Sunday, September 16, 2012

The F Word (No, Not That One)

Sometimes I just don't know how to think of things. I've just recently learned that a new word is on the horizon and growing in its usage. I'm wondering how many of you are aware of the alternate, slang meaning now attributed to the word frittata. As you will have seen if you clicked on the word, it's now being used as kind of a sly reference to the 'r' word - making it such that someone can be slurred by it without suffering the consequences of using the word it's meant to replace. Part of me senses a bit of victory here, simply in the fact that there must be kind of a growing realisation that the 'r' word is unacceptable. Part of me feels frustrated that people are still wanting to 'hang' a negative connotation on intellectual disability and are desperately trying to figure out how to do it - without getting caught.

So, I don't know what to think or how to think about it.

I will admit if I had heard someone using it I would not have noticed nor cared. I didn't know what it meant and I wouldn't have reacted. Someone, however, just the other day, asked me what I thought of "frittata" and I, for a moment, thought they were talking about eggs. They explained. And waited for me to think and respond. But. I didn't know how.

I, partly, thought that every time someone uses 'frittata' it means they aren't using the 'r' word. That's a good thing.

I, partly, thought that every time someone said it they were thinking the 'r' word. That's not such a good thing.

I, partly, thought that perhaps most people who heard it wouldn't understand the link with the 'r' word. That's a good thing.

I, partly, thought that this demonstrates the deep need some have to pursue bigotry at any cost in any way. That's not such a good thing.


I'm lost.

I'm wondering how you all feel. I'd love it if you weighed in on this one.


Purpletta said...

The most profound, thoughtful, insightful, powerful writing I've read in the past few years has to be your piece from a year or two ago, The People Who aRe. From my perspective everything you said in that piece applies to the F-word as well. No matter the word used, any attempt to alienate and disparage a group of people in such a way is reprehensible. Thank you for keeping us thinking -

CL said...

This doesn't have to be all good or all bad -- it can be a combination.

In my view, it's mostly bad with a silver lining.

I think saying a code word to mean the r-word is just as bad as saying the r-word. If I were aware of the meaning of a code word, and someone called me the code word, it would make me feel just as terrible as if they had said the original word. The fact that people using this word *know* people are offended by the r-word but still want to find a way, is especially disheartening, but not unusual. A lot of people will argue their right to say all kinds of offensive things, even the n-word. Lots of people defiantly refuse to alter their language and don't even bother to use a code word.

However, the silver lining is that -- as you said -- it's good that people are starting to recognize that the r-word is considered unacceptable language by many people.

Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by otherwise progressive people who are clueless about the r-word. It's amazing and disheartening how long it's taking for this to become universally unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable - I had no idea! Honestly - if people put as much effort into treating people with respect as they do in circumventing and creating "codes" the world would be a better place.

What a load of coolwhip (code for bullsh*t) - what a waste of time.

Thanks for educating me.

Mary said...

I think that yes, as you put it, this demonstrates "the deep need some have to pursue bigotry at any cost in any way."

I wish it wasn't the case, but... hatred will always exist.

I've always felt that as a general rule, how a word is said is more important than what is said.

Take "special" when used in connection with disability. If I'm asking about access, and a friendly receptionist informs me that the venue has "half a dozen special seats that can just be popped out to make a wheelchair space," then she's being helpful and (to my mind) entirely inoffensive. I also don't have a problem with schools who describe themselves as having a Special Educational Needs Unit, it's a good word describing a difference from the norm.

But then you have the kids jeering at another child, hopping about like savages shouting "special needs! special needs!" and there's no way that's not bullying. You have the impatient person behind you in the queue who sees you fumbling your change and aggressively grunts "are you fackin special or what, get a move on!" making it clear that they hold no respect for you or for anyone "special".

BUT (yeah, always a but with me)

I think that making the challenge on the R-word is to do with more than the word itself.

I think it's about giving ourselves permission and confidence to speak up when we find something offensive.

And that's important. It means we can learn how to say "please stop saying/doing (x), it's making me feel uncomfortable," and also that we can learn to respond with grace when challenged ourselves. Cos I know that in many fields I'm one of those progressive-yet-clueless people that CL mentions. So I'd quite like it if people feel okay to politely challenge my mistakes so that I can apologise, correct, and learn.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

I did not read the other comments before answering you on purpose because I wanted to state the first thing that came into my mind after reading your post. So sorry if I say something that was already said.

The first thing I had to do after reading that somone now using the word frittata as retard made me laugh out very loud. It is kind of amusing, that someone tries to change something that can sound as insulting as retard with a delicious word that sounds happy. - At leat for me.

Frittata conjurs similar reactions to me like for instance maccarena or supercallifragilistiexpiralidocious. Great words; frittata scrambeld eggs with potatos or veggies last time cooked by my spanish friends when we met for a nice evening. Kind of a surprise dish with delicious components. No one of any kind of intellect could hurt mewith a word like that.

So the joke is on them....

It simply not hurting, doesnt work, not like the word retard the woman on the bus used in your lastpost. Thatwould have hurt even if I had said itto myself for scolding me after a stupid deed. Frittata would only make me smile about my sometimes jumbled up thoughts.

Well as I said; the joke or insult would be with the other person!


John R. said...

Bigotry is a simple and complex way of life. Lexicons and colloquialisms exist in all societies, cultures and subcultures. It is a shame that the energy spent on creating hate language in bigotry couldn't be spent on creating and learning about the beauty of human diversity, difference and disability pride.

I have not heard of this F word usage. I will be on the listen for it. Thank you Dave for the alert.

Tamara said...

Any word that's used as a pejorative to reduce someone's value is the same as the R Word to me. It has always left me speechless to hear/read people who vehemently oppose the R word use so many other words that were once used to describe intellectual disability - I'll just type them out ... moron, imbecile, cretin, idiot. Just this week I heard a man on a news show use the term "mouth breather" to describe the people who made the hate movie that's caused all the latest protests in the Middle East.

A long time ago, a young man I worked with used the term "SPED" in the same way. I had no idea what he was talking about until he explained it to me.

Not all uses of these words come out of bigotry. Much of the time they are bad habits, speaking without thinking, speaking out of frustration. But, they shouldn't be used to describe people or things we don't agree with or whose actions we don't like. And they never, ever should be directed at any person - most especially a person with an intellectual disability.

And I'm not seeing any silver lining. People with intellectual disabilities will hear the pejorative in the non-verbal tone of the remark. People may be starting to recognize that the r-word is unacceptable, but they're obviously not understanding the concept that reducing people to their IQ is just uncivilized.

To me, that may be evidence that we won a little "battle", but it doesn't sound like we are winning the "war".


Anonymous said...

I'm not saying it's right, or it's wrong, as I see all the points that Dave has made. But when I say "fudgeknuckles" instead of F**K or "shoot" instead of S**t, it feels less offensive and more socially acceptable (especially in front of my young child). I, myself, do not form the whole of society, so I guess I don't really know if it is more socially acceptable or not. But it is to me.

It is obviously no coincidence that the words in question sound so similar. There is certainly more premeditation because it starts with a different letter--an open defiance to the thought that the R-word is inappropriate. It *feels* more offensive somehow than the person who really *wants* to break with the R-word but is so conditioned to using it that a lot of things are all of a sudden "reeeeeee-diculous." The "ridiculous" person at least seems to be making an effort rather than thumbing their nose.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I am not surprised that a "code" word has been invented. Until we change the attitudes, there will continue to be derogatory words. And the attitudes of prejudice against people with developmental disabilities are very deeply entrenched - and there does not seem to be much general interest in changing them. (obviously you and your blog readers are interested in this change but the general public I believe is not.)

Thanks for letting us know about the new f word.


wheeliecrone said...

It is an epithet. It is disrespectful. It implies that one group of people is less than.

Them. It turns a group of people into Them. Not part of Us.

We don't need any more words that separate people. We need words that unite. We need words that include.
Frittata is no more inclusive than that 'r' word that we are trying to delete from Society's vocabulary.

The only frittata I am interested in uses eggs.

Shan said...

Nope, I think it's a good thing. I'm sure we say a lot of things in regular life nowadays, that at one time were offensive and have now just become a part of language, which is an evolving thing.

I personally wouldn't react to "Frittata" the same way as as "ret*rd", even if I know that ORIGINALLY it was intended to mean the same thing.

Plus give it a few days, the word will be in common use without half the kids out there even knowing the original intent and meaning. They'll just pick it up as 'current', and maybe they'll start to think of 'ret*rd' as passe.

Especially since the people I know who still use the R word, use it towards themselves, as the woman on the bus, and not as an epithet hurled at someone else. (And yes, I know it's still wrong.) It's not as if they are going to be leaning over, nudging one another, and whispering 'frittata' when a person with Downs Syndrome walks by.

I can see why you're not sure how to react. As for me, I would take it as 85% positive.

Anonymous said...

I think it depends entirely on whether people hear frittata as a euphemism for the other word. By 'people’ I mean those who use the word, those who hear the word, those who care about prejudice, and more than anyone else, those who feel that r****d refers to an aspect of their identity).
I use the word idiot when referring to illogical, nonsensical, careless behaviour with negative outcomes. I feel uncomfortable bcos I know it’s connection with a now rejected system of classifying cognitive disability. But that connection is historical rather than current. I hear that young people use the word mong without understanding it’s origin- but people who hear it who have connections with the condition trisomy 21 know what it means, and may know the perjorification along two axes that is associated with it. So I call that one out.
There has to be words in the language to express disdain for perceived poor decision making. Are there any that DON’T refer to some axis of oppression? I won’t use blond, irish, female logic, childish etc... so idiot and idiotic are the words in my vocabulary.
If frittata can lose it’s ‘sounds like’ connection, then great, I can stop using idiot, with it’s shameful history.... would I say, ‘that’s frittatic?"

Bubbles said...

I have such a huge issue with intent and motivation! It is one thing to say the words without knowing... it is a whole other to find a substitute word to avoid negative consequences which allows you to be deliberately cruel and to discriminate! To me, it is a hate crime and harrassment. You know what you are doing, you know the effect your behaviour is having on others.... you choose to continue to be malicious in a very fraudulent way....

CapriUni said...

Anon. at 16 September 2012 12:06 asked:

"Are there any that DON'T refer to some axis of oppression?"

I choose to use the word "Ignoramus"-- it comes from the 15th Century legal system, and was originally used as a condemnation by the members of the jury for a prosecutor who levied a 'guilty' charge against someone without providing proper evidence ... comes from the Latin for "Doesn't know," and to me, it connotes WILLFUL ignorance -- someone who has access to knowledge, but chooses their prejudice instead.

As in: People who would rather spend their energy inventing new pejorative code words instead of accepting the full humanity of others, are nothing but a mob of no-good ignoramuses!

krlr said...

"Retarded" was originally used clinically to describe those with learning disabilities. It fell out of favor once the 8 year olds on the playground started using it to slander other 8 yr olds. "Special" started filling the professional language void - but as some of your other commenters noted, it's now being used to the exact same effect as R*tard. ANY WORD, said in that snarly jeering voice can be insulting (Don't be such a *girl*)... but even said lightly, frittata isn't being used clinically or to describe rainbows & puppies. No.

I suggest asshat.

Belinda said...

The conversation on terms of insult made me think of a verse in the book of Matthew in the New Testament. I like this version from the version called "The Message:"

Matthew 5:22
The Message (MSG)

21-22 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

Belinda said...

Re. My recent comment: Not that I'm never angry with anyone, I hasten to add, lest I sound self righteously smug. But I love the point that words kill and terms of derision are just wrong and I'm sure it's doubly so when the term of derision connects the insult with any group of people.

Heidi said...

Moron, idiot, retard, etc were all medical terms used to measure "degrees of abnormality"(Not my words you all understand!!) Remedial, special ed, additional needs are all labelling words used by education, health and social services to categorize and "identify" certain individuals (interestingly enough, for their supposed benefit?)...this classification almost inevitably leads to negative connotations seeing as schools are set-up/driven/mandated to demonstrate high academic results above all else. I think it's a good thing if words that don't have "official" usage enter daily language to replace those words that have much more damaging connotations and links with the past
- we all have "frittata" moments don't we?

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard of this one, personally. It's hard to be offended by the word frittata, isn't it? Such a delightful, delicious dish, with endless variations on it; how could it be used in such a divisive fashion?

Very weird, the lengths people will go to draw lines to divide Them and Us...


Ann said...

This type of thinking confirms how much work people with disabilities and supporters have to do to teach people how to respect them as equal members of society.

New words will continue to be developed if the view of the general population is not slowing changed through clear advocacy work.

I believe we can get there. With strong voices and hard work.

Anonymous said...

Fritatta? Really?
With the DSM getting rid of the Medical Term "Mental Retardation" and replacing it with "Intellectual Disability", I expected the new put down to be "look at the ID's (paging Dr. Freud lol"
I have always thought those who throw pointless insults are just insecure people trying to make themselves feel superior for a fleeting moment by picking on someone with an obvious problem. But I know (and so do they) that the insults are only a cover for the hurt or insecurity they themselves live with every day.
Fritta with bacon mmmmmmm
I guess I am happy that in my time I saw one insult changed for another?
Have a great day

Rickismom said...

whenever an old word for "retardation" becomes unacceptable, a new one comes to take it's place. If used in the same mean way, it is just as bad

wendy said...

When I was teenager I had a friend who used the word "shrub". This was derived from a metaphor she used, "So and So has an IQ 2 points higher than a shrub". It was an insult, though not one she'd have used against a person with a developmental disability.
It sounds a lot like "Frittata" in that it was not widely understood and could be used anywhere without offending.
When she nicknamed me "Shrubby", however, I can assure you it hurt.
When one kid calls another kid who is "in on it" Frittata that will hurt too.
Just my thoughts.

Josiah said...

The primary problem with "retard" isn't that kids use it as an insult. It's that adults use it as a justification for seeing others as not quite human and stripping people of their civil rights.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that it isn't worthwhile fighting the battle against the "R" word (or any of its synonyms, well known or not).

BUT. I tend to feel that we are simply not going to win this war over the long term until we find a way of teaching people to understand that having a disability--intellectual or not--does not in any way, shape, or form make you a "lesser than" person.

For as long as people continue to view people with disabilities in a negative way, people will continue to derive new insults that exploit other people's intimate association of the concept of "disability" as equating to the concept of "bad" or "inferior" or "sub-human".

In other words, EVERY SINGLE TERM we ever try to invent for people with disabilities as way of replacing insulting language with respectful language WILL EVENTUALLY BE USED AS AN INSULT.

Today, the term we use when striving to be "politically correct" (or, simply respectful) is the term "intellectual disability". Not only in Canada and the US but also in many other countries (though in the UK, they use "learning disabilities").

But just you watch. At some point in the next 10 to 20 years, school yard children will start using "intellectual disabilities" as a school yard insult. Then the use of this term will become so hurtful that people will wonder why we ever thought it was a good term to use. Then we'll have to invent something new to call people with intellectual disabilities that won't have all the hurt attached to it. Instead of (or in addition) to trying to stop the "R" word, we will then ALSO need to get people to stop using the "I" word.

Then another 10 to 20 years after that, we'll have to replace the next term, and the next, forevermore.

UNTIL and UNLESS we can attack the problem at the ROOT. Language is not the root. The real root is the attitudes that people hold toward the very concept of disability. I know this is a controversial idea because there seem to be a lot of people out there wedded to the concept that attitude can't change until language usage changes. But I disagree. I'm not saying we can't work on the language usage issue--this does still matter. But I think we won't really get rid of the language usage problems for once and for all until ATTITUDE changes FIRST.

We've seen the same thing happen to the word "gay" -- this was a term that WE GLBT people created to describe itself (not me personally, because I wasn't born then, but older GLBT people who were around in I guess the first half of the 20th century). And for a while it was the "PC" term that non-homophobic people learned to use. Then kids started using it as an insult ... not because it was one, but because so many people still have negative attitudes toward GLBT people that any words associated with us automatically became associated with negative ideas.

People need to be challenged on why they view "disability" as being inherently bad, negative, sub-human, etc., and challenged to evolve new perspectives and attitudes. If the only thing they learn is "use term X instead of term Y" this will not help if they miss the more essential point that people with disabilities are HUMAN BEINGS, and that our experience is part of the wider diversity of humanity.

Andrea S

Ettina said...

"I'm not saying it's right, or it's wrong, as I see all the points that Dave has made. But when I say "fudgeknuckles" instead of F**K or "shoot" instead of S**t, it feels less offensive and more socially acceptable (especially in front of my young child). I, myself, do not form the whole of society, so I guess I don't really know if it is more socially acceptable or not. But it is to me."

There's a big difference between swear words and slur words. Swear words are just words we've designated as impolite so we can use them to express impolite thoughts. But if you look at the meaning, one of the words means 'sexual activity' and the other means 'feces' - neither refers to a stigmatized group of people. I don't really think comparing swear words and slur words is a valid comparison.

Anonymous said...

: slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress.

The word is not obscene or vulgar. Why are people trying to make it taboo? Why are they not up in arms about the word "idiot"? If the new official term is "mentally deficient" then people will probably use the word "deficient" as an insult. Will you demonize that word as well?