April 27, 2014

“Retard. Fat. Bitch.” Mean vs. Meaning.


A Writer Reclaiming Words.

I read a funny snippet on Facebook that said something like, “We’re all just a bunch of nice people waiting for something to be offended by.”

How true that is.

How many reading this already felt a negative prejudgment of this article based on the title? Who clicked through expecting to fan the flame of irritation? And why would we want to do such a thing? Purposefully put ourselves on a path to personal pain.

Humans are curious creatures. I know of no other species that would intentionally move toward something that we know doesn’t feel good and isn’t necessary.

Or is it?

Maybe some of that anger is an automatic rallying of defence by taking an offensive position. A prepare to strike strategy could appear laudable. Defending the vulnerable—those that we imagine are affected individually by the words in this title. Maybe even ourselves.

In an article I wrote recently, a comment was made on my use of the word “retarded.” Actual meaning of the word according to a quick Google® search:

Retard (verb):

1. Delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment. Ex: “his progress was retarded by his limp”

Synonyms: delay, slow down, slow up, hold back, hold up, set back, postpone, put back, detain, decelerate.

Retarded (adjective):

1. Less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one’s age.

2. Informal (aka slang) offensive: very foolish or stupid.

Ex: “in retrospect, it was a totally retarded idea”

Example from my article: “Slinking around in a satin slip may seem all women’s-lib-retarded…”

However, when used as a slang phrase to (disrespectfully) depict a mentally challenged person, the verb retard is used as a noun. I agree this usage is despicable and I’m glad the comment was submitted so that we might discuss it.

To write, “To retard growth, progress, education, and social justice and human rights plus equality for everyone, including those who are mentally less able, is counter productive to the betterment of those whose lives are affected—which is all of us.” is proper word usage.

Up until I moved out of the logging camp I lived in as a child, my BFF was a Down Syndrome girl. I had a half-brother who became mentally unable in his 20s. And my mom was an in-(our)-home caregiver to mentally abd physically challenged adults while I was a teen. These people are pure love, unlike much of society. So, no, I don’t use the word “retarded” lightly. Or disrespectfully.

Let’s move on to fat.

Fat (noun):

1. A natural oily or greasy substance occurring in animal bodies, especially when deposited as a layer under the skin or around certain organs.

Synonyms: fatty tissue, adipose tissue, cellulite. Informal (slang): spare tire, love handles.

2. A fatty substance made from animal or plant products, used in cooking.

Synonyms: cooking oil, grease, lard suet, butter.

3. The presence of excess fat in a person or animal, causing them to appear corpulent.

4. Chemistry: any of a group of natural esters of glycerol and various fatty acids, which are solid at room temperature and are the main constituents of animal and vegetable fat.

Fat (adjective):

1. (Of a person or animal) having a large amount of excess flesh.

Ex. “the driver was a fat, wheezing man”

Synonyms: plump, stout, overweight, large, chubby, portly. Informal/slang: big-boned, tubby, roly-poly [and others.] (Note: Not the author’s word choices, see Google®.)

There are also several other usages of the word.

Common sloppy use of the word fat: an “overweight” or obese person.

Next: Bitch?

A female dog.

Slang: What I may be called for writing this post.

In a society that is quick to cling to careless, ill-intentioned lingo, are we not contributing to the negative by embracing such slang instead of gently correcting truly improper prose?

Though I generally think society has become way too uptight and we’d all benefit by learning to laugh at ourselves and each other (without malice), I would like to see more support of appropriate, intelligent word usage and less tolerance for hurtful slang.

Reclaiming these words removes their wounding power. Or can, eventually. But we can only rescue accurate language standards if we’re actually allowed to use these words in their thoughtfully intended intellectual form. In this case, ignorance isn’t bliss.

Instead of wagging our fingers when the words are used properly, can we stick to outing bitches that use them with disrespectful frivol? (Yeah, like that.)

Love elephant and want to go steady?

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Nina J. G./Flickr

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