Thursday, August 04, 2011

Meanderings on language

I keep using the word idiot to mean stupid. I know there’s been a lot of discourse in online activist circles about the use of ablest language, including how ‘idiot’ is used to mean stupid. I have come to the conclusion that idiot can be (is) offensive to quite a few people because idiot is/was (not sure which) a medical term for people who are..and here’s where I fall down, because I don’t know the right term. I want to say retarded, special needs or slow. What is right? Retard certainly isn’t, I’m pretty sure retarded isn’t either. There are probably loads of cognitive disorders/disabilities /syndromes that these terms are used to mean, and those folk who aren’t affected them probably gloss them all into retard/idiot/slow/special needs.

But back to idiot. I use it to mean stupid. And to me, with my limited knowledge, that is what it means. If someone is a bit slow they are stupid – not bright, not clever. I think where using idiot gets offensive is where it is used to dehumanise people, to outright say or imply that they are worth less than others because they are not as intelligent. That is plainly wrong.

And again, if people use special needs/retarded/slow to refer to a range of developmental abnormalities as the same thing, that again becomes problematic. I don’t know enough about this area of human experience to say what the different syndromes/disabilities etc are.  I know I wouldn’t call those with these disabilities an idiot – I don’t know if I’d call anyone other than myself an idiot to be honest, cos I don’t like abusing/insulting people (at least not to their face).

I was going to end this post by saying that I will continue to use idiot because I don’t use it in a dehumanising manner to other people, but if someone found it offensive I would stop using it around them. But then, someone could be reading this blog (it is in a public space after all) and could be finding it offensive, so I’d just be undermining my intention. I would be effectively making excuses for myself and putting the blame for the offence onto the person who is offended, and that’s wrong. The offender needs to take responsibility for their actions, I feel.

Where am I going with this? I don’t really know. Other than that I shouldn't use the word idiot in public.

1 comment:

Debi said...

Idiot WAS a medical (and gosh, I had to restrain myself from using scarequotes around medical there) term used in the heyday of the IQ test, when IQ tests were used as an indicator for intellectual development. (As opposed to now, when people seem to think that IQ tests are a measure of something innate and unchangeable, which is also, IMO, complete bollocks).

Anyway, "idiot" is supposed to mean an adult with an intellegence equivalent to a 3-6 year old, IIRC. ("imbecile" < 3, "moron" 6-12) It is not currently used.