Blind to the Meaning

I have a reflexive, visceral aversion to the word blind being used to describe anything other than the inability to see the world using eyeballs. And, if you happen to be acquainted with me, then right about now you are thinking, “Um, Jen, you use the word all the time in that way.” Yup, sure do. Still loathe it.

I realize it is a proper usage of the word conveying significant meaning concisely. Besides referencing window coverings and a myriad of other things, blind is used to describe an inability to perceive or understand truth or reality. Think about the line in Amazing Grace “I was blind but now I see.” Who, exactly, wants to be blind in that sense? Can humans separate the two meanings?

I am doubtful we can keep one meaning from flavoring the other and down the street from my home there is a pizza placed that illustrates my point. Most people assume “The Blind Lady Ale House” refers to a female who cannot see with her eyes. In actuality, the name relates to the last person to occupy that retail space – a woman who sold window blinds.

I used to think pride was responsible for my feelings because I value my ability to perceive and understand the world around me. With justification, I want nothing to do with those traits being stripped away from me. Then I read Wheelie Catholic’s entry.

While about a different word entirely, it helped me clarify my own thoughts. When a word is used to describe a disabling condition, it should not also be used in ways that convey a pejorative meaning. For example, do we shower a friend with, “Wow, how blind! That’s just so cool.”? Definitely not.

I am not the language police by any stretch believing the intent behind words is far more important than the exactly perfect phrasing of something. However, I do believe language has power and those with good intentions should endeavor to use verbiage that conveys it. Accusing someone of being ‘blind’ in one sentence and then referring to me as blind in another blurs meaning. Far better, from my perspective, to use a different word when describing an inability to perceive or understand something. Adequate words such as unperceptive, obtuse, ignorant, unaware, and inattentive will suffice.

And what about Venetian blinds, blind alleys, hunting blinds and the compliment of color blind? Nobody will mistake me for a window dressing or other inanimate thing. While it is confusing, I have no objections to blind being misconstrued as a compliment. My sole concern is the use of the word as a negative. Eliminating the word from the English language except when it describes ocular issues is insane. Finding synonymous terms to hurl as insults seems far more doable.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

One thought on “Blind to the Meaning

  1. Found your blog on BADD and just checked out this post as well, going back. I’ve been working on my own vocab lately in regards to ableist phrasings and disabling metaphors and really liked this post. I definitely use blind/see/eyes stuff as well as deaf/hear/ears stuff wrongly all the time still and, like you, it bothers me as well. I’ve spent the past year working crazy/insane/nuts stuff mostly out of my vocab – maybe the blind and deaf phrases should be my next big project!

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