Even though the words crazy, lunatic, insane, nut-job, nut-case, psycho, etc. are derogatory terms used against the mentally ill, I have learned something lately as I have watched people use them over and over again on social media and heard them used over and over again in speech. The words are used by people who are lazy in their speech and in their writing, or who have a limited vocabulary.
There is nothing descriptive about using the word crazy. It is often used like this, “That was a crazy night”, or “That shirt looks crazy”, or “That was some crazy stuff right there.” It is the like using the word awesome. It has been so overused that it has become a filler word with little to no meaning. If you are a writer and using those words in any place but dialogue, I would be careful. The writing will be seen as bland (like I said crazy is not really a descriptive word, no one can really tell you what a “crazy” shirt looks like, or what happened on a “crazy” night).
I haven’t really made a difference in the usage of those words by telling people they are offensive to the mentally ill just like using racist and homophobic words are offensive to people of color or gay people. But maybe if people realize they sound less intelligent and less creative by using those words it will make a difference.
I know when I am reading an essay or even a status update on Facebook when the author writes, “His shirt was blue with penguins on it,” I find it to be far more colorful, creative, and overall better writing than to say, “It was a crazy shirt.” In the first example, you can imagine the shirt in your mind which is what good creative writing is all about – creating a picture.
We are a long way from people being sensitive to the mentally ill in their writing and in their speech, but I know on social media that people like to create an image of their lives that shows them at their very best all of the time. They like to take pictures and Photoshop the pictures, they like to have pictures taken when they have had their hair styled, or when they are on vacation. It is all about perception and image. People also like to come across as funny, witty, creative and smart.
No one sounds funny, witty, creative or smart when they use an adjective that is so overused it means nothing (but is offensive to a group of people). If you really want to be creative find a thesaurus and come up with some descriptive words to describe what you are trying to say or write.
If you give up using those words, you’ll be a better writer/speaker and you will be a better ally to a group that experiences discrimination and stigma every single day.