Vilification is not okay, even if it's accepted vernacular

During my final 12 months in Australia, a disturbing language fad happened in the youth I was teaching at college. It was also demonstrated across all youth, because I saw it in my own children.

The use of the word gay to describe something negative. Anything negative. Was gay. “That’s so gay.” “He’s so gay.” “That game’s gay.”

The real meaning was that gay was a reject. It was bad. It was unacceptable.

That’s vilification. It’s a representation of bigotry.

And even though most people saying it weren’t intending to be supporting of any of those horrible, closed minded sentiments, they were still saying it. And as such, they were keeping the flame alive.

So I decided that even though it was a rampant part of the youth vernacular, I didn’t have to accept it. So I outlawed this use of it in my classroom. And it had very real effect.

I told them all. Every class. If you use that term in that way, you’re out of my classroom. And then I explained why.

It caused a little stir, but it worked. They found other ways to express themselves, and it brought to light the fact that we all have responsibility for the language we use, and even if we don’t intend to offend… we can and often do. And that’s problematic for all of us in a society.

So now I’m in the US and I’m finding the same situation exists with the word “retard”. Just throw it in wherever gay was thrown in and you get the picture.

So I’m taking the same stance. I won’t accept this. Not in my friends, my kids… even my Twitter friends. And I’m calling on you to join with me in this. Let’s stamp this vilification out. Just as it’s unacceptable to say the “N word” in the USA to refer to people, I’d love it to be the case to see it as unacceptable to use the “R word” to refer to anyone or anything at all.

Some of our community are intellectually disabled. That doesn’t make them “R word” in the sense it’s being used by the broader community – it just gives them extra challenges. If you decide to segment these people into a less important stereotype, then you will completely miss out on the fact that people with those challenges are admirable and often inspirational in the way they take on the world. Their stories will often bring you to earth with a crash. 

So will you join me? Will you consciously stamp the “r word” out of your vocabulary? Will you commit to telling those around you not to use it in your presence? Let’s join forces. No word is bigger than the people behind the vocabulary.


  • I totally support you, although I am busy trying to stamp out the ‘G’ word from Mr 6. When he moves onto the ‘R’ word I’m going to have to take the same stance.

  • It doesn’t cut it in my house either, Jo. Either using or accepting from others this type of veiled (though not much) bigotry is anathema to the progressive type of society we like to imagine we live in.

    Behind this 100 per cent.

  • Hmm devil’s advocate here. In my house terms such as stupid or idiot have never been allowed. I don’t allow intelligence to be mocked, same as retard would not be allowed.

    BUT the word is not “gay” it is “ghey” and it means the same as “lame”. It is an internet term that has been around for ages and is getting linked in the wrong way to the wrong people.

    The English language is a wonderful living thing and new words appear frequently. I cite the recent inclusion of the word “meh” to the dictionary.

    In short, sometimes things aren’t what they sound like.

  • Hi Al! Thanks for your contribution. The origin of ‘ghey’ is very interesting. While the original sense and term appears to have been contorted to a vilifying way, even if that wasn’t the intent, it’s the outcome.
    That’s why it needs to be changed.
    No matter what people say, the words they use. If the outcome is offensive, no matter their intent, it needs to be fixed.
    I’d also suggest that every person I’ve ever known other than yourself, would have no idea about the origin of ‘ghey’. I believe people have picked up the term believing it means homosexual people. Their free expression of it is a practice of vilifcation which needs to be stopped.
    I just did a Summize search on Retard and Tard. The results were stomach turning.
    This has to change.

  • Hi Fish! What a great link. Thanks for adding it. Really gives personal impact to what we’re trying to do here. And as usual for the Washington Post, beautifully written. You rock!

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