Most are likely familiar with the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” ClichÃ© and childish as it might be, I find it inaccurate, because words can be especially hurtful. Some members of today’s younger generations throw around swear words and derogatory phrases like they are nothing. There exists a lack of respect, not only for one another, but mostly for the words used.
Younger generations, my own included, seem to disregard the true meaning of certain words - words such as “gay” and “retard.” Popular commercials featuring Wanda Sykes or Hilary Duff address the common phrase, “That’s so gay,” used in the context “That’s so stupid.” The denotation of “gay” does not reference stupidity, so why is it used that way? In addition, homosexual people are not stupid, so using a word that addresses them as a group in a negative way is hurtful.
Even stronger opinions arise when individuals of older generations discuss with younger generations the history behind words such as “n—-r.” On Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, she interviewed Jay-Z on his use of “n—-r” in his lyrics. Jay-Z explained that the word has a new meaning than it has had previously. The word is used synonymously with “brother” and “friend.” Oprah, on the other hand, could not understand how younger generations could call their so-called friends the same word that represented extreme racism and animosity throughout her generation, and those before her.
Growing up, the word “retard” was a swear word in my house. My father works with Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, and using “retard” to signify idiocy was just as bad as any other swear word I could have said. Similarly, using words such as “gay” to degrade an individual is just as bad.
Comparing the seriousness of all three of these words would be disrespectful in and of itself, so I will not. However, I will compare the way in which individuals are using such words in complete disrespect for the words’ histories and true meanings.
Lastly, I will never completely understand the feelings and thoughts evoked by the word “n—-r” as I never experienced firsthand the animosity associated with it. However, it does create some confusion. Moreover, because of the word’s horrible history, the use of the n-word is inexcusable in my book. So how and why do some people use it so loosely with one another?
These words’ literal meanings are, unfortunately, not the same as the meanings that society has assigned to them. If people would choose words that convey what they are really trying to communicate instead of using these words as scapegoats, channels for ignorance or using them at all, modern slang might be slightly less abusive. We cannot change the intent behind words because, sadly, that is human nature, so instead we need to extract the misuse of these words from our vocabulary.
I would not call a bus a snail, so if someone is acting foolish, then tell them they are acting stupid, do not call them “retarded” or “gay.” If someone is your friend, then call them that. Do not use words that are historically loaded with hatred. Simply don’t be lazy – use your words.