Monday, May 17, 2010

Ableist Word Profile: Crazy

This is cross-posted at one of my favorite blogs, FWD/Forward as an Ableist Word Profile (a series I love).

Like every ism, ableism is absorbed through the culture on a more subconscious level, embedding itself in our language like a guerrilla force. Crazy is one of the most versatile and frequently used slurs, a word used sometimes directly against persons with mental disabilities (PWMD), sometimes indirectly against persons with able privilege, sometimes descriptive and value-neutral, and sometimes in a superficially positive light.

As a direct slur against PWMD:

Crazy as a word is directly and strongly tied to mental disability. It’s used as a slur directly against PWMD both to discredit and to marginalize. If a person with a history of mental illness wants to do something, for good or bad, that challenges something, that person’s thoughts, arguments, and rhetoric are dismissed because that person is “crazy”. If a PWMD is going through pain because of something unrelated to their mental state, culpability for the pain is placed solely on their being crazy. Even if their suffering is related to their disability, it is, in a catch-22, dismissed due to their “craziness”; the PWMD is expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they want to be viewed as a valid human being.

“I can’t believe Britney shaved her head. Crazy bitch.”
“Not only is Dworkin cissexist, she’s fucking crazy!”

As a way to discredit neurotypical people:

Crazy is also often used to describe a neurotypical person that the speaker disagrees with. It’s used to discredit able-privileged persons by saying that they are actually mentally disabled – and what could be worse than that?

“Tom Cruise is fucking crazy. Seriously, he’s batshit insane about Prozac, yelling at Matt Lauer and shit.”
“Did you hear that Shirley broke up with Jim? She thought he was cheating on her.” “Yeah, she’s crazy, Jim’s a great guy.”

As an all-purpose negative adjective:

Crazy is often used – even, still, by me and other feminists – to negatively describe ideas, writing, or other nouns that the speaker finds disagreeable. Conservatives are “crazy”, acts of oppression are “crazy making” , this winter’s snow is “craziness”. This usage makes a direct connection between mental disability and bad qualities of all stripes, turning disability itself into a negative descriptor. Whether it means “bad” or “evil” or “outlandish” or “illogical” or “unthinkable”, it’s turning the condition of having a disability into an all-purpose negative descriptor. When using crazy as a synonym for violent, disturbing, or wrong, it’s saying that PWMD are violent, disturbing, wrong. It’s using disability as a rhetorical weapon.


“They took the public option out of the health care plan? That’s fucking crazy!”
“Yeah, Loretta went crazy on Jeanie last night. Gave her a black eye and everything.”

Crazy as a positive amplifier:

On the flip side, crazy is often used as a positive amplifier. Folks say that they are “crazy” about something or someone they love or like. But just because it’s positive doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Crazy as a positive adjective still mean “overly” or “too much”. It’s meant to admit a slight lack of foresight or sense on the part of the speaker. Furthermore, a slur is a slur is a slur, no matter the context. Crazy is mostly, and overtly, used to mean “bad”, “silly”, “not worth paying attention to”, “too much”. Persons with mental illnesses are none of these things as a group. The positive use is not that positive, and it doesn’t absolve the mountains of bad usage.

“I’ve been crazy busy lately, sorry I haven’t been around much.”
“I’m just crazy about ice cream!”

Crazy a destructive word, used to hurt people with mental disabilities. It’s used to discredit, to marginalize, to make sure that we feel shame for our disability and discourage self-care, to make sure that those of us brave enough to publicly identify as having mental disabilities are continually discredited.


  1. I think "crazy" and "fat" are the two most acceptable terms used to discriminate against groups of people. I have been labeled both, but I refuse to allow the language of others to shame me into compromising who I am.

  2. I definitely agree with ..... up there. It's also amazing how hurtful "crazy" can be to me when used specifically negatively. I know I'm not neurotypical in a lot of ways, and a lot of the time I'm not bothered at all, but when someone whose opinion I value says "you're being crazy" or "you're crazy" it's like they just hit me.

    And most people don't consider it a very harsh word to use, much less a slur.

    I do think that a lot of people are taking those words back. For example, I (and many people larger than myself) use "fat" as a self-identifying term...and it's a struggle to get people to realize that we're not being self-deprecating. Crazy could be taken back the same way (and I've heard a few people with emotional/mental health issues do that).

    I do think, though, that, like most if not all reclaimed words, it's totally dependent on the use and who's using it.

  3. That's what I try to do... I use the words "fat" and "crazy" all the time to refer to myself, not to denigrate myself, but to take away the negative power of them!

  4. May I link to this when someone says "crazy" or something synonymous (and they're definitely not reclaiming it)? Your words are better than mine, but I don't want to link to this unless it's okay with you. Plus I know it's possible I could accidentally bring trolls to your blog that way.

  5. Numol, thank you for asking! Please link/quote this and any other piece you want to share.

  6. Which category would it fall under to describe something frustrating? Along the lines of 'it's driving me crazy'. That's my most common usage of it (apart from to describe myself as crazy) and it's something I'm finding hard to cut out. For me, finding something frustrating only rarely sets off my particular brand of crazy. It's inaccurate and yet I'm having a tough time coming up with a proper replacement!

  7. Ruby:
    Try "at the end of my rope", "exasperated", "irritated", "had enough of", "had it up to here with", or "annoying the living shit out of me."


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