I can be as much of a language snob as the next person, especially when it comes to middle aged adults appropriating youth terms (as I am wont to do.) Sometimes it is amusing – my former supervisor used to say “Hit Me On My Hip” and slap her hip which was her way of teasing her teenaged sons about their use of slang. And there are hundreds of blog posts (I checked) about adults using phrases to the point that censorship is considered a good idea (not by me, I prefer gently mockery.)
Some frequent offenders
You get the picture – when word play turns creepy because reasonable adults are unable to use the many, many words in the English language to capture their emotions. And by creepy, I mean annoying and exasperating in a completely subjective way. For the most part, no one is hurt in the usage of these terms if you ignore the embarrassed teenagers.
But there’s one term that often falls into this category that actually gives me pause – cray cray (and the short version cray.)
This phrase goes right through my eye-roll to pierce my soul in a way few other terms do. It is such a mean spirited and ugly way to reduce a human being to their alleged mental health diagnosis. Or to diagnose them. As a person living with mental illness, I can assure you there are plenty of words out there that suck when used by almost anyone in a non-clinical setting.
These are terms people tend to use when they are playing amateur psychiatrist and stripping the object of their wrath of credibility and value because of perceived mental health issues. They aren’t funny and they are rarely used in a neutral or credible manner. That’s because people who are educated to diagnose other human beings tend not to do so on Facebook. The intent is to put the person on the defensive and strip them of some tools they might use to defend themselves, tools that could play into the accusation of being unhinged, right? It is a tactic often deployed by men in domestic violence scenarios – why would anyone believe their poor disturbed wife?
Words such as crazy, loco, loony, delusional, etc aren’t much better but in my personal opinion, they’ve been diluted quite bit a by usage. We often use these terms to describe situations not just people. Does that make it okay? Probably not. But I like to pick my battles. Calling me crazy doesn’t have the same power as shortening a diagnosis into a slur (schizo.)
Cray cray absolutely fits into the first category. Crazy is okay with me, but cray cray makes me seethe. It is almost an attempt to amp up crazy to its vicious, ridiculous and demeaning days. Both are slurs, but cray cray has the added benefit of being trendy and hip. So harm slips into conversations that might otherwise be considered benign.
I wish people would stop using slurs about mental illness. I do it myself and perhaps I’m rationalizing a bit to much in this post. Earlier this week, a commenter on Facebook lectured me about checking my privilege after using cray cray to describe me. When I called that person out on this obvious double standard, they edited the comments without any further explanation or clarification. Or an apology. I have no doubt they will continue to spew that unpleasant term in the future when someone offends them. How sad and immature.
And ineffective, too. Bringing slurs into the conversation doesn’t clarify your argument or lift up the points your make. Slurs derail conversation. I’m pretty up front about living with mental illness so if your opening comment involves a slur, I assume you are focused on cutting me down rather than discussing the point. The same would be true if you used a gay slur in conversation.
I have the same reaction when I hear someone drop the word retarded – I immediately think of the many lovely people I know with developmental disabilities and I see red.
This isn’t about word policing. Writing a post about why you should immediately stop appropriating the language of youth is word policing (and I really dislike that phrase anyway.) I’m asking you to consider my feelings when you speak. Cray cray hurts. There’s nothing soft or benign about it. The English language is lush and complex, filled with many delightful adjectives and adverbs you can use to describe your day to day experience. Do you have to use slang that hurts people you love, respect or value? Value of course should include everyone with mental illness who are often deemed to have limited value in our society.
Insulting me because I’m living with mental illness is too easy. I do and say lots of things that you can critique, dismantle and refute with your words. How I respond is on me. It is certainly not your responsibility to protect me from my illness. But I do think it is reasonable for me to push back when you use words that cause active harm. It is your choice where you take this.
We can train ourselves to stop using words. Google it and find a method that works for you. Get a thesaurus to look up luscious new words to add to your vocabulary. They are plentiful.
YOLO, after all. Why waste a precious moment hurting someone for no discernable reason?
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