sticks and stones may break my bones

September 3, 2009

but words will hurt forever.

never were such wise words spoken before (thanks, j.d. from the hit tv show scrubs). sure, you laugh because of zach braff’s sad, chinless face; but there’s truth in it, my friend.

elementary school is a cruel place, because in those particular years of the maturation process children have been taught words, but do not necessarily grasp the true meaning associated with those terms, and much less the social implications of using those words to describe somebody. things said on the playground will stick with us for a long time, and define who we become, what path we choose to walk down, and just exactly how “aware” of society’s failings we will be.

for example: when i was growing up, “gay” in particular was used as an insult, implying that the person or thing in question was stupid or strange, and should be avoided or socially ostracized. and yes, they were insults – but only in the sense that they were insulting to those who are homosexual. sadly enough, i think this little “habit” is still around.

i’m not sure how it started, but i remember being derogatorily called a “lesbian” by my lovely schoolmates before it became the flavor of the month for two women to be kissing each other (by the way, thank you, double standards; and rest easy, i will probably be addressing you very soon as well). i pretty much ignored them because i knew what i was and what i wasn’t and frankly, it didn’t matter what they thought because in the end, i knew for myself. but, it made me wonder why we were supposed to be eager to deny it once being “accused”. i think part of it – maybe even most – was that we wanted to fit in with the others. no child – no person, really – likes to be the one standing off in the distance, being pointed and laughed at.

but then, the social connotation behind the “gay” insult evolved into the fear of the actual thing itself instead of just fear of being left out; and it didn’t help that authority figures all over the place were labeling homosexuality as a “disease” (the details are evading me right now, but i believe that prior to the DSM being updated, homosexuality was actually medically defined as a “mental illness”). then, the whole phenomenon of widespread use of homosexuality as a derogatory label was born. i’m happy to say that among my generation, it has died down quite a bit. however, the trend is still undeniably being perpetuated among my peers and among the current generation of young upstarts. let’s face it – the previous generations may not actually use “gay” as an insult, but i’m pretty sure that their tolerance levels for the rainbow class aren’t too high either.

having said that, i don’t think words will necessarily hurt forever. they, and the marks they leave on our lives, will be there with us for a long, long time, though. and maybe, experiences which affect us negatively like that aren’t so bad, because they can lead to reflection and eventually an attempt to finally address the social roots of the problem.

yours truly and truly yours,



2 Responses to “sticks and stones may break my bones”

  1. chench Says:

    A good read, especially because it’s British:

    It’s interesting how “gay” is now equivalent to “lame”. I call it curious not only because “lame” more archaically means “disabled” (person), but that through the equivalence “gay” now means “out of touch with modern fads or trends; unsophisticated” according to It is calling a person strange, out of touch with the values of society (which in high school means things other than religion and politics, and usually has to do with interests, personality and aesthetics, but nevertheless).

    I would posit that even though “gay” now has lost its literal homosexual meaning when used as slang, its current use directly reflects the core reason why gay people were, and still are, discriminated against. “Gay” is now used against any person, group or concept that has value connotations that the speaker finds disagreeable. It is used to belittle the thing, shove it into a corner and declare it unpopular, a minority. I really don’t think it matters that no kid that uses it still thinks it has anything to do with sex. Any homosexual in high school who decides to show styles, mannerisms or ideological leanings different than what’s considered “popular” or “mainstream” will still be labeled that, so the discrimination continues. And now the word serves as a weapon against any kind, not just kids with same-sex preferences, that decides to do the same.

    BTW, DSM II eliminated homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in 1974 (still waiting for DSM V…). I’m sure The UN delisted it in 1990, and China delisted it in 2001. God bless Wikipedia.

  2. Matt Says:

    From the comments:

    “The problem here is not the word. Gay was introduced because it didn’t have any negative connotations. The fact that it has become an insult indicates that people really do have contempt for gay people. It means that for some people, there is no possible word for gay that is not insulting – just as there is no such word for stupid.”

    And, as a perfect shining example of unconscious privilege:

    “I also think that there seems to be a blind spot amongst linguists when dealing with taboo words. When they are describing some Amazonian tribe that changes the vocabulary used to describe the possessions of a member of the tribe who has died, it is recorded as an interesting objective fact and there is no discussion of whether it would be ethically correct or not to continue using the taboo words, yet when it comes to English we have endless discussions on the logic behind making words taboo.”

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