May 29th, 2024



Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published April 22, 2016

Words. Can they really harm you? The old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was what many of us older folks were taught. It was used in response to an insult, implying that "You might be able to hurt me by physical force but not by insults." Itís still a good and true rule, but many younger people who have been raised in our hypersensitive politically correct society and are taught microaggression and participate in "Speech Free Zones" on campus, have concluded that words are just as harmful as physical violence.

More importantly, the sticks and stones adage had a deeper message than simply violent action will hurt but words will not. It taught us to ignore the stupid talk and name-calling by bullies. When a jerk calls you a nasty name it is better to deflect it by not stooping down to their level. Let them be low class and dumb, you should be the bigger person, the class act, and shrug it off. In other words, donít let it bother you. It was a lesson in character building and self-control. Sadly, this lesson is not taught today.

In politically correct 2016 America mere words are considered just as bad as physical actions, maybe even worse depending on the words being used. Name-calling by using a racial or sexual slur was always considered not nice, crude, and insensitive. But what was once written off as bad manners or stupidity has risen to the level of "hate crime" in todayís world. And itís not just the obvious invective, common terms that were once considered non-offensive and acceptable are now labeled bad, hurtful, and even evil words.

With each passing year it seems more and more words are being put on the "donít say" list by the speech police in our society. Itís almost impossible to keep up with what words are acceptable and which are not acceptable. And the social stigma in choosing the wrong term can be an intimidating thing. Use the wrong word and you will be labeled a racist or homophobe or misogynist. At what point, I wonder, will people just stop using words all together?

Adding even more confusion to the thing, the "proper terms" keep changing all the time. A word that was absolutely acceptable ten years ago may very well be considered derogatory today. A case in point would be the word "oriental." Oriental was a universal term used to describe someone or some thing from "the Orient" which was another way of saying "the Far East" (the countries to the east and southeast of the Mediterranean).

There was never anything remotely disparaging or belittling in the term, it was a common word used to describe a geographic area, its people and itís products. When someone spoke of Oriental rugs, Oriental spices, or Oriental chicken salad no harm was meant. Now "Oriental" has become one of the forbidden words. Say "Oriental" today and you could be called racist. You wonít find Oriental Chicken Salad on any restaurant menu anymore.

Oriental Chicken Salad became Chinese Chicken Salad. But now Chinese Chicken Salad has been deemed an offensive term as well! Thatís right. The politically correct term is now ASIAN Chicken Salad. What we call the thing next is anybodyís guess. I seem to recall that it was around 20 years ago when the word "Oriental" became inappropriate, but when did the word "Chinese" become inappropriate? I never got that memo. Iím sure that itís only a matter of time that "Asian" will be considered a bad word too.

The list of politically incorrect words and terms continues to grow. It is actually considered insensitive in Sweden to use the words "his" and "her." To promote gender-neutrality the Swedes have decided that using those terms are off limits. And that reminds me, if it is okay to use the term Swedes for the Swedish, Brits for the British, Jews for the Jewish, Finns for the Finnish, Aussies for the Australians, and Laps for Laplanders, why is it wrong to use Japs for the Japanese? Just asking.

Words. The adage for our times might be, "Sticks and stones may break a bone, but words will make me feel bad and thatís why we need a speech free zone."

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's been a JWR contributor since 1999.