Recently I commented on a favorite feminist blog I read off and on and used the expression "lame" in something akin to "videogames objectify women and make me not want to play them and this is wicked lame." Further down the thread, someone agreed with me that Portal was awesome and also said "I just want to point out that you used lame to mean bad and this is not ok"
First off I appreciated the moderate, polite tone the commenter took in drawing my attention to language I used s/he found objectionable.
Secondly, I was completely mortified. That blog in particular is one of the wonderful safe havens on the internet where people’s differences and sensitivities to being other-ified are always honored and dignified with deliberate courtesy/cautious wording. It had never occurred to me to think of the word "lame" as applying to people. I can think of 3 books that describe characters as "lame" indicating they have some sort of leg injury that led to impeded mobility. None of them were written after 1910. I was purely thinking of "lame" in the same category with "bummer" and "what a drag."
It would have been easy to get annoyed with the "world policing" or defensive about my right to use flippant language…I do enjoy my flippancy, probably about 30% more than the average bear.
But if I am going to fight to the ground to get people to stop using "gay" or "retarded" as interchangeable with "stupid" or as any kind of slur, I have to recognize that they are just the starting point. They are just some of the first words that got on the collective radar as objectionable, and as soon as someone puts another word on my personal Mr. Radar, it’s up to me to curb my use of it. Or at the very least, be aware that to some audiences the word might be hurtful or send an unintended sting.
I know I have disability/accessibility advocates on my friendslist now that I might have offended accidentally, despite considering myself the type of ally who wants to make sure worksites are accessible, that language is inclusive, that discrimination is avoided and that fair chances are awarded.
I absolutely have a responsibility to be aware of the language I use if I want to be a part of the conversation being had by people I admire and respect. People whose views I believe can make a difference, and with whom I want to engage. And I have no right to demand that same courtesy about my sore spots if I’m not willing to be aware of those held by others.