"Is Your Vocabulary "Politically Correct"?" by Becca DeMent
In our current politically correct cancel culture, words have suddenly become a very fine line to walk. When and why what words are used are questions that are being addressed and implemented in policy on even political and academic institutional levels. With all these different ideas and hot button issues, it can be hard to know which adaptations we should make, let alone why. Constant outer pressure or even fear of punishment are generally agreed to not be valid sole reasons to alter one's freedom of expression. Self-regulation has shown to be the most effective way to get anyone to do anything, so allow me to run my ideas.
We hear how “words matter”, but we have forgotten what exactly we use words for. The purpose of communication, in general, is to convey our convictions; thoughts, emotions, and will. After all, the ability to choose our convictions, our rational, is the only thing that truly separates us from the animals. Therefore, we ought to use words to truthfully convey our exact convictions. If inaccurate nonsense that we don’t believe in what it means is the only thing coming out of our mouth, then why are we even speaking?
Usually, our lack of thinking or doing something is a lack of information, and sometimes blatant ignorance. To know why the idea behind a word, gives us the backbone of when and why to use it. Here is a list of words that are worthy of modern use and adoption (and why).
What’s Worth Saying: “Differently-abled”
We see “disabled” to describe any person with impaired physical, mental and or social developmental abilities. In an episode of Rick and Morty, Rick tells Morty while on an alien planet how “anything with less than eight legs is considered disabled”. It seems that to be “disabled” is relative. Stephan Hawking can hardly be called “disabled” if we’re talking about math, science and intellectual capability. We are referring to his ability to physically speak and move in ways most of us can. It seems then that there is simply a difference in what each of us can do well. Hawking is just an example, but he’s hardly the first person born with certain “diseases” and “afflictions” that change what they can mentally and physically do, who was able to do some amazing. I acknowledge the fact that many of these people cannot do something I can do, like a walk or speak in an easily audible way, but I am unable to think or do something they can do remarkably. I honor this natural difference and their natural talent.
For these reasons I do not see them as disabled, but rather, differently-abled.
An acknowledgment of existence is a general basis for how I like to speak. What one says conveys their circle of knowledge or ignorance. To return to our purpose of communication, one speaks to truthfully convey their exact convictions.
Most know to be bisexual means that one is attracted to boys and girls, but many also generally accept that no days, some do not identify as a boy or girl, or as something else entirely. Where are those individuals included when one says “bi” sexual, and referencing only boys and girls? To clarify, if one is speaking for themselves that they are personally only attracted to those who identify as boys and girls, this statement is accurate of course. However, if speaking generally, “bisexual” only includes boys and girls, and excludes the validity of anyone who does not conform to such. “Pan”, as many of you know, means “many/all”, and is universally inclusive. If one is identifying themselves as
“pansexual” they are acknowledging that they are attracted to boys, girls, and those who identify outside of the two. This is where understanding the framework of these terms come into play. “Bisexual” acknowledges a binary, which may be appropriate for one's sexuality, while “pansexual” acknowledges those outside the binary, where many individuals do exist.
You may have already caught me using “they” or “one” in my examples, and it is a conscious use of the word. “They “ and “one” are gender-neutral terms, as a pronoun in the sentence is meant to represent anyone, and anyone could be a boy, girl, gender-neutral, non-conforming, etc. As an acknowledgment that those people exist and could participate in whatever I am attempting to talk about, I use “they” and “one”. These terms simply do not have the limitations that “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers” implies.
“Do you have a partner”
We’re clearly on a theme here of inclusiveness and neutrality, and that’s because the way I see it, you can either speak inclusiveness or exclusively; your word choice can only be one. I’ve chosen all the examples above due to their inclusive nature. If I’m talking to someone, I ask if they have a partner because they may be gay or dating someone gender non-conforming. To acknowledge that this is a possibility as those individuals are valid and exist, the lack of assumption in this word change makes it work.
We can disguise our reasons to say and ask things in many ways. Usually, people just say how it was out of genuine and innocent curiosity, but here’s the thing, the road to hell is pathed with good intentions. Neglect is still abuse. Just because you didn’t have malicious intent does not renounce you of the responsibility of your words.
“Do you have children”/ “Are you pregnant”/“How do you feel about abortion”
It probably seems self-explanatory why I don’t people this, but I wanted to dig in. If I were a woman who couldn’t get pregnant and wanted to be, had a miscarriage(s) or an abortion, those moments may be the most hurtful and triggering memories in my entire life. To possibly reference such hurtful and private business is horrible. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to have had a miscarriage, maybe even recently, and have someone ask me if I have children. These are touchy, personal and important subjects that can deeply affect every individual differently. Your word choices will either protect or hurt someone in this case.
“How does that work”
Again, sometimes we just don’t know what we’re saying out of pure innocence, but neglect is still abuse, so be mindful of what you say. Ignorance and curiosity are not valid reasons to ask something. In this case, someone’s sex life. Many queer friends of mine have told me about someone asking about their sexual just because it is outside of the heterosexual norm. That is still someone’s sex life and we have no right to an answer about something so personal just because we ask about it.
“What are you”
Curiosity killed the cat so if you want to know someone's race and or ethnicity, it is wise to speak with precision and caution. Race often refers to physical attributes, which ethnicity includes bloodlines, culture, and homelands. To ask “what are you” despite it being genuine and curious is demeaning. “I’m human”, “I’m a girl”, “I’m a person”. To ask one's ethnicity instead is more accurate than what you’re asking anyway. Speaking with accuracy fulfills our purpose for speaking.