So my friend Donna mentions that she started volunteering every morning at a public school in an adjacent town. I ask what her specific job is at South Depressingville Elementary, and she says she's the Parent/ Teacher Liaison (her task is to get more parents directly involved in the education process). Donna is originally from Barcelona, so she’s fluent in Spanish which is the main reason they need her: to translate.
When she's done telling me about this latest selfless philanthropic venture, I say, “Donna, I’m so impressed. What a great thing to do. What exactly inspired you to take this on?”
Without hesitation, Donna replies, “I’m doing it because the kids are poor.”
I am nodding and understanding, but then I think: Wait! Did she just say POOR? Are we allowed to say poor now? I thought we were supposed to say economically challenged or financially disabled or underprivileged or a victim of the current financial crisis ... but poor? Poor’s acceptable now? Huh. Poor does sum it up, doesn’t it. Poor is a powerful word for a powerless people.
The next thing I think is, Woohoo! I guess I can say poor now! And not just as in poor me or Tall, stop hitting your brother—that’s a poor choice or even in the old-stand-by-fall-back poor timing. No. Now I seem to have permission to use the dictionary definition, which is “lacking worldly goods, penniless, moneyless, destitute.” Imagine: I can say what I mean. I feel liberated.
Wait. Donna, does this apply to everything in my life now? Has the Earth just had a major shift on its axis and so now people won’t be offended by me talking? What should I do with black? is black okay? Colored must still be bad (I know colored used to be okay). African-American? That always seems silly to me, because unless your parents just moved here from Ghana 5 seconds ago, you’re pretty much American-American. (That’s what I’m going to say from now on when people ask me my original nationality: American-American!) Chances are, most people who go around saying I’m African-American have lived here their whole lives, as have their great-grandparents.
I didn’t even mention Mexican yet. Is Mexican all right? Or do I have to go with the multi-purpose catch-all Hispanic? My sister Oakley gets so mad at me whenever I say the word Mexican (as in, “I asked the Mexican gentleman standing outside the U-Haul place if he could help me move my new couch for 25 bucks”); she says How do you know he’s Mexican? (uh, the Mexican flag on his t-shirt gave it away?) She says He could be from Uruguay or Puerto Rico or Bolivia or El Salvador, you're insulting him, MOV. So next time I ask the person in question (“De donde es Usted?”); he answers, predictably, “Mexico”. (And honestly, would I be pissed off if someone thought I was from Canada? eh, no.)
I am told that even though I think Mexican is a good idea, I am wrong. Mexican is still, under no circumstances, okay. No. The word I am apparently looking for is Latino. Sigh. Does that mean my Mexican mover-guy is from Latin? As I asked in 7th grade when I was required to take “Intro to Latin”, where, exactly, is Latin? I can’t find it on any map. Am I allowed to say that I'm Atlantic because I live near the Atlantic Ocean? (Granted, I wasn’t born in the Atlantic Ocean, but at least it’s a place I can find on the map.)
What about fat? Is fat okay? I’m kind of tired of saying heavy or heavy-set or curvy or weight-challenged or even the Ultimate Lie: big-boned. I just want to say fat. I'm not trying to be offensive. Heck, I have days when I feel fat, days when only my “fat pants” fit. I don’t go around saying, “Wow, I feel extra voluptuous today, I will wear my anorexic-averse pants”. Oh, and that begs the question: are we allowed to say anorexic? As in, “he is a skinny little skeleton person, he looks anorexic”? Or is that still off-limits?
Ugly. I guess ugly is never good. We'd better stick with unattractive.
I'd like to have the word lazy back, please. Not tired, or unmotivated, or lacks initiative, or energy-depleted, or even likes to lounge. In some cases (okay, many), the right word is actually lazy.
That brings me to stupid. Can stupid work? because sometimes stupid is just the word I’m looking for (“that driver who just cut me off is stupid!”). We tell our sons not to use the word stupid. We make them substitute the generic and totally-wrong-word-choice “silly” instead. But silly is happy or absurd; silly is not strong enough to be stupid.
How about mean? “That girl was mean,” seems to be treading into forbidden territory. I have always been trained to say, “that girl was a tad bit unpleasant” or “I think that girl’s not having a good day” or “that girl was in a bad mood”. No one ever tells me it’s okay to say what I’m really thinking: what a bitch.
Greedy. I love that word! When a small child at the park last year kicked my son Short and grabbed a cookie out of Short’s hand and immediately ate it (causing Short to cry, no surprise there), the child's mom shrugged and said matter-of-factly, “Victor is not a good sharer.” Victor is not a good sharer?!? Victor is greedy!
And Victor's mom? What a bitch.
("Mostly Offensive Vitriol")