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Words can hurt you

April 18, 2006|by FEDORA COPLEY

Although it hasn't been a major topic in the news, the recent incident of Tiger Woods' use of the word "spaz" in an interview has brought into question words some Americans use daily but which have derogatory meanings.

"Spaz" can refer to a person with cerebral palsy, and could be offensive, but people also use the word generically to talk about someone who is clumsy or graceless.

Used in a similar way are the adjectives "gay" and "retarded," which originally described certain groups of people and which now are used in general, negative ways. It's easy to forget the meaning behind something seemingly insignificant like a word.

Generally the original use of an adjective like "gay" or "retarded" is lost when it's used to describe something stupid, weird, bad, etc. So I'm not saying people who use these words are horrible, homophobic people and should completely stop using them. However, people who are homosexual or mentally challenged might take offense, and not without justification. It's important to put yourself in another's position and think about it from their perspective.

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To be fair, words are just sounds, just symbolic representations of thoughts and emotions. You can find something offensive in almost any word if you look hard enough. But hey, speaking is one of the main ways of communicating with people and I certainly know words can pack a punch.

Sometimes it's hard to find a distinction between light humor and intentional malice. I don't mean to lecture about not doing this and that, but I think choosing your words isn't such a bad thing to do consciously.

I'm all about creativity - being distinctive, being myself, not following pop culture just because everyone else is (unless I like what I see). When I hear the words "gay" and "retarded" being used in a negative context, I don't necessarily think "What an insensitive person." Instead, I tend to think it's a fairly uncreative way of speaking.

It's not that the person I hear using such an adjective is less self-expressive than someone who uses different adjectives. It's more along the lines of "Geez, couldn't they think of something more specific and interesting to say?"

If this subject is at all engaging, there's more food for thought on the Web. Search on Google or visit this online conversation: forums.mac rumors.com/showthread.php?t=193343&page=2

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