|The reality doesn't change, so I try not to get hung up on terminology.|
Not every email is a criticism. Some readers bring up valid issues or ask legitimate questions, and I try to answer them honestly. On Friday, the paper ran a story I had contributed to, using my contacts among social service agencies to add remarks about homeless people living at O'Hare. Art G. sent an email whose subject line was "'unhoused' vs 'homeless'" and whose entire message was a succinct:"Why is one word okay and not the other?" I thought for a moment, then replied:
My experience is that the words get randomly changed from time to time in a futile attempt to shake off the negative associations that gather around negative conditions. So "crippled" becomes "handicapped" becomes "disabled" becomes "special needs" becomes "otherly-abled," etc. Changing the terms, or trying to, also gives people facing difficult situations a way to create the illusion of power and progress. I try to stay ahead of the curve so as to avoid needless agita. Thanks for writing.
It's a bigger issue than you would imagine. In talking to a social service, also Friday, for a future story, one that involves access being granted and scheduled visits and lots of time invested, I told them that while I am sensitive to the current style, I'm not a slave to it, and if you go too far in to the buzzword of the moment, readers don't know what you're talking about and, worse, laugh at you. I told her about the "Face Fear" story I did for Mosaic, the London medical website. They were reluctant to use the word "disfigured" preferring some euphemism, "different in appearance" or some such thing. My position was that nobody is tormented on the playground merely for looking "different," and that the danger is we minimize the lived experience of people. We ended up with a compromise: I used the word as little as possible. A few readers still complained. But the bottom line is I don't write for activists or fanatics, but for some imaginary average person, who benefits by describing what we're talking about in plain words. If you don't, you do things like take a perfectly good name like "Chicago Rehab Institute" and turning it into the "Shirley Ryan AbilityLab," which sounds like a room at the Kohler Children's Museum where kids put on plastic aprons and play with water and white PVC pipes.
well said-common sense rulesReplyDelete
'Unhoused' works and still is descriptive of the brutal reality.ReplyDelete
I respectfully disagree. It’s an obvious euphemism that will soon be as derogatory as homeless,Delete
Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable today, but by the end of next year you’ll have to don hazmat gear when encountering it. I think Neil coined the term “euphemism creep”, which aptly sums up the phenomenon.Delete
Fascinating ! So when it comes to language you are conservative rather than progressive?ReplyDelete
And you dont write for activists but for folks who like things the way they are, cause its easier to understand.
Thanks for clarifying
It's fascinating to see how you skew things Franco. I don't write for people who LIKE things as they are. I write for them who aren't used to groping into a fog of buzzspeak trying to figure out what is meant. I sure don't write for sarcastic smug superior jerks. Though you're welcome to stick around anyway.Delete
He asked for it.Delete
Used to like that contributor, Mr. S. Now...not so much. It's amazing how many times terminology can change in a lifetime. From colored to Negro to black to Afro-American to African-American to black again...and now Black. All that in about seven decades.Delete
yeah, I read Franco just to see how the prickly half lives...Delete
How the term is used and the manner in which it is expressed affects the meaning. With that being said, someone prone to being offended may still find fault, even if said with honorable intentions.ReplyDelete
I just fall back on knowing my intentions are good and move on.
Unhoused or homeless is not just a description of a person’s plight but a reflection of that society.
Deaf and dumb. Good idea getting rid of the “dumb”.
Nuance: I understand that time moves on and that what seemed progressive becomes outdated as standards evolve. Where I see a dividing line is in whether a descriptor is proceded by "The" this instantly changes what, legit or otherwise, would be an adjective into a "label." For example "The Homeless" or "The Un-housed" either one puts the person in question in a small box. The person that is homeless or unhoused, I think is better understood and appreciated as a mother, father, musician, veteran, laid off construction worker, former scientist etc, that now is in need of a place to shelter. In other words folks are humans that have different needs but are demeaned, I think, when their condition becomes their title.Delete
"Dumb" wasn't being used as a synonym for "stupid"...it was being used as a synonym for "voiceless" or "unable to speak"...but most people were dummies when it came to realizing that. It finally was superseded by "mute"...hence the term "deaf-mute"...with time, the "mute" part was dropped in favor of yet another term.Delete
Now, according to my wife, the current usage is "hearing-impaired. " Which she has become in geezerhood, same as her mother and her older brother. When in doubt, ask a person who knows best...from experience.
I also speak from experience & I’m going deaf. Try explaining “hearing impaired” to a bunch of 9 & 10 year olds who I coach hockey. They know they have to speak up at practice because I don’t wear my hearing aids on the ice. As George Carlin would say, society tries to soften the language, but it doesn’t change the condition and I think sometime blunt language is needed to convey the reality of the situation. And as long as Neil is allowing people to comment on other commentators, I don’t care for Grizz, but I read him every time to get the perspective of a bitter old man.Delete
Yeah, sorry. After two abortive attempts at being civil on Facebook, I should know better. And in the close confines of this lovely invite-only blog, I feel any over the top replies by moi would demonstrate bad citizenship, and I wanna stick around with the irascible Mr. S. for the foreseeable future-this blog has already enriched my life in the few weeks I've been here.Delete
I love Grizz. I read his comments everyday to get the perspective of a wise old man.Delete
Shirley Ryan Ability Lab is a stupid name & is just more renaming stuff after rich people who do nothing useful except giving money to get their name on it!ReplyDelete
I still call it the Rehab Institute
Agreed. I have to believe that is a case study in MBA marketing books as the absolute stupidest re-naming/re-branding in history. Take an institution known nationally, and probably internationally, as one of the very best places for healthcare and research for DECADES, and change it's name to something longer, hard to remember, and after someone's money and whose name is not known outside of Chicago. I shudder to think how much valuable healthcare services could have been provided to hurting people for the cost spent on that rebranding.Delete
My mother underwent three amputations in her life. The first was her left leg, below the knee, on account of hardening of the arteries. About five years later she had to have her left leg amputated above the knee for the dame reason. Her left leg was amputated up to her hip about 3 or 4 months later because her leg never properly healed after the second operation. She and I were watching TV at some point after her first amputation when the people on TV began discussing whether it was OK to use the word "disability. " My mother said to me "I am missing about half of my leg. If that's not a disability, I don't know what is." If my mother was out with her electric wheelchair and some stranger's young child asked my mother about her leg, or their parents about my mother's leg, the parents would immediately apologize, all flustered and embarrassed. My mother would tell the parent it was OK, and she would explain to the child what happened. She turned it into a teaching moment, both for the child and the child's parent. She told me she had several such encounters.ReplyDelete
Euphemisms do indeed beget other euphemisms.ReplyDelete
Great column. You are so right — It’s like those who want to change history to protect youngsters from the insensitivity of the truth. Homelessness is what it is.ReplyDelete
Also the euphemisms tend to be longer. The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind became the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually-Impaired. Which is not just longer, but redundant, in that most blind people can see to some degree. They've not 100 percent completely blind. I wouldn't mind the changes half as much if they were shorter.Delete
As an aging, tired, pragmatic liberal who is frequently exasperated by the linguistic preciousness and "HOW DARE YOU!" attitude of the youthful (and those who wish they were), twitter-fueled and fueling left, I gotta say, I kinda like "Ability Center"ReplyDelete
As I work with immigrants, one change I like and advocate for is “undocumented” over “illegal”. The latter term is a slur, that takes a civil offense and connotes and is conflated intentionally with criminal offenses and even violent crime. It has been used to demonize a whole group of workers who are usually Latinos. And it gets in the way of solutions. But generally I very much agree with you.ReplyDelete
A very important point regarding the loss of clarity as the euphemisms mutate; I recently became acquainted with the term “diverse learners”. What would your guess be as to whom that describes? It sounds to me like a school classroom populated by students with a rich variance of racial and ethnic backgrounds, but no, that is apparently the currently preferred expression for people who have quite recently been known as “special needs”, “differently abled”, “challenged”, “mentally challenged”, “developmentally challenged”, “developmentally disabled”, “mentally disabled”, “limited”, “developmentally limited”, and, within my lifetime, “retarded”, which is now undeniably THE most radioactive word to describe those so afflicted. Were it not for the context of a forceful lecture about this development, it would have taken me quite a while to figure out whom “diverse learners” referred to.ReplyDelete