Monday, 1 October 2012

A stupid debate.

Another little debate over US English/UK English usages this week.

 I've noticed a few times the boys' little friends telling them off (rather sanctimoniously, I thought) for using the word 'stupid'. "That's a bad word, you mustn't say it," they say.

Now maybe it's just me, but I do use the word "stupid" and think it's fine. "That was a stupid thing to do," I'll fume at one of the boys, if they do something well, stupid, and hurt themselves. I'll say "Stupid woman" in the car, if someone cuts me up (if I don't say something worse). It's a useful word.

I was at a party the other night with some American girlfriends, and this came up. I said I couldn't understand what was wrong with the word stupid. One friend said she would never say it in front of her kids, although she happily admitted saying other swear words in front of them. "It's like saying retarded," she said. But surely, I persisted, "retarded" is much worse, as it actually implies mental disability (and so is doubly un-PC, as it's insulting disabled people too.) I certainly don't use that word, or any of the related words that were popular among kids in the 80s (you know the ones I mean....)..

I asked my friend what word she would use instead of "stupid" when telling off her kids. "I would tell them that is not OK," she replied. Somehow, I don't feel this would have the same force.

Anyway, I looked up stupid and it comes from the Latin verb "stupere", to be numb or to astonish, so it's not an equivalent word to "idiotic" or "dumb" which actually originated from medical conditions. I can't see why it's a bad word. In fact, I'll argue that it's a perfectly good word - perhaps insulting, but it has a definite meaning - much more so than "not OK" which could mean all sorts of things.

Anyone else like to weigh in? Is stupid a word you use, or has it now become politically incorrect? Or am I just being stupid about this?