When I was growing up, there were some words that were just casually thrown around as insults. You’ve probably heard them too. “Gay.” “Fag.” “Psycho.” “Retarded.” I know people have heard that last one; I read an article just this morning about a reporter who used it to describe Donald Trump!
The thing is, words can hurt, despite the stupid “sticks and stones” rhyme that I’ve always despised. And the words don’t always hurt the target of the insult. Sometimes they hurt others. A lot of others.
I’m glad to see that people are stepping up and trying to stop others from using that kind of language. Not that I think there should be “language police,” as one person I know put it, but there are words that entered the English language for specific, negative reasons, and using them as a general insult not only reinforces the original negative implications of the word, but adds a whole other layer of “this is a bad thing to be.”
I’ve caught myself at it too. Not so much using words as an insult, but saying things like “That’s crazy!” when I should have said, “That’s unbelievable!” I’ve been trying very hard to remember to phrase things more carefully both when speaking and in my books, though since I write fiction that sometimes involves characters who do and say things I don’t approve of as a human being, there is sometimes language in my books that I wouldn’t use myself and would ask others not to use in real life.
That’s one of the things about writing fiction; I don’t always like or agree with what my characters do and say, but if I’m going to write about realistic people, there are times when my personal opinions have to be set aside for the sake of the story. And before anyone says “Just don’t write about that kind of person, why would you do that anyway?” (which is something I have heard): again, I want to write realistic characters and stories. I write what comes into my mind to be written. Most, if not all, of the authors I know are the same: We aren’t writing fiction to express our personal beliefs, we’re writing for people to read, enjoy, and maybe learn something from.
But that’s beside the point of this post, which is that some language, some words, are hurtful to more people than you might realize. It isn’t always easy to change the way you think or speak, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the effort.