cannot apply todays fucked up morals to yesterday's news.


Originality. Is. Good. Be original. Be thoughtful. But most importantly, make me think.