I’m still jumping around, editing this and that, reading this and that, and letting the manuscript sit for a bit before I dive back in. In that spirit, I’d like to write a little bit on problematic words. Take from that phrase what you will.
Gay, LGBTQA, and QUILTBAG
Like every American male I know, I grew up using ‘gay’ pejoratively. That’s gay, you’re gay, etc. I continued to use it as such even after meeting gay people, despite having no issues with homosexuality. I knew nothing about it, but neither did I view it negatively. I’m still shocked that I didn’t, considering the church and region in which I grew up. Yet still, in place of lame, dumb, stupid, or any other actually negative and abusive term I could use, I said ‘gay.’
I stopped entirely the summer after high school. A former girlfriend came out and I spent time with her and her girlfriend and rather quickly I started to view my words more critically. If I had nothing negative to say about homosexuality, I saw no reason to call someone gay by way of insult.
Sadly, some of my closest friends still use the word in a negative way, and I do my best to call attention to it without being a jerk. I love seeing campaigns against negative uses of terms for orientation or gender identities and I try to point to those rather than to the unspoken bigotry implicit in misuse of “gay” and related terms.
But of course, even used in a neutral or positive sense, gay remains one of our core terms for non-heteronormative preference. Gay, a largely masculine term, is applied to women as well. It is a more easily understood word for ideas about the scale of human sexuality that excludes bi- or a-sexual people as well as transgender, and so the acronyms come into play. LGB, and later LGBT, and a whole slew of add-ons after that. LGBTQ, LGBTQ+, LGBTQEtc, and so on and so forth. These are a mouthful, their clinical, and one or the other fails to encompass some portion of the non-heteronomative population.
Which is precisely why I fell in love with an entirely new, pronounceable acronym the moment I heard it: QUILTBAG.
Aside from being an easier term to throw around, and thus making it easier to refer those not included in monogamous, heterosexual terms, the acronym also disrupts the hierarchy of the older LGBT…. by placing importance on something other than identified order.
I know this has devolved into a bit of a ramble, but I have such an issue with incorrectly used terms that are meant to define our fellow human beings that I hoped I might introduce just one more person to QUILTBAG. I really dig it.
Dwarf v. Little Person v. Midget
This one will be more brief and it is perhaps more problematic in my group of friends.
I have been shocked to find over the past several years how common the word ‘midget’ still is, despite being widely identified as derogatory. The term derived from a time when freakshows were still quite common in the English speaking word and is taken from the name of a small, irritating fly.
I have to chock use of the word up to a lesser familiarity with little people compared with those identified under the QUILTBAG labels. In most instances, when someone uses the less accepted ‘midget,’ they are mortified to find out that the term is seen negatively. With friends, however, I’ve had more than a few tiffs resulting in an ultimate comparison to more widely know derisive terms for large groups of people.
Once again, I bring up the term because it is a problematic one that I encounter far more often than one might hope.
Jew as a Verb
This one comes, I’m sad to say, from family. As a child in East Texas, I did not know any Jewish people. The first family I knew to be Jewish was my 4th grade best friends, and I learned they were Jewish only because the holiday’s introduced me to a menorah for the first time.
But I knew the word ‘Jew’ long before that. Not as a noun for the faith of a largely similar ethnic group of people but rather as a hateful verb. People, my family included, spoke of ‘jewwing’ someone down on a price, or of being ‘jewwed’—here meaning screwed—on a deal.
To this day, I hear such from several family members. I have nothing more to share that sadness at the proclivity of its use and the the resentment stirred when I insist they use such hateful terms away from me.
This has been kind of a weird and directionless post, so I’d like to end on a lighter note: the word ‘niggardly.’
The word’s first use, according to the OED, dates to roughly 14 years before the first uses of the n-word (I hate using this abbreviation for the same reason as Louis CK, but I respect many people would prefer not to see it here). The words have since followed different trajectories and despite sounding very similar have only really shared negative connotations.
That said, do you want to use the word in common or formal speech?
The question arose in my mind recently. I’ve been reading Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series and the word is used rather liberally. Given that it is a term common to medieval writing, it makes perfect sense. To be fair, even comtemporarily set literature uses the word from time to time. We can, it seems, read it without the same cringe as saying it. To this day, I’ve only ever heard it spoke in audiobook form and, I think, for good reason.
It’s a strange word, tarnished entirely by another, that I don’t believe will see in vernacular any time soon.