Stigma and “disabled” words

Today we have a special guest blogger. Jothy Rosenberg is one of my favorite people on the planet. A few years ago, I edited his memoir, Who Says I Can’t, which is about his surviving and thriving after cancer caused his leg to be amputated. Jothy has since become a campaigner for people with disabilities and is now working on a documentary, called Who Says Roseann Can’t Run, which will show the journey of a woman, whose leg had to be amputated after the Boston bombing, as she learns to run again with her prosthetic leg.

Jothy has started a Kickstarter funding project for the film. Please consider supporting this film by donating here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/whosaysicant/who-says-roseann-cant-run-a-new-documentary

Take it away, Jothy.

I am guest posting here on Erin’s blog about grammar. Erin is about much more than grammar; grammar is just a hobby for her. She is all about telling a great story. That is why I keep wanting Erin to edit things I write. But she is right, grammar is a means to that end. In between grammar—the mechanical aspects of language and writing—and great storytelling is deeper, sometimes hidden, meaning in the words we use to tell a story.

I have been an amputee for forty years, and a lot has changed in how we express my “situation” in those many years. Back in the day, as they like to say now, here in this country, and unfortunately still today in many countries, having a difference about you physically or mentally meant being ostracized and shunned. Way, way back in early human civilization, this made some sense either because it meant you could not help the tribe obtain food and defend itself, or because it meant you had a genetic defect that should not be passed on to future generations. But we are supposed to be more evolved than either of these reasons now, so even forty years ago, it should have not been so difficult for a sixteen year old who’d lost his leg to get through a day of high school.

For many years, in spite of either being on crutches or walking on a pretty primitive prosthetic leg, I refused to get a handicapped car placard because I did not want to be associated with that word. I also would have nothing to do with “support groups” of others who had lost a limb because I did not want to be associated with “those people.” I wanted to be “normal.” Of course, that’s ludicrous. There is no normal and certainly not for someone who goes from having two legs to suddenly having one; a new normal slowly emerges that that person gets to—no, has to—shape.

I also had a lot of trouble with the word “disabled.” Think about that word. The prefix “dis-” means “not” or “negation” so “dis-abled” means “not abled.” That is pretty harsh. And if you knew me as the double-black-diamond skier, swimmer from Alcatraz, and century bike rider all with one leg and one lung, you would be hard-pressed to say I was “not abled.” I am not alone. Would you say Oscar Pistorius (murder allegations aside), who got admitted into the “able-bodied” Olympics, was not abled? We do know better now. And to strike back, in my view misguidedly, many who have a physical change to their bodies rebel vehemently against this word and instead make up new words like “differently-abled,” as if they are able to bend spoons like they are someone out of X-Men. I admit, it took me about twenty-five years to finally relax about all of this and stop caring about these semantics, so I understand those who are fresh and whose sensibilities are still quite raw do not want labels. But it’s important not to become like PETA either: no matter how great your cause, if you become too militant about anything, you alienate the rest of the world and lose the chance to further your cause.

I now have the pleasure of working with Roseann Sdoia, an amputee who became so when the second bomb at the Boston Marathon went off right next to her and so badly damaged her right leg that she had to have it amputated above the knee. She also got shrapnel damage to her left leg (which is still working okay) and both her eardrums were blown out. She was saved by a Boston fire fighter, who got her quickly into an ambulance and held her hand all the way to the hospital. It’s cool, and kind of cute, that they are now a very devoted couple. When someone recently called out when Roseann was going down the sidewalk, “Clear a path. A handicapped person is coming through,” her boyfriend, not even missing a beat, said, “She’s not handicapped, she’s hand-capable.” Because this is all very fresh with Roseann, and her self-esteem has taken as huge a beating as her body, this statement by her boyfriend was not just helpful, it was essential. She needs to hear that, and the rest of us need to be sensitive to her need to hear that. Perhaps in twenty-five years she, too, will relax about these semantics, but in the meantime, sensitivity should be something we can all learn in the words we use. After all, you two-leggers, we one-leggers just have to stick together.

If you would like to support a new documentary being filmed about Roseann’s journey from barely surviving last April’s horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon to running again, please consider supporting our Kickstarter campaign at: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/whosaysicant/who-says-roseann-cant-run-a-new-documentary

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Are since and because interchangeable?

since: from a past time until now; after a time in the past; before the present time
because: for the reason that
—Merriam-Webster

Though in the definition listed above since appears to relate only to time, in reality, people use it the same as because to imply cause.

Notice the similarities in these two sentences:

Since he ate cookies, Charlie is a happy boy.
Because he ate cookies, Charlie is a happy boy.

In the sentences, both since and because are helping us show the cause of Charlie’s happiness: eating cookies.

However, using since and because interchangeably can cause problems when it is unclear whether since is referring to time or to cause.

Notice this sentence:

Since he slayed the dragon, Charlie got measles.

In this sentence, it is unclear whether Charlie got measles as a direct result of (caused by) killing the dragon or if he simply contracted measles in the period of time after killing the dragon (not caused by the killing).

If we used because in the sentence above, we would know the dragon slaying directly caused his measles. As it is written with since, the causation is unclear.

To avoid confusion, it is best to limit since to time elements and not use it interchangeably with because. Because is the best choice to indicate directly the reason something happened.

Anxious or eager?

anxious: characterized by extreme uneasiness of mind or brooding fear about some contingency
Merriam-Webster

“I am so anxious to see you!”

How many times have you heard or said this? Most of the time, anxious was probably not the word to use.

Say your best friend is about to arrive for an out-of-town visit. You are more likely to be eager or excited for her visit than anxious. Anxious has a negative connotation. Anxious means you are in a fit of hand-wringing nervousness, considering all that could go wrong. If you are simply happy for your friend to come and are expecting the trip to go smoothly, then you are not anxious; you are just excited and eager.

Here are examples of anxious, excited, and eager used the correct way:

I am excited to get my package in the mail.
I am eager for my trip to the Bahamas.
I am anxious that this airplane will crash.

Note that the first two sentences have positive connotations, and the second has a negative connotation.

Can these words be interchangeable?
There has been a trend of using anxious, eager, and excited interchangeably. However, I still think there should be a distinction. Remember that anxiety is a medical condition, which often requires medication and treatment. It can be a very serious and life-altering condition for those who have it. Using the word so casually (and incorrectly) downplays, in my opinion, its severity. People who don’t have anxiety already tend to not understand how difficult living with a form of anxiety can be. Misusing it in our speech adds to this confusion.

Quiz
In each sentence is the word anxious. Determine in each sentence if the word is used correctly.

1. Edwin is anxious that his dinner plans will fall through.
2. Edwin is anxious to eat his ice cream.
3. Edwin is anxious for the first day of school, thinking of all that could go wrong.
4. Edwin is anxious to open his birthday present.

Answers:
1. correct 2. incorrect 3. correct 4. incorrect

Compliment vs. complement

Miss, those bunny ears really complement your attitude.

Miss, those bunny ears really complement your attitude.

 

compliment (noun): an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration
compliment (verb): to express esteem, respect, affection, or admiration to

complement (noun): something that fills up, completes, or makes perfect
complement (verb): to complete or enhance by providing something additional
—Merriam-Webster

Compliment and complement sound the same but are spelled differently, so it’s easy to get the two confused in your writing. Additionally, they can both be a noun and a verb.

Let’s discuss which spelling belongs to which word. Then we’ll learn a way to remember the two spellings.

compliment
Compliment as a verb is when you say something nice. The noun compliment is the nice thing you say.

Examples:
The rat complimented the mouse’s snazzy sneakers. (verb)
The rat’s compliment made the mouse smile. (noun)

complement
The verb complement means to complete. The noun complement means something that completes.

Examples:
The mouse’s sneakers complemented his outfit. (verb)
The sneakers were the perfect complement to his outfit. (noun)

How to remember the spellings
Complement sort of looks like the word complete, and it means to complete. Think complement = complete, and note that both words have an E in the middle (rather than an I).

Quiz
Fill in the blanks below with compliment or complement. The answers are below.

1. The jagged scar across Rupert’s eye _______s his scary guy look.
2. The expensive car was the _______ to her “perfect” life.
3. Tina _______ed her by saying, “You look hotter than a dead raccoon in the afternoon sun.”
4. Hilda hoped she would get an A on the test, which would _______ her semester’s perfect grades.
5. The suitor’s _______ was her favorite part of their date.

Answers:
1. complement 2. complement 3. compliment 4. complement 5. compliment

Misbelief and disbelief

Kevin was in disbelief. How could his parents leave without him?

Kevin was in disbelief. How could his parents leave without him?

disbelief: mental rejection of something as untrue
misbelief: erroneous or false belief
—Merriam-Webster

To keep these two words straight, consider this: Misbelief is when something is untrue. Disbelief is when you think something is untrue (regardless of whether it is). Disbelief tends to deal with thoughts and opinions. Misbelief deals with facts.

Examples
Ralph was in complete disbelief. He didn’t think Suzie could have stolen the lollipop.
It is a misbelief that George has three toes. He only has two.

It is a misbelief that the religion’s followers have to surgically attach octopus tentacles to their necks.
The leader stood in disbelief when he heard the rumor. “People believe that?” he asked.

Quiz
Fill in the blanks with either disbelief or misbelief. The answers are at the bottom.

1. No one thought Percy would finally propose. They were in _______ when Frank showed the ring on his finger.
2. You can believe a _______, but it will still be untrue.
3. When the kids explained that a dragon broke the antique lamp, their parents met the tale with _______.
4. It is a common _______ that Paul only eats sauerkraut after midnight. He usually eats it at seven p.m.

 

Answers:

1. disbelief 2. misbelief 3. disbelief 4. misbelief