About 380573 times per day, I hear some variation of the following from a lot of different people, many of them extremely conscientious and aware:
“That’s so lame”.
And so on. This word has become the trendy go-to that seems to be used in any situation where a negative value judgment is required. Here’s why I think it needs to stop:
The original definition of lame is a person with a physical impairment. Many people don’t know this, but when you use the word lame as a negative descriptor, you are technically equating those who might identify as being lame with whatever negative judgment you are trying to convey. (This is similar to why it’s extremely offensive to use ‘gay’ and ‘retarded’, among others, as alternatives for negative descriptors).
‘Yes’, you might say, ‘but it’s such a useful word. Its definition has evolved so much… it’s taken on a whole different meaning’. A lot of people make the same argument; that lame has taken on a new meaning as something uncool, not fun, or unoriginal. The truth of the matter is that the original definition still exists, is still used, and is still identified with. As with any derogatory word, not every person with (or without) a disability will be hurt by this, but my philosophy is that if there is a chance of hurting even one person with a misspoken word, then just don’t say it. In a world where people with disabilities have been oppressed to all sorts of extents, it’s not fair for able-bodied people to feel they have the right to redefine words in that way. In addition, there are so many other words that could be used instead, so let’s use those instead of one that has the potential to exclude. Let’s make a conscious decision not to contribute to oppression because we’re too lazy to come up with a better word. And yeah, ‘lame’ is used as a negative descriptor by people with all sorts of abilities. BUT it also can be really offensive and excluding for others.
Here are a couple paragraphs from a blog post that explains things pretty well:
“… maybe — since people have been historically all-too-willing to relieve disabled people of the burden of having to live through all that suckiness — just maybe disability activists know what [they’re] talking about when they say that the constant condensation of visible disability with “suckiness” as a metaphorical cultural touchstone has real, concrete, and evil ramifications on the lives of people with disabilities.”
Stuck for an alternative? Generally, it helps to just use a word that’s more precise for the situation – you’ll sound smarter as well. Here are a few suggestions:
Uncool, Unoriginal, Silly, Unfortunate, Boring, Absurd, Ridiculous, Unappealing