Searching for a Replacement for “Lame.” Anyone?

Here’s the comment to which I’m responding:

I’m sorry you had a tough day/time period, but the headline of your post really got to me because i’ve been trying to deal with language use in my classroom (I’m a law student). I found this blog post when searching for stuff to show my classmates and thought you might be interested in reading it.

By the way, teaching kids to read is pretty darn awesome.

Zach — How do you know that I am not, in fact, lame?  Welp, I’m not unable to move my legs, so you’ve got me there.  I have felt the same way about using the word “crazy”  before.  The only problem is that there lacks a equally descriptive word in either case. Or, I should say, I lack an equally descriptive word.  So, dear law student, I’d be happy to remove the word “lame” from my lexicon if you can supply me with an equally descriptive word that doesn’t offend anyone.  Therein lies the rub.  More appropriate would be for me to say, “I feel as though I’m suffering from dementia.”  Yet, would that be putting those folks down?  I guess I could say I’m pathetic.  I guess that is a less-offensive term.  But forgetting the conversation in which my mom asked if it would be ok for her boyfriend to stay over the break, and then remembering it just as she re-told me they would be staying with us (and don’t worry, Mom, it isn’t a problem at all, I just had told Ang you’d be staying at the hotel again because that hole in my brain told me so) probably doesn’t actually evoke pity in any of my readers.

As a person who loves words, of course, I’ve had to zip over to my online dictionary a few times in writing this.  I am actually feeling annoyed that the first and second definitions of “lame” do indicate folks with leg and foot difficulties.  Then the third one says, “weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory; clumsy.”  Ugh. That is offensive.  I am annoyed at a word.  This is all very weak, inadequate and unsatisfactory.

I’m sure some of my readers will think you are over-sensitive and too PC.  Other of my readers, like me, have probably been hurt by other peoples’ flip use of language.  So thanks, I appreciate you pointing that out to me and to your students.   I’m not sure I’ll be able to completely rid my mouth of the word.  But when I do say it, I will feel guilty and kick myself for not saying weak, inadequate or unsatisfactory.

I’m also open to other suggestions for replacements for both lame and crazy.  I say “crazy” way too often.  Anyone?  Give me good ones that won’t sound stilted or academic.  No offense to law student Zach. 😉



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6 responses to “Searching for a Replacement for “Lame.” Anyone?

  1. Mandolin

    Hi there,

    You linked to a blog post of mine in this post so I took a look at your entry. I did another post a few months ago on alternatives for the word lame. Here’s a link:

    It’s based on this original post from The Hand Mirror:

    Best of luck.

  2. I find myself using “lame” on occassion, but then I remind myself that it’s no different than saying “that’s so gay,” which is so not cool with me, so I try not to do it.

  3. zach

    You are correct that I did not know if you had any physical disabilities. But like the above poster, as an lgbt person, I don’t go, ugh, I’m so GAY whenever I’m upset. I thought it unlikely that someone with a physical disability would use the term “lame” in such a way, but I was careful to point you to the link to read rather than specifically calling you, as someone whose abilities and limitations I don’t know, out. In-group/out-group speech is tricky. Relatedly, the automatic link under your post took me to

    Moving on, in terms of language that is acceptable, I agree that it is difficult. Inadequate? Inefficient? Frustrated? Failing? Incapable? Is it meaningful in any way that three of the words I just thought of are just adding “in-” to positive words (and thus probably overly academic)?


  4. Yeah, the more I thought about it, and I thought about it a lot today, the more I realized that a person who cannot walk would probably not use that word to describe a mental sort-coming. Unless he or she had that sense of humor.

    Truth is, I have used and heard the word in the context of inadequacy so often that I forgot the original and, I guess, primary meaning of the word. I totally agree with you that it is offensive. You should write to the writers at “Glee” and have them make it part of a plot-line in the show.

    Anywho, thanks again for calling me out. I ought to be more creative with my word-choice anyway.

  5. Co

    I think if folks really want to have this conversation, they should contact a large group of people who have disabilities relevant to this topic and ask them if they object to the term “lame”. (The original post from the Hand Mirror had some people who have certain disabilities weighing in.)

    For example, I know lots of people think it’s more PC or sympathetic to say “hearing impaired” than to say “deaf.” However, many deaf people I have met (if anyone bothered asking them) say that term is offensive and prefer either “deaf” or “hard of hearing”, depending on how they identify themselves. They feel that when someone calls them “hearing impaired”, they are focusing on a perceived deficit. And many “Deaf” people don’t feel that they have a deficit, but instead feel that they are a part of a rich Deaf culture with their own language. Deafness is different from most disabilities in that way, but I would be careful not to assume that a term is offensive to a group of people without asking that group. Otherwise, a well-intentioned debate may veer off into paternalism.

    Just a thought….to contact some associations for people with related disabilities and find out. Has that been done already? Are there organizations that have come out against the use of this term?

  6. Well, I guess the thing about it that really made me think is that in the common slang use, it is basically an insult. The question isn’t so much if they object to the word “lame” to identify them. The question is, is it acceptable to use a word that describes part of their state of being as an insult? I think not. I like the word “dyke” and often use it to describe myself. But I would not abide by a student calling another student a dyke as an insult.

    I will say, however, that I don’t think many people who use the word on a regular basis actually know about the first definition.

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