Soft Language for Soft People

“The CIA doesn’t kill anybody anymore, they neutralize people…or they depopulate the area. The government doesn’t lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures nuclear radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they?” – George Carlin

Remember when “medical transportation” was an ambulance?

What about when “sanitation engineers” were “garbage men?”

Or when those persons with negative cash-flow positions were “broke?”

Honestly, I wanted to do a news story, at least a piece about a recent event. Believe me, I haven’t been totally ignoring the hurricane or the Oregon college shooting. But in surfing the web and watching television, I can’t seem to escape the politicians and their purposeful disregard for “political correctness” in how they say things.


I’m not going to talk about the politicians, though. I want to talk about what we classify or don’t classify as “politically correct,” or much more specifically, “appropriate language.” I found that the spectrum is much wider than I thought once I actually examined the examples on it. I’ll break it down:

In 2015, a good amount of people will frown upon you for saying “retarded” instead of “mentally disabled.” That’s reasonable, is it not? The ‘r-word’ suggests slowness and inferiority, but “mentally disabled” recognizes the defects WITHOUT unfairly placing the person underneath you.

In 2015, we don’t call Schizophrenic people “crazy.” That person is not crazy, he or she is ill. It is perfectly reasonable for us to be expected not to call a sick person crazy.

But…what about when we started saying “mobile home complex” instead of “trailer park?” Or when you felt kind of bad so you went to the “health and wellness center” instead of “the doctor?” Or even when people started “passing away” instead of “dying.” For God’s sake, “handicapped” is now “handicapable” and “partly cloudy” is now “partly sunny.”


I have a theory.

Maybe it’s not like this everywhere, but in America, we love to sugarcoat things. Figuratively and literally. We invent these euphemisms to protect ourselves from the truth of life. We can’t handle things. “That guy isn’t blind, he’s visually impaired.”

Would you rather have your boss tell you your services will no longer be needed, or that you’re fired? Either way, you’re unemployed. Is your friend fat or is she “big-boned?”

Give me a break.


Just a reminder for us all: Changing the language does not change the situation.

*The politicians are a different story. They don’t hate PC because they want to keep things real. They hate it because it keeps them from saying the ridiculously bigoted and/or misinformed things they’d like to say.*

The next time someone corrects me for saying “janitor” instead of “maintenance worker,” I am going to punch that person in the face. Excuse me–I will extend a hearty manual acknowledgement to their nasal region.

One of my most intense internal conflicts is the one that stems from my efforts to “watch what I say” so I don’t offend people. Half of me is always like, “Be careful. That’s a touchy subject.” And the other half of me is always like, “Why are people so butthurt? If you’re offended, leave.”


I really do want people to be comfortable, especially when they’re communicating with me or with others. It’s safe to say that most of us want that. But that does not mean I want to shelter people from reality.

Also, I rather enjoy the simplicity. It’s much simpler to say mailman, or cop, instead of “civil servant.” It’s also simpler to say she blew you instead of “engaged in the act of oral sex.”

When it comes down to it, though, there’s nothing we can really do about it. People will choose to articulate things in the most appropriate way they see fit. But if you get upset with me for referring to a Jewish person as a Jew, you are taking it too far. “Jew” is the correct term, so screw off.


(Sorry, I meant “respectfully remove yourself from the conversation.”)

Language is extremely important. Not just for writers or politicians or lawyers. It’s important for all of us. It is how we communicate our thoughts. If we are too harsh in communicating our thoughts, we run the risk of ruining reputations and/or relationships. (Note the alliteration: that was for my high school English teachers. Check me out, guys.) But if we are too soft in our communication, or if we shelter each other, we are then susceptible to living in a cowardly world that is essentially full of bullshit. Excuse me–misinformation designed to ease potential stress of what’s real.

Perhaps our ability to soften the blow of our words is a good thing. I mean, of course it is, on certain parts of that spectrum we touched on earlier. Like anything else, too much of that softening can get annoying. We invented our language. Let’s not waste our creations by throwing in unnecessary replacements. It’s okay to say period instead of menstrual cycle. Because in the long run, concealing the truth doesn’t really help anyone. Say what you mean.

Don’t worry so much.

We’re all human.


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