Words Can Hurt

I wrote this post when Mr. T first took office, and the world seemed to fall apart. We made it through, mostly intact, but have a hangover of sensitivities now. I’m glad I no longer work in a university system – I tend to talk out loud – and worry that George Orwell’s Newspeak outlined in the novelette 1984 has come true. I don’t know if it will last, and I suspect further troubles. I’ve edited the post with a few current details.


We all know that talk is cheap. We know, too, that words can hurt, and sometimes, they are purposefully meant to. If you watch cable news, you’ve witnessed four years of purposeful hurting. News agencies stick their tongues out at certain groups and call them illiterate dopes and laugh. These groups turn around and do the same thing. These are shafts that break bones and hearts.

But most hurtful words, I think, aren’t intentional. It’s just us, unthinking. Me being unthinking.

Stupid in Georgia

Here’s one of my many gaffs:

I’m back in Georgia, visiting, and a woman I know walks toward me with a limp I don’t remember.

“Hey, Gimpy!” I say.

She kind of smiles. “Hi,” she says.

“What’s with the leg? The limp? You’re limping around like a wounded deer?”

“Oh,” she says. “I’ve got a degenerative bone disease. Doctors say I probably won’t be able to walk in a year.”

What? My gosh. What was wrong with a smiling “Hey! Good to see you!”

At the store

Here’s another one.

My oldest boy and I are at the store, and he is irritating me. What’s new? He’s probably ten or so, and I say something like “Maybe you should ride the short bus to school.” We both think this is pretty funny.

I swivel toward the cashier to pay, and she stands there, stone cold, staring at me like I’m an insect.

“My boy rides the short bus to school,” is all she says. And I am cut in two. I don’t even try to apologize. There’s nothing I can say to redeem myself. I slink off like the insect that I am.


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