I am an A.D.A. You may have heard of the practice of nouning a verb
serving—very common). You may have been subjected to verbing nouns (denominalization—e.g.,
you with a job, calendar
an event--Benjamin Franklin said
in a letter
to Noah Webster that denominalization is “awkward and abominable.”). But
now we are nouning the abbreviations of acts of Congress.
Language matters. It matters more than most people realize.
The way we think is inextricably tied to words, and each word carries with it
more than just its simple definition. Words and phrases drag along emotional
baggage, innuendo, and an encoding of societal norms. That doesn’t even begin
to factor in the tone of voice used, or the ethnic, class and social background
of both the speaker and the hearer.
We invent new words all the time, often inadvertently.
Sometimes we repurpose old words (e.g., gay), and sometimes a new word is an
artifact of some other evolving societal change.
The world of disability has its own language issues. For
example, having a disability
the same as being disabled
. In the
first case one is describing perhaps a single malady, while in the second case
you are classifying the state of the entire person. What may seem like a nuance
to you may make a big difference in the way you think about the person being
described; and let’s not even bring up the negative connotations of handicapped
. A handicap is for golf
games and horse races.
This is not original thinking on my part, nor is it conveyed
in the name of political correctness
I’m not interested in participating in the new I’m Offended
craze. I’m just trying to point out that the language
that you use not only reflects how you think, but actually affects how you
This brings me to my morning commute. The Americans with
Disabilities Act (A.D.A., fttps://www.ada.gov/), prohibits discrimination and
ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state
and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities,
and transportation. I catch a regular NJ Transit bus into the Port Authority
Bus Terminal in NYC twice a week. The bus driver (referred to by NJT as the bus operator
), takes about eight minutes
to load me into the bus using a wheelchair lift. That is if the seats slide
easily, the equipment works, and the operator has some facility using the
equipment. Once the seats are moved to make room, my travel scooter and I
occupy the space of six seats.
Every NJ Transit bus has this equipment, and there are very
strict rules about how to handle the cases where this accommodation under the
A.D.A. does not work right. After the operator picks me up and continues on
their route, they call the pickup into their control center. When conveying
this information they do not refer to me as handicapped, disabled, or a
wheelchair (hey, there is a person controlling that wheelchair!). Instead they
tell their dispatcher, “I have picked up an A.D.A.
at Chestnut Street in Garwood.” How’s that for an invented word that carries no
I find this creative and amusing. As I stated before, I’m
not a willing member of the I’m Offended
club, especially when the goal appears to be accuracy without giving offense.