Language Evolution:  Going Full Retard

Language evolves over time.  It is never static.  New words enter the lexicon, other words become obsolete.  And some words remain but their meaning and connotations associated with them change.  I don’t know how many of you were aware of the University of Colorado football recruiting scandals a few years back but the school’s now (thankfully) departed President Elizabeth Hoffman attempted to argue that the epithet “cunt”, which was used against a female place kicker, could actually be used as a term of endearment.  (Sorry, Elizabeth, not since Chaucer’s day or, I guess, unless you’re John McCain.)

The ongoing discussion over how sexism and racism were used during the election have also brought out contextual differences in the use of words like “boy” and “periodic”.  Other words are pretty charged in almost any context in which they are used but maybe that shouldn’t always be the case.

Diesel who blogs at Mattress Police is currently on a campaign to de-fuse the use of the word retarded as not being specifically intended to refer to a person as actually developmentally disabled or to insult those who are.

I think this is a reasonable endeavor.  After all, at one time the words “idiot” and “moron” were technical terms used to classify the relative level of mental disabilities.  These words have long since lost that association and are now just garden variety insults.  Why not put “retarded” in that same class?  God knows, with the level of stupid flying around these days we are badly in need of more legitimate insults that don’t generate a push back in the form of “ewww you used a mean word about developmentally disabled people!”

And as Diesel himself said in comments over at J-TWO-O (who tagged me on this piece!)

I read something recently where somebody compared the word retarded to the word lame. Calling something lame doesn’t mean you hate people who can’t walk, it just means that you think something is lame. People need to not be so retarded about this things.

I’ll let you guys make up your own minds on this but I think the argument has merit.  And I won’t tag specific bloggers but if anyone wants to continue this meme, here are the rules:

1. You must write a post using the word retarded.I don’t care what it’s about—Joe Biden, teenage boys wearing girls’ pants, whatever.
2. The word retarded must be a link to this post.
3. You are encouraged to tag five other bloggers to do the same.

Posted by marindenver on 05/08/09 at 11:53 AM • Permalink

Categories: MessylaneousPoliticsEditorialsNutters

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I’m with you on “retarded” and long used it to refer to those displaying abject stupidity. To me, a word has officially evolved and can legitimately be appropriated for alternate use when it’s rarely used for its original purpose.

Does anyone refer to developmentally disabled people as “retarded” anymore? I haven’t heard it used for that purpose in ages.

Not so with the word “gay,” which I occasionally hear people using as a pejorative to mean “stupid” or “silly.” That’s not legit, in my view, because, hey, gay people are still using that word! Which they stole from people used it to mean “merry,” as in, “We’ll have a gay old time.”

Incidentally, YAFB could probably shed more light on this, but I believe “cunt” has entirely different connotations in the UK. I think it means approximately what “asshole” means here, or at least, so I gather from the context. It’s apparently not a misogynistic slur there.

I read something recently where somebody compared the word retarded to the word lame. Calling something lame doesn’t mean you hate people who can’t walk, it just means that you think something is lame.

Um, in some circles you’d get an argument on that.

(I’m not endorsing the sentiment at the link—I just wanted to point it out.)

(I’m not endorsing the sentiment at the link—I just wanted to point it out.)

I think there’s a tendency at Shakesville to overreact to things a lot.  A lot.  I mean really a lot.

“Lame” is so commonly used to mean unconvincing or a weak argument that I can’t imagine anyone actually insinuating that it’s an insult to people who are handicapped.

I think it means approximately what “asshole” means here, or at least, so I gather from the context. It’s apparently not a misogynistic slur there.

I think that’s true also.  And I believe it was actually used by Chaucer as an affectionate reference to a middle aged woman or something like that.  These days - not so much.

I think there’s a tendency at Shakesville to overreact to things a lot.  A lot.  I mean really a lot.

Uh-huh. Do people actually call people who are unable to walk “lame” these days? Not that I’ve heard. Horses maybe, but not people. But hey, they sure showed those Minnesota State Lottery people what fer!

Shouldn’t Shakesville be hard at work on Why Obama Is Teh Sexxxist Vol. #47564?

It’s overdue.

Until they show vast improvement, those guys are right up there with Taylor Marsh—read for laughs only.

Something’s offensive if its offensive to the listener, not the speaker.  If disabled people stop being offended by “retarded” (which I don’t think they have), it’s only courteous to not use such a word.  I feel if I can’t make my point without using offensive words, I probably don’t have good point to make.

I’m a little speechless about that Shakesville link.

I mean, I always hear conservative assholes whining about the PC liberal stereotype, and I always assumed they were bitching (can I say that? Probably not!) at strawmen. In fact, when I hear somebody whine about PC liberals censoring language, I take it as a quick sign that the person is an idiot and not to be bothered with.

I guess it turns out at least some liberals like that really do exist.

By the way, the comment thread over there was really lame…

Something’s offensive if its offensive to the listener, not the speaker.

Where do you draw the line on that? Should we stop using the word “lame” because a pearl-clutcher at Shakesville gets the vapors over it? A listener is offended, after all.

I feel if I can’t make my point without using offensive words, I probably don’t have good point to make.

I’ve heard that same argument made about the use of swear words, and my reply is always the same: bullshit.

I’ve heard that same argument made about the use of swear words, and my reply is always the same: bullshit.

  Thus proving the person making the argument correct?

Thus proving the person making the argument correct?

Not in my book. Swear words have a long and glorious history in both debate and great literature. The trick is in knowing when to deploy them effectively.

GREAT post, Marindenver. And thanks for the link love.

FYI Betty, I tagged you in my retarded post. : )

Comment by J. on 05/08/09 at 02:57 PM

Anyone who gets that offended by swear words and some non-PC terminology probably wants to avoid this place for sure! ;-)

Incidentally, YAFB could probably shed more light on this, but I believe “cunt” has entirely different connotations in the UK. I think it means approximately what “asshole” means here, or at least, so I gather from the context. It’s apparently not a misogynistic slur there.

Well, I’ll never pretend to be typical of anything, but I’ll do my best as an informant.

I’ve spent some time on a forum dominated by British people where “cunt” was used as a jovial term of affection. It grated, and I’d never use it like that myself. My partner finds it offensive, I dislike it, and when I was at school, it was the most extreme sweary word one could use.

It has parallels with the French con, which can refer to the vagina, or a fool (any passing Francophiles can correct me, but I don’t think it has the same verbal power as the English “cunt”).

In fact, there’s a poem by Georges Brassens called “Le Blazon” (marginally NSFW around French speakers) which explores this linguistic relationship from a mildly erotic standpoint (I don’t know if I should be embarrassed to say that as a 17-year-old who had a brief and doomed affair with a young Frenchwoman who introduced the poem to me, I translated the whole thing fairly freely. If pushed, I might be able to reconstruct it, but that would be a stretch after all this time.)

There are other British usages, such as “cunting,” which isn’t a hobby, but a term that can be used interchangeably with “fucking” (a term I sadly do use at times, albeit either for effect or out of provocation). We are nothing if not innovative in this regard.

Even as a Brit, I would regard “cunt” as misogynistic and avoid using it. But then there are plenty of people whose verbalizations are peppered with “fucking” this and “cunting” that in much the same way as Mr. Obama uses “uh,” so mileage definitely varies.

In brief, if using it over here, I’d be braced for either a heavily pregnant silence or a possible punch-up, depending on the context.

Incidentally, other languages have different taboos - in Welsh, for instance, although the younger generation have adapted and developed an impressive range of expressions which do have a sexual connotation, swear words were traditionally religious, or more specifically Christian Methodist (forgive the lack of correct accents in the following). For example, “Yffern dan” means “flaming hell,” “Iesu Grist” means “Jesus Christ,” and “Diawl” means “Devil.” All would serve if you hit your thumb with a hammer, and possibly in combination.

And I’m not a big one for “retarded,” I’m afraid, and have had arguments with people online over the pejorative use of the word “gay” in the past. But I’ve been working with language for long enough to know that it changes. I’m just not convinced about which battles are the most important to fight at any given time.

Wow, that Shakesville post was, ummm, lame. Maybe they should work on Merriam-Webster next:

Main Entry:
  1lame Listen to the pronunciation of 1lame
Pronunciation:
  \ˈlām\
Function:
  adjective
Inflected Form(s):
  lam·er; lam·est
Etymology:
  Middle English, from Old English lama; akin to Old High German lam lame, Lithuanian limti to break down
Date:
  before 12th century

1 a: having a body part and especially a limb so disabled as to impair freedom of movement b: marked by stiffness and soreness <a >
2: lacking needful or desirable substance : weak, ineffectual <a >
3slang : not being in the know : square
4 a: inferior <a > b: contemptible, nasty <lame racist jokes>
— lame·ly adverb
— lame·ness noun

The trick is in knowing when to deploy them effectively.

*ding ding ding*  Exactly.  Also.

Interesting, YAFB. I knew a couple from Sheffield who used the word “cunt” as often as I use “the.” From the way the Sheffielders used it (and from seeing other UK-originating instances of its use, like this vid), I made the assumption it wasn’t considered as awful a word there as it is here.

Maybe they should work on Merriam-Webster next:

Kevin, they already have.  Did you miss their 8,315 part series on offensive words that should be removed from the dictionary?

If you really want to get them spin their wheels, point them to the urban dictionary.  They could spend a lifetime emailing to have offensive words removed.

I made the assumption it wasn’t considered as awful a word there as it is here.

I did point out that I don’t pretend to be representative.

If it’s any indication, a TV play that used the word “cunt” would probably provoke vapors among some, and praise for social realism from others.

Although some people may use it a lot (and I guess one would have to explore with them whether it really indicated any degree of misogyny or at least thoughtlessness), I don’t think US and UK mores about “cunt” are all that different as far as the mainstream is concerned, but it may be used more commonly and casually over here in certain circles. Is it that prevalent in the US?

I should also add, before I sound totally po-faced, that in the field of humor, the use of a shocking and arguably context-inappropriate word can obviously often be a genuine kneeslapper. It can also be a bit lazy (as some of our direr sitcoms over here prove).

Is it that prevalent in the US?

Not that I’m aware of, and it’s considered pretty offensive. I have an awful potty mouth, but I don’t use that word. The Sheffield couple I referred to above ran a somewhat rowdy, British-themed pub, and the patrons considered their use of “cunt” pretty shocking.

The Sheffield couple I referred to above ran a somewhat rowdy, British-themed pub, and the patrons considered their use of “cunt” pretty shocking.

Hard to say. I’ve known couples who’ve turned the air blue with their language, including “cunt,” and they’ve thought nothing of it. If they were running a theme pub in the US, it might just be their own thing, where they were brought up, or they might have been playing it for effect for their customers, I guess.

It’s one cultural/linguistic area where I don’t think we’re that different, but maybe the Brits edge it on prevalence in those circles where it is used casually.

I have to disagree with you, Mar, on this one. “Mentally retarded” is still in use in school systems specifically, according to Wikipedia. “Developmentally disabled” is more of an umbrella term. Teenagers call each other “retards”, and “What are you, a retard or something?” is heard by a number of people who have assorted disabilities, from C.P. to autism to yes, retardation. I don’t think it right to help it along, and since it’s an established epithet, it’s not as if a new sub-category of the over-sensitive is demanding that another formerly useful word be added to the growing PC taboo pile.

While not going to go out of my way to slam anyone who uses it online, particularly as a suffix with the prefix “Paul” or “Puma”, I stay away from it. It has a sour taste, that I don’t think will ever go away. Can you really force faster detoxification of a word? Even if language is changing, I think it has to be more organic than that.

Will online usage by bloggers hurt the feelings of these truly innocent people? Not directly, although it might frost some friends and relatives, and aforementioned people who’ve been assigned that label. But why fight for this word? It’s not that much fun. It’s not like swearing, for fuck’s sake.

I am so looking forward to the Google results on this thread ...

I am so looking forward to the Google results on this thread ...

And it started with the sweetest of all of the front-page posters, too!

Well, after me.

Hey, I only used the “c” word once (and mainly as an opportunity to get in a slam at Betsy Hoffman) and I was just floating an idea out there.  I’m kind of neutral on it.  If most people think it’s the ixnay on defusing the word, then that’s perfectly reasonable.

And I think all of you guys are sweet, too. ;-)

You’re more likely to hear the word cunt used in Ireland in mixed company too.  I went over there with a coed softball team I used to run for a tournament several years ago (believe it or not softball is pretty popular in Dublin) and afterwards we were sitting around in a pub and one of my female teammates expressed shock to a couple of Irish guys that were using the word.  So she asked them if there was any word they would not use in the presence of women.  One of the guys thought about it for a while and finally came up with “slapper.” He said it referred to a woman who had slept around so much that her uh, anatomy had been stretched out to the point where she made a slapping sound when she walked.  He didn’t put it quite so delicately though.  Since then I can’t hear the word cunt without seeing the expression on my friend’s face after that conversation.

What the fuck is going on here? You fucking retards are acting like a big bunch of motherfucking cunts with all this lame-ass whining about words.

I mean, bitch all day if you must, but you’re never going to make language spic-n-span clean, not like it was in the gay ‘90’s. It’s just another case of the PC police acting niggardly with vowels and consonants while tossing fags back and forth and filling the air with that vile smoke.

So stop already with the sissy-ass pussified crying. It’s just another attempt at folks who have no sense of humor to put another gash in our free speech rights, all the while serving as a launching pad for periodic outbursts of righteous indignation masquerading as thoughtful commentary.

Also.

OK, let’s go there: “nigger.” Discuss.

YAFB, I thought you had to work to do. ;-)

Finished it, marin. But I can easily STFU. ;)

Still, while the tumbleweed swirls, or you all do whatever’s time-zone-appropriate wherever you are, before I do STFU, I guess I might as well make plain what I was driving at, which you probably knew anyway, but I guess someone somewhere might want to make something of.

I’ll be lazy and point at Wikipedia, to show how that term’s mutated in meaning and offensiveness over the centuries. Is it absolutely and irredemably beyond every pale? I certainly feel uneasy typing it, even in a linguistic discussion.

And if that’s beyond the pale, does that establish a principle that can be extended to other words?

It’s all about context and personal opinion.  For instance, I have an unwritten policy here about calling women “bitches” or “cunts.” I don’t allow it, although I do cut commenters who are women some slack. Surprisingly enough, even during the primaries and the election (read: Hillary and Palin), I didn’t have to do all that much deleting. You’d think from complaints from the you-know-whos I would have been at it 24/7. I also don’t allow rank ethnic slang in here either (like “nigger”), but, once again, it depends on the context. Ultimately, I own this dump and anything you guys leave behind in the comments can reflect poorly on me, so I have to enforce some discipline, but fortunately for me you’re all smart and creative as hell, so I very rarely have to worry about it. You guys know how to work even the darkest side of snark without going for the cheap and tasteless out.

Or something like that.

It’s like pornography. It’s damned difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.

Or something like that.

Also.

The linguistic fascists at Shakesville will not be amused by this meme. Therefore, I must participate.

I vow never to call developmentally disabled people retarded because it would be an egregious insult to infer that they are wingnuts, as bad as calling them Republicans.

I recently had an argument with someone on a discussion board who said that calling someone a “fag” had no connection with homosexuality. They said it was just a generic put-down. I guess this is similar to how people use “gay” to mean “lame” (which is in itself a potentially charged word). I personally can’t agree with using either term.

My feeling is that as long as there’s a significant number of people who might be really offended by a word such as “retard” it’s probably not a good idea to use it. We used that word a lot as kids, but I can imagine that my feelings about it would have been very different if I had a family member or friend who was legitimately retarded. We have plenty of good ways of calling people dumb—I’m not sure a campaign to make “retard” acceptable is really necessary.

I’m on board for anything that riles up those lame “pearl-clutchers” at Shakesville…

being human is certainly an interesting experience.

Sorry, everyone.  Work intruded on my internet time today.  Now to respond:

Where do you draw the line on that? Should we stop using the word “lame” because a pearl-clutcher at Shakesville gets the vapors over it? A listener is offended, after all.

I find it very interesting that you used the ole “stop being so PC/whiny titty baby/pearl clutching” trope in your defense here.  It’s shitty reasoning, and it’s what the racists down at PUMAPac use to justify their numerious racial slurs. 

By saying “if you can’t make your point without using these words your point isn’t worth making”, I wasn’t trying to set up some sort of Godwin-like gotcha game.  All I meant was that it’s insanely easy to make your point without using these words.  If you know that a certain word is offensive to someone and you continue to use it out of some sort of weird principle, you’re just being an asshole.

@John Cain - I think there’s a difference between using words like “lame”, which have a fairly long history of also meaning something entirely different from “crippled” or “handicapped” and “retarded” which is fairly new in the lexicon as referring to someone other than a developmentally disabled individual, but yet can apply also to someone who is just clueless.

The intent of the post was to float the idea of whether we’re at the point where the stigma of the word has dropped off and it’s become just a run of the mill insult like “idiot”.  I mean, I’m not sure what you think we should call wingnutters if not “idiots”.  But, after the responses here I agree that the word “retarded” is still too charged to fall into that category.

So I guess I’ll just have continue to call out the wingnuts as “idiots”, “morons” and “kooks” for the time being.

Next example: douchebag.

This thread caught my eye because “retard” just came up in a conversation I had with my sister a little while ago. She and I always used the word “retard” as the equivalent of “stupid”. Over the past few years we had kind of let it go, but occasionally it would pop into an email conversations.

So she got a temp job at a local elementary school helping with developmentally challenged kids. She was in the faculty lunchroom preparing her lunch when she found that the microwave wasn’t working properly. She figured out that there was a foil edge on the package she was trying to heat and she peeled it off and tried again, but it still wouldn’t work.

Another teacher came in and asked what was wrong. My sister explained that the microwave didn’t seem to be working and the woman said, “Well, is it plugged in?” My sister said, “Of course it is. Do you think I’m retarded?”

Well, imagine the expression on that teacher’s face. And my sister died a thousand deaths right there. She said her face was on fire and she apologized about fifty times. The teacher told her not to worry, it was okay, but my sister was mortified.

So that word is stricken from our vocabularies forever.

I find it very interesting that you used the ole “stop being so PC/whiny titty baby/pearl clutching” trope in your defense here. It’s shitty reasoning, and it’s what the racists down at PUMAPac use to justify their numerious racial slurs.

Well, I think bringing up the reaction to the word “lame” at Shakesville is a legitimate point. It had already been introduced into the discussion, and it was directly relevant to the standard you yourself set: “Something’s offensive if its offensive to the listener, not the speaker.”

A listener at Shakesville was offended by “lame.” I asked how far you were willing to go with that. I think it was a fair question. I didn’t put words in your mouth (a courtesy you didn’t extend to me), nor did I imply that you are a “PC/whiny titty baby.”

If you know that a certain word is offensive to someone and you continue to use it out of some sort of weird principle, you’re just being an asshole.

Again, swear words are offensive to millions of people. Are you an asshole for using the word “asshole”?

For the record, I don’t think you’re an asshole. Just wrong and possibly over-sensitive. I think we should be able to have a conversation about whether or not it’s legitimate to use evolving words without being tarred with the fucking PUMA brush. Talk about offensive and insulting! Them’s fightin’ words!

Oh yeah, and you libs all claim to be so enlightened, but let someone from Luxembourg show up, and it’s “Hypotenuse this” and “Hypotenuse that” and “Go back where you came from you stinking Hypotenuse”.  Hugo Gernsback was scarred for life by that sort of mindless prejudice, and you libs are just as ready to pile on as any bigoted compass-and-straightedge burning Klansman.

You all make me sick.

“Cutn” is certainly inflammatory in polite society in the UK… However, polite society is shrinking daily.  Its use in regards to women is solely anatomical these days, and referring to someone as a cunt gives no clue as to gender, generally speaking.

In some areas, it’s more acceptable than others - amongst young men, particularly from what might previously have been called the working classes, it’s definitely not a big deal. OTOH, you wouldn’t say it at a school parents’ evening.

D’oh!  Can someone correct the “cunt” in the first line?

Heheh. I just re-read that; unintentional humour there.

When there’s a conversation about linguistic nazis, why am I not surprised that Shakesville comes up?  That blog is a bus full of lamers; not to mention it’s hypocrisy.

I gave up on Shakesville and a few other “feminist” blogs (Echidne of the Snakes) when there were too many threads about how it was Okay Not To Vote for Obama Because You Were Mad About How Hillary Was Treated.

As I always do, I asked for links to proof of Obama being sexist personally (as opposed to Chris Matthews, et al.) And I also pointed out that Hillary supporters weren’t the only ones who had their feelings bruised by some of the bullshit that went down in the primaries, including HRC’s own oft-repeated implications that only voters in “big states” count and that those following Obama had somehow fallen for some kind of mass delusion, a la the Moonies. (“I could stand here and tell you the skies are going to open up and we’ll all get unified,” or whatever her ... wait for it ... lame attempt at mocking Obama was.)

I also pointed out that I had voted in every election since 1984, and in 24 years, I had never seen the candidate I supported in the Dem primary make it to the top of the ticket, but it had never occurred to me that indulging my personal hurt fee-fees and disappointment took precedence over beating the goddamn GOP so why should Hillary be such a special case?

Of course I was roundly scolded for invading their “healing” space and told I was the reason Obama would lose because his supporters were big ole meanies and unless we all went on bended knee and begged forgiveness of those who were crushed that Hillary Clinton, The Sacred Vessel In Which Resided the Hopes and Dreams of All Women Everywhere (TM) had been so cruelly defeated by the nefarious anti-feminists, then we were gigantic poopie heads. And they were gonna hold their vote until they turned blue but it would still be all my fault and Obama’s! Yeah, cuz the big fighting feminists had no personal agency or responsibility for their political activities or lack thereof. They were just sad cwushed widdle girls.

So…I came here instead. Aren’t you happy about that? ;)

P.S. I try to avoid “retarded” mostly because my mom worked in special ed and it’s a sticky wicket. Though I will whip out “fucktard” if I’m fairly sure of my audience. “Lame,” on the other hand, is just fine. And I say that as someone whose father was paralyzed on his right side (not that that means I get the final vote or anything). Someone asked him once if he preferred “disabled” or “handicapped,” and he said “gimp” was okay by him.

Oblomova, I gave up on Shakesville after the famous “I own my vote” bit (of course you do, dearies, pat, pat) and that fact that Melissa has on several occasions called Joe Biden a sexist and a racist providing as a link for the first a *lame* joke he told about 20 years ago and for the second the fact that he once spoke to a group of Republicans in South Carolina.  Naturally his entire body of legislative work, including the Violence Against Woment Act, and his highly respectable personal life can’t be considered in the decision of whether he actually is “sexist” or “racist”.  I mean, if you just don’t like the guy, say so.  But I had a big problem with smearing him with labels that are patently not true.

I kinda felt sorry for McEwan for that whole Edwards blogging fiasco, though I wondered just what in Edwards’ Senate voting record made her think he was this big populist dude. It’s fine to believe someone has had a change of heart after leaving one branch of government (history is filled with people who crossed the aisle and voted their conscience or who dissected what’s wrong with government once they left—hello, Scott McClellan, you ole weasel!). But as you say, if she’s gonna hold an ancient joke against Biden as proof of his piggishnes, she should at least have considered Edwards’ Senate record as proof of his tendency to play it safe legislatively before working for him. Was she really so shocked he tossed her and Amanda Marcotte aside when things got heated?

And yeah, the smearing thing. I know I’m a goddamn broken record on this, but it’s amazing to me that nobody has EVER provided direct proof of Obama or anyone close to his campaign deciding to use gender as a wedge issue in the primaries the way the Clinton camp went after white working-class voters on racial grounds.

So…I came here instead. Aren’t you happy about that? ;)

Oh a-yup.

If we ever decided to go mano a mano against Shakesville (not that I think that would be a good use of anyone’s time or energy), I think I have the slogan all ready for us: Our teaspoons can beat up your teaspoons!

I have a soft spot for Shakesville which is partly nostalgic, because it takes me back to my twenties, when I was abducted (willingly) and only partially successfully brainwashed by feminists who’d left Greenham Common.

The same language headfucks went on then. I remember being pulled up for using the word “boisterous” because it was related to the word “boys.” On the other hand, I remember blushing furiously when I called something an “old wive’s tale,” which in retrospect, wasn’t the best turn of phrase in front of an ardent feminist. One learned to watch one’s ps and qs, on pain of a right old earful.

The feelings meetings were brutal, but in general we had some fun, and a handful of us even still speak to each other.

If we ever decided to go mano a mano against Shakesville (not that I think that would be a good use of anyone’s time or energy), I think I have the slogan all ready for us: Our teaspoons can beat up your teaspoons!

Could we have a second slogan: “Skullfucking Morrissey” ?

Great post, and thanks for the link! And thanks for not pointing out my retarded typo:

People need to not be so retarded about this things.

To the people who say “retarded” isn’t like “lame” because it still has connotations to the developmentally disabled: How do you think “lame” lost its connection to people who can’t walk? People started using it in a different way. Saying you can’t use a word in a new way until it’s lost all its previous meaning is a catch-22 situation. Words don’t lose their old meanings until new ones are put in their place.

Retards.

This has been a very interesting discussion.  I think John Cain made a good point that something’s offensive if it’s offensive to the listener, not if it’s offensive to the speaker.  But Betty’s response that at some point a line should be drawn also makes sense.  There are some legal standards where decisions regarding negligence and due diligence are based on a “reasonable and prudent person” standard.  How would this hypothetical person have behaved in the situation?

I think it makes sense to apply a “reasonable listener” standard to this type of thing.  Saying that the listener should be the sole arbiter of whether a thing is offensive doesn’t allow for the fact that some people look for reasons to be offended.  Would a reasonable listener perceive racism if a white person referred to a man of color as “boy” or called him “uppity”?  Almost certainly.

Would a reasonable listener perceive prejudice against persons with physical disabilities if one were to respond “that’s a lame excuse” to an explanation that “the dog ate my homework”?  Probably not.

And would a reasonable listener discern disdain for old wives if someone dismissed a superstition as “an old wives tale”?  I personally don’t think so.

As far as “retarded” or “retard” or ending a word with “tard” like “Paultard”, I think the evolutionary process of this word at this point would have reasonable persons on both sides of the argument (and clearly does here).  So I’d think it’s something that you’d use with an understanding that your listener or reader could be offended even if you didn’t mean to offend them.

Well put, Marindenver, and actually don’t most of us self-censor anyway? I mean, when I’m in a group of people I don’t know well, I sure don’t sling cuss words around. At home, well, I can be as salty as a sailor. i have my casual-but-careful work language and my around-the-parents language, too.

Sure, some words are going to evolve more easily than others and I think that the ones which have the greatest potential for insulting other people are going to stay the same, like “nigger” or “kike” (does anyone still say that one?) It’s going to be interesting to see what the “new” words come into our vocabulary next. I wouldn’t have expected “douchebag” to be part of the vernacular, but I swear I heard it on TV the other night. I think that’s a pretty gross word, actually. It’s not in my repertoire.

What I want to know is:  Can we call any wingnut who tries to make something out of “Dijongate” a mus-tard?

Can we call any wingnut who tries to make something out of “Dijongate” a mus-tard?

As far as I’m concerned there are no limits on what you can call the wingnuts in this situation.  If people are offended, let them eat cake or whatever.

Marin, you make good points, but the “reasonable listener” standard seems to beg the question.  Reasonable peole don’t generally offend each other with offensive phrases, because reasonable people understand their audience and have a certain degree of empathy.

It’s why this whole discussion is just so much idle line drawing.

But what do I know, I’m drunk.

And Kevin K, I emailed abpur the roastacon and haven’t heard back. Wth!?

Betty, the difference is that if I call you an asshole, I’m not drawing said word from a well of derogatory history (well, obviously asshole is derogatory, but universally so).  “Retard” and “lame” still draw from such wells, and it inconveniences me little to avoid such terms.

That said, I’m sorry if implied any equivalence between you and a PUMAPac blogger.  If you were a PUMAPac blogger, you would have deleted my comment and pretended I said nothing.

I will also admit that I have a soft spot for Shakesville.  Melissa gave me my largest traffic spike ever when she linked to my defense of her from Andrew Sullivan.  Additionally, I feel PUMA blogs are too quick to cite her Hillary/Palin sexism watch without at all acknowledging her Obama Racism Watch.

This in general is why the Confluence is a shithole.  While they didn’t engage in the worst smears directly (save for one Taggles post about the birth certificate) they were happy to let everyone else on their blogroll do it for them.  90% of the Confluence’s blogroll has indulged in the birth certificate smear (which is inherently racist), the whitey tape bullshit, or the Larry Sinclair nonsense.  The Conflucians only passed on such so they could keep their site clean; notice how myiq2xu or riverdaughter never states that these rumors are untrue, only that they won’t tolerate them on the front page of the Confluence.

... myiq2xu or riverdaughter never states that these rumors are untrue, only that they won’t tolerate them on the front page of the Confluence.

Well, it obviously goes against the grain to defend meatprod, but he has come out pretty categorically on this at times (though in that instance, the “since it was none of our business ...” attempt at snark kind of colors the impression and lays the way open for his commenters to perpetuate the myths, as some of them do).

But then he’s also claimed repeatedly that he has no idea why YTD and other sites keep focusing on it, as only a few foil-hatters and almost no PUMAs are pursuing it.

Which is either a damn lie or an indication of his selective ignorance, as those of us who follow the whole saga know. Apart from the Orly, Berg and Freeper birfers, it crops up on PUMA PAC regularly to this day, and even on occasion on The Effluence (albeit that time by a PUMA PAC escapee, but I suspect some of the Effluence regulars would still love to run with it).

At least half of my pleasure in life if going into full retard mode on websites I hate (I go more to the JoedaPlumbers rather than the Confluences). 

Are you suggesting I might be ‘special’.

And nothing gives me more pleasure being totally gay.  Why do I care why synapses get fired if it doesn’t hurt anyone?

YAFB, I guess I’m confused by myiq2xu’s defense of Judah Benjamin, then.  Like I said, he’ll make a big stink about this stuff and about how it’s beneath him, but really he’s happy for it to continue.

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