Posts Tagged definitions

Challenged

A few weeks ago I was standing in line at a local restaurant, and in front of me were several women from a home for the mentally ill.  I presume they’ve been mentally ill all their life and are so impaired that they cannot live independently and need constant attention.  It appeared that a couple of workers from the home were also there, and shepherded the women around.  They kept them from wandering away, payed for their meal, prepared a plate of food for them, and so forth.  I referred to these women as mentally “retarded,” but was corrected by someone else who used the term mentally “challenged.”

Now I’m certainly glad to see the term “retarded” be discontinued.  It has become a derogatory term more than anything else nowadays, though I used it merely to indicate that I thought the brains of these women were damaged in some way, either physically or chemically, and did not intend for it to mean anything else.  Most likely these women have been brain damaged from birth, and their brain function has never reached what we would call “normal.”  (I’m not going to define that word.)

“Retarded” has been replaced by “challenged” as the politically correct term of choice.  But I’m not sure that’s the best word for this situation.  To me it doesn’t fit.

“Challenged” carries the connotation of knowledge of the trials that lies before one.  There’s an actual mental recognition of the challenge, whether one accepts it or not.  It’s a challenge to climb Mt. Everest; it’s a challenge to learn to scuba dive; it was a challenge to put a man on the moon; it was a challenge for Lindbergh to fly the Atlantic in a one-engine airplane; it’s a challenge to grow old; it’s a challenge to get up every morning and go to work.  But the women in front of me probably had no idea of the life situation they were in.  I presume their brains were damaged from birth, and to them, their life is what it is.  They may not be aware that they have a mental disability.  So I ask, is it appropriate to use the term “challenged” in such a situation?  Do they really have a challenge before them?  Are they cognizant of the “challenge” of the life ahead of them?

A challenge is a looking forward, with either anticipation or dread, but always forward to the trial to come.  A person injured in an automobile accident may be confined to a wheelchair, and might be considered “mobility challenged,” but there is a recognition of the challenge ahead.  For someone who cannot look ahead, who does not have the mental facility to understand that there is a challenge ahead of them, is it appropriate to say they are “challenged?”  I maintain that when the knowledge component is missing, the definition does not fit.  You cannot be challenged without your knowledge.

I’ve looked through dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?) but haven’t come up with a better term.  Anybody have any suggestions?

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Affect vs. Impact

Recently, over I-don’t-know-how-many-years, maybe ten, the word “impact” has become a verb.  It’s now commonplace to hear how something “impacted” something else.  We even hear it used on the usually staid evening news.  We hear how a hurricane “impacted” a state or town.  We hear how new federal regulations will “impact” our daily lives.  The use of the term “affect,” or its almost identical twin “effect,” has been replaced by “impact.”  Do you remember the difference between affect and effectAffect is a verb, in the sense of “to affect someone or something.”  Effect is a noun, as “the effects of fluoride on dental caries.”  But now, impact has replaced both in a number of situations, partly, I suspect, because impact can be used as either a noun or a verb.

At first, I was against the use of “impact” in this way.  I figured, if we’ve got two perfectly good words that can be used in place of “impact” and are well-known and well-characterized, why change?  But there’s a subtle contrast in the definition of the word “impact” between it and the affect/effect duo.  That contrast has to do with intensity.  Impact is stronger in its meaning.  It’s used when the speaker or writer wants to show a heavier “impact,” rather than a simple “effect.”  A tornado has an “impact.”  A gentle breeze has an “effect.”  That may be because impact has always carried with it the image of collision, or force, or a real punch or shock.  (This is getting tricky; it’s hard to define “impact” without using “effect” or “affect.”  And vice-versa.)

Now I’m coming around to being more accepting of the use of the word “impact” in situations where a speaker or writer wants to show a strong force.  “Affect” and “effect” may go out of style, but I suspect they will be relegated to milder situations.  In my writing, I will probably still use the older two, perhaps because I’m so used to them.  But “impact” may have a big impact (effect?) on the writing of others.  The wave of the future.

I wonder, though, about the term “affectations.”  Will we eventually have “impactations”?

But don’t get me started on the word “impactful.”

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Obsolete, Part 2

Two years ago (see my post of 9/14/2014, “Obsolete”) I posted about words that are going out of style.  Words such as “actress” and “comedienne” are disappearing because of the tendency to use one word to refer to both male and female performers.  A female playing a role in a film or on stage is an actor, not an actress.  There are other words that are going out of use or changing their definition, and there must be several of them in the English language.  The one that I’ve been wondering about for several years is the word “depot.”

“Depot” isn’t actually disappearing, but its definition is changing.  There are several dictionary definitions of “depot.”  It can be a place to store goods or motor vehicles, or—and this is a definition I’m most familiar with—it can be a place to store military supplies, such as vehicles.  A “supply depot” is common at a military base.  But most often, especially in civilian life, the term “depot” indicated a place to board a train or bus.  Depots were common all across the United States when travel by railroad was much more common than it is now.  Any town on a rail line had a depot, sometimes combined with the bus depot, though mostly those were separate.  The depot might have been a large building serving several railroads and hundreds of people every day, or a small shack where a only few riders caught the local.

Nowadays, however, rail travel is only a fraction of its former self.  We travel by car or plane or, to a lesser extent, by bus.  Greyhound still has depots.  The only large intercity rail travel in the US today is Amtrak, which has been around since 1971, and they usually use the word “station” rather than “depot.”  To most of the younger crowd, the term “depot” probably indicates a big box store such as Home Depot or Office Depot.  Why those two companies decided to use that word in their name I don’t know, but it may have to do with the fact that they have a large selection of items, much like a military depot.  But for those of us of somewhat advanced years, the term “depot” in a name evokes the a train station, and catching the train in the middle of the night, and sleeping on the train, and getting off the train at another depot in the early morning and meeting friends and family you haven’t seen in years, and so on and so forth.  It was a fun way to travel.

In any event, the meaning of the term “depot” is changing, and I suspect the definition of the term to mean a place to catch a bus or train will eventually be lost.  Watch your dictionary to find out.

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