Do we really need to use the m word? June 28, 2021 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Can we talk about avoiding use of "moron" casually? Similar to the related 'r' word, it has had clinical connotations and has been used to marginalize and other those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Posting as I was mildly shocked at its abundant use on the recent vaccine thread. Perhaps we can also avoid using the related "imbecile" and "idiot".
posted by lemur to Etiquette/Policy at 3:09 PM (140 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite



Whether or not we come to a consensus on broadly prohibiting the use of those particular words, the extremely repetitive use of demeaning language aimed at large groups of people was really unpleasant to read.
posted by jedicus at 3:35 PM on June 28 [25 favorites]


I'm with you, lemur! It's hard to not describe people who you dislike or disagree in pejorative terms, but I really think it a) discredits you and your ability to make an argument and b) perpetuates harmful language that usually has some kind of ableist under/overtones. I made this point regarding when members have called people "stupid" here awhile ago on the blue. I have a learning disability, I've also worked closely with people who have disabilities ie low IQ etc, and I also have a developmental history of being abused with this kind of language, so reading those words like stupid, moron, etc are really triggering and saddening for me, and usually throw a wrench in my interest in the core of the person's argument/perspective, as a result of my emotional response. Also, look, we may live in a meritocracy, but nobody picked their intelligence and really can't take any credit for it; the reverse is true, people who don't have like, "intelligence privilege" aren't at fault. I'm not really sure if I'm explaining this well. But, yeah, I wish we could knock of the demeaning language too. We're better than that and we can do better.
posted by erattacorrige at 4:08 PM on June 28 [24 favorites]


All of the uses of the word (and there were plenty) were by a single user, unless you count the people responding to them, so I think avoiding the term is less something to ask of Metafilter as a whole and more something to ask of that user. (I mean, there's nothing wrong with discussing it here, but I'd hope that we'll just get lots of people agreeing that it's bad.)
posted by dfan at 5:22 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Whether or not we come to a consensus on broadly prohibiting the use of those particular words, the extremely repetitive use of demeaning language aimed at large groups of people was really unpleasant to read.

That was my reaction as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:12 PM on June 28


Please. I'm 100% behind this.
posted by introp at 7:20 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I stopped reading that thread because of that garbage.
posted by skewed at 7:39 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


I was somewhat taken aback that by that repeated language, and I was coming down on the "a lot of people should know better" side.
posted by praemunire at 8:32 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


See also "lame"
posted by aniola at 8:36 PM on June 28 [16 favorites]


I didn't fully appreciate that the source of most of the m word comments was a single person until i read the thread more closely. Folks were responding and using the m word too though, and no one really made note of its use, which surprised me, as I personally find it shocking at this point and the mainstream MeFi sensibility is usually line with mine when it comes to this type of thing.

I didn't necessarily want to call out one person or people, or to derail that thread, more to have an open discussion about how we feel about casual use of that term. Regardless, I will alert the commenter to the existence of this thread.

Also, erattacottage, thank you for sharing your experiences and making your excellent points.
posted by lemur at 8:46 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


It's hard to not describe people who you dislike or disagree in pejorative terms, but I really think it a) discredits you and your ability to make an argument and b) perpetuates harmful language that usually has some kind of ableist under/overtones.

I think these two are backwards. The reason not to use slurs which attack marginalised groups of people is that their use harms people in those groups. Discrediting your own ability to make an argument is far behind that in importance, especially in matters where the arguments have already been had. Holding a (for instance) anti-vaccination "viewpoint" discredits oneself a lot more than calling an anti-vaxxer an asshole (which just happens not to be a slur against any marginalised group).

Twitter has a good snowclone for this situation: "Andrew Wakefield won't see your posts about anti-vaxxers, but neurodivergent mefites will"
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 9:19 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


lemur: "Folks were responding and using the m word too though, and no one really made note of its use, which surprised me, as I personally find it shocking at this point and the mainstream MeFi sensibility is usually line with mine when it comes to this type of thing."

Speaking as somebody who doesn't really use these words but isn't offended by them, either:

The thing about them is, whatever clinical significance they had fell out of common use generations ago. Most of the examples in that Teen Vogue article are over a hundred years old. So when people use them now, they're not knowingly invoking actual mental disability as a pejorative, they're just using them as generic insults because that's what they've become. Contrast with "the r-word", which was used as a medical term into the 2000s and is thus way more charged since people commonly know it refers to mental disability (and use it accordingly). Or look at an even older word like "foolish", which referred to mentally disabled people and the jesters aping them back in the Middle Ages but is closer to "absurd" or "silly" today. Does that obscure origin mean we should discourage stuff like "fool's errand" or April Fool's Day? That seems, uh, unwise.

If you have consult an etymology textbook to explain why a commonplace word is offensive, I don't think it's productive to try shaming it out of people's vocabularies, especially when that just feeds into the resentment against language policing that undermines the fight against contemporary slurs, like misgendering or racialized words like "thugs." Really, in light of the euphemism treadmill, I think the best way of looking at it is to distinguish insults for low intelligence from insults for involuntary conditions that cause low intelligence. Lacking intelligence is an inherently negative thing, like being weak or sick, and trying to eliminate it as a category of insult feels like an impossible ask. But there are different ways of being unintelligent. Obviously, mocking somebody for a mental disability or lack of formal education is the mark of a gigantic asshole. But being incurious, inattentive, gullible, mentally lazy, and willfully, maliciously ignorant are all totally fair game, IMHO. And that's what "stupid"/"idiot"/"moron"/etc. means for most people these days.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:12 PM on June 28 [80 favorites]


I know that language evolves. And if English were to evolve to have a lot fewer words for stupid, well, I'd be ok with that.

Someone close to me got called these sorts of names a lot when he was growing up. I'm not going to study which words-that-mean-stupid are categorized which ways by which people. I don't have to consult a textbook to know that words can hurt, and that people don't fall into neat categories. I'm not going to know which words hurt which people. I'm not going to call people stupid.
posted by aniola at 11:50 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]


I think the key thing here was in the original post which was the word
casually
Because these words and phrases, which are in common use both as slurs and non-slurs, pick up their power through context. I don't think anyone's proposing a unitary word-ban, just an awareness of that context. It's uncharitable, at best, to accuse someone of being stupid, or an idiot, because it bears the meaning that a person has less worth, and it's a mean thing to say. It's entirely appropriate to describe (let's say!) an attitude of racism as stupid, because it really is a less worthy and undesirable part of the human experience, and it deserves all the disdain our language can muster, it's stupid and foolish and ignorant and more things besides, and note: that attitude is held by some very intelligent people.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:05 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Lacking intelligence is an inherently negative thing, like being weak or sick, and trying to eliminate it as a category of insult feels like an impossible ask.

Negative to the subject, in the sense that you and I would happily use three free wishes to be mighty-thewed geniuses of iron constitutions? Sure, for the sake of discussion.

So the negatives are available as insults, okay. But they're unavoidably ableist, right? If you call me a puny weakling, you may mean fulsomely "bro who lazily does not even lift despite gym access and lack of other personal time commitments and thus has not developed his genetically endowed muscle fibers to their capacity" but it still lands like "weak", the descriptor of ability. Test case: would you describe lazy!Conan, possessor of merely ordinary rather than world-rending strength through complete lack of training, as a weakling?

In the thread "moron" seemed to mean not having been artificially educated past baseline human performance in handling probabilities. Other times it means a demonstrator of motivated reasoning.

Name the power. A dupe, a grifter, a determined know-nothing, a privileged naif.
posted by away for regrooving at 12:53 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]


Hence my point about distinguishing the trait from the cause. Weakness is bad, but calling someone a weak leader or a weak writer does not inherently demean people who are weak due to a physical disability. Using a term like "palsied" or "spastic" would, but that's a rare insult to hear because the association with the actual disability remains strong and it would be offensive to invoke it like that. Words like "idiot" and "cretin" used to get their punch from an actual medical condition, too, but those connotations have been obsolete for decades now and the vast majority of people aren't even aware of them. I just don't think it's useful to reproach people for using a word whose problematic aspect hasn't been a thing since before their parents (or grandparents) were born.

(Needless to say, insulting a person with cerebral palsy or MS as "weak" would be incredibly offensive, same as calling somebody with a learning disability "moronic." But it's offensive because it's directed at a cause they can't control; that doesn't mean the word should be unacceptable in all other contexts.)
posted by Rhaomi at 2:15 AM on June 29 [19 favorites]


I worry that policing words like moron and idiot moves us closer to becoming a gated community, closed to those without the exact vocabulary required to participate. Let's try and police the intent if someone uses the word moron, not some ancient, mostly forgotten association the word once had.
posted by dazed_one at 4:54 AM on June 29 [35 favorites]


Using the word as a weapon like that repeatedly was not offensive, it was hurtful. It was really unwelcoming and made it difficult to be in that thread. I didn't need a dictionary to know the origin of the term, and it's not shaming anyone to say that the term is ableist. It is just a fact. Just because it's an older term doesn't mean that its ableism no longer relevant. Yes, language changes over time, but this is not abstract. There are people in this thread saying that the term was hurtful. Why is that not enough?

Why is it not enough for people to say "hey, this is ableist, maybe you weren't aware, can we think about not using this term?" When will "this is harmful, can we not cause harm like this?" be the end of the discussion rather than the beginning of a thought experiment about etymology? "Can we avoid this term, not everyone knows that it is ableist, but it is" is not at all "shaming it out of people's vocabularies." It's not "policing." It's frankly kind of gross (but not at all surprising) to see this kind of pushback to a really gently-worded request.

People are asking others to be more mindful because they might not know the history of the term, and that using this word in a weapon is not super welcoming. That is, in fact, what closes off discussion. And I doubt this thread would even have been opened if the term hadn't been used so many times repeatedly in such a cruel, dismissive way in those comments. I'm sorry, but it was really unpleasant to read. It wasn't offensive, it was just unkind. Just because you didn't know or forgot the origin of the word doesn't mean that it is no longer relevant.

Gently asking for us to consider the fact that this is an ableist term is so far from policing people's behavior and closing off the community. It's an invitation to be more mindful. But people really like using the slurs that they like to use, so. Keep using the term in question happily knowing that it hurts people's feelings now, I guess. I hope it feels good to side with abstractions and not with real people who have presented logical, kindly-worded requests about being thoughtful before weaponizing pejorative, ableist terms.
posted by twelve cent archie at 5:06 AM on June 29 [25 favorites]


I stopped reading that thread because of that garbage.
If we try to eliminate provocative words like this, we also risk suppressing the interesting and educational comments they provoke. In the vaccination thread, the use of the term "moron" prompted several comments refuting the idea of people being stupid because they don't understand probability. They explained that most of us, most of the time, fail to understand the topic either intuitively or mathematically.
posted by rongorongo at 5:13 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Lacking intelligence is an inherently negative thing, like being weak or sick, and trying to eliminate it as a category of insult feels like an impossible ask.

A few things here. First, I'm sure eliminating all kinds of discriminatory language has felt impossible to the people who were attached to it for whatever reason.

Second: is lacking "intelligence" necessarily a negative thing? What kind of intelligence, according to whose measurements?

Third, is it really impossible to ask people who have been marginalized how they feel about whether something is discriminatory, and honor those feelings? Here in the US, it has been a long and painful process-- and many people do seem to feel it's impossible to give up their favorite language-- but we have made some progress in this regard. We have come to understand, by and large, that telling people in minority groups that certain language does not discriminate against them is insulting. Is this one area where for some reason we're not interested in making language more inclusive?
posted by BibiRose at 5:23 AM on June 29 [20 favorites]


I don't see how eliminating ableist language makes this community more exclusive; in fact, I think that using the ableist language makes this place more exclusive by excluding the people it harms: people who care about such things will leave here or not join. Also, it is hard to measure inclusion in a community by lack of a word: it seems doubtful to me that people will find this website, read some pages/comments, and note to themselves, "huh, distinct lack of [whatever shitty sexist/racist/transphobic ETC] language there is here. Nope, not the place for me, not enough mean stuff!" And if that DOES happen, then--- good.

If we try to eliminate provocative words like this, we also risk suppressing the interesting and educational comments they provoke. In the vaccination thread, the use of the term "moron" prompted several comments refuting the idea of people being stupid because they don't understand probability. They explained that most of us, most of the time, fail to understand the topic either intuitively or mathematically.


No. Because we can make those exact points about people not understanding probability, etc WITHOUT using the "provocative" words by simply...making the point that many people don't understand probability or whatever the topic is at hand. Like instead of being like "wow what morons" and the response being like, "they don't understand probability", it could have just cut to the "people don't understand probability" bit, without the harsh/cruel/judgemental framing. I'm all for the view that the people deigned "morons" or "stupid" or whatever, are really just products of a--and I think we can all agree on this-- pretty shitty educational system, and stats could be found to back up that point on a more regional/class-based basis.

The discussion around why we should be able to use such language is regressive & mirrors a lot of similar arguments for why other communities should be able to use discriminatory language, and I can't believe we're doing that here (well, I can). The fact that a bunch of people are like, "wow, these words that are hurtful by design have collateral damage, and hurt me" and a bunch of other people are like, "but my right to say what I want and pedantically talk down to you / overintellectualize why is more important!" is like....ugh it's so typical.
posted by erattacorrige at 5:33 AM on June 29 [22 favorites]


In the vaccination thread, the use of the term "moron" prompted several comments refuting the idea of people being stupid because they don't understand probability.

Let's stipulate that there actually is a class of people described by the term “moron”. I'm sure you'd agree that it would be horribly cruel to mock them for failing to understand something. Let me assure you that it's just as cruel to tell someone that they're not as bad as a moron. It's the same ill, in different words: it underlines their inability and separates them from the mass of humanity.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:59 AM on June 29 [7 favorites]


My preferred slur for the aggressively conspiratorial and willfully ignorant (because that's essentially what we're talking about with the hostile, crusading anti-vax type, right?) is simply "asshole."
posted by thivaia at 6:15 AM on June 29 [8 favorites]


In the time it takes to write 500-word "well, actually" diatribes about the words that someone very gently and politely being asked to be retired, folks could just take a minute to reflect and tell themselves that they will at least try not to use words that were popularized by white supremacist eugenicists who themselves later expressed regret for its usage.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 6:20 AM on June 29 [24 favorites]


It's a shitty way to talk about people, even people in abstract ("most people") as opposed to specific people in the thread.

It's also almost invariably a way to set up an unearned opposition between the speaker and other groups. Any time someone starts talking about how "most people" are not smart, it's part of an argument which casts themselves as logical, unemotional realists who are not afraid to tell difficult truths, unlike the masses. Even if it weren't mean-spirited, it's still garbage rhetoric.
posted by skewed at 6:45 AM on June 29 [11 favorites]


I have sympathy for all those reacting negatively to the proposal that we avoid using this word. I reacted similarly when I was called out for using it, almost ten years ago. I personally don't move in circles where use of this term is acceptable IRL, professionally or personally, and my milieu is fairly mainstream. Hence my mild shock at its ample use in that thread.

For those struggling with acceptable substitutes, there is a very simple shortcut. Whenever you feel inclined to use the word, substitute in 'fool' or 'foolish'.

To those saying that no one is affected by these antiquated terms anymore, I would suggest considering the feedback of those with lived experience. I can assure you that the word still hurts, even if one is ignorant of its origins.
posted by lemur at 7:00 AM on June 29 [15 favorites]


I have come very close to leaving Metafilter multiple times because of the acceptance of ableist language here. The defense of ableist language is even worse. No, lacking intelligence isn’t bad. Being weak isn’t bad. Being sick isn’t bad. When you say that these things are inherently negative, you’re endorsing the idea that disabled people are inherently lesser. How disgusting.
posted by epj at 7:42 AM on June 29 [37 favorites]


But being incurious, inattentive, gullible, mentally lazy, and willfully, maliciously ignorant are all totally fair game, IMHO. And that's what "stupid"/"idiot"/"moron"/etc. means for most people these days.

agree with all of this and, in fact, love the entirety of Rhaomi's comment. That said, I've pretty much removed all three of these words from my vocabulary, opting instead for "fool" and its adjective friend "foolish". Because we all play that part every now and then.
posted by philip-random at 8:04 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


I don't think the request to not use these words really needs to rely on entomology. Even if these words didn't have such a gross history, they pack a punch because they are recognized as ways to express disgust with a person's immutable characteristics--that is, they are personal insults. I wouldn't flip out if my kids were calling someone else a stupid fool, but I would tell them I would like them to recognize and avoid the tendency to be mean at people when they are angry or frustrated.
posted by skewed at 8:30 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]


rely on entomology

It bugs many people.
posted by Drastic at 8:34 AM on June 29 [39 favorites]


I was asked, some months ago, to work on my use of ableist language. At first, I tried to argue about why I should still be allowed to use some of those words. But as I sat with it longer, started to be more conscious of which words I was using (and how I was using them), the more convinced I was that I shouldn't be using them at all. I think my language had gotten better, more precise, since I've been working on this. I have found that I actually prefer talking about how sometimes people don't think through their actions or are thoughtless. And rather than use slurs about metal illness, sometimes people act in ridiculous and illogical ways.
I stop reading threads that use ableist slurs. Personally, anything regarding mental illness slurs will get me to nope out the fastest.
posted by blueberry monster at 8:48 AM on June 29 [12 favorites]


Wow... So... I did not know the origin of those terms and that they had specific "pseudo-scientific" use in eugenics by white supremist fascists - and I read alot - English was my favourite subject during school. I grew-up when the "r-word" was heavily used by kids my age - and I learned to stop using it - so, personally, I will make an effort to stop using "moron", "idiot", "imbecile" - and even "fool".

And - it has been pointed-out to me by my partner that I was a bit of a "name-caller/classifier" - I have slowly been working on that, trying my hardest to be more inclusive and less divissive.

is simply "asshole." My go-to is: "dumbass" - assholes are typically mean. (See, I am doing it again)
posted by rozcakj at 8:49 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


It bugs many people. Oh for a longer edit window! :(
posted by skewed at 9:22 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]


rozcakj, check out the first half of your go-to
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:02 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


We should absolutely cut out the casual use of these words. Any one of the reasons listed by folks above would be sufficient: the history and baggage of their use (and it's not exactly ancient history here), the harm reported by members of the community, the ableist connotations.

I know this pushback happens every time we have a conversation like this, but -- for folks who are pushing back: please take just a little bit of time to reflect that folks are asking you to consider your words, and that considering your words is a pretty baseline expectation for a healthy community.
posted by feckless at 10:27 AM on June 29 [9 favorites]


Thanks Iris - that is not something I had considered either, then my go-to should and will change.
posted by rozcakj at 10:39 AM on June 29 [9 favorites]


lemur: "To those saying that no one is affected by these antiquated terms anymore, I would suggest considering the feedback of those with lived experience. I can assure you that the word still hurts, even if one is ignorant of its origins."

I'm sure there are people with the lived experience of being called "asshole" or "fucker" that dislike those ugly words and would love if we all stop using them, but that doesn't mean everyone else has to feel the same way. We shouldn't discourage language just because it comes off as mean.

epj: "No, lacking intelligence isn’t bad. Being weak isn’t bad. Being sick isn’t bad. When you say that these things are inherently negative, you’re endorsing the idea that disabled people are inherently lesser. How disgusting."

This is what I was talking about upthread re: distinguishing insults for traits vs. insults for the people affected by things that cause them. Some traits, like sickness or weakness, are bad, full stop. I'm kind of baffled at your saying otherwise. But criticizing a weak argument or a sick system is not equivalent to demeaning someone with muscular dystrophy or AIDS, it's just criticizing the unwanted trait of being weak or sick, which has many potential causes. Same with intelligence. Calling something "stupid" or "crazy" is not at all the same thing as attacking someone with a disability that causes mental problems. Whereas an insult like "autist" or "schizo" 100% would be, because it's directly invoking people with that disability as the insult. If idiot/moron/etc. were still understood to mean an actual medical condition, they would be just as offensive, but that's just not how they're defined anymore.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:42 PM on June 29 [6 favorites]


I appreciate these convos because I sometimes knowingly use these words even though I know I shouldn't because I know there is probably a better way to express what i want to express but I don't know what it is. So it's helpful to see better examples.
posted by bleep at 12:53 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Lazy choice of word but it did inspire some excellent observations that may have gone by without a bit of triggering. And that would've been a loss, Q style misinformation is perhaps not a new phenomenon but the state of tech and society has life changing consequences.

It concerns me that there are excellent readers that can not handle quite a good discussion due to poor wording. That was corrected clearly with well thought out observations. Words should not be forbidden but organically retired by the growth of community understanding.
posted by sammyo at 12:56 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


Lots of mental gymnastics in this thread. If you're citing sources to justify being hurtful in a specific way, I want to remind you there are many other options for how to spend your time and cognitive resources.

What I read of OP: "Can we curtail the performative justified cruelty"

What I read as response" don't shame me I'll have you know this word is so out of use that employing it to be cruel is fine and chill don't be weird these people deserve the cruelty"

First off, there's nothing inherently shaming in OP's post. If you read it that way, I strongly encourage you to find different motivators for your behavior, because that one's taking on a life of its own.

I feel fairly confident that there is a direct thread from a core cohort of MeFites that insist upon performative, justified cruelty and the continued hemorrhaging of folks that aren't close enough to the top of the supremacist* hierarchy in the U.S. (i.e. are you comfortable around cishet white dudes that aren't that self-aware of how they fit in the systems of power but talk a good game? if yes, stick around! if no, probably go; no, you may not be the dude I'm talking about, but you're def comfortable enough around them).

When you're stanning to be hurtful in a specific way, maybe just try to be less hurtul to folks. I know you don't get to show how smart you are, and that's one of Metafilters core currencies, but you get to not be as hurtful, which is a net benefit imo.



*we say ableist, we say racist, we say classist. It's all supremacy. Able-bodied, cishet, white, propertied men on down. Intellectualizing proves the point.
posted by CPAnarchist at 12:57 PM on June 29 [13 favorites]


When someone tells me that something hurts them, I listen. Even when I think I'm right, even when I have excellent logical counter-arguments, even when I don't understand why it should hurt them. Because I really don't want to hurt people for no good reason.
posted by aniola at 1:08 PM on June 29 [17 favorites]


Rhaomi, I want you to seriously think through what you're saying. We're not talking about adjectives in a vacuum here; we're specifically talking about applying words to people. Why is strength better than weakness? Why is health better than sickness? I am disabled. I am sick every single day of my life. I have perhaps average strength; my mother, who is also disabled, is much weaker than I am. My niece is intellectually disabled. All of these things cause problems for us, but they cause the biggest problems when no accommodations are made for a range of functional ability (heavy doors, no seats, being rushed, etc.). Disabled people are everywhere. Some of us are strong and healthy and smart. Some of us are sick and weak and intellectually disabled. Some of us are some combination of these. When you say that strong, healthy, smart is *better*, you're not right; you're simply saying what you value and what you don't, and disabled people are always listening.
posted by epj at 1:10 PM on June 29 [53 favorites]


Lacking intelligence is an inherently negative thing, like being weak or sick, and trying to eliminate it as a category of insult feels like an impossible ask.

This is extremely ableist and I would encourage you to look up the social model of disability and the neurodiversity movement to understand why.
posted by brook horse at 1:18 PM on June 29 [26 favorites]


This is akin to when I told friends that "being gy--ed" was pejorative and they not only didn't realize it was slang that referenced G-psies but didn't know anything about g-psies. They didn't associate G-psies with anything negative, so I had to briefly explain that they were among the ethnic groups along with Jews that have been historically persecuted mainly in Eastern Europe leading up to the Holocaust. etc. They were not using it in a way that was racist, because they didn't even know that it had an association with G-psies/Roma people, but just because of their ignorance of it didn't absolve them from using it.

Edit: I cannot use the actual words as the filter blocks me.
posted by geoff. at 1:29 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


I'm already on board with this and I prefer saving my verbal criticisms and outright attacks for actions or ideas apart from and over class, health or abilities - but I also would like a large, sharp pointy arsenal of words to criticize anyone who is aggressively and willfully ignorant or otherwise toxic, bigoted or hurtful to other people and it has been a struggle to eliminate certain words from my vocabulary.

Because criticism and pushback has value, and because of the systemic and inherent ableist, racist and bigoted flaws of the English language this can be a difficult and nuanced dance when someone utterly wrongheaded like Tucker Carlson desperately and critically needs to be deflated as a complete and utter dingus and jerk.

For some reason I'm now thinking of the word pinhead as an example, which originated as and still is a really shitty way to describe someone with microcephaly, but today it's not generally used like that at all. In my opinion today it seems to be most often used to punch up and criticize someone in a position of authority that's frequently wrong or just otherwise overly confident about their actual abilities.

Sometimes I'm not entirely sure where to draw the line with this sort of descriptive and critical language using a flawed and problematic language history without my own ignorant collateral damage.

On preview: Yeah, I also had to eliminate the G-word slur and slang for getting ripped off from my vocabulary only about 5 years ago because I didn't really understand the origins of the word. I haven't used it since I was called out on it.
posted by loquacious at 1:40 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


epj: "Why is strength better than weakness? Why is health better than sickness?"

I mean, sickness in general is bad; it causes pain, suffering, shortens lifespans, reduces quality of life. None of that means that sick people are bad, or worth any less for being sick. Insisting on interpreting the former to always mean the latter seems like a recipe for needless hurt.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:43 PM on June 29 [6 favorites]


Chiming in as another person in this community who both has disabilities and cares for disabled loved ones. Training some of these terms out of my vocabulary has been an ongoing project for years now because they have harmful, ableist histories and hurt people I care about. It’s done my conversations no harm and a great deal of good to pause for a moment to think and use more precise language.

If you really think there’s something special about these words that can’t be precisely portrayed with other less hurtful terms, I can’t convince you, but maybe you’d consider the experiment of trying to reword them for a week or a month and then see if it was really such a sacrifice that it’s worth harming actual people who are right here, in your community, saying “these terms harm me and people I love.”
posted by Stacey at 1:53 PM on June 29 [22 favorites]


By saying sickness is "bad," you are saying that a person's quality of life stinks, compared to a "normal" person. Just like sexuality, we all have a spectrum of conditions and experiences. It's hurtful to rank them.

And this is so abstract and ridiculous. There is ZERO reason to argue against a request like this. I would prefer these threads be closed when they're posted, to prevent debate.
posted by tiny frying pan at 1:55 PM on June 29 [10 favorites]


See also "sinister" (as per the first reaction here above)
posted by Namlit at 2:01 PM on June 29


I mean, sickness in general is bad; it causes pain, suffering, shortens lifespans, reduces quality of life. None of that means that sick people are bad, or worth any less for being sick. Insisting on interpreting the former to always mean the latter seems like a recipe for needless hurt.

Your arguments in this thread lack internal consistency. This is a thread about using ablist words as personal insults. That's the context in which you're arguing that you want to keep using them that way. If there's no value judgement built into the words, they wouldn't be insulting. To then turn around and say that people who are hurt by them are interpreting them wrong is disingenuous.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:12 PM on June 29 [15 favorites]


I've always really respected your posts here and I'm kind of surprised to see you holding a hard line on this one, Rhaomi. People who are disabled and sick are in this thread telling you that this argument is used to dehumanize us. It doesn't matter if that's not the intent words like this are used. We are here; we are listening. We hear what you're saying even though you can't hear it yourself.

Our hurt over this isn't needless; it's protective. A world where people believe that being sick and disabled is bad is a world that is less safe for us. From what you've said here, it seems that your desire to use these words is an abstract one based on the principle that language changes over time. Our desire for you to think about and hopefully (on your own accord) stop from using these kind of terms, when you learn of them, is based on lived experience of harm caused by the beliefs about disability that they help propagate and sustain. The arguments that you are making are ones that have been used to dehumanize us and to shut us out of public life and discourse, over and over again. We know because it's happened to us. A lot. To put this abstractly, we are asking you to consider the principle that language shapes social reality, and that language like this unfortunately causes harm. Further, it's not really a big deal to replace words with ones that aren't harmful. Like you said: language changes over time. Why not work to change it so it reflects (and if you buy the concept of linguistic relativity, helps to construct) a society that centers care and equity?
posted by twelve cent archie at 2:20 PM on June 29 [27 favorites]


Just my 2 cents but I agree with Rhaomi on a lot of this, Both of these arguments make sense, it just seems like a better strategy is to err on the side of caution when it comes to knowingly upsetting other people.
posted by bleep at 2:39 PM on June 29


If we try to eliminate provocative words like this, we also risk suppressing the interesting and educational comments they provoke.

People with less privilege and power constantly self-edit the language they use with more privileged and powerful people in order to be heard. Some people have to do it most of the time, but almost nobody is in a good position to tell the boss that he's stupid, no matter what he's done. Remarkably, over the years, less privileged and less powerful people have said fascinating and important things, even working under these constraints. Having to think a little harder about the best way to make your point isn't the worst thing in the world.

Also, insulting someone isn't an argument. "You don't understand base rates" is.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 2:49 PM on June 29 [14 favorites]


Mod note: I think lemur's suggestion is good and worth people making an effort to understand and abide by if they haven't before.

A lot of these casually-embedded ableist terms are things I have to (and fail to) think a lot about too because of the way they've been so woven into (to my particular experience) American English speech. Which, if these dots haven't connected for you yet, is because of systemic ableism. The reason people use them without thinking about their shitty origins and hurtful impact is because people spent a very long time using them while well aware of those shitty origins and being tacitly fine with saying ableist shit.

This is a request to self-educate and be more mindful about what you say that might be hurting other people around you in ways you weren't intending. That's a totally reasonable thing, and a good one for folks in the MetaFilter community to take up. In practice a lot of people here will have seen the request, given it a nod or some thought, not commented in here, and moved on to trying to use it less, and that's part of the community evolution of language practice.

But whenever we have a conversation like this, we tend to have various kinds of pushback as well, and I'm seeing some familiar ones in here, and we really don't need to see that stuff every time. A few examples of that:
I worry that policing words like moron and idiot moves us closer to becoming a gated community...

If we try to eliminate provocative words like this, we also risk suppressing the interesting and educational comments they provoke...

It concerns me that there are excellent readers that can not handle quite a good discussion due to poor wording...
I don't think anybody making the comments those are from is intending harm, and I believe they're coming from an honest place. But. Consistently, "this word/phrase/framing is harmful and makes this place harder for me to be" gets met with—along with a lot of understanding and acceptance, which I appreciate—predictable abstractions and slippery slopes and whatifs and mischaracterizations of people being harmed by hurtful language as people just not being tough enough.

I'd like to see less of that in the future. I don't think we'll ever not see it, because someone's gonna stumble into this territory for the first time in their life at some point, but I'm seeing familiar faces in here who have been through this kind of discussion before and I think that some of this commentary falls into You Should Probably Know Better By Now territory. So, please, file this away for future MetaTalks and give that a miss next time.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:51 PM on June 29 [30 favorites]


Chiming in as another person in this community who both has disabilities and cares for disabled loved ones. Training some of these terms out of my vocabulary has been an ongoing project for years now because they have harmful, ableist histories and hurt people I care about. It’s done my conversations no harm and a great deal of good to pause for a moment to think and use more precise language.

This is exactly my perspective. To me, the work is hard and the work is worth it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:30 PM on June 29 [18 favorites]


- For those struggling with acceptable substitutes, there is a very simple shortcut. Whenever you feel inclined to use the word, substitute in 'fool' or 'foolish'. - posted by lemur at 10:00 AM on June 29

-- Training some of these terms out of my vocabulary has been an ongoing project for years now because they have harmful, ableist histories and hurt people I care about. It’s done my conversations no harm and a great deal of good to pause for a moment to think and use more precise language. - posted by Stacey at 4:53 PM on June 29

Avoiding Ableist Language from Augsburg University's Writing Lab (linked upthread) has: Instead of an ableist word, perhaps you actually meant to say...

Asinine
Bad
Bleak
Boring
Bullish
Callous
Careless
Confusing
Contemptible
Coward
Dense
Devoid of _____
Disgusting
Dull
Enraged
Evil
Extremist
Furious
Gross
Half-hearted
Horrible
Ignoramus
Ignorant
Impolite
Incomprehensible
Inconsiderate
Inconsistent
Infuriating
Insensible
Irrational
Jerk
Lacking in _____
Livid
Mean
Nasty
Nefarious
Nonsense
Nonsensical
Obtuse
Outrageous
Overwrought
Paradoxical
Pathetic
Petulant
Putrid
Rage-inducing
Reckless
Ridiculous
Rude
Scornful
Self-contradictory
Shameful
Solipsistic
Spurious
Terrible
Tyrannical
Unbelievable
Unconscionable
Unheard of
Uninspired
Unoriginal
Unthinkable
Unthinking
Useless
Vapid
Vile
Vomit-inducing
Without any _____ whatsoever
Wretched

posted by Iris Gambol at 4:40 PM on June 29 [45 favorites]


Cortex: I'd like to see less of that in the future.

Well, you're the site owner, so you could add those words to the same slur filter that prevented someone upthread from writing "gy--ed". Are you proposing that you'll do that? Even on a trial basis?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:40 PM on June 29


If you run a trial maybe include a link to that list of alternative words?
posted by aniola at 7:49 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


We're not hoping to use the slur filter as a primary solution for most language issues on the site; this is a case where I think it'll be more useful to flag stuff when it comes along to check out in context and also to do some calling-in in appropriate contexts where it comes up. It's something we'll try to keep a closer eye on from the mod end, but in large part I'm basically where lemur is on this in the original post: this is something people can work to be more aware of and careful about in the process of participation, and that we can collectively help nudge folks on.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:57 PM on June 29 [7 favorites]


Thanks for this post, lemur. The repeated use of the word in that thread made me really uncomfortable, too.
posted by eirias at 4:25 AM on June 30


We're not hoping to use the slur filter as a primary solution for most language issues on the site; this is a case where I think it'll be more useful to flag stuff when it comes along to check out in context and also to do some calling-in in appropriate contexts where it comes up.

This is good. Context is everything.
posted by dazed_one at 5:06 AM on June 30


A lot of these recommended substitutes are too intense or even vicious - and I would strongly advise against casual use of such words whether in friendly or hostile contexts

Counterpoint: people should have used these terms instead of ableist, fat-phobic, and anti-neurodivergent insults against people like Trump. In any event, "don't use these words offered as a replacement of a slur because horrible people's feelings might be hurt" basically comes down to tone-policing people (especially those from marginalized groups) for their justifiable anger and hurt.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 5:15 AM on June 30 [12 favorites]


I was also struck by the use of "moron" in that context and did not participate in the thread because of it.

In this thread, and in other MeTas pushing back on certain words, I see similar arguments popping up, as cortex summarized. They fall into two categories, "there's actually nothing wrong with this particular word (subtext:in my lived experience)," and "the principle of excising a word is bad/wrong and embracing it will erode the community."

As cortex said, we exist in an ableist system. So we think that the general experience of "I like having this word to use freely" is equivalent to a "minority" experience of "this word is closely associated with the tremendous evil of eugenics, the systemic legacy of which I am still reckoning with in my daily experience."

I mean, I get it. It's easy to get stuck on a word it feels like people are trying to "take away." But if you stop paying attention to the feeling of "taking away" and look at the actual subject, the word, is it worth fighting for? Frequently, when I examine the actual "thing" instead of my feelings about the conversation, I find that I don't care about the principle at all - I notice how truly little of a sacrifice it is to make the space a little more comfortable for other people. And I'd like to think that that strengthens the community.

(I'd like there to be a specific term for this struggle, maybe more specific than "confronting privilege." I go through variations of it when I listen to the experiences of BIPOC folks about institutions I previously thought benevolent or benign, too.)

From the list: "contemptible" is great, and really gets at the meat of whatever you're commenting on (this is something that invokes in me contempt) versus, "I think this person is x (something they may or may not have control over) and therefore contemptible." It's a worthy distinction.
posted by snerson at 7:17 AM on June 30 [5 favorites]


These aren’t “replacements for slurs”. They are slurs.

I...what?

Pushing people to routinely and casually use intense and extreme words like “evil”, “vomit-inducing” , “nefarious” and “vile” against other groups in the same range of everyday use cases as “idiot” , “moron” etc. is more likely to coarsen discourse and fuel violence than not.

I know plenty of people who actually vomited when presented with stuff like putting children into concentration camps, antisemitic chants on live TV, and a fascist coup that is arguably still ongoing. I was one of them, because those are intense and extreme actions that are pretty much universally thought of as some of the most evil, nefarious, and vile acts one can support.

Anyway, please try not to twist other members’ words and impugn their character, and please try not to be tempted by calculatingly inflammatory rhetoric.

Again, please stop trying to tone-police this conversation.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 11:52 AM on June 30 [10 favorites]


Just sitting here watching coverage of Bill Cosby getting set free because of deliberate prosecutorial misconduct side-by-side with Congressional Republicans spouting off about Jan 6 was an inside job by antifa FBI agents and rolling "evil is a slur" around in my head.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 12:12 PM on June 30 [9 favorites]


I'm gratified by the amount of support for my proposal in this thread! Also disheartened that the most-favourited comment is Rhaomi's articulate but incredibly misguided one upthread. Just a good reminder I suppose that there's always more work to be done.
posted by lemur at 12:13 PM on June 30 [11 favorites]


The argument that the community gains when slurs or other oppressive language is used because then we get brilliant explanations of why the language is damaging is a really horrific argument that people should stop making. Asking historically oppressed groups to suffer more so that privileged people can learn stuff is callous. We can appreciate the labor that goes into such rebuttals/explanations without applauding, let alone encouraging, the inequitable and traumatizing conditions that require such work.
posted by lapis at 5:20 PM on June 30 [9 favorites]


I feel uncomfortable with the idea of participation on Mefi as "work to be done".
posted by dmh at 5:45 PM on June 30


Bwithh, on today's front page there's a post about the death of Donald Rumsfeld, the comments to which are entirely negative, and full of language that would be captured by your objection to the use of extreme words. That's quite different to the reasonable objection to offensive words in the original post. Acceptable? Unacceptable? I would argue Rumsfeld earned that level of language.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:51 PM on June 30



Avoiding Ableist Language from Augsbur


Where in this list is there an expression that means :

- their speech or writing indicates the inability to conduct and express logical thought (when logical thought is what is required)

- their actions (often with bad consequences) show they are unable to parse evidence to reach a reasonable conclusion about the world (based on said evidence)
posted by lalochezia at 6:01 PM on June 30 [5 favorites]


People seem to be conflating "words that are mean" with slurs. Mean words that might hurt your feelings aren't slurs. A slur is a pejorative term that is used to put people down specifically based on a stigmatized aspect of their existence, or astigmatized aspect of a group of people to which the subject is being compared.

I looked through the Rumsfeld thread and I didn't actually see people using slurs. I see people saying things, often unkindly, about what a horrible person he was. I see people calling him a war criminal, a mass murderer, arrogant, evil, competent and intelligent, and vile. None of these are slurs. And if slurs were being used, yes, it would be a problem, because it would conflate being member of whatever stigmatized group the slur describes with a literal war criminal. It is pretty frustrating that I had to go read that guy's obituary thread in order to help define slurs for people.
posted by twelve cent archie at 6:15 PM on June 30 [15 favorites]


- their speech or writing indicates the inability to conduct and express logical thought (when logical thought is what is required)

- their actions (often with bad consequences) show they are unable to parse evidence to reach a reasonable conclusion about the world (based on said evidence)


illogical
unreasonable
posted by lapis at 7:08 PM on June 30 [8 favorites]


Bwithh, if you feel there are words on the Augsburg list that are too intense, please do not use them. Part of the issue with the words I listed in the OP is that they have acquired many meanings over the years. Even if you feel that their effects are fairly mild, unfortunately, those who feel stigmatized by these words hear them differently. You may not appreciate that fully because you're not part of that group.

Really, by avoiding the words in the OP, you will be improving your own communication by choosing more precise words. This is an additional benefit, along with helping a marginalized group feel more included and less stigmatized.

That is, if you need another reason.
posted by lemur at 4:32 AM on July 1 [10 favorites]


Just to reinforce this, let's not get into a pedantic spiral about exactly what could ever be called a slur; that's not just obtuse, it actually comes across as bad-faith antagonism in a context like this. So officially: drop it. When we use the term "slur" here we're not talking about general terms like "evil", or whether hypothetically war criminals are stigmatized. We're talking about a much more narrow specific class of words that are used against particular marginalized groups in the real world.

The request here is to be more aware and careful about terms like the ones mentioned in the post, because these words have impacts that you might not have been considering. As lemur says, people can show attention to language by just finding better words to make a point.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:03 AM on July 1 [13 favorites]


...to consider the principle that language shapes social reality...

I couldn't agree more. Other parts of this discussion strike me from a slightly different angle. Pejorative terms can be used as a legitimate flavoring, but they can't help but perch precariously on the brink of ad hominem attacks. Etymology provides nothing but rationalizations, helping to explain to the offended why the offender didn't mean what was said. I suggest this to be the "Bull in a China Shop" theory of discourse, one I have used many times. But I'm trying to get better.

We all love shortcuts, and if we had our way, we'd make arguments by citing a number from a long list, rather than bothering to explain ourselves. Substituting "asshole" for a more volatile term is one such example. I don't have the energy to explain what flavor of asshole I'm citing, so I allow my fellows in the conversation to use their own imaginations. Now comes the complaint, that my use of word "X" reflects some "--ism," and is therefore hurtful to citizens of that realm. And the cycle continues.

The hope, for me, is that any ensuing discussion sheds as much light as heat. As I said, I'm trying to get better. When I was in junior high school "dead baby" jokes were all the rage. Then "little moron" jokes. Not all that long ago "dumb blonde" jokes swept the nation; recently "Karen" jokes became popular. I don't want to keep up the categorization, but it should be easy to see that race-based jokes fell neatly into this format. Words shape reality. We learn by induction, when our uncles, parents, peers, tell us jokes and stories that demean a certain "type." In my reality, knowing this is like turning over a rock, and being surprised by what comes scurrying out from under it.

Somewhere along this gruesome line of thinking it came to me that race-based jokes and dumb blonde jokes were structurally about the same. I was surprised to deduce that "little moron" jokes followed a similar pattern. This was somewhat deflating since I don't like to think of myself as sexist or racist. Anyhow, I had to admit that the best light I shined on myself revealed that I was an insensitive clod. So, I agree that English evolves; maybe that means that I could try to move with the current. Are my notions and ideas only expressable by thoughtless shorthand?

I'm not really too enthusiastic about the word-filter version of discourse. I would rather have someone tell me how they feel rather than have a mod's bot put asterisks in the middle of a word. I have gained an appreciation of this particular topic from reading the (often conflicting) opinions in this thread. Thanks for that, and for the suggestion offered by lemur.
posted by mule98J at 9:06 AM on July 1 [4 favorites]


this is something people can work to be more aware of and careful about in the process of participation, and that we can collectively help nudge folks on.

By my recollection, asking commenters to change their rhetorical stance towards a marginalized group and voluntarily adopt kinder language, without direct mod action and influence, has worked a total of [checks notes] zero times.

But hey, I've only been a member since 2007, I'm sure this time will be different, right?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 11:36 AM on July 1 [3 favorites]


As a datapoint, while I’ve never personally been called out I have changed my behavior/commenting tone after something like this has come up.
posted by mochapickle at 1:09 PM on July 1 [11 favorites]


asking commenters to change their rhetorical stance towards a marginalized group and voluntarily adopt kinder language, without direct mod action and influence, has worked a total of [checks notes] zero times.

a lot goes on in the margins. I've adjusted-refined-improved-evolved many aspects of my online behaviour as a direct result of stuff I've watched go down around here. Metatalk in particular has afforded a great venue for seeing how unstoppable forces meet their inevitable immovable objects and how, somehow or other, they find a way to reconcile their various opposing trajectories ... usually without it turning into all out war.
posted by philip-random at 1:26 PM on July 1 [7 favorites]


We all love shortcuts, and if we had our way, we'd make arguments by citing a number from a long list, rather than bothering to explain ourselves.

The Wittgenstein Effect.
posted by clavdivs at 4:36 PM on July 1


Somewhere along this gruesome line of thinking it came to me that race-based jokes and dumb blonde jokes were structurally about the same. I was surprised to deduce that "little moron" jokes followed a similar pattern. This was somewhat deflating since I don't like to think of myself as sexist or racist. Anyhow, I had to admit that the best light I shined on myself revealed that I was an insensitive clod. So, I agree that English evolves; maybe that means that I could try to move with the current. Are my notions and ideas only expressable by thoughtless shorthand?

This is similar to my what I grew up with. Watching Archie Bunker and making fun of him because he was the typical jerk, and his daughter and son-in-law, and later, neighbors, were there, to push back against him. That was the whole point of that show, to educate us to not be like Archie Bunker. At the time, I think it was avant garde. And it launched a lot of other TV shows, like the Jeffersons. I think this discussion has a lot to do with the All in the Family TV show, and how they tried to tell the father to stop saying things, or judge other people about things.

I've had to do a lot of that myself. Just things you say in 8th grade, which are no longer appropriate today, but back then, I didn't know any better. I'm not a bigot, like Archie Bunker, but I am somehow a person who has said things back then, that I have said today, and now I know, and I am ashamed, and I won't say them again.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:53 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


I think we've all-- every single one of us in our millions of seconds of life-- said, at one point or another, something that was misguided, misplaced, mean, or ignorant. nobody wants to be defined by the worst thing they've ever said (like "dead baby jokes" in middle school, per the above comment), and that's fair-- but it's only fair if we actually stop doing the harmful thing. If we continue to do the harmful thing with full knowledge it's hurting people, well, then you DO get to be defined by the bad things you've done.
And none of us are above becoming better.
quietly descends soapbox
posted by erattacorrige at 6:36 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]


Watching Archie Bunker and making fun of him because he was the typical jerk, and his daughter and son-in-law, and later, neighbors, were there, to push back against him

Interesting analogy, where's Edith? The dictoctomy of the opening song got me. La Salle's, Hoover, basically bad things. But Edith broke my heart, esp. when she served as the silent conscious. The genius of Archie was he was a fool, arrogant, bigoted, demanding and complaining. The two factors of success were his getting words twisted and his attempts at redemption from some Epistemic Navitey. Like Archie defending Nixon. That was funny, perhaps what was needed to a degree at that time but overall the superb acting of carroll o'connor and jean stapleton made that show.
posted by clavdivs at 9:17 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, I didn't mean to discount Edith, I was just thinking of the sock sock shoe shoe bit.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:14 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


By my recollection, asking commenters to change their rhetorical stance towards a marginalized group and voluntarily adopt kinder language, without direct mod action and influence, has worked a total of [checks notes] zero times.

I don't think anyone is saying mods won't intervene, I think cortex is saying that they're not going to add a new slew of words to the slur filter. Absolutely flag this stuff when you see it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:55 PM on July 2


So can we still use the word 'idiot'?
posted by dazed_one at 9:26 AM on July 3


I mean, it falls into the same bucket of "what if you came up with something else instead?", so what if you came up with something else instead? lemur mentioned it in the post, it's in that same class of words; I'm not sure if you are expressing confusion or trying to bargain with the request.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:18 AM on July 3 [3 favorites]


"it's in that same class of words"

The word was around before 19th and 20th century obsolete western medical classification used it.

I guess I disagree with the verdict reached and am disappointed.
posted by dazed_one at 4:23 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


The ableism underlying these words is not just that they were once used as medical terminology. The problem is linking people's worth as humans to their innate intelligence.
posted by lapis at 5:05 PM on July 3 [14 favorites]


So can we still use the word 'idiot'?
thought the same about fool, like N.A.S.A guys who smoked to much.
posted by clavdivs at 9:15 PM on July 3


their speech or writing indicates the inability to conduct and express logical thought (when logical thought is what is required)

their actions (often with bad consequences) show they are unable to parse evidence to reach a reasonable conclusion about the world (based on said evidence)


The key word here is "inability". Being unable to do something is not a failing.

If people don't care about the fact that ableism, including the use of ableist slurs, genuinely and needlessly hurts D/disabled people: people like me and many others on Metafilter, maybe focus on the fact that the inappropriacy of denigrating people for their capacities rather than their conduct is something we teach to small children as part of the basic process of socialisation. We all fail to live up to that sometimes, and that's understandable, but please don't act as if this is just being sprung on you now.

This stuff is not a radical demand. If you're outraged and perplexed by this, wait until you see my list of those.
posted by howfar at 8:56 AM on July 4 [10 favorites]


Mod note: One comment removed. If you want to talk about unrelated words on the slur filter list, drop us a line about it; tacking hard to that with a charged comment in an unrelated thread isn't a great idea.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:58 PM on July 4


The key word here is "inability". Being unable to do something is not a failing.


As a society we say "no, you don't currently know how to do this" or "no, it is extremely unlikely you will ever know how to do this/be able to do this at the appropriate level" every second, in every school, office, training environment for doctors, teachers, firefighters, nurses, soldiers. We say it to sportspeople. We say it to Artists. We say it to language learners and to religious practitioners and computer programmers and scientists and designers of systems that save lives and minimize human suffering - and the converse.

We say it to people while displaying all of the baggage of isms (including ablesim) that we carry.

I want to be crystal clear: Is the humanity of people who can't do certain things up for debate? No.

BUT If people do things that they are not capable of doing - and that others rely on.... BAD THINGS HAPPEN. And while some of this is rectifiable with the social model of disability by changing society and its processes to take this into account, some of it is definitely not.

I see Dunning Kruger EVERYWHERE. I see people whose capabilities are simply not up to the task. I want to be able to describe not only their conduct, but their capacity. And if, in exercising their lack of capacity they cause harm, then I want to be able to describe this action in plain words.
posted by lalochezia at 6:20 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


we say "no, you don't currently know how to do this" or "no, it is extremely unlikely you will ever know how to do this/be able to do this at the appropriate level" every second, in every school, office, training environment for doctors, teachers, firefighters, nurses, soldiers. We say it to sportspeople. We say it to Artists. We say it to language learners and to religious practitioners and computer programmers and scientists and designers

Yep. And unless we're outright failing in our professional responsibilities, we don't do it by calling people "idiots", "stupid" or anything of that kind. Partly because it would be grossly inappropriate but also because it would be entirely uninformative. "I'm afraid that you failed the exam because you're an idiot" isn't something that crops up much, is it? Because saying "you're a idiot" isn't actually a way of conveying factual information, but rather of expressing an attitude for performative (in the Austinean sense, rather than the modern meaning of "pretence" or "showing off") reasons: its effect is to cause diminished status and emotional responses in the audience, not to describe a state or affairs with any clarity.

if, in exercising their lack of capacity they cause harm, then I want to be able to describe this action in plain words

Then do so. You don't need this particular class of insults, which I note are directed at individuals, in order to describe such actions in plain terms. Indeed, it's hard to see how they even help in that.

Let's be clear: it is not the use of words to describe that is the problem, it is the use of words to insult. The words being defended are almost entirely useless as tools for doing the former, even where intended in that way. Indeed, they're almost always counterproductive to the stated goal.
A Short Play

X: Stop hitting the patient in the chest with that hammer.

Y: But I'm a heart surgeon goddamnit! You have to allow me to use my tools.
posted by howfar at 12:17 AM on July 5 [7 favorites]


Does the play end with the heart surgeon having the hammer taken away forever?
posted by dazed_one at 4:38 AM on July 5


I guess it depends if they keep hitting people with it?
posted by howfar at 5:52 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


Mod note: a few deleted. folks, please keep things focused. Let’s be kind and refrain from derailing the thread by coming for each other.
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 8:59 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


lalochezia, I confess I'm at a bit of a loss. I'm all for direct and precise language. But I can't think of a situation where use of these hurtful terms would be helpful in the hypothetical scenarios you're proposing. You seem to be twisting yourself into knots to come up with reasons to keep using these terms, but none of them make sense to me.
posted by lemur at 12:39 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


My original question from earlier in the thread:

Avoiding Ableist Language from Augsbur


Where in this list is there an expression that means :

- their speech or writing indicates the inability to conduct and express logical thought (when logical thought is what is required)

- their actions (often with bad consequences) show they are unable to parse evidence to reach a reasonable conclusion about the world (based on said evidence)

--

Note: To clarify. I refer to capability, not to the individual speech/writing/actions. I'm talking about the person as they are now - and their capability as evidenced by their speech/writing/actions. And no - I'm not looking for a slur or an insult. My question was specifically aimed at avoiding this.
posted by lalochezia at 1:48 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Interesting discussion...

I posted a comment in the John McAfee thread, and included "evil, crazy fuck"

And then way later in the thread, someone quoted me saying "don't use abelist language, this is vile".

On the one hand, maybe? On the other hand, seemed like a fair description of the man's behavior. Was he mentally ill, therefore I'm slandering mentally ill people? Was he just totally whacked out on bath salts? If so, does that make him mentally ill and so I was slandering all people with mental illness? I just don't know how to take the comment. Can one say "we had a crazy night" or is that abelist?
posted by Windopaene at 2:56 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


-illogical
-unreasonable

Doesn't seem difficult to me to use these terms instead of "stupid or "moronic" or whatever.

Re "crazy evil John McAfee..."--
I think calling someone evil is not the same as an ableist pejorative. I don't think of being evil in the same vein as lacking innate capacity. Evil is a choice; intelligence is not. John McAfee was evil, intelligent, and also unreasonable. Crazy is a tricky one. I'm not sure about that term, because it can be used as a label as well as an adverb.

I think that when people feel frustrated by the behavior they witness in other people that is confusing, stressful, or befuddling, the first thing we do is overgeneralize & say something cruel as a way to channel that inner tension. But it's basically unhelpful & harmful & the easiest/least thoughtful approach to dealing with the overwhelming complexities of the world around us.
posted by erattacorrige at 4:38 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


this is vile".

in my experience, vile is a pretty damned ugly and judgmental word, and yet I find I'm seeing it quite a bit of late -- usually in the context of calling somebody out for saying or doing something that may be arrogant, ignorant, selfish, deceitful ... but ...?

: morally despicable or abhorrent
[...]
b : physically repulsive : foul a vile slum
2 : of little worth or account :
[...]
disgustingly or utterly bad : obnoxious, contemptible


I think we can do better.
posted by philip-random at 5:42 PM on July 5


Thanks for clarifying, lalochezia. I think erattacottage's suggestions should work. 'foolish' also works but is imprecise. If you need to convey capability, I dont think there is a single word that will serve you, including the hurtful ones. I think you're stuck with 'incapable of rational thought/behaviour in xyz circumstances', etc.
posted by lemur at 8:13 PM on July 5


@lalochezia how often does one actually know that somebody shows a general
incapacity
to perform logical reasoning, across multiple topics and contexts?

Exactly one person comes to my own mind who has showed a general non-performance. That person though is much more clearly an unwillingness than an incapacity. And that's common, I think.
posted by away for regrooving at 8:46 PM on July 5 [4 favorites]


Words to name the reasons why somebody is out of their competence yet making decisions that affect you:

Self-aggrandizing.
Overconfident and privileged.
Bullshitter.
Unable to admit error.
...

Words for why somebody has no motivation to use logic with you towards a shared end:

Closed-minded.
Selfish.
Only cares about [X].
...
posted by away for regrooving at 8:51 PM on July 5


There is not a class of people for whom “vile” is a dehumanizing description of their immutable characteristics. Calling someone “vile” does not suggest that they are contemptible because of some characteristic they have which they have no control over (unless you believe people do not have moral agency).

It’s a term which can easily lend itself to meanness, but its use does not harm anyone beyond its specific target. I don’t think it’s analogous at all to the terms we are discussing. If people on metafilter are being inappropriately mean, either to other merited or people off the board, that can be addressed, but it’s a pretty distinct problem.
posted by skewed at 5:38 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


The etymology of vile suggests otherwise (emphasis mine):

from Anglo-French ville, Old French vil "shameful, dishonorable; low-born; cheap; ugly, hideous," from Latin vilis "cheap, worthless, base, common," of uncertain origin,

Which, I guess, gets us back to Rhaomi's contentious comment:

If you have consult an etymology textbook to explain why a commonplace word is offensive, I don't think it's productive to try shaming it out of people's vocabularies, especially when that just feeds into the resentment against language policing that undermines the fight against contemporary slurs,

so yeah, I agree that vile, in contemporary usage, is not thought of as a particularly specific slur. Just ugly and particularly mean spirited. Which, if that's the feeling one really feels a need to convey, I guess it's fair game to use it.
posted by philip-random at 7:18 AM on July 6


While I agree that some words are more in the slur category than others, there are reasons why people talk about name-calling as a thing in itself. I happen to find name-calling based on supposed measurements of intelligence particularly offensive, and I think it's a problem that's come to light right now for reasons. But just the form of argument that goes "You are a something": is it appropriate to use adversarially, whatever the meaning of the word "something"?

I'm going to leave aside for now the examples where the word is used to describe an action rather than a person. These can still be ableist in my opinion but I think what got us into this discussion was a term being applied to a person.
posted by BibiRose at 8:47 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


To all the debate generally, and as much as I love Rhaomi's comment, and as much as I habitually use this one in particular when I'm not careful:

Does it matter? All these threads are the same. Look, some mefites (many, in this case) have said the word offends them, makes them not want to participate, and other negative things. Is the word technically a slur? Are those mefites wrong to feel that way? Does it matter?

Decide how much you care about those other mefites, and continue using the word or don't, but now you know.
posted by ctmf at 9:15 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


I didn't quite make it to the bottom of the comments but did want to comment on the idea that lacking intelligence is bad. That's not true.

I would encourage anyone who thinks that to watch PSAs that challenge the idea that people's worth is defined by any particular disability they might have.

Here are a few:
End the R Word
Dear Future Mom and Anything But Sorry*
Hope College 2016

* Found here

People are whole beings, and you can't say "oh but it'd be better if they were smarter" because people are who they are, and their value has nothing to do with their intelligence.
posted by slidell at 12:51 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


their value has nothing to do with their intelligence.

Anyone's right to exist in peace certainly has nothing to do with intelligence, but in certain contexts, intelligence is absolutely valuable. This is why groups make people pass certain tests of intelligence before they let them, say, become a doctor.
posted by dazed_one at 5:51 PM on July 7


Having researched the process for becoming a doctor recently, I would argue that the system people have to go through to become a doctor in the US is unhealthy. Doctors are supposed to be all about health, so I would not hold it up as a particularly good example.
posted by aniola at 6:12 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


An individual's value has nothing to do with their intelligence. There's no need to put it in context of their job, that's not what the point here is.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:17 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


There's no need to put it in context of their job, that's not what the point here is.

For jobs, for hobbies, for being able to drive a car, the point is that people are judged by their intelligence, and for good reason, all the time.
posted by dazed_one at 6:21 PM on July 7


OMG the fricking pedantic nitpicking here is doing my head in. You have one wild, precious life, and you are spending it trying to find niche use cases where it's - what - okay to use words like idiot because like your doctor really should be smart?

How is this the outcome of a thread just asking people to try not to use words that contribute to the marginalization of traditionally oppressed groups?

Also, why am I still even reading this? Enjoying a tipple or two and then ducking back into this thread was a bad idea. Sorry, carry on, I'm sure it's really important to win a point or two over when it's okay to call someone out for lacking intelligence. Hoo boy, this really is the best of the web.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:35 PM on July 7 [18 favorites]


How is this the outcome of a thread just asking people to try not to use words that contribute to the marginalization of traditionally oppressed groups?


Because my position is that the word 'idiot' in current usage doesn't contribute to the marginalization of oppressed groups.
posted by dazed_one at 6:39 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Anyone's right to exist in peace certainly has nothing to do with intelligence, but in certain contexts, intelligence is absolutely valuable. This is why groups make people pass certain tests of intelligence before they let them, say, become a doctor.

This isn't a thing, lol. Anyone with sufficient training to make that sort of call would know that intelligence testing is extremely flawed and would never use it for this purpose. You don't need it to become a psychologist, and I'm 98% certain you don't need it to become a medical doctor (because search results aren't full of student doctors asking how to pass IQ tests). Are you referring to academic tests? Because those aren't intelligence tests at all.

For jobs, for hobbies, for being able to drive a car, the point is that people are judged by their intelligence, and for good reason, all the time.

There is no general "intelligence" that affects all of those things. An intelligence quotient is just the average of your scores across various domains. If my processing speed is 90 and my verbal reasoning is 130, am I just average intelligence? According to FSIQ, yes. But I'm considered dumb by my driving teacher and smart by my English teacher. Who's right?

Because my position is that the word 'idiot' in current usage doesn't contribute to the marginalization of oppressed groups.

As an autistic person who's been called stupid my whole life for not interacting with the world the same way as everyone else, I beg to disagree.
posted by brook horse at 7:47 PM on July 7 [11 favorites]


Also anyone who is "dumb" enough to not "pass" an IQ test (as if there's any such thing as "passing", but let's assume you mean below the range of what's considered average) is classified as... intellectually disabled. Insulting people with "low intelligence" is insulting the disabled. There is LITERALLY no way to insult someone's intelligence without insulting a marginalized group of people, because if their intelligence is lower than a certain range of average, they are considered disabled. Whether or not it should be like that is up for debate, but when talking about systems and marginalizations, "idiot" absolutely harms marginalized groups.
posted by brook horse at 7:50 PM on July 7 [9 favorites]


Because my position is that the word 'idiot' in current usage doesn't contribute to the marginalization of oppressed groups.

Do you care what members of groups who say the word is a problem say? Because, honestly, that's pretty much the nub of it.

If you are arguing your position to the world in general, good news: no one here has any control over what you choose to say in your life. You can say any fucking thing you want.

But if you are arguing your position with respect to MetaFilter specifically, and demanding the right to use a word because you want to and to be free of criticism for that, you've been burning your own bridge pretty thoroughly in here. It's one thing to not know better, it's another entirely to have people say "this hurts me" and turn around and say Well No It Doesn't.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:55 PM on July 7 [14 favorites]


Do you care what members of groups who say the word is a problem say?

As someone with a learning disability, is my opinion valid too?
posted by dazed_one at 4:12 AM on July 8


Do you care what members of groups who say the word is a problem say?

It's your website. If terms like idiot and moron are unacceptable then ban them. If they aren't, don't.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 4:51 AM on July 8


Having a learning disability doesn’t mean you get to tell other disabled people that it doesn’t harm them. Your opinion can be that it doesn’t hurt you, but other disabled people are saying it hurts them.
posted by brook horse at 5:18 AM on July 8 [8 favorites]


Anyone's right to exist in peace certainly has nothing to do with intelligence

Right, but calling someone an "idiot" denies that. It pejoratively labels who they are and fosters a generalized disrespect that comes in conflict with their efforts to exist in peace and happiness. And by fostering disrespect for a person who lacks some dimension of "intelligence," by extension it threatens others with having that same disrespect directed their way.

In addition to being morally wrong by causing that pain, it's not even accurate. It's fine to kindly acknowledge that some people don't currently have the skills to do certain tasks. But calling someone an idiot isn't the same as saying "unfortunately, they didn't successfully pass the MCATs." Someone may be bad at learning anatomy but a genius salesperson, whereas some hypothetical doctor might be awkward as hell who failed at an earlier sales job. Which one is "the idiot?" Neither. These global pejorative labels are neither accurate nor - returning to my first point - kind and supportive of building the sort of community I want to be a part of.
posted by slidell at 7:39 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Your opinion can be that it doesn’t hurt you, but other disabled people are saying it hurts them

Well, I suppose if people want to misread things I can't stop them. The owner of this site can, by outright banning the use of the word, though.

It also sounds like some people are against the word because it's insulting.

Well, yeah.

But it's not insulting an entire class of people in today's usage unless it's specifically used to insult an entire subset of people, just as any insulting word may be used.
posted by dazed_one at 7:55 AM on July 8


Which one is "the idiot?" Neither.

Why not both? I've certainly done idiotic things in my time.
posted by dazed_one at 7:59 AM on July 8


Why not both?

You are being given an option to hurt absolutely no one, why would you argue in favor of the option that hurts even more people?
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 8:13 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Yeah I too just don't understand, what's the big loss in avoiding certain words that a majority of people have made clear have offensive ableist connotations? dazed_one, what do you actually lose that's so important by respecting what's basically a request to be more civil and sensitive in commenting?

I've learnt a lot myself about avoiding ableist language over time, by being online, here and elsewhere. I wasn't even aware some of these words had such connotations but once it's clear that's the perception for a majority of people affected by that ableist language then... it's really not a problem to respect that request as a guideline. In fact I'm grateful for the request and explanations as an opportunity to learn to avoid hurting anyone even unintentionally.

(And incidentally I think it would be useful to add something about the contents of this post and/or about ableist language in general in the site guidelines, and not just expect everyone to have come across this particular thread in metatalk)

I get that you personally insist that these words don't sound ableist to you, but seems you are insisting against an established consensus on the matter, so perhaps consider how your insistence comes across?
posted by bitteschoen at 8:29 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


It's heartbreaking to hear people, actual human beings, defend the use of ableist language that is designed-- specifically designed-- to stigmatize, marginalize, and cause pain.

I agree that if you feel fine using this type of derogatory language, it would be Good to reflect on what parts of you were also hurt by such framing, where these messages came from, who instilled them. Bc when you deny the humanity of other people, you deny it of yourself too.
posted by erattacorrige at 8:52 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


It's your website. If terms like idiot and moron are unacceptable then ban them. If they aren't, don't.

This is what threads like this always come down to, and I can never really understand why there's always so much debate, since this is the obvious answer. Of course people will disagree at the margins about particular kinds of policing or moderation, but MeFi's mods haven't cared about that for about a decade. Sometimes people button over stuff like that, but generally I believe the view is that the community is stronger without them.
posted by The Bellman at 11:55 AM on July 8


it generally works better if folks choose to make a change in how they operate based on information, feedback, discussion. The fewer iron clad rules and barriers the better.

That's my take anyway.
posted by philip-random at 12:57 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


A lot of (most?) people don't read MeTa and one of the biggest complaints about the site is the many many unwritten rules. If the motivation for discouraging the use of these terms is they're ableist and cause harm then ban them. Saying we're not going to ban them but criticize and "call in" anyone who uses them doesn't make any sense. Either the words cause harm or they don't.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 6:45 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]




Updating the Hateful Content point in the content policy page to explicitly include ableist language as Not Done Here would not be remiss. It can certainly be argued that "other hateful speech" covers that, therefore not-unwritten, but I definitely see where that framing's coming from.
posted by Drastic at 7:35 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]



Oh absolutely. Just wanted to point out "the biggest complaints" (don't agree with that premise) around here being unwritten rules doesn't make sense when rules exist and are supposedly being updated. Definitely would be good to include no ableist language to them.
posted by tiny frying pan at 9:29 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


While I appreciate the conversation and accept that the word "moron" is best avoided given its odious origins, this is different I think for the word "idiot", and despite all the discussion here and elsewhere I continue to fail to see how its use constitutes harm or contributes to harm being done. The argument that "only a monster would hurt people by insisting on using a word that's harmful" is itself offensive, not to mention exclusionary, and begs the question.
posted by dmh at 4:39 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


Did anyone call anyone else a monster here?

It doesn't matter what arguments are made, if someone says "that hurts", the general and correct response would be, "I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you, ergo I'll discontinue that specific behavior."
posted by erattacorrige at 12:39 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


> For jobs, for hobbies, for being able to drive a car, the point is that people are judged by their intelligence, and for good reason, all the time.

No. I have a friend whose IQ is low enough that she can't legally sign a lease, but she has a job she enjoys and is good at, and an athletic hobby she participates in seriously.

The car thing is just weird. I know so many people who legally do drive but who shouldn't, or who could drive but don't, or who drive well but can't balance a checkbook... nah.

Having a high intelligence might be important for the job and hobby you have, but that doesn't mean that people living other lives should be judged (who's doing this judging, anyway?) as inferior.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:42 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


It doesn't matter what arguments are made, if someone says "that hurts", the general and correct response would be, "I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you, ergo I'll discontinue that specific behavior."

As a general principle I think strongly charged language (including "idiot") should be avoided as it can easily contribute to an atmosphere of hostility and resentment that's oriented inward. But language is also a very personal, intimate expression of the self & one's sense of belonging. Particularly in a place like Mefi, language is how one presents one's self.

In that respect, online language is a bit like fashion. Now if I go into a bar wearing some outrageously offensive outfit and the bartender tells me I'd better go someplace else, that's one thing (perhaps). But if I go into a bar wearing a wholly unremarkable pants and shirt outfit, and all the patrons give me side-eye, and the bartender tells me "we don't want your kind here", because it's the kind of outfit that the patrons associate with people who've caused them harm, that's something else entirely, that I don't think is either inclusive or tolerant.

If we want to welcome a diverse crowd of people from a variety of walks of life and different ethnic, cultural, and geographical backgrounds, then it's a given that among them there will be different ideas about language, marginalization, and harm, informed by their own lived experience. Isn't that why we champion a diverse outlook in the first place? While personally I think language like "idiot" is best avoided, I can see why others think it's wholly unremarkable or cathartic. Certainly I don't think that to use the word is to commit an offense that warrants correction.

If we can't tolerate people expressing themselves using ordinary language in a way that they feel best suits them, then our tolerance is deeply flawed. Because while we should avoid the trap of tolerating the intolerable, we also shouldn't lose sight of the fact that tolerance, by its very nature, entails toleration of some things we don't like.
posted by dmh at 6:28 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Ableism is not just "something we don't like." Insulting people for their intelligence is ableist. Your metaphor is nonsensical and I won't engage with it except to say there is plenty of language that society considers "unremarkable" which is in fact sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, etc. and it is perfectly within Metafilter's right to decide not to tolerate that.
posted by brook horse at 9:28 AM on July 16 [8 favorites]


Your metaphor is nonsensical and I won't engage with it except to say there is plenty of language that society considers "unremarkable" which is in fact sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, etc. and it is perfectly within Metafilter's right to decide not to tolerate that.

That's perfectly fine and I respect your right to disregard my opinion, except to say that I don't think you get to decide what is "within Metafilter's right" and neither do I. I think it takes at least both of us.
posted by dmh at 3:59 PM on July 16


a wholly unremarkable pants and shirt outfit

Doing what is wholly unremarkable in majority culture hasn't been a particularly effective safeguard against the oppression of marginalised people so far.
posted by howfar at 11:15 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


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