I think I've pissed myself

Able was I

Sara Nović, writing on behalf of BBC Equality Matters, admonishes you on The harmful ableist language you unknowingly use. You heartless bastard!

Some of our most common, ingrained expressions have damaging effects on millions of people – and many of us don't know we're hurting others when we speak.

Sara Nović, BBC Equality Matters

She goes on to note common-use words and phrases that have double-meanings—more in some cases—one of which refers to a disability, and another that's used colloquially in a negative, or even derogatory fashion. Fortunately, the thought-police haven't yet listed these colloquialisms as hate speech, but it can only be a matter of time.

However, for disabled people like me, these common words can be micro-assaults. For instance, “falling on deaf ears” provides evidence that most people associate deafness with wilful ignorance (even if they consciously may not). But much more than individual slights, expressions like these can do real, lasting harm to the people whom these words and phrases undermine – and even the people who use them in daily conversation, too.

Sara Nović, BBC Equality Matters

I hear you, Sara, or rather I read you. I felt a little queer yesterday morning, but I got over it and was able to enjoy a gay time later. DYSWIDT? That's right, I used the word able while commenting on your whinge about ableism. Aren't I clever?

Nović doesn't explicitly discuss whether colloquialisms such as by and large, have your cake and eat it, fat chance, and pie in the sky are ableist towards the blubberbutt community; those who suffer from genetic pastry- and cake-scoffing disorders. Or whether tearing my hair out, a bald statement, and fringe benefits are ableist towards alopecia sufferers. Or even whether out of sight, out of mind should be avoided in the presence of loonies as well as the blind. I think we have to use our own judgement there.

In all seriousness though, it's getting pretty sad when we're expected to self-monitor our language, in case we use a common and long-used turn of phrase that someone finds offensive. Pretty much everyone finds something offensive, be it language or otherwise—my personal triggers are cigarette smoke, dogshit, and compulsory Chongmasks—but most of us just have to accept that that's life.

It's disingenuous for Nović to claim that ableist phrases are a deliberate or even subconscious attack on the disabled; falling on deaf ears provides evidence that most people associate deafness with wilful ignorance. It does nothing of the sort. Turns of phrase such as this have been passed down over decades, if not centuries; they're ingrained in our language and culture. Whether or not their origin lies in less salubrious associations is irrelevant, because they transcend that over time. We use them not because we subconsciously associate deafness with ignorance, to use Nović's example, but because they're convenient and well-understood colloquialisms, at least by mother-tongue English speakers. If there's any real problem with them, it's that they offer a barrier to understanding for non-native English speakers. That's a common problem with colloquialisms in general though.

But I will give you one example of a micro-assault, Sara. It's the continual sniping, the chipping away of our standards of living and culture, by whingers with their own agenda and an overinflated sense of their own importance. It's the dinky butthurt whining of self-absorbed people like yourself, who want to diminish or lay claim to our linguistic and cultural palette because you find it offensive. There's a big world out there, Sara, and much of it has far more important concerns than people turning a blind eye to your dumb whining, or whather it falls on deaf ears. You might be well advised to learn to turn the other cheek, if that's not ableist towards people with neck disabilities…or fat cheeks.

I do have one additional thought, though. Rather than saying that something is lame, and risk upsetting the cripple community, can we instead just refer to it as being gay? After all, what could possibly go wrong?


As an aside, this kinda saddened me; the words of Rosa Lee Timm, chief marketing officer for the non-profit Communication Service for the Deaf:

Timm notes this ‘environment’ includes an impact on their own self-worth. “Beauty standards are a good comparison, in terms of language’s psychological power,” she says. “As a parent, if I say, ‘wow, that’s beautiful’ or ‘that’s ugly’, my children see that and internalise it… This can have a profound impact, particularly if they examine themselves and feel like they don’t match the standard… The same goes for ability.”

Sara Nović, BBC Equality Matters

Bloody hell! I feel sorry for her children, never being complimented on a beautiful art composition or a pretty dress. At least they'll never have to face the ugly truth though. So there's that, I suppose.