What weird old trick did one local person use to be smarter and more empathetic? The answer will shock you.



Local mom in $__*_%%^IP-BASED LOCALE STRING__$%%%%$ has discovered that by avoiding the use of one word they can immediately invoke empathy in both themself and their listener, and improve their communications clarity by upwards of 169%. Click here to learn more about what word you should avoid saying in order to be a more fluent and well-communicated, lucid individual.

a sleeping puppy and a kitten on a couch
I can call myself a local mom even if my only kids are puppies and kittens fuck you.

In my ongoing crusade against cishet able white males, whom I am determined to destroy, I’ve gotten a rapidly increasing distaste for the insipid and sophomoric. After hearing the 30,000th shithead dudebro mindlessly repeat email-forward-quality faith smashing or defend the status quo in AAA video gaming as “artful” or anything other than simplistic and problematic pop trash for children, it begins to wear on one’s patience to the point where you wonder why some people even bother to try to communicate when they clearly have absolutely nothing of interest or value to share.

In the previous paragraph, I managed to act like the huge pretentious asshole that I am and condescend to entire broad swaths of “sheeple” as it were, but there’s a word I didn’t use. This is because said word is imprecise, often hurtful, but maybe most importantly it’s just downright insipid to the point where it detracts from whatever it is one is saying. It’s also worse than “sheeple”.

a pickaxe
No, it’s not “pickaxe” but I appreciate that you paid attention to my recent fixation on blenders.

That word, ladies, gender nonconfirmists, and males, is “stupid”.

Look everyone, I really don’t care what you think about 12 year olds on tumblr who identify as trans-otherkin, in fact, I’m not even sure why we’re talking about them. The most important focus here is that we’re squandering perhaps our greatest advantage as a species–communicating via abstract thought–by being dull and imprecise every time we use that awful word.

These are just tweets I found within like one minute of writing this part of this article’s draft. What are these people even trying to say? Who knows, and more importantly who cares? It’s hard to empathize with people who are speaking in a lazy and imprecise manner when they have the capacity to do better, especially when they do so by calling others “stupid” while saying something that lacks any sort of insight or value, and I hope I don’t have to point out the irony here.

alanis morisette in the passenger seat of a car from the "ironic" music video
I was unironically super disappointed when it didn’t rain on my wedding day.

Skepticism is all about being skeptical of the status quo and things that one is told without evidence or qualification, yet all too often within the skeptic community the incredibly flawed idea of intelligence as some kind of objective and linear measure, despite mountains of research, evidence, and direct lived experience to the contrary are held up with a fervor rivaling a Young Earth Creationist hearing the phrase “carbon dating.”

a comic about two carbons dating each other, with one saying "Ever since I started dating you I feel like I've been living a half life!"
It is a joke!

Basically, every time you use the word “stupid” you are holding up a flawed worldview that forces a very limited and sophomoric understanding of how human society works and people behave in order to prove to everybody that what you are saying has absolutely no meaning or value.

You can also stop saying it to avoid being a hurtful douchebag and holding up one of the most pervasive and broad systems of oppression that exist but apparently asking people to not be shitheads is just asking for too much.

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  1. I’ve found that people are limited by their perception of stupidity. When working with students struggling with something, they start to suspect stupidity pretty soon* and that shuts things down. If one is stupid, one cannot be expected to understand things. If the material is a step up in difficulty, the student hasn’t seen it before, the student isn’t comfortable with math, and so on, those problems can be foxed.

    Also, if the person I’m talking to is stupid, there’s no point in engaging. I respect my fellow humans to think they can understand the points I’m making, and it’s not stupidity that is blocking them. They are not my cat, who is adorable, but whose communication is limited to practical matters like ‘will you feed me now?’ ‘how about now?’ and ‘Pay attention to me!’.

    * I will include myself in this, filed under ‘Grad school: impostor syndrome’. Not particularly logical to assume that ‘can’t finish the monster of a graduate quantum mechanics problem’ marks you as stupid, but human brains are funny.

  2. So this whole “stupid” thing is news to me as well as the ableist context in general. I’ve never found the word stupid to be a very nice word except in a Prince song where we are encouraged to “get stupid” and party in the house tonight ( or somesuch forgive my impresice recollection of the lyrics). As I read about people being offended by the simple use of terms that infer a negative connotation towards some lack of intelligence I took it as frivolous and thin skinned. I don’t mean to stomp on the likely already-been-hurt feelings of someone who is offended by “ableism”, but I feel that this might be a bit of nit picking about our language. Is anything that is less-than, or undesireable in the general context of human qualities not to be used in everyday language? Can we talk about people having weak arguments? Does this not offend those who tend to make such arguments or those who are literally physically weak? Can we use any adjective that describes a less-than-status-quo state of affairs with regard to any human quality? If aomeone takes an action that would be ill-advised, ill-concieved , or otherwise erronious: I agree simply calling it “a stupid thing to do” is not an impressive or particularly taseful thing to read or hear, but is it really the kind of thing that needs this much attention? Yes, when I hear someone say “you’re stupid” to anyone I judge that speaker immediately in a negative light. Calling an action stupid is really just a short cut and its not very pleasing linguistically, but it does get a point across. Is the word “wise” equally as ableist? Is any expression of relative judgements of intellectual prowess ableist? Can we talk about intelligence? Would it be wise to simply grin and bear it rather than cut off any ability to appraise intelligence one way or the other?

      • I fail to see how this kind of non-response is any better than calling someone “stupid”.. After all, you are belittling (not to devalue* little people) and dismissing a person’s comment based on your own evaluation* of their reading comprehension, retention and/or communication abilities as being more towards the negative (not to devalue* pessimists) end along some sort of imagined, linear continuum. That said, I will agree that “stupid” has become quite cliché (not to devalue* those who prefer routine or repetition to novelty) and many people might benefit from choosing other words with which to express their disapproval of any particular thought, idea, expression or individual (not to devalue* those who do not consider themselves individuals, do not have thoughts, do not possess ideas or choose not to express themselves).

        * I chose the word “devalue” as it seems to me the least likely to be devaluing* any particular person or group. That said, if my use of this word is in some way *-ist, (for example to those who believe that any reference to the relative “value” of an idea reflects negatively upon the esteem for ideas themselves as value-independant, or those who choose to revere “value”) I apologize and would ask only for guidance (not to devalue* those who would choose to travel without a guide, or those who wish others would choose likewise) in choosing a different word which can express the concept yet remain inoffensive (not to devalue* those who delight in causing or taking offense) to all (not to devalue* those who do not consider themselves part of “the whole”).

        TL;DR: Please provide a single word which communicates a negative valuation without being able to be spun as denigrating (not to devalue* people of relatively recent African descent) any individual or group.

  3. Hmm, yes I did get a lot more out of it this time around. My question in regards to “wise” remains. In regular use, when ascribed to an action whose outcome has measurable benefits/drawbacks, should we not use our flawed worldviews to ascribe a value to an action? Please understand that I’m agreeing with you in principle. Stupid is an overused and generally non-descript, unpleasing word. It seems to me that intelligence is real. Not necessarily intrinsic or static to a person, I generally think that intelligence is like physical strength a thing that is built and maintained rather than possessed. While I’ll admit my world view isn’t perfect, can’t I claim to be less stupid this morning than I was last night when I was tired and typing away my comment with a less than perfect understanding of your article? As you asked I did re-read it this morning and found some of my questions answered. Values of intellectual performance are not completely useless are they?

    • I agree with you. When I see arguments on whether insulting a person’s intelligence is “ableist” (and I use that in quotes NOT because I’m somehow skeptical of the concept of ableism – I’m disabled, can confirm it’s a thing – but to cast doubt on the concept that labeling something “ableist” is an argument in itself).

      As you point out, if we’re going to throw out words like “stupid” on the grounds that they imply there’s a spectrum of intellectual abilities, we should also get rid of any words which praise people for being at a different location on that spectrum. But we’re not about to do that, because being smart is inherently better than being stupid. That’s not ableist – it’s just fact.

      Other things that aren’t ableist: saying it’s better to not be in pain, saying it’s better for your muscles to work like you want them to, saying it’s better to be stronger. All these things are just true.

      I also strongly disagree with this article’s assertion that by calling someone “stupid,” you are subscribing to some sort of “objective and linear conception of intelligence.” Stupid means, remember, “mentally slow, lacking ordinary activity of mind, dull (you’ll notice OP used that word to insult the intelligence of people who use “stupid”), inane.” Without my medication for my cognitive disability, I’m very stupid in many ways. I do a ton of stupid things. I leave my keys in the door, I take asinine “shortcuts,” I make bad decisions. I am mentally slow and I lack the ordinary activity of mind.

      Should someone call me stupid? I’d rather they don’t, because it would hurt my feelings, but that’s because being stupid is an inherently negative state, a state never preferable to having an ordinary activity of mind and being mentally quick. I hate feeling and being stupid, so I take my medication.

      There’s just no way we’re ever going to convince everyone that the very concept of a range of intelligence levels in the population is wrong, because it’s plainly true that some people are more intelligent than others. It’s not perfectly linear, but it’s a thing. What we should be doing is inculcating into the population an awareness of different cognitive disabilities, so there is more awareness that a person can be cognitively impaired in one area and just fine in another, and to only use “stupid” contextually, to describe specific behaviors or patterns of behaviors rather than the sum of an entire person.

  4. scare-quoting ableism. You are off to a fantastic start Kurt. I’m not even going to try to convince you that ableist words are ableist if you won’t grasp the fact that oppression against disabled people is a thing.

    Anyways, nice article Anna. I do wish that the people writing about this debacle would stop focusing on the non-issue (IS STUPID ABLEIST? Yes now let’s move on) and focus on the glaring fuckup that occured when disabled people demanded respect.

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