brythain wrote:From my idea of a rational perspective, the reasonable approach is that if a group doesn't want to have a certain word applied to them, then one asks, "So, what term do you prefer?" and then uses their term when addressing them. This may not reach lexical standards, but it serves social purposes. I will continue to use 'mute' when not addressing that particular group because it's not offensive to those outside that group.
Agreed. And I have never used it to address that group and probably never will, unless I find myself in - was it Canada? - for some reason and run into them by chance. I'm using it in a public setting - mainly this forum - and one of them happens to read along.
And yes, you could argue that by participating in this discussion I am addressing him, but it would be kind of silly to discuss the term without using it, wouldn't it?
A test I use is this: Can I go up to a person and say, "Are you (descriptor)?" without making that person feel that I am implying a negative? So if I went up to a person and said "Are you tall?", "Are you purple?", "Are you mute?", "Are you deaf?", "Are you fat?" etc, and thought of how they'd feel being asked that, I'd get a good feel for whether a term had negative connotation in my environment.
Hmm, I just thought about that and found that if someone asked me "Are you intelligent?" or "Are you sane?" I would probably take that as offensive as well, so this works with both positive and negative words, since you're effectively calling the positive trait in question.
For neutral words like "mute", "tall" or "brunette" I don't see a problem, unless there is some kind of inflection (i.e. noticeable intent to offend).
Mirage_GSM said that 'mute' in a library may be seen as positive—I don't see it as relevant because in libraries (and at tennis competitions) you are told 'Silence Please', not 'Muteness Please'.
I didn't watch a tennis match in a long time, but iIrc the term there is "Quiet Please". I don't see why it matters, though. I didn't claim that you are told "Muteness Please" in a library, I said that Muteness is an appreciated trait while in a library - the same as silence and quiet.
Finally, just because you have never thought of it as a negative 'thing' doesn't mean it isn't. I don't think of being (for example) East or South Asian as a negative 'thing', but I've encountered situations where if you were Asian, it would not be a positive; I've even encountered situations where being differently Asian would do that.
I don't know what kind of situations you are talking about, (I imagine standing in a congregation of racists) but in any of those situations, would substitute the word "Asian" for anything else help? Noone who has nothing against Asian people would consider the term offensive. Anyone who does will continue to hate them no matter what word you use.