Daily Archives: June 24, 2011

Words that bite my brain


I can’t stand these words.

Words that cause a range of cognitive pain for me.

At minimum, there’s a sense of them pulling me diagonally. I may understand the meaning, but they still strike me wrong. If I do understand them, they cost cognitive effort to figure out. Not the kind of effort that anyone should be expected to put into understanding things that are difficult for them. That kind of effort is effort I’ve already spent understanding regular words. This effort is beyond that and is destructive to my ability to do other things I have to do. Have to as in have to, not as in “feel like doing”.

Then the worst of these words. There is little to no understanding here. It feels like a miniature explosion in my head every time I read them. I can’t find another way to put it. And the pain they cause, although not physical, is quite intense and feels like a cognitive version of nerve pain. Anyone who’s had serious nerve pain will know how bad that is.

Most of the words are ones I rarely if ever use. But some of these are words I can bring myself to use, some of the time. Some are even words I’ve coined. That doesn’t seem to matter though, they still hurt my brain. So don’t assume that my using or even coining a word means it being easy for me or expecting everyone to like or use the word.

I will say that these are words commonly used in communities that call themselves “social justice” related. The reason I put “social justice” in quotes is that, as a word in the midrange of mental pain levels, I can’t quite bring myself to write it down as if I were using it. That would make it look like I know what it meant. (Not that that always stops me from using a word, but it often does.)

There’s a reason, though, that I’ve abandoned the idea of writing most of these words down in public, in this post.

Because when I’ve brought it up in the past, I’ve gotten a variety of pretty offensive responses.

People patronize me.

They treat me like not knowing these words is a sign of some kind of privilege.

They openly brag about their extensive knowledge of the subjects the words refer to.

They assume because I can’t handle or don’t understand or outright get pissed at the existence of a certain word, then I can’t possibly know anything about the subject the word is supposed to refer to.

They try to patiently teach me the meaning of the word, ignoring me whenever I try to explain that this doesn’t work with this kind of words.

They suggest that I don’t like the words because I don’t experience the kind of oppression that the words were built to describe.

They sigh and roll their eyes and get scornful. Because I’m obviously just some noob who wants everything explained to me (possibly because of an overdeveloped sense of entitlement).

Often their reaction is more than one of those things combined. “Well I for one totally know what the word means. I’m an expert in that area. I guess you are just too privileged to understand. But here, let me try to explain anyway. (As if I should have to.)”

I know it’s not about that, though, because often I know what the word is trying to refer to. I just can’t connect that meaning to the word without a lot of effort and pain. And the connection is never really complete.

Let me just say straight out that I would rather deal with one person who gets words “wrong” (and may even use lots of words deemed offensive due to not being able to keep track of that kind of thing) and may sound “clueless” to the social intricacies of communities or the meaning of words, but has good ethics and a grounded sense of reality; rather than a hundred people repeating all the right words with only a superficial take on the issues at hand and a tendency to want to blend in more than to solve real problems.

I only decided to write this post after seeing other people mentioning their own problems with this kind of language. Not identical problems, but clearly I’m not the only one who finds these words difficult. I’ve seen suggestions that these kind of words can shut people out of the discussion, even if that wasn’t the intent. I have to agree. I also saw someone who had an extreme emotional reaction to a similar set of words, and they wondered if their brain was responding to something real… like something about how people turn words into some kind of rigid ideology, and I have to wonder about that too.

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