By Sylvia Stead for the Globe and Mail
Our language doesn’t stay still. It adapts to a changing world, gains new terms, drops old ones and changes course when a term or phrase is widely acknowledged as hurtful and derogatory.
One of those phrases appeared in the big headline on the front page of the June 15 paper, which read: “Our warnings fell on deaf ears.” The story was about the horrific and deadly fire at the Grenfell social-housing project in London. It quoted a statement from the Grenfell Action Group, a residents’ organization that had predicted a catastrophe like the one that happened.
(The headline online did not repeat that phrase. It said: “Fire at London social-housing project raises questions about spending cuts.”)
The mother of a deaf young man wrote to me to say that, while being deaf is a physical disability, it does not mean you are incapable of communicating. “Being deaf does not mean ignoring something, being stupid, being inattentive or insensitive…. People can be deaf, but trust me, it is not because they are deaf that they allow inferior buildings to exist, leading to horrific tragedies…. My son should feel no shame. This time, it’s on The Globe.”
She is right. The Globe should not use terms that are both inaccurate and insulting to any group in society. And this was not the only time The Globe has used the phrase. Other than appearing in a quote, it has been used eight times in the past year.