If you don’t find the title offensive, you need to read this post. If you find it offensive only because I appear to use gay as an insult, you need to read this post. If you find the title bitterly amusing, welcome to Enlightenment, but please read the post so you can explain it to lesser beings.

Using lame as a derogatory term is as dangerous and ill-considered as using the term gay in the same context. I know. I’m both: I’m a dyke and I have MS. I walk with elbow crutches. I am, literally, lame.

It might seem harmless to you to call a bad movie lame, a poorly– an inadequately-designed website lame, an outdated notion of publishing lame. Perhaps it seems harmless to your children to call their friend’s nerdiness gay, their bad songs gay, their ugly clothes gay. But we all know what happens when gay kids get that casual insult hurled at them every day. Their self-esteem plummets. Sometimes they kill themselves.

Words matter. Like icebergs, nine-tenths of their heft lies out of sight. Insults like gay and lame can kill. If you’re not gay or lame, you might not see the grinding damage that’s occurring below the waterline to those who are.

So think before you apply the label lame to something you find bad, poor inadequate, sucky,* naff, laughable, clueless, or generally displeasing. Think of all us people in a wheelchair, with a cane, with crutches, with a limp, in a scooter. Think of us being scraped at and battered and cut by that cold jagged ice, every day, day in day out.

If you hear others making this mistake, point out to them that using the lame as an insult is making fun of cripples, and that making fun of cripples is no more acceptable than making fun of queers.

Tell them it’s dangerous.

It’s dangerous because I’m not a child. I don’t have a problem with self-esteem. If you use the word lame to mean anything but some version of can’t walk well, I won’t kill myself. I’ll come after you.

Let me be very, very clear: It is not acceptable to use lame as a term of ridicule. Ever. If you use it, I will call you on it. As none of us is perfect, the first time I’ll try to not to assume ill intent. I’ll try to be reasonable. But, as I say, none of us is perfect, and there’ll be days when I’m not particularly reasonable, or careful, or kind. But if you correct the usage instantly (preferably with an apology), I’ll forgive and forget. If you don’t, I will cut you: I’ll cut you out of my life, off my party list, and possibly through an artery. I will name and shame. I will call the internet down on your head.

So think before you speak. You’ve been warned.

* I am not using sucky as a reference to fellatio which, by extension, has on occasion (I’m told; I’m happy to be corrected on this) been used as a gay slur. I grew up using it in the sense of sucking bog, a quagmire. (As a child that meant dangerous, a trap; then it became a nasty distraction.) I see that others might regard the word differently. But I chose to leave it in, with this footnote, because I’m hoping it helps others see some of the difficulties in labelling what might appear to be an ordinary word as derogatory.

As you can see, I’ve just re-thought poor.

See a related discussion on etymology and insult.