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Language Matters (or Does It?)

 The other day I was browsing the feministing community posts. There was one that caught my attention—not the post, but the comments. There was a very angry debate going on about whether certain words that the poster had used were offensive or not. The topic of the post was going ignored, and the issue of offensive language was popping up and detracting from it.  And there was no consensus being reached, just a lot of frustration and misunderstanding being thrown back and forth. 

Ok, so we all know that there has been a lot of heated debated lately regarding the issue of language. Here on feministing, most of agree on what we deem sexist, misogynistic, homophobic and racist language, but we do not always concur on what we call ableistic language.  Outside of feministing, people unknowingly use language that many of us would be offended by, yet they wouldn’t understand why, even if we tried to explain it to them.

 I’ve always been interested in language: semantics, connotations, and its evolution. I realize that language is, at its most basic level, a very very old metaphor. Words can transcend their original, literal denotations and acquire entirely new connotations. For example, the word “back” used to refer exclusively to a part of the body; now it can also mean the posterior of a physical or abstract entity. I can make all sorts of lofty analogies and comparisons to explain why a word like “dumb” isn’t really ...