My mother used to say that the overuse of certain slang terms (particularly the 4-letter kind) is an example of lazy speech – it’s easy to use such words instead of thinking of more appropriate or more linguistically creative ways to say what you mean and mean what you say. In other words, to THINK before you speak.
Lately, there have been some words and phrases that evolve from prejudice and are used by people, especially young people, without thinking. People today are very informal with the language they use. They throw out terms casually without thinking about how their words could affect others.
Two examples: “gay” to mean stupid. I really got angry with my son when he used the word “gay” this way. In fact, the word gay has evolved in meaning, but not in a bad way. In my mother’s generation, “gay” meant happy or festive, as in describing a party or clothing. Every Christmas, we sing the carol Deck the Halls, which contains the line “Don we all our gay apparel”. At some point, the term gay became synonymous with homosexual and it has become a part of our lexicon – but not in an insulting way. Using the word “gay” to mean stupid, however, is a relatively new phenomenon derived from prejudice against gay people, and kids use it without even thinking about its real meaning, as often happens.
Another example I’ve heard among young people: “Jew down”, apparently meaning to insult or severely and unfairly criticize someone. My son used this one also, saying it was common among his peers in high school, and I had to give him a talk about the casual use of such terms that are based on prejudice against a group of people. I know he didn’t do this intentionally – in fact, I’m proud of the fact that I raised a kid who is not racist or prejudiced against anyone.
There are other words are used casually by adults which derive from ignorance or because lots of other people use them. I’m thinking of the use of “schizophrenic” to mean someone who does or acts in contradictory ways and the use of “ADD” to refer simply to being disorganized (as in “I’m so ADD today.”)
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness which has nothing to do with split-personality disorder. People who suffer from schizophrenia have altered states of thinking which are not based in reality. They sometimes hear voices and have trouble distinguishing what is real and what is imagined. “Paranoid schizophrenics” are people who take this to an extreme of thinking others are out to get him/her or seeing conspiracy everywhere. This mental illness is far more complex than this, but my point is that the word schizophrenia shouldn’t be misused or used lightly in people’s speech.
ADD is a neurological disability which does have disorganization as one of its main characteristics. However, just because someone is disorganized some of the time doesn’t mean they have ADD. As a person who actually does have this diagnosis, I can tell you that those of you who do not deal with it daily have no idea what it is really like! ADD/ADHD affects my whole life. Children with ADD (ADHD) can have a variety of symptoms which often cause difficulty in school and in social relationships because they aren’t very good at reading social cues. It is not something that kids “outgrow.” Adults with ADD/ADHD may also have problems with relationships or keeping a job, among other things.
So please, everyone, THINK before you speak and be aware of the true meaning of the things you say. You might even learn something!