There is an old phrase that reads “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Words might not injure us physically, but too often, we forget the humanity behind a simple statement.
Earlier this week, I was sitting in a meeting when the leader asked for a volunteer to fill a committee role dealing with numbers and finance. The criterion for this position? Someone who was “OCD.”
Or consider the conversation I overheard from the boys behind me as we waited for the professor to begin her lecture. “The work load we have in this class is totally retarded,” one said to the other, as his partner grunted in agreement.
Students with a busy week ahead of them sigh and say they’re “depressed;” the fact the Chick-fil-a truck doesn’t have real fries is “so gay;” the owner of a quick heartbeat claims she is having a “panic attack;” a tedious book makes one want to “kill himself.”
These are usually said in passing, without any deliberate malice intended. And yet, the myopia surrounding these statements fails to acknowledge the callous lack of sensitivity towards the groups they actually describe.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not a cute quirk that causes girls to keep their Erin Condren planners rigidly organized or someone to color-code his closet. It is a scientific diagnosis that regards the lack of certain levels of neurotransmitters. This shortcoming causes intrusive, repetitive thoughts that can often only be remedied through performing seemingly “compulsive” actions.
Likewise, having the audacity to label something unpleasant “retarded” insinuates the equality of these descriptions, downgrading the special needs community to something repugnant or cumbersome.
Calling something “gay” is just the same, reducing the dignity of an entire population by assimilating them with a convenient insult.
Feeling down for a few hours about a tangible issue does not make one “depressed”— again, it is a clinical issue that certain individuals are chemically susceptible to. Moreover, a panic attack is a medical incident, not a commonplace swelling of nerves.
I do not need to describe the pain mentioning suicide casually can cause to one who has experienced it firsthand in their life.
These phrases we have so carelessly incorporated into our day-to-day language represent a failure to consider the impact our words can have on those around us. They turn some people’s real horrors into kitschy conversation staples, into nothing but overused clichés.
A pen is a sword, and our tongue is a rudder. Use them carefully. Use them thoughtfully.
Julia Grant is a freshman public policy leadership and journalism major from Gulfport.