Hello again, readers,
I have a new post based on my recent trip to a writer’s conference, and this one is centered on words.
Writers have a fairly unique vocabulary–it’s not exactly workplace jargon, but if you don’t hang around writers much you might not know what we’re talking about. We regularly use our own acronyms and phrases like:
-POV (Point of View)
-Limited/omniscient (this refers to third-person point of view but we usually just use one of those two words)
-Pubbed (short for “published”)
-Crit (short for “critique”)
-Sensory words (felt, saw, heard, and so on)
-Head-hopping (jumping between POV characters in the same scene–it’s a big no-no)
This last one has nothing to do with rodents. Weasel words are words you put into a manuscript that you don’t need. They’re the ones you cut when your word count is too high or you need to clean up a draft. Some guilty words are “just,” “really,” and “that,” to name a few. There are other types of weasel words too, though–words that creep into our vocabulary without conscious knowledge. No, I’m not talking about cuss words or jargon. I’m talking about disability-related words, used outside the context of disability, that may be undermining the community of PWDs.
I’ll give you an example. One day at my conference I was walking from dinner to our evening group session when I heard another attendee say, “My husband is a high-functioning introvert. He can function around people really well but needs to recharge.” I understood what she meant and knew she wasn’t poking fun at disability in any way, but it occurred to me: that’s a weird way to say someone’s an introvert.
Another example: I took a class based on “writing acoustically”, or writing so your readers can hear different cadences in your words. For example, you write differently during a fast-paced action scene than you would a scene where a romantic waltz takes place. The instructor asked how many of us were musical in some way–how many of us chose the class because the title referenced acoustics. Most of us raised our hands, including me since I’m a singer. One of the few who didn’t joked, “I’m musically retarded.”
Now, you all know how I feel about that word (hereafter and forever known as the R word just because I hate even thinking it). Yet it is a word that has crept into our vocabulary. We use it without thinking, but it is a slur against PWDs, whether or not they have intellectual disabilities.
Now, is “high-functioning introvert” also a slur? No. The trouble is, it’s not the best way to get your point across. Why? Because when you start categorizing people as high- or low-functioning, you’re using disability vocabulary and unconsciously sending the message that
(A. It is okay to define people this way, especially PWDs
(B. Disability vocabulary can be applied to anyone in any situation, even where it may be inappropriate
(C. “High-functioning” people are better than “low-functioning” people
(D. It’s better to have some traits and not others (extraversion privileged over introversion, for instance). The degree to which you can or will exhibit the desired traits indicates how well you “function,” therefore how well you “deserve” to be accepted in circles of those who naturally have the desired traits.
Sometimes, disability vocabulary can be downright weird when used the wrong way. For example, let’s say you have a TAB person who happens to be a bit of a neatnik and is particular about how her clothes are folded. She doesn’t have intrusive thoughts or compulsions–yet her friends and family say, “Oh, Scarlet is just OCD.” No, Scarlet is not OCD. No one *is* obsessive compulsive disorder. They *have* obsessive compulsive disorder. Big difference. And, just because you have 1-2 traits of OCD or any other disability does not mean you have the diagnosis or should be classified as such. That’s not because OCD or any other disability is bad; they shouldn’t be taken lightly, is all.
I’m not saying we can never joke about disability. I do it all the time–in reference to myself. But it is a tricky and often offensive subject because to poke fun at someone else’s disability, or use disability vocabulary inappropriately, carries negative results. The problem is, disability vocabulary is so accepted these days, it’s weaseled its way into our everyday language, in ways that it shouldn’t.
I personally wish we didn’t have this kind of vocabulary–high- and low-functioning, special needs, what have you. For now we do because we are imperfect and because these words can be helpful if used correctly. Yet I caution everyone–please, please be careful how you use them, and always do so with respect.