Improve your lexicon: lame

I’m on a never-ending quest to improve my vocabulary – both by expanding it, and by getting rid of some of the more objectionable language which we all use without thinking, but which reflects some pretty terrible attitudes and contributes to stigmatizing groups of people who are already treated pretty badly.

And I’ve noticed a few friends recently turning to Twitter and other places to ask for suggestions to replace words they don’t want to use. Clearly it’s a need!

But change can be difficult – you get so used to using particular words that they pop up mid-sentence and you have less than a second to think of an okay synonym before you have to say it – or fumble your words and look silly. The best solution I’ve found is to brainstorm alternative words in advance and think good and hard about them. Hence, these weekly posts – as much a tool for me as for anyone else!

I’m not perfect. Sometimes we can easily see why one word is objectionable, but the alternatives which immediately spring to mind may also have bad connotations which we’re not aware of. I may screw up during this process, but I’ll do my best to fix it when I do. All any of us can do is keep trying and keep learning.

“Lame” is such a wonderful, catch-all word. It’s one of those “cool” words which people in their 30s and up use ironically in order to mimic the tweens and 20-somethings whose culture and memes dominate pop culture.

It’s also terribly ableist. I can’t put it any better than s.e. smith did waaaaaay back in 2009 on a fantastic blog called FWD/Forward (I’ll probably be linking to more of their word profile posts as this project goes on!)

“Lame” is an ableist word. It’s an ableist word because it assumes that having difficulty walking is objectively bad, and that therefore, a word which is used to describe difficulty walking can be safely used as a pejorative to mean “this is bad.” Using “lame” reinforces ableism in our culture by reminding people that disability is bad, and that it’s so bad that it can be used as a shorthand code to talk about bad things in general. Incidentally, the related “lame-brain”? Also ableist. Just so we’re all clear on that.

It may sound nit-picky to you – and we’ve all heard all the arguments about how ~language changes~ and you don’t need to tell someone with an Honours degree in medieval English about that, okay? – but the way we use words does affect other people. They have the potential to hurt other people. And it’s not a huge deal to me, for myself, to try to avoid that by putting in some effort to change my language.

So what are some alternatives to “lame”? s.e. smith mentions some in her article, but I would add:

pointless, trying too hard, overdone, overused, predictable,
stale, eye-roll-worthy, cringe-inducing, desperate, flimsy,
empty, inadequate, unconvincing, superficial, contemptible

If you’ve got any suggestions of words to cover, pop them in a comment or tweet me!

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