Sensibly correct, not politically

This weekend, staying at hotel in the countryside, I came across one of my bug bears – a low shower. In the way of the modern age, I took to Twitter to protest “another hotel and another shower installed by a midget” I communicated to the world (or at least those few that pay me any attention).

“You can’t say ‘midget'”, I was told by one of my good friends, “should I say ‘dwarf’?” I responded.
No, I was told, in this day and age – despite Dwarfism being a recognised medical condition (or is it a syndrome?) – the word “Dwarf” is also unacceptable.

Two things struck me about this conversation – first of all the phrase “you can’t say that”. Of course I can say that – I had just done so and wasn’t struck down by lightening or thrown into prison. Whether I SHOULD have said that is different matter.

The second thing, is who is it that decides what should or shouldn’t be said. I was told that SCOPE issues guidelines about this kind of the thing. An unelected, unrepresentative private charitable organisation, campaigning on behalf of a section of society with no statutory power is determining how we should communicate with each other.

And this is the key point, this is a communication issue. Words. Words are simple things, communication tools. How they are used is the important factor. Depending on how they are used words can make you laugh, cry, be inspired, teach, comfort, love, abuse, shock and offend. If my tweet was offensive, it wasn’t because of the word “midget”. If I had said “another hotel and another shower installed by a vertically challenged person” would the tweet being any less offensive?

Of course it wouldn’t, I just wouldn’t have been able to fit it into140 characters!

Last week I had a meeting with an education charity who, in the course of the meeting, got themselves tied into a terrible tangle trying to describe people with hearing difficulties. It seems, that the term “deaf” is unacceptable.

This is surely ridiculous. There is nothing offensive or derogatory about the word “deaf”. I understand that it be used in offensive way – but any word can be used in an offensive way. I could find a way to make “kitten” be offensive if I wanted – but that shouldn’t mean that we need to find an alternative way to describe a feline infant.

Of course there are words in our language that are offensive and are meant as such and I am not defending those – what I am asking for is a little common sense. Let’s change our attitudes not our words. If someone wants to be abusive or offensive they’ll find a way of doing it with whatever words are in use, we cannot keep running away and changing the words.

Because, as I said, this is about communication. And in a world that could be so much better with improved communication, let’s not put up barriers to communication. I am of course not advocating free reign to use any term, there are terms that are designed to be, or have become, derogatory and offensive. But I am calling for some common sense, a recognition of the difference between when people are intending to be offensive or when they are describing the great work that they are doing with deaf children. Let us not be subjected to the diktats of single issue pressure groups, but just be respectful of all of our fellow human beings.

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