So apparently the latest trend is to declare ‘stupid’ a modern swear word. I actually heard a mom say to her toddler not to use the ‘s’ word, and had a reader call me out for cursing whenI used it. (I’m not sure where that leaves us in dealing with the other ‘s’ word, but that’s a debate for another time. Pretty soon we’ll be seeing Facebook memes asking whether a bear is stupid in the woods, I guess.)
I think this is … well, I think it’s stupid, not to put too fine a point on it, and here’s why: it has the exact opposite impact of its intended effect, diminishing the language and promoting a lack of personal accountability and responsibility. Turning every misused word into a taboo and a curse is not part of the solution – in fact, it’s one of the worst parts of the problem.
If someone uses the word stupid to degrade, bully or name-call another human being, why on earth would we blame the word instead of the person using it? It’s not a bad word – the person using it is engaging in bad behaviour. Period. They should have to own that, but we’re not letting them.
They did a bad thing.
Declining to say that - putting the onus on the word, not the person - is, in my opinon, just another version of that disgusting ‘affluenza’ nonsense we’re hearing about, in which insanely over-entitled people are happy to blame anyone and anything rather than accept any hint of responsibility for their words and actions (or that of their children, in the so-called affluenza case).
As a professional writer, I know that words are tools. They have no inherent moral value (or lack thereof), except where there is an historical evil context (think slavery, Nazis, etc.). Words – almost all of them - can be used for good or for bad, just like a hammer or a hacksaw. Does this new PC paradigm mean every word that gets used for ill-purposes should be deemed a curse? That would leave us with … which words? Rainbows, unicorns, kind, nice, mannerly? Not ‘kittens’, because many men have used the endearment ‘kitten’ in a patronizing, sexist manner to demean women. Clearly, kitten is a swear word now. I guess we shouldn’t say Jell-O (the whole Cosby thing, dontcha know) and with the furor over the words ‘Christmas’ vs ‘holidays’, both those are now unacceptable. Oh, and wait a minute … if you call ONE person nice, it may cause the person beside them, who didn’t get the same compliment, to feel bad, so we can’t do that anymore. Let’s just not allow anyone to speak, ever.
Political correctness is a ridiculous, fundamentally wasteful thing, when taken to this kind of extreme.
When are we all just going to grow up, stop blaming extraneous factors (like words) and start blaming ourselves for abusing and misusing powerful tools (not to mention the people around us), instead of weakening ourselves by throwing out the tools themselves?
I’ve reported on assaults committed using everything from butter knives to farm implements to winter scarves. Shall we now run around confiscating every butter knife, farm implement or winter scarf we see?
Of course not. That would be, dare I say it, stupid (and this is a perfect example of a use of the word stupid that doesn’t hurt anyone at all, it merely empowers me by letting me share a perspective, and empowers you by allowing you to understand the perspective being shared. It’s a tool, and an effective one, to boot. And speaking of boots … they can be used to hurt, too, for the record).
In case you doubt the analogy, think about this: I know plenty of wonderful, salt-of-the-earth, giving people who swear like sailors, and I also know many people who are vicious, malicious and reckless … but wouldn’t say the real ‘s’ word if they had a mouthful of it.
How stupid are we, if we choose to create a society that frowns on the former and applauds the latter?
The language is a powerful tool – I would argue it’s our most powerful tool, right up there with opposable thumbs, and I think whittling away at it for fear someone might use it to be mean – instead of dealing with the mean people themselves – is dumbing down our society, weakening our ability to communicate, and creating an environment bereft of real, meaningful personal accountability.
I think throwing the baby out with the bathwater in this manner is exactly why we need to keep the word ‘stupid’ in our collective vocabulary.