Alternatives to the Language We Use

In American society, a lot of words are casually kicked around that have the power to be stigmatizing, insulting, and harmful.  Almost everyone is guilty of it; you find out that your friends suddenly broke up, “that’s crazy!” or you hear that there’s no curve on the upcoming exam, “Oh my gosh, that’s insane…” These words, and many others like them, are thoughtlessly thrown around. But by using this type of language, society makes light the experiences of those with mental illness and other types of disabilities.

Photo Credit: only alice via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: only alice via Compfight cc

Because these terms are used so widely across our culture, replacing these words can seem like kind of a hard task. But it is an essential step to destigmatizing mental illness. Many of those with mental illness don’t have the same privilege as those who aren’t triggered when saying or hearing words like crazy, insane, and psycho. Words are powerful. They have the ability to hurt, demean, and stigmatize groups of people. To get started on finding alternatives, we found a great list of suggested words to use.

Lydia X.Z. Brown is an activist, writer and advocate for disability justice. Her website has a page on ableism and language. On it, Brown stated “I have included lists of alternatives to ableist slurs, descriptions, and metaphors, if you’re interested in unlearning the patterns of linguistic ableism in your own language.” Brown also provides a list of ableist words that can be stigmatizing (e.g. crazy, lunatic, nuts, stupid). Here is the list of alternatives from Brown’s website, with added definitions to some terms from dictionary.com:

Suggestions for alternatives

-Asinine- foolish, unintelligent, or silly
-Bad
-Bleak
-Boring
-Bullish- like a bull; obstinate
-Callous-insensitive; indifferent; unsympathetic
-Careless
-Confusing
-Contemptible-deserving of or held in contempt; despicable.
-Coward
-Crappy
-Dense
-Devoid of _____
-Disgusting
-Dull
-Enraged
-Evil
-Extremist-a person who goes to extremes, especially in political matters.
-Furious
-Gross
-Horrible
-Ignoramus-an extremely ignorant person.
-Ignorant-lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned:
-Impolite
-Inane-lacking sense, significance, or ideas; silly:
-Incomprehensible-impossible to understand or comprehend; unintelligible.
-Inconsiderate
-Inconsistent
-Infuriating
-Insensible
-Insipid-without distinctive, interesting, or stimulating qualities; vapid
-Irrational
-Jerk
-Lacking in _____
-Livid
-Mean
-Nasty
-Nefarious-extremely wicked or villainous; iniquitous
-Nonsense
-Nonsensical-foolish, senseless, fatuous, or absurd
-Obtuse-not quick or alert in perception, feeling, or intellect; not sensitive or observant; dull.
-Outrageous
-Overwrought-extremely or excessively excited or agitated:
-Paradoxical-having the nature of a paradox; self-contradictory.
-Pathetic
-Petulant-moved to or showing sudden, impatient irritation, especially over some trifling annoyance
-Pissant-Slang: Vulgar. a person or thing of no value or consequence; a despicable person or thing.
-Putrid-thoroughly corrupt, depraved, or evil.
-Rage-inducing
-Reckless
-Ridiculous
-Rude
-Scornful
-Self-contradictory-an act or instance of contradicting oneself or itself.
-Shameful
-Solipsistic-of or characterized by solipsism, or the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist
-Spurious-not genuine, authentic, or true; not from the claimed, pretended, or proper source; counterfeit.
-Terrible
-Tyrannical-unjustly cruel, harsh, or severe; arbitrary or oppressive; despotic
-Unbelievable
-Unconscionable-not guided by conscience; unscrupulous.
-Unheard of
-Uninspired
-Unoriginal
-Unthinkable
-Unthinking
-Vapid-lacking or having lost life, sharpness, or flavor; insipid; flat
-Vile
-Vomit-inducing
-Without any _____ whatsoever
-Wretched

If you’re interested in learning more about ableism and language, visits Lydia X.Z. Brown’s website.

Have you ever been hurt by the words that people have used around you? What other words might you add to the list of alternatives? Let us know in the comments below!

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Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: https://sova.pitt.edu/i-need-help-now We look forward to talking to you!

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