Euphemisms and Intolerance
I couldn’t help but notice in class that many people kept referring to people with dwarfism as “little people,” instead of midgets, dwarves, or Lilliputians. What I found most interesting about this is how people went about referring to midgets as “little people” – occasionally they would pause mid-sentence as if looking for the right word or phrase, and then decide on “little people.” Sometimes I’d hear someone quickly correct themself when the word midget slipped past their lips.
It seems to me that the emphasis some people place on being politically correct has the exact opposite effect, and rather drawing attention away from an abnormality, it just makes it more apparent. People simply try to use such words to make themselves feel better, or because they believe whoever they are referring to feels better about it. I’ve always though that consciously making yourself use such euphemisms just makes the difference that much more apparent. This is summed up rather brilliantly in the South Park Season 5, Episode 2: Conjoined Fetus Lady:
In the episode, the town of South Park has a “Conjoined Twin Myslexia Week” in order to raise awareness about the nurse with a stillborn fetus attached to her head. Naturally, rather than helping the woman, the citizens of South Park make her feel like more of an outsider by emphasizing her difference. This is no different from what people do in class by consciously referring to midgets as “little people.” The only difference is the extent to which the difference is emphasized.
The comedian George Carlin talked a lot about euphemisms and racial slurs, and sums up my viewpoint rather well:
“It’s the intention behind the words that makes them good or bad. The words are completely neutral. The words are innocent. I get tired of people talking about bad words and bad language. Bullshit! It’s the context that makes them good or bad.”
In other words, I’d say that as long as you are not specifically using a word to be degrading, abusive, racist, or sexist, then there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t use it.
More on euphemisms
This is the skit the quote came from – at about 46:30 is the part where he talks about racial and sexist slurs
*I’d warn people about the content possibly being offensive, but that is probably already apparent*