Friday, November 25, 2016

Ableist Language in Dialogue

The majority of the population still thinks words like "dumb" and "crazy" are fine to lob in everyday conversation.  Even a lot of disabled/neurodivergent folks use them without being in the position to reclaim them.  Then, there are some who don't want to use the words because of ableism.

For the writers in the "hell no" camp of using certain words, telling a story without them can become complex.  A character doing something ridiculous in modern times is rarely told he's being preposterous.  A highly erratic protagonist isn't going to be told by each character her demeanor is strange or odd, though it might work for a few characters' interactions.  

Child characters are even more difficult.  Few children know words like "ludicrous" or "off-putting", and probably wouldn't use them if they did.  Unless one avoids putting kids in a situation where they need to address someone (or something) with extreme behavior and/or properties, the writer will need to address it, somehow.

Do writers who see words like "stupid" as ableism give themselves a pass when writing fiction?  I haven't asked every single writer, but a fair amount do.  Especially when writing realistic, modern stories.  It isn't easy to work around words the majority of people use.  It's not as simple as avoiding vulgar language.

But a small section of writers refuse to use those words, regardless.  Some set stories in strange lands with made-up words.  Some don't put characters in a situation where they need to address another's odd mannerisms... at all.  Or place their books in a past where different words are said.  Or, maybe, they use words like "odd", "strange", "preposterous".

It's up to each writer to decide.  
What words do you use?

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