Tuesday, February 12, 2008

When bad words go vague

So David Shuster is still suspended for suggesting Hillary was pimping out Chelsea and, while I still see the inappropriateness, I think Hillary's campaign has over-reacted -- even implying Shuster should be fired.

As I mentioned on Friday, I have become so desensitized to pimp and its derivations I may not have immediately recognized what Shuster said as wrong for the airwaves. But there are a few words that those born in the 80s and 90s use regularly -- and without self-consciousness or fear of rebuke -- that are still quite jarring to my vintage 1970's ears.

The first word is "gay." Don't get me wrong, "gay" was about the first schoolyard slur I ever learned. But the way it was used back then was just as that, and to imply that a male was a wuss, or that he had sex with other men, and everything else an unenlightened eight-year old would think comes in between.

These days the kids use "gay" as a casual term of general dislike. It doesn't even have to be directed at a person. Two teenage girls could be discussing whether or not to go to the mall, and one might dismiss the idea as "gay." And this would have nothing to with the mall being filled with homosexuals, or males who acted effeminately and/or were unwilling to participate in daring behavior. In fact, the term gay has become so vague it would be unclear if the teenage girl was expressing her disapproval for the mall, or for the idea of going to the mall. Some will argue that, in a sense, "gay" has been liberated from being a slur against homosexuals, perceived or otherwise. But I suspect it is often still used that exact way. Which actually turns it into a kind of super insulting, super slur.

The other word that throws me -- even more so -- is "retard," which along with "retarded," comes out of the mouths of those under 25 with stunning ubiquity. Not only was I taught growing up you don't use those two words in polite conversation -- even when discussing a severely learning disabled person -- but you rarely heard them in less polite conversation. Yet these days "retard" is frequently used as a way of calling someone stupid. And "retarded," like gay, has become a general term of dislike, as well as a dysphemism for getting high.

I'm just waiting for a young TV reporter or personality to declare that prejudice is "gay" or intolerance "retarded."


Anonymous said...

The "Boston kids" on SNL (Jimmy Fallon, Rachel Dratch) took these dysphemisms to a veritable art form.

JT said...

Saying retarded in a Boston accent makes it OK.