Should age permit oppressive language to be grandfathered in?
Note the use of the word “grandfathered” in the question, since it is clearly sexist. It’s still in common usage, but my guess is it will go the way of fireman and manhole in another generation. It’s exactly the sort of word to which I am referring.
I’m in my mid-40s, and when I was young, language was quite different. Racism and sexism were casual. We used words like “retard” and “mongoloid” not with malice, but because those were the words in common use. When I was a child, they used to sell these little black licorice candies at the variety stores called “nigger babies.” No one thought anything of it. Even the few black kids in the neighbourhood called them nigger babies. (Honest! Google it if you don’t believe me.) But time moves along and sensibilities change, largely for the better. I’m quite glad no one is eating nigger babies these days.
Unfortunately, some words die harder than others. When I was young, “chick” was a perfectly acceptable word for a woman. It was in such common use that I still find myself occasionally using the word. I’m an activist, and in the circles I orbit you can imagine the reactions I get when I refer to a woman as a “chick.”
A lot of people use the word “gay” as pejorative. I understand that most of them don’t mean to be homophobic or hateful, and in time most of them will learn to avoid the word as an insult. But given its frequency of use, I predict that in 50 years there are going to be a lot of grey-haired oldsters calling things “gay” and getting glared at for it.
Should people who learned these unacceptable words when they were young, at a time when the words were socially acceptable, be given leniency in using them? When I accidentally let the word “chick” slip, does it reflect deep-seated misogyny and a stubborn refusal to change, or just an honest mistake?