Say This, Not That.

Sometimes, we say things that are hurtful. Here’s what to say instead.

Yi Shun Lai

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“That’s just crazy.”

“How lame.”

“I got gypped.”

You may not know it yet, but these common idioms can be deeply hurtful for folks who suffer from mental health issues; folks who are disabled, and people of Romani descent, respectively. And yet, these phrases are common parlance in English. (We’ve all used them, or something like them, before.) You might be tempted to feel defensive about using them, or you might think that they’re truly so common that you can’t escape saying them.

It’s okay to feel defensive. Getting called out for hurting someone’s feelings shouldn’t feel good, because actually hurting someone’s feelings doesn’t feel good. And if you think it’s “normal” to say these things, you’d be absolutely right. There’s a reason we all know what they mean, without anyone having to explain: “Crazy” means something’s truly outlandish, or unbelievable. “Lame” can mean anything from pathetic to not worthy of your time, in a truly disparaging way. Getting “gypped” means you got cheated.

Hopefully now you begin to see how these words might be hurtful. Their normalcy is the very thing that keeps them in everyday use. This is a part of what psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum calls “smog” — these words and their meanings surround us as a part of our culture. But you know what? Culture is always changing. And we can challenge ourselves to…

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Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!