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The other day, while en route to my first class, I passed through the Great Hall of Freshmen (more commonly known as the union building). Flocks of new university students, safe in their validating host of high-school friends, squawked and honked from their perches while those of us with real classes scurried by, hunched over and happily flock-less.
Now, maybe you say I’m being a jerk for assuming they were all freshmen. That’s probably true. Maybe I’m unfairly biased against students who don’t appear to be doing anything on campus besides skipping English 1010 and flirting. In fact, I’d be more worried about offending one-fourth of The Signpost’s readership if I thought freshmen actually read the paper, but I don’t think they know where to find one. And I can only feel so bad about teasing a generation that never really had to use VCRs.
Anyway, I found my hallway progress decelerated by a wide and slow-moving gaggle of these lovely young people. Their conversation, filled with thrilling tales of high-school football and late-night pranks, all spoken out from underneath the razor-straight bills of their vintage baseball hats, was, fortunately, loud enough so that all students in the hallway could feel included.
And I was really enjoying my involuntary eavesdropping, right up until one of the freshmen took offense at his buddy’s teasing.
“Dude!” yelled Bro No. 1. “That’s retarded. Stop being so gay.”
“You’re the gay one, retard,” Bro No. 2 returned.
And so on.
I was mortified. You see, no one I knew had used either of these words in a derogatory context since, I don’t know, the year 2003. But apparently, this is still a problem, and, as a columnist of mild renown (my mom reads every week), I plan to fix this dilemma with any one of the following solutions:
Solution 1: Explain to the freshmen that using the words “gay” and “retarded” in a disapproving context is literally inaccurate.
For instance, expressing disapproval over receiving a parking ticket by calling the parking ticket “gay” would not work, because that ticket is most likely not interested in engaging other parking tickets of the same gender romantically.
Solution 2: Explain to the freshmen that use of the words “gay” and “retarded” in the pejorative sense (meaning “an expression of contempt or disapproval”) is politically incorrect and just plain wrong.
Speaking in this way assigns a negative connotation (non-literal meaning) to those words. Now, I know that most people who use these words are using them in a meaningless manner as verbal packing peanuts. They could just as well be saying, “You’re so bread” or “Stop being a rock.”
I know this because (this anecdote is very shaming — please forgive me afterwards) when I was in the seventh grade, the trendy adjective sweeping through the ranks of my fellow students and me was the word (again, so sorry!) “Jewish.” Missed foul shots were “Jewish.” Malfunctioning TI-83 calculators were “Jewish.” When a friend was acting the fool, he was (I feel like such a moron now) “being Jewish.”
Of course, growing up in a suburb of Northern Utah, few of us had ever actually met a Jewish person, nor would we have known we had if we did. And if there was anyone of Jewish descent among us, we made pretty darn sure that it was not a safe place for them to reveal their heritage.
As an adult, I know that the Jewish-American population is beyond value, especially in the charitable and forgiving way they’ve treated journalists who are brave enough to share humiliating anecdotes from their idiotic childhoods. And thankfully, that fad-word passed quickly enough from the lips of my friends and me for us to avoid any major lawsuits. We then moved on to other words, like “gay” and “retarded,” which brings us to . . .
Solution 3: Replace the words “gay” and “retarded” with other words.
Since these freshmen don’t seem to be intentionally using these words to negatively describe the homosexual or mentally disabled populations (‘cause if they are, well, that’s a whole different column I’ll need to write), perhaps they just need a verbal binky, as it were.
Here are a few suggestions: “gelastic,” “waggish,” “anathematized,” “rock,” “silly,” “Mormon” (kidding!), “Bieber,” “freshman,” “meretricious” and “bad.”
Solution 4: The rest of the student population gets to walk around campus with squirt guns and spray freshmen in the face every time they use the words “gay” or “retarded” inappropriately.
The squirt guns could also be used to discourage them from wearing stupidly large headphones or putting their hats on backward.
Now, my intention in writing this is not to offend, nor to enact sweeping social change. Hopefully, this column is just a happy reminder of one way to speak more intelligently and respectfully.
And, again, sorry about that whole “Jewish” thing. I was 13 and pretty retarded.