GOODMAN: Consider words’ unintended meanings

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This past weekend I started keeping a tally. And no, it didn’t have anything to do with the large number of dejected Green Bay Packers fans dragging their feet across campus on Sunday evening.

Sorry. Too soon?

Seriously, though. Here’s a hint as to what I tallied up, courtesy of my good friend Merriam-Webster.

Definitions of gay:

1. Happily excited

2. Keenly alive and exuberant: having or inducing high spirits

3. Of, relating to, or used by homosexuals

Following along yet?

If not, I’ll go ahead and also provide what the definition of “gay” is not … courtesy of Brooke Goodman.

1. Stupid, dumb, idiotic, pointless, annoying, weird, ridiculous, uncool or anything else that suggests a negative or unfortunate situation, action or setting.

That’s right, this past weekend I kept track of how many times I heard the word “gay” used in a derogatory sense. More specifically, I kept track of how many times the phrase, “That’s so gay” was spoken. The final count was eight times in 48 hours.

That’s eight times too many. Eight might not seem like a large number, but that’s beside the point. The point is that the phrase was uttered at all.

My first reaction was to write a column about how insensitive and unaware people can be when it comes to others’ lifestyles, beliefs and feelings. I was going to lay down the law, and people WERE going to listen.

But after about two seconds of thinking like that, I decided it would probably be best to reflect upon my own personal statements before I decided to pass judgment. I quickly realized that I, too, sometimes fall victim to the use of derogatory phrases. I don’t use them because I’m aiming to harm, but because I simply don’t think about what I’m saying.

In other words, my self-awareness is sometimes lacking.

Although I don’t refer to things as “gay,” I am a frequent user of the word “lame.” As in, if there’s something I find to be boring, unimpressive or disappointing, my first reaction is more often than not, “Wow. So lame.”

“Wow. So boring.” and “Wow. So unable to move.” are very different things.

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there just like me who use the word “lame” in the same context. I’m also sure there are probably a number of people who use words such as “retarded” and “blind” in similar ways. You say them because over the course of high school and college, such phrases have become common and acceptable – even if in reality, they’re not. Or you’re like me and occasionally speak without weighing the gravity of your words.

Either way, it’s not OK and something needs to change.

Some of you might be familiar with the Marquette University BIG Questions series currently sweeping Facebook. If not, just log on and check out all of the fantastic selfie photos taking over your newsfeed.

The intent of this series, though, is to spark discussion and thought about concepts larger than what one might typically think about during an average day. It’s meant to provoke thought about yourself, others, the community and the world in which we all live.

Regardless of whether you participate in the series, use it as platform to examine yourself, your words and actions more closely. I know I plan to.

Words are a double-edged sword. They can be incredibly powerful in positive and negative ways. Think before you speak. Think about who is listening. Think about the person you’re hurting the next time you mindlessly say something is “gay” or “lame.” Think of a different word to use. And think about the bigger picture.

That extra thought could make all the difference.

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