Afternoon Inquisition

AI: All this Kirksy Politically Correct bullshit

Last week, Maria wrote a post titled “Things to do When the Internet Makes You Crazy“.

Then we got a commenter who pointed out that “crazy” isn’t a very nice term, that it’s ableist and belittling to people who suffer from mental illness. Maria changed the word “crazy” in the title to “enraged”. But the comment sparked a lot of discussion behind the scenes over PC-ness of terms and whether the nuance of language makes it more or less acceptable to use words that others object to. And whether every instance of “un-PCness” is fair.

We discussed whether certain terms are really worthy of extra thought and care. Who can reclaim a term. When terms can and cannot be reclaimed.

In the end it was a really interesting discussion, and I’d like to think I came away as a more compassionate person. That maybe, if someone tells me that a term hurts them, I don’t get to decide whether or not I’m actually hurting them. I know they’re hurt. My only decision is whether or not I want to keep hurting them or not. Usually, the answer is no.

In fact, I went ahead and coined the term “Kirksy”. Because I use the word “crazy” a lot. And, really, it’s not the best word to describe most “crazy” shit. You know, is what went down really analogous to mentally illness? Or is it super bizarre or illogical or flies in the face of all that is reasonable? Would that “crazy” thing be better compared to, say, Kirk Cameron? The answer is yes.

Remember when Amy replaced gendered swears with “crotch”? Let’s try to do the same thing with the word “kirksy.”

“That’s some kirsky shit Mitt Romney said.”

“I am kirksy in love with you.”

“Hey, I just met you, and this is kirksy, but here’s my number… banana phone me maybe.”

So, what do you think? Is remembering not to use words like “gay” and “retard” too much trouble? Is PC-ness a legit thing? How do you plan on working “kirksy” into your day to day language? Do you think “kirk-kirk” will be as catchy as “cray cray”? Instead of twirling your finger next to your head should you mimic peeling a banana? What’s your favorite example of Kirk Cameron displaying his Kirksiness?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. Hmm… I wonder about this. I remember once commenting about a disorder from which I suffer on a Pharyngula comment board, and then being challenged to prove it by another commenter. When I told him “Don’t be a dick,” I was then attacked for using gendered insults. Of course, the rough-and-tumble of that environment is one in which you really can’t take anything personally, but it did get me to think. Because “DBAD” is something I believe I’ve heard from many calm, rational, nonsexist people, including Phil Plait. How did that call to reason become an insult?

    I think we have to go beyond the term “Politically Correct,” because the connotation is that one controls their speech merely because of policy. It’s like the “honesty is the best policy” fail – in my view, honesty should be an impulse, not a policy. You should speak the truth from an inner sense of right and wrong, not from an outer one. The same applies to speech about disorders.

    I’ve heard people who suffer from personality disorders use the word “crazy” as a pejorative plenty of times, and have it used around them without offense. Often, it’s those around them who want to stop the use of the word, to keep them from being hurt.

    I wonder, since we now have so many other, more accurate terms like “schizophrenic,” “sociopathic,” and so on in reference to mental disorder, whether the word “crazy” has become disassociated from common use towards those with mental disorders. Could it be that we now culturally use it as a way to say “unreasoning” rather than “mentally unfit?”

    Mind you, I’m not taking a stand on any of this, but just curious about the progression of cultural norms and language.

    1. FWIW, being asked to prove your disorder on the internet is totally dickish. Or douchey. Or whatever term means “meanie butt face.” That person was a total meanie butt face to you. DBAMBF.

    2. I would never use crazy to describe somebody suffering from mental illness. My family has gone through hell from all of the problems that surrounded my grandfather’s schizophrenia. My mother also suffers from mental illness as well, which puts a strain on all who love and care about her.

      To me, crazy has become slang for a variety of different states of being that are not associated with mental illness or mental disorders. For that reason, using it in those ways do not bother me. It only bothers me when it is used to describe somebody somebody who has been afflicted with a mental disorder or illness. I consider it right up there with calling somebody with a physical impairment a cripple.

      If somebody is offended by the slang use of crazy, then it is a good policy to back off from the use of that word when that person may be present. Kirksy would be quite appropriate here.

    3. I was told on Pharyngula not to use butthurt because of a male rape connotation… I was not convinced at first but plenty of people agreed so I though why not use ‘miffed’ instead. So much more civilised a word anyway ;-)

      When it comes down to it I usually try to not really upset people – maybe get them annoyed at most – so why use words that may provoke an extreme reaction. Also the surreality of not being able to be butthurt while having dead porcupines inserted anally on Pharyngula on a regular basis appealed to me.

  2. The line I draw is that I don’t use a term when someone the term might apply to objects. If it’s a third party being protective on their behalf then that’s the kind of thing that gives PC a bad name.

    So, I will now talk about terms that do apply to me to illustrate my argument.

    I’m a diabetic. The people saying that I should instead be called a ‘person with diabetes’ are trying to be sensitive on my behalf when I see no problem with the term.

    I have type 1 diabetes. Call what I have ‘juvenile onset diabetes’ and I will get angry because you’re defining me out of existence. Only a minority of type 1’s acquire the condition in adulthood but we do exist.

  3. I actually think this is an important topic. Although it can definitely be taken too far, being sensitive in our language (especially in public), or PC, or whatever you want to call it, is a sign of civility and maturity

    I’m consistently astonished by how many self-described skeptics use the terms “that’s so gay,” and “you’re such a fag,” or “that’s so faggy.” When I bring up how rude and inappropriate this is, they usually start quoting “South Park” episodes, trying to convince me that “language evolves,” and that people need to “get over it.” Not very PC, and definitely not very mature.

    If I tell you that something hurts and upsets me, and you can avoid doing that but refuse to, you’re not engaging in “the evolution of language.” You’re an ass.

    1. Agreed. As director of a teen performing arts academy for four years, I heard “that’s gay” many times. I just do not tolerate that form of verbal abuse around me anymore. What’s “gay?” A lot of incredibly brave, talented people, who have helped to make the world a better place.

      1. Thanks to “Gary Benchley, Rockstar” (a novel by Paul Ford, even though I never found myself prone to using the term “gay” I did find an alternative that worked and actually made sense to me, “creed” (Creed; a band worse than Train). “That’s so Creed”, “Don’t be Creed man”, “Hey! Creeder! Watch the road!”.

        Will I be able to adopt “Kirksy” into my lexicon as easily as I was able to find use for “Creed”?

        Only time will tell my friend, only time will tell.

  4. I like “Kirkksy.” My mom had a breakdown and was institutionalized for several months when I was in elementary school. She had a lot of shame about it, and I have worked hard to not feel ashamed that I’ve been on anti-anxiety meds for several years–people who know me socially are shocked when I mention it casually if such things come up in conversation, because I “don’t seem like that sort of person.” So I guess, yeah, I feel like there’s still a lot of negative stigmatism around mental issues, and I try to find alternatives to “crazy” if that’s not really what I mean.

    On a similar note, I have said something to my husband several times over the years about using “gay” as a perjorative–he has insisted that he doesn’t mean it as an analog for “homosexual,” but I’ve convinced him (I think!) at this point that whether he intends it that way or not, it does come across as a slur. He’s a better person than that, so why use that sort of language? And now, he doesn’t.

  5. I work for an agency that provides supports for people with developmental disabilities, so I get annoyed (not offended) when I hear people use the word “retarded” or “retards” as a synonym for stupid or stupid people. Portmanteaus like “Christard” and “republitard” get thrown around a lot too. I think they reflect a great deal of insensitivity. While I often let remarks like these slide without comment, I am troubled when skeptics throw terms like these around so casually, especially if they’re engaged in debate on a topic in which I’m in agreement with them. We are going to win anyone over to a more skeptical way of thinking if we come across as a bunch of kirksy crotches.

    1. I dimly recall a reader once taking Dan Savage to task for using the term ‘retarded’ all the time, and he decided to replace it with ‘leotarded’.

  6. Personally, this ‘political correctness’ is making me CRAZY. Yes CRAZY. I am not belittling anyone by using the word ‘crazy’ to describe the intense feelings of anxious frustration and mind numbing confusion I have. If I were to have said, “Crazy people are all lying about how crazy they are”, THEN I would be alluding to those people with mental illness and belittling their condition.
    PC-ness has gotten so out of control that while it may have at one time had good intentions, it is now nearly meaningless.
    “But wait! Then I should be able to call someone a retard or retarded!”, someone will say.
    Sure, as long it it was appropriate. Using it as a casual insult is pretty crass though. It comes close to an actual mental condition or “Mental retardation” that is far to common. While a doctor may include “Mental retardation” on someone’s medical records, it is HIGHLY unlikely that a doctor will include “Jerry is crazy!” to my medical records. Although this doctor might describe my actions as crazy.
    “Jerry is CRAZY!” is okay.
    “Jerry is RETARDED!” is crass and not clever.
    “Jerry will, with one hand tied behind his back, RETARD the Enemy’s advance and become a HERO!” Unlikely, but grammatically correct.

        1. Oh DEAR. How dare she “hurt” a rich, white christian male who is seeking to discriminate and oppress entire groups of people. OH NO!! She might hurt his widdle feelings! How *awful*!!

          Are you fucking serious here?!

        2. No, but seriously, please explain to me exactly how she is “hurting” this guy.

          I am CURIOUS as hell how this guy can be hurt by Elyse posting some shit on a blog on the internet.

          Truly. Truly curious.

      1. As a relative of a person who is MUCH more vulnerable to verbal assault because of his incapacity in certain areas, I would like to say if you are thick skinned as a football and a badass…then you really shouldn’t be thinking of yourself as the metric by which all insult is judged. It’s not people like yourself anyone is concerned with. Some of us have been worn down by a lifetime of verbal assaults the likes of which you cannot imagine…and perhaps dealt out at some point in your life.

        As for all these terms I object because it’s a fucking lazy use of language. You can and ought insult people with flair, wit and direct assault while not taking out the most vulnerable onlookers who are NOT nearly as tough as you are.

        I doubt very much Christopher Hitchens ever took out a debater by calling him a “retard” or a “crazy”… and that’s why we love him. He was brutally specific. Can’t we be much more so? If he did, it was likely in summation after a complete compound sentence which left his opponent no wiggle or waffle room whatsoever.

        Who was it said my job is to afflict the powerful and comfort the afflicted…something to that effect?

        Be. Better. Writers.

  7. Maybe it’s because I am not a native English speaker that to me the word “crazy” has, and always had, an insulting character. Telling a person who has a mental disorder that he is “crazy” would feel wrong for me. “Crazy” and “stupid” are very much the same for me, except that “crazy” feels more active, more aggressive.

    So when I use “crazy”, it’s usually because I actually try to insult someone, or to point out that she is really stupid. Therefore, it is hard for me to see how people with serious mental problems can be offended by it – they are not crazy, they are ill. But hey, maybe that’s just my wrong interpretation of words.

    “Kirksy”, on the other hand – are you serious? In order to avoid insulting mentally ill people, you rather go the risk to insult all people whose name is “Kirk”? – And, as obvious as it may be, I think that I should also mention that this may be insulting to Kirk Cameron. Should it be okay to insult him?

    I have no trouble insulting Kirk Cameron (or anyone else) when this happens with reference to a concrete context (for example, something which that person has said or done), and after showing that in this context, the statement that insults him is really funded on a factually correct line of reasoning. So, when you have shown conclusively what you mean, and when you add a little rage or annoyance to it, then I think some use of strong language is justified. (Saddam Hussein was a jerk.) But of course, if someone can conclusively show that your assumptions or reasoning are wrong, you must be ready to take back what you said and apologize.

    But by calling something “kirksy”, implicitly referring to Kirk Cameron, without any specific context, is just a plain insult. And I don’t see how this can be justified. Sure, I agree that he said a lot (!) of stupid things, maybe he believes a lot of really stupid things (or he intentionally lies to deceive people), and maybe he is not a very intelligent fellow. But how would that ever be a good reason to create an insulting word with reference to that person? – Isn’t that kind of the same as what you are trying to avert in the first place?

    Also, imagine how much more difficult this would make having a dialog with people of a differnt mindset. Some people might agree with Kirk Cameron, or some might just see themselves as christians, and while they don’t completely agree with him, they feel that subtle sympathy because at least he shares the same religion with them. Now, if the skeptic community (or atheist community, or whatever other name you want to give to it) is generally known for routinely insulting Kirk Cameron, without any context whatsoever, just by re-labelling an insulting word with his name, then this already creates a big distance which is hard to cover.

    When thinking about it, I try to turn this situation around and imagine that I would start a discussion with someone who belongs to a group that use “dawkinzy” instead of “crazy”. It would not really help me my trust in the possibility of having a constructive conversation with that guy.

    Yes, words can create barriers. For me, reducing those barriers and improving the openness for discussion is the single greatest argument in favor of politically correct language. “Kirksy” does not strike me as very mature. It rather appears to me as a very bushy move.

    1. I’m not insulting PEOPLE named Kirk. I’m insulting Kirk Cameron, who yes, deserves it for people a terrible person. And if someone wants to say that they are insulted by the fact that they agree with a homophobic misogynist who thinks it’s a crime that we teach science in science class, then I’m okay with insulting that. Because that shit is straight up kirksy.

      1. What if other people named “Kirk” would be offended? As long as *you* say it’s okay, it’s okay?

        Go ahead, insult Kirk Cameron. Continue to show his idiocy, I’m all for it. Put arguments forward, make his stupidness obvious to everyone who might be even just tempted to follow Cameron’s claims.

        But making an insult out of his first name, which is also a quite common english name – come on. You had a lot better ideas than that.

          1. I think we would be furthering the isolation of different-minded groups of people if we would start using names of their leaders as generally insulting adjectives. But that’s just me.

            On the other hand: What are you trying to further? – If it is true that mentally ill people feel offended by the use of the word “crazy”, why replace it with another insult, instead of using a less offending word? What is the positive impact that you would expect from your proposed use of language?

        1. The other problem is it’s just in-group lingo. And no one here is simply concerned with speaking with those with the appropriate glossary. Neo-logisms are fun…but they are also a lot of work to disperse effectively.

          1. You see no difference between using the name “Rick” as part of the word “rickrolling”, referring to a pun played on someone, and using the name “Kirk” as part of an insulting word? Really? – How bramblish.

    1. @Elyse yeah I’ve done this before, goodness knows, used someome’s name as an insult. But looking back I think it’s a bit much. Yes, Cameron is a raging fucking douchebag if he said and did those things. But trying to get people to turn his very name as an insult is sort of stooping to the level of bullies. Revenge is a path that doesn’t go anywhere. I know that firsthand.

          1. Maybe people aren’t getting that I’m NOT calling Kirk Cameron “crazy”? And that “crazy” isn’t being used as an insult? You wouldn’t call a mentally ill person “Kirksy” you’d call something wrong and weird “kirksy”. It’s a separation between the illogical and any connection at all to the mentally ill.

    2. I do get that you’re simply using his name as an amusing insult. I just think the idea is a bit too much like what bullies do. It’s tempting to make attacks personal. But I think we’re better than that.

      1. No. Not an insult. It’s not an insult to say that he’s irrational and dangerous and bizarre. Otherwise we can’t use anything other than pleasant descriptives for anything ever without being bullies.

  8. I have real trouble drawing a bright line through this sort of thing. I’m very sympathetic to this idea:

    That maybe, if someone tells me that a term hurts them, I don’t get to decide whether or not I’m actually hurting them. I know they’re hurt. My only decision is whether or not I want to keep hurting them or not. Usually, the answer is no.

    However, that can be taken to ridiculous extremes. Imagine if someone was hurt by the word “inhuman” because they feel apart from the rest of humanity to the point that they consider themselves not fully human, and using “inhuman” as an insult is hurtful. Would you stop using it? I don’t think I would. Mitt Romney is just inhuman! I can’t think of a better word to describe him. Further, it seems like all insults are offensive to someone. That’s kind of the point. I think that at some point, you DO have to say “having this particular word available to use as an insult is worth hurting someone who takes offense.”

    Acknowledging that a person is hurt by the use of a word also doesn’t end the inquiry. The next question is – whose responsibility is it to avoid that injury? The party using the word could avoid the injury by refraining from using the word. Easy. However, in many cases, the injured party could avoid the injury by developing a thicker skin, taking a more reasonable view of how language is used, just ignoring it, etc. The problem comes in that I almost NEVER have enough information to make that call, so it’s impossible to know which party is in the wrong (i.e. which party should change their behavior). When it’s me, it’s easy enough for me just to stop using whatever word is offending people, but I have a harder time when I’m dealing with third parties.

    Is there a general rule that anyone uses for this that seems to reasonably balance the needs of the speaker (variety, rhetorical flair, emotional impact, personal preference, etc.) against the needs of the injured party?

    1. So… strawman… and it’s your own responsibility to get over it and not other people’s responsibility to educate themselves on not being assholes? Unless it’s mostly easy for them to educate themselves?

      1. Are you suggesting that it’s always the responsibility of the party using the hurtful word to avoid the injury? If not, where do you draw the line?

        1. That depends. Do you care about whether you’re hurting someone or not? If not, carry on. If yes, then yes… it’s your responsibility to do your best to try not to cause hurt.

          1. Is there truly no situation in which you think that avoiding a word would be too burdensome/ridiculous/esoteric to be reasonable?

            My gut feeling is that one shouldn’t use a word like “crazy” where one knows that it will hurt a listener, but that in situations where a the listener’s particular sensitivity is unknown is a grayer area. However, without a conceptual framework or a rule, I’m very uncomfortable making such determinations.

            I say a lot of things about religion that could be hurtful to a believer, if taken a certain way. I don’t feel (and I think you would agree here) that it’s my responsibility to avoid that injury. I don’t mean to imply that there’s any kind of equivalence between these two situations, but merely to point out that a person can care about hurting other people, yet still choose to do so anyway.

          2. No, I don’t think there’s no situation where it doesn’t matter. But in a conversation about whether it’s too much of a burden to accept that real terms (eg; gay, retard, crazy…) hurt people, I think it’s ridiculous to start pointing out non-real situations where people might be offended at something that you said that doesn’t actually hurt them.

            Are you furthering the marginalization of a truly marginalized group? Has a member of that group, or one of their allies, asked you to stop? If the answer is yes, then you should stop if you care about furthering their hurt.

            Are Christians a truly marginalized group? No. And if you don’t care if you hurt or offend them with what you say, then, like I said, carry on. Are “humans” a marginalized group. No. Are mentally ill people a marginalized group? Yes. Is Kirk Cameron? No.

  9. Does this mean that you’ve changed your position on the N-word or do you still believe it is important that we stop “sanitising” it?

    My opinion – people may feel put upon in having to watch their language and always be careful to change their words so they don’t offend anyone but that is nothing compared to having to put up with your race, sexual orientation, illness or any other characteristic being used as an insult. You don’t get to complain about your hurt when your words are causing so much more hurt to people who don’t deserve it.

    1. I believe that if you’re quoting someone, you quote them. Even if they are using words that make you uncomfortable to say. That’s not the same as walking around calling all your black co-workers the n-word.

  10. I work with some people who also have a disability office. What I’ve taken away is that all of us have quirks; maybe some people have schizophrenia. Maybe some people are in a wheelchaiir. But let’s face it, many many of us will end up with some level of mental issues or physical problems.

    My big point here is that we seem to think we’re separate from folks like this when really, most folks integrate into society just as well as we do.

    My cousin has schizophrenia. He has a job, family he loves and he has hobbies he enjoys, he also supports himself, thank you very much.

    So on the topic of terms – to be honest I do sometimes say my neighbors are “sociopaths”. This has nothing to do with anyone with mental illness. I simply wish to emphasize (often to the police) that these people aren’t just fleetingly rude; their behavior is pathological. It’s a way to get people to take it seriously.

    I don’t use words like crazy. Mostly thanks to the education I’ve had here and another blog.

    In the end I don’t care what quirks or “disabilities” someone has. It’s only my business if their issues create a hostile environment. Otherwise, IMO the so called disabled and so called mentally ill should be working and living alongside the rest of us.

  11. And by the way I do think in addition to discussing words, we should talk even more about injustices that affect the disenfranchised, don’t get me wrong, words are important to discuss too. If I want to know what offends someone, I will often ask them.

    In grad school I used the words “African American” and my friend was actually offended. He said, “I’m not African American. I’m Black”.

    So you never know.

    1. …and that was his preferred term….he probably has a lot of interesting perspective about why and when that became his preferred term. It’s not just perverse. There is a rationale worthy of exploration…as with folks who prefer the term African-American where applicable. Some prefer simply American…also worth one’s time to ask why they reached that conclusion.

      1. @Cityzenjane late reply, thanks for the insight. I should have asked him. At the time I felt lousy that I had offended someone, and honestly if I assume I could ever imagine what it was like to be black, I think I’d agree with him.

  12. So let me get this straight: A blog that has (very rightly) spoken out about excessive personal abuse and name calling from people who disagree philisophically are now engaging in exactly the same behavior?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the Skepchick blog and the Freethought Network, and I’ve learned a lot from them and have great respect for the individuals involved. But this kind of individual vilification is beneath us. Bad behavior and juvenile baiting isn’t right, even when it’s our side doing it. If we want to say we’re better, that we care about individuals and their quality of life, we need to walk the walk even when we find it challenging.

    I love this network. I want it to be a place of hope, inspiration, and encouragement, and I really think we’re better than this. And I’m living proof that atheists/freethinkers/skeptics being nice to a die-heard fundamentalist can change lives – for the better. We may never reach Kirk Cameron, but being nasty to those we disagree with certainly won’t inspire anyone to be open-minded.

    1. Yeah. I’ll work on trying harder to stop stigmatizing people who evangelize anti-gay anti-science and anti-woman ideologies. It’s really unfair how hard Kirk Cameron has worked to really deserve compassion and respect. He deserves no vilification or condemnation.

      Very similar to how we don’t deserve it for asking people to treat women with respect and don’t send us rape threats. It’s two sides of the same coin. I’ll be more open minded about the rape threats in the future because I called Kirk Cameron a dangerous asshole.

      1. Let’s face it, Elyse, some people want to whittle down any type of characterization in any way whatsoever, until we are all left sounding like George H.W. Bush: “They’re bad – bad!”

      2. That wasn’t what I meant at all. Of course Kirk Cameron is an asshole. Of course the way the Skepchicks have been treated for the past year is reprehensible. And no, it isn’t on the same level , but we don’t win by being nasty too. If vilifying Kirk Cameron is ” It’s no different than calling someone a crazy faggy retard,” then how can we claim the moral high ground? If we don’t like it when people throw around “Rebecca Twatson” then how is making up names for our opposition any better? Kirk Cameron’s IDEAS are reprehensible. He’s dead wrong, and he gives ammunition to people who are looking for excuses for ignorance and hate. But he’s still a human being with a family.

        Please don’t assume I’m trolling because I express some concerns about the way we conduct ourselves.

        1. Kirsky: “super bizarre or illogical or flies in the face of all that is reasonable”

          Rebecca Twatson: calling Rebecca a twat.

          One is bullying. One is pointing out that someone is wrong while removing a term used to dehumanize a marginalized group.

          I’m saying that something that we currently would refer to as “crazy” is more similar to the things Kirk Cameron says and not really at all similar to anything related to mentally illness. It also calls out someone for being illogical and unreasonable… someone who everyone should stand against.

          1. We may have to agree to disagree, and I understand your motivations, but I still think that devolving into name-calling doesn’t help our message.

            And I understand that y’all have been massively trolled and this is my first post, but I never called you a bully or implied that you should tolerate the hateful behavior that’s been directed to you. (Or anyone else on Skepchick, or anyone ever.)

            Maybe I should start over: Hey, Elyse, I’m a 31 year old, liberal, pro-choice, feminist, former fundamentalist, neuroatypical, demisexual, cisgendered female rape survivor of mostly Irish descent. I’ve been lurking on Skepchick for a year, FtB for a few months, and I really appreciate your insights and the efforts to raise awareness about gender issues. It’s nice to meet you.

          2. I don’t think it’s name calling. I think it’s making an analogy between a representative of an irrational and sometimes harmful way of thinking and a situation that is irrational/bizarre situation.

            You’re certainly welcome to refrain from using “kirksy” but I hope you’ll also refrain from using “crazy”.

            Truce. :)

          3. Truce accepted; I was never angry with you in the first place. I’m just having a really hard time squaring your “So if it doesn’t hurt YOU, then it’s not really of concern? ” argument against using “crazy” as a pejorative with your acceptance of using another person’s name as a joke.

            And I’m honestly having a hard time understanding why you were so hurt/angry with me. I know you don’t know me, but I don’t think I could have made it clearer in my original post how much I like and support all of the Skepchicks and think their/our work is important. I feel like you immediately lumped me into the group of people who’ve been trolling you guys and saying some really nasty things just because I had the temerity to not think your joke was funny and take a serious, heartfelt position against it. And I’m clearly not the only person who feels this way. It was an AI post after all, which led me to think you were asking a question. Is there a way I could have phrased my original post so that it would not have ruffled your feathers, or is it becoming impossible to respectfully disagree with a Skepchick without being seen as a Men’s Rights apologist?

            As a freethinking, feminist, rape survivor, I’m pretty hurt and insulted to be lumped into such a group – and once I’ve provided my bona fides, receiving your permission to disagree with you feels pretty dismissive.

            As a neuroatypical person, I don’t use the word “crazy” as a pejorative in the first place; that has nothing to do with my objections to the word “kirksy.”

            As a Humanist, I think it’s my responsibility to treat other people at least respectfully, regardless of how they treat me. If I claim to be “good without god,” I have to actually be good.

            I’ll leave off it here, but I welcome any further conversation either here or by email – but I would prefer you to address me about concerns you have with me, and leave your twitter followers out of it.

  13. As someone who technically is kinda ‘crazy’, I’ve never been sure about it’s casual use. I mean, it doesn’t bother me personally, but that doesn’t mean anything in the wider picture. I personally think it’s kind of useful when describing things that are out of alignment with reality, which is kind of what craziness does to a person. But I get that it has a slurriness to it.

    I think Kirksy is fun. 98% of what Kirk Cameron says is out of alignment with reality so it seems fair enough to associate him with the definition. Having said that, it’s always slightly… dodgy to use what amounts to a personal attack on an individual, but that can be weighed against the damage he does as an individual, which is not negligible. I personally wouldn’t use the term, but I don’t think it’s outrageous to.

    Wishywashiest comment ever.

  14. So this very same topic came over at This Week in Blackness – A fanfuckingtastic podcast which I would encourage everyone to become a listener and supporter of…they are here:

    They also do a great show called We Nerd Hard mostly gaming and comix etc

    So yeah the word “crazy” came up and it was decided that two substitutes were good.

    Dangerous…as in those ideas are dangerous because they lead to X Y AND Z – or that idea has dangerous implications…let us explore them together…


    BUSY…that person is obviously to BUSY to become well informed which can also sub when you want to call someone stupid but it just wouldnt help to do so…

    Anyway great discussion as ever…and get your butts over to TWIB – super fun smart take on politics and stuff.

  15. I like kirksy, but I like it because I have a mean streak when it comes to people who fight against reality. I need to keep a watch on that.

    Crazy means a lot of things, but the root that unifies the meanings is “very abnormal.” “Crazy” isn’t universally demeaning, in some senses it’s actually admiring, and as a mentally challenged person myself, I am not offended by it.

    Offense and injury are tricky considerations, and being sensitive is important, but I don’t think the word “crazy” is necessarily one we need to take out of circulation.

  16. Should we also stop saying things are lame because it is an ableist term? It seems like context is the most important consideration when using the term crazy. Trying to say “the trolls on reddit make me crazy” is an attack on the mentally handicapped is a lot like saying “not being able to buy a mcgriddle at noon is lame” is an attack on the physically impaired.

    1. You know, in the back channel discussion, I pointed out that I wasn’t so sure I was buying that “lame” was insensitive. We don’t use the word lame in any other context except to mean uncool. I’ve never heard any real person refer to a “lame” limb.

      Rebecca pointed out that it’s not really my place. If a physically impaired person feels like I am comparing their disability to things that suck, then it’s kind of shitty of me to do it.

      Crazy is the same thing. I don’t think context matters. When you say something is “gay” you don’t mean that it’s actually having sex with a member of the same sex, but you are saying that it’s bad, and using the the word “gay” to mean bad. With “making me crazy” you are saying that your state of mind is fucked up and weird and angry… much like that of a person who is mentally ill… so I don’t know how that’s not hurtful to the mentally ill.

      1. What about “Crazy Bread”. Patsy Clines “Crazy”, Crazy Love. The Crazy Cars at the local amusement park. I tend to agree that the formulation you describe, crazy as an inappropriate comparison to mental illness. But it is a pretty multi-purpose word at this stage in its development. Cracking down on its use is going to generate some blowback. Particularly from the used car salesmen demographic.

        1. By used car salesmen you mean from the demographic who argue that it’s okay to say things like “gay”, “retard” and substitute the word “whores” for “women”? I’m not worried about separating myself from them. And avoiding blowback is never really a good reason to not stand up and defend against hurtfulness.

          Also, I disagree that BUT WE USE THIS WORD ALL THE TIME is a good enough reason to keep it around.

          1. No Elyse, I mean the people whose job it is to exaggerate for effect, Like Crazy Dan down at the used car lot whose prices are soooo low its INSANE!

            Of course “we use it all the time” would be an insufficient argument in and of itself. What I am saying is that we cannot treat “crazy” as a slur in the same fashion we treat retard or nigger or faggot, or calling something gay, because those words have very narrow definitions. There is almost zero chance that anyone is using them in an innocent fashion. If someone feigns innocence when using them, they are probably an asshole, definitely tell them to fuck off.

            If your goal is to put crazy on the same shelf as the n-word or the f-word, then you aren’t just going to get blowback from the asshole community, who we rightly do not wish to associate with, but perhaps from Neil Young’s back-up band (Crazy Horse) who for the sake of this argument we will assume are not assholes.

            I think you are absolutely right that we should be more circumspect in our usage of the term crazy. I understand that intent is not magic.

            On the other hand I’m not comfortable with throwing out all of my Steve Martin albums over it.

          2. Since I’m on a roll here…

            Also, Neil Young’s back up band “Crazy Horse” is likely not referring to a horse with erratic behavior at all, and probably named after the actual Native American named Crazy Horse, which opens up a host of other problems along the lines of white people from the dominant culture appropriating Native American imagery and history for their own profit and success. But that’s a derail I’ll abandon.

        2. Here’s the thing.

          But crazy is ubiquitous and used by really nice people for such a long time! is not a compelling argument for keeping the word as a generic adjective. It’s not. Words drop out of use all the time when they become distasteful to a large enough number of people. I certainly shouldn’t have to make a list of them (it’s the usual assortment of racist and sexist vocabulary). And we encounter them when we look at historical things, and we shudder uncomfortable, and we give, say, artists of the time the benefit of the doubt, and we don’t tolerate modern usage.

          And this only happens when the word at stake–in this case, crazy–affects a group of people with enough political clout to make their feelings about the word known.

          FINALLY in history we are reaching a point where mental illness is being understood (not universally; ideas take time to disseminate) as something that is NOT shameful, NOT pretend, NOT self-induced, WORTHY of consideration, and only one part of who a person is, and probably not the most significant part of someone’s identity. And people affected by mental illness DO NOT LIKE THIS WORD and enough of them are MAKING THEIR OPINIONS KNOWN and the rest of us are going to have to decide what to do, and if we care more about our preference for the word or about hurting those people.

          If Steve Martin is a really good person who never meant to use crazy in an offensive way comes to understand that the adjectives he’s chosen in the past were hurtful, he’ll probably express regret, wish he’d known better at the time, and implore others to not make the same mistake. If he’s not, he’ll double down and strongly defend his word choices and call everyone else hypersensitive and/or stupid and/or unreasonable.

          The only reason people avoid “gay” and “bitches” more often is because gay people and women have had a political voice longer than mentally ill people. Oh! And just about everybody calls Brazil nuts by their right name now. That’s a fun trip down Racist Memory Lane if you have time to look that one up.

          1. Karenx,

            When I refer to another musician as being insane, or to a piece of music as crazy, I exactly intend to leave the listener with the impression that they are not listening to someone who thinks like a normal person, or that it wasn’t a normal thought process that went in to the creation of said piece of music, and these are compliments of the highest order in musician speak.

            If you can come up with another way to imply that with out using words or concepts that imply abnormal thinking, I’m all ears.

            I just don’t see how using these words and concepts as a compliment can in any way be considered offensive by people with mental health issues. If anything it highlights the benefits of not being normal. (ftr, I have diagnosed issues myself and have been deeply affected by mental health issues among those I love and care about my whole life, I am a huge proponent of public awareness of the facts behind mental health and the removal of the stigma associated with it)

            People still use the word gay all the time. It’s only frowned upon when used as a pejorative. I don’t see the difference when using crazy, insane or sick, mad, etc… as compliments or descriptors where there’s no sense it’s being used as a pejorative.

          2. That is actually very compelling and well argued. I feel I understand the issue better now. I Think Erik makes some very valid points as well however.

      2. How many people have to be offended to make a word inappropriate. Personally I have heard people say that the word lame offends them for this reason. They weren’t physically handicapped but the word still caused offense because of it’s origin. Will you stop using the word lame after this post or are we only obligated to stop using words when we have heard from people who find it offensive.

        What about people who have been verbally abused their entire life and are hurt by the word stupid. Maybe that was the insult of choice that was hurled at them over and over. I can understand taking their back round into consideration and not using the word in their presence but I can’t understand giving up the word.

  17. Yeah I’m sorry but the term crazy has too many usages that are not in any way negative; “crazy about you”, “crazy in love”, “that was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen…” etc… I can think of dozens of uses of the word that do not imply that being crazy is in any way a bad thing. In fact, it is often used as a compliment; “That girl is a crazy good bass player”.

    It’s not just the word crazy either, there’s a whole lot of words and phrases that refer to thinking outside the box, being exceptionally brave, or focused or dedicated that all allude to having a brain that doesn’t work like a normal human being’s, and almost always are positive in their meaning; “That skateboarder is insane”, “that base jumper is nuts”, “that musician has some insane chops”.

    I guess as a musician I’m used to these kinds of phrases, and no one ever considers them insulting. In musical circles, not thinking like a normal person is considered a good thing, it brings out creativity.

    Calling something gay, implies that being gay in and of it’s self is a bad thing, so that never works, in any context. The same is not true of the term crazy.

    I think most of the time people just mean it as an adjective to point out that something is extraordinary. If someone uses it as an insult to another, then yeah, that’s offensive and hurtful, not just to the intended object but to any bystanders who may be mentally ill or have people they care about who are. In that context, I would find it’s use objectionable myself, but otherwise, not so much and I find this kind over the top.

    Context does matter.

    1. Agreeing with erik here. Most of the words that are derogatory are very specifically linked to a specific feature being bad. Typical gender, sexual orientation or race. “Retarded” fits there too. The only time it sees use is to imply that having a mental impairment is inherently bad.

      Crazy is or was sometimes used to label people who may have a psychological issue (which incidentally I’d suggest using “schizo” is in the same vein as “gay”) but it’s also been used to suggest extraordinary in a way that I can’t see as being pejorative. Often as a synonym for “amazing.”

      We have other terms like that. I would never use the word to actually label someone who has psychological problems. But I tend to avoid name-calling anyhow.

    2. Use whatever words you want. Now you have information about how one word hurts some people, and your use of the word is between you and those people and the people who care about them, and they’ll let you know what you think.

      It’s very easy to get in the habit of using a very generic word like “crazy” to refer to all kinds of things, and hard to break. But it’s a word of such nebulous meaning when applied to art used about things of such subjective value, and I don’t think the argument for its use and its use only is strong at all when you consider that any other nebulous word (zany, inspiring, nonlinear, chaotic, eccentric, erratic, whimsical, unpredictable) would do just as well describing said performance.

      If crazy is your favorite go-to word, so be it. Like I said, you know now how some people feel when they see the word so generally applied and it’s between you and those people and your relationships with them how you want to use it and when.

      1. any other nebulous word (zany, inspiring, nonlinear, chaotic, eccentric, erratic, whimsical, unpredictable) would do just as well describing said performance.

        You’re misunderstanding then what I’m trying to convey if you think any of those words alone or combined come close to it.

        When I see a virtuoso command hir instrument, I witness genius, a level of thought that I can’t comprehend, it’s beyond my ability to grok. To me, it’s insane, sick, demented, crazy, these people aren’t normal, they are from another planet.

        I’m trying to convey a gulf of understanding, paint a picture of a mind very different from mine or anybody else’s, but all of that is in a good way, because it’s producing something that blows my mind and gives me goose bumps. Whimsical doesn’t begin to describe it.

        Unpredictable? Maybe but not even remotely the best quality it possesses. Non-linear? same thing as unpredictable in musical terms, and not always a good thing.

        Chaotic? Same thing. None of this anything to with the mind of the composer, and that’s what I’m in awe of and trying to describe.

  18. “If someone tells me that a term hurts them, I don’t get to decide whether or not I’m actually hurting them. I know they’re hurt. My only decision is whether or not I want to keep hurting them or not. Usually, the answer is no.”

    Amazing. I love this.

  19. PC has its merits when (eg) it makes it socially unacceptable to be a dick. (See what I did there?) But it is often carried too far. E.G… How would you associate kirksy with the incredibly evocative and widely applicable (mainly to Romneyites) phrase “batshit crazy”? You can’t really without losing 99% of the impact of the phrase. similarly for other PC attempts to create neologisms which try to extract the intended meaning of genital or other orifice or activities related to same — references from their wider connotations. Lets not reduce the poetic impact of clever phrases like “Don’t be a dick!” by running amok with Political Correctness. :)

    As long as it isn’t threatening physical harm, speech should be free. That’s a huge part of what distinguishes modern western societies from priest-ridden hellholes of the past and present.

  20. My primary issue with “Kirksy” is that on hearing it (without a picture like the post had) my first interpretation would be that the word links to Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. The properties *that* descriptive gives are *quite* different. :)

    On a separate note, I’m of two minds about the “crazy should not be used” argument. I concur it can be hurtful, but most negative descriptives are already hurtful by default. Kirksy applies negative properties based on disliked traits of Kirk Cameron’s beliefs and / or personality, but as we do not approve of those traits it’s considered acceptably hurtful.

    I guess it comes down to a personal philosophical belief that crazy behaviours aren’t ok, so calling people who are acting crazy crazy is fair game? As one who has lived with his own generous share of mental issues, that state has always struck me as a thing to actively oppose. Whether due to mental illness or generic irrationality, to me “acting crazy” is as appropriate as acting misogynistic or racist, and deserves being labelled as such even if the recipient might view being called that hurtful.

    I will certainly grant on the line of appropriate vs inappropriate hurtfulness, a better day-to-day word than crazy is probably just “irrational”, as it makes it clearer we are referring to changeable behaviour VS innate physical condition.

  21. Actual mentally ill person here, so this is relevent to my interests.

    To me, “crazy” refers to irrational, bizarre or obsessive *behavior* – which may or may not have anything to do with a mental illness. I see it as something distinct from but overlapping with mental illness.

    I mean, plenty of neurotypical people act irrationally too, especially when strong emotions are involved! So I don’t really have a problem with phrases like “that was some crazy shit” or whatever.

    It’s when people equate all mental illness and all mentally ill people with “craziness” that I get upset. Most mentally ill people are, with proper medical treatment, normal rational people most of the time. So having someone make an insinuation that *I’m* “crazy” just because of my brain chemistry is pretty offensive to me.

    But of course, I’m not every mentally ill person, and other people may be hurt by that sort of terminology.

  22. I was frozen out from a message board for innocently using the term “crazy.” I used it to refer to the feeling a lot of women get when they talk about sexism and are told the problem doesn’t exist. What do many of us do? We internalize the problem and feel somehow we’re losing touch with reality. I believe strongly that I used the term in exactly the way I needed to to convey my feelings.

    I was pretty vulnerable at that point and was looking for validation, I guess. Immature, I know. My first reaction was that I was required to censor myself and use approved language.

    No. I don’t play that. If there is some kind of zero-tolerance policy there on words, I respectfully withdraw my participation. I wish them luck in all their endeavors, but if I am unable to express myself freely, I cannot be part of the group. Most of the time I consider myself valuable, and I have no choice but to decline to participate, since I cannot comply with those rules.

    No one asked me what my experience is with mental illness. No one asked me if I’m “able.” No one asked me how I choose to express myself about the mental illness that brought me into this world, and the world of mental illness I lived in most of my life. I feel I’ve earned the right to express myself freely about it. I would not use the word “crazy” to describe any person I love, or myself, or even those I have the right to hate. That’s silly. But if I wanted to, I damn well would. Because that’s who I am. Because implying I’m ableist is just bullshit to me. I’ve come too far, worked too hard, and cried too much. I don’t have time for bullshit like this.

  23. Perhaps, rather than use a single word, one should instead spell out that somebodies reported comments betrayed slow or limited intellectual and emotional development and academic progress?

    Is that then offensive or hurtful to those who identify as mentally disabled?

    1. After 24 hours, I have not been called out so I assume that what I said above was not too offensive.

      Y’all do realise that was the exact dictionary definition of “retarded” don’t you?

      Interesting! This suggests that the actual word is indeed the problem, and not the semantic content – and futhermore, that using the definition of an ablist word, with care, in some cases could possibly help to provide a workaround to saying the same thing as an ablist word in a non-ablist way.

      QED – or not??

  24. I am mentally ill and have been for many years. When I hear the word “crazy” I dont think of my illnesses. I guess its a scale for most people because I do feel strange when people say someone is being “schizophrenic” and I think “Really? Does he spend his days thinking all his friends are out to harm him, like I did?”.

    I see that it is difficult and I wonder about language, but when it hurts people it would be stupid to hang onto these words. At least in oral speech*

    *I wouldnt tell someone what to write or not to write in their dairy or their novels, etc…

    1. “*I wouldnt tell someone what to write or not to write in their dairy or their novels, etc…”

      Well, I think the cows at least should get a vote. :D

      But more seriously, it’s not so much trying to spare the feelings of the person being insulted – it’s an insult, after all – but trying to avoid splash damage. An insult that nets an entire class of people isn’t just hitting the intended target.

  25. OMG Elyse! You mocked a rich, white christian male who seeks to discriminate and oppress entire groups of people.

    How DARE YOU!

    Seriously, everyone who is giving Elyse shit for this? For fuck’s sake. SERIOUSLY?

    1. Are we not allowed to discuss this? I guess I don’t understand the spiteful sarcasm here. I think there are many salient points to be made why this really isn’t the best idea ever, and as mature skeptics, we should be able to talk about it without fear of being snarked off the stage.

  26. Late to the party. Story of my life.

    It’s one thing to criticize or make fun of Kirk Cameron for the stupid shit he has said & done & been involved with.

    But why would you turn his name into an adjective with negative connotations, particularly (a) one that doesn’t actually seem to have relevance to him or describe situations that he’s involved in, and (b) when the goal in making the change is not to demean people?

    Or is (b) not a broad goal here? Is his type not eligible for a little dignity & respect just for being a human being? (Or a sentient being, since “human” may be too restrictive for some.)

    If you want to goad & offend him and his type, pick or make up an adjective that riffs off of his religion or narrow-mindedness or stupid shit he’s said. Like “crocoduckie”, though that’s a syllable or two too long. But put the personal attack aside. That’s stooping fairly low, IMO.

  27. I will break my comment into three sections: (A) personal anecdote time, (B) comparison of offensive slang terms, (C) my aesthetic cringing at this particular neologism.

    (A) I’m neuroatypical – primarily autistic, for which I’ve gotten called “crazy” and “retard” plenty of times. I also have experienced mental illness (clinical depression, PTSD, OCD). Many of my closest friends have had anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and the like. Crazy was more often used as a neutral modifier (as in “crazy awesome” or “crazy messed up” or plain “that’s crazy” to indicate something extreme, whether good or bad). “Retard” I have always found repugnant even from well-meaning people.

    (B) Comparisons: Why I find “crazy,” “lame,” “dumb,” and “moron” acceptable, when I find “gay” or “retard” unacceptable. While most of the words on the first list have been in clinical use to describe disabled people, not in recent memory. I certainly condemn using words like “crazy” to denigrate people with mental illnesses, but its casual use is typically not in that vein. Of course, it can be used casually in that way, and that I would object to. “Crazy,” in this way, has higher potential for denigration of mentally ill, as it is more commonly used to disparage mental illness than “lame” is used to disparage people with mobility impairments.

    Whereas, “retardation” was only very recently changed in medical and legal use as a formal diagnosis or legal label for people with cognitive disabilities. And it is used casually to indicate intellectual impairment (often accompanied by “durr…duh” type utterances). The defense of “gay” as entirely removed semantically from “homosexual” is even more specious, as the term “gay” is used by gay people, gay rights organizations, and common people on the street referring to deviation from heterosexual orientation.

    (C) I would never use the word “kirksy” – for one, I have no idea who this “Kirk Cameron” person is. As is common for autistic people, I have a poor memory for faces and names, particularly celebrities and other public people, so for all I know I could’ve read his life story. It brings to mind Captain Kirk curtseying while breaking a computer through the use of a contradiction of logic. In addition, most neologisms just won’t catch. While I can envision a select few circumstances in which it might catch on, according to my calculations there is approximately a 99.7892% chance it will never reach intelligibility among the general populace, never mind popularity of use (couldn’t resist that ridiculous level of unwarranted precision – I spoke a lot like Spock as a child before I became accustomed to incorporating colloquialisms into my speech, and once I saw Star Trek I began making up precise figures like that).

    Furthermore, I do not believe a neologism is an adequate response to the problem of systemic prejudice against neurodivergent minds. By all means, we should do what we can to curtail the use of language such as “I heard Susan from accounting went crazy and got locked up,” or “What is wrong with you, Jason? You’re acting like a crazy person!” But there are plenty of valid uses of the word that do not demean people with mental illnesses.

    Please do not take offense at my aesthetic criticism of “kirksy”. Perhaps if I were familiar with this “Kirk Cameron” fellow, I would find it amusing. I have created my fair share of neologisms, most (read: all) of which would have no hope of catching on beyond immediate family and friends.

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