(Content warning: this article contains ableist slurs for the purposes of definitions)
We all know how language can evolve beyond our control. The word ‘literally’ can now mean the opposite, for example. But there are words that we use that have negative connotations.
The word ‘crazy’ used to mean ‘to be sickly and infirm’ back in the 1500’s but its meaning changed to ‘insane’ or demented’ a century later. In the 20th and 21st century, it became a colloquial term to describe something that was ‘unexpected’. But that change in use doesn’t make it okay in non-derogatory ways.
What is ableism?
Ableism is a form of discrimination against disabled people or those perceived to have disabilities. An example of ableism could be:
- Calling someone ‘mental’ for leaving their door unlocked
- Building difficult-to-read fonts
- Creating a movie without audio descriptions or closed captions
Using ableist terms is a common form of ableism because of our dependence on media and conversation. Words like ‘crazy’, ‘stupid’, or ‘mental’ are still weaponised against people with mental illnesses and reinforce centuries of stigma.
Given the English language’s penchant for stolen—sorry, ‘loan’ words—there are plenty you can use in replacement of these terms. Here are some alternatives.
Note: context is key so some alternatives might not make sense for the same words. That’s for you to decide. These lists are also:
So if I’ve included a term that is considered ableist and you have a better alternative, let me know in the comments and I’ll remove it. Nobody is above reproach regarding ableism and it’s all about doing better by people.
Alternatives to crazy/mental/nuts
Alternatives to stupid
Alternatives to idiot/moron/cretin
- Eliminating Ableism in Education [PDF]
- 6 Forms of Ableism We Need to Retire Immediately
- Defining Disability: Understandings of and Attitudes Towards Ableism and Disability
- Exploring internalized ableism using critical race theory
- Institutionalizing Inequity: Ableism, Racism and IDEA 2004
- Vitalism: Subjectivity Exceeding Racism, Sexism, and (Psychiatric) Ableism [PDF]
- Metaphorically Speaking: Ableist Metaphors in Feminist Writing