language & grammarrace & culture

Using “the R-word” is exactly the same as using “the N-word,” and if you can’t see that, then you’re feebogzh

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Recently, in Australia, the recording/performance artist Lady Gaga and her entourage were pelted with eggs, apparently to protest Ms. Gaga’s use of a wheelchair as part of her musical act. Ms. Gaga, who has the full use of her legs, needed to be shown the insensitivity inherent whenever anyone who does not need a wheelchair uses a wheelchair, whether it be for artistic purposes or not. The eggs were intended as an attention-getting device.

Obviously, as a sensitive person myself, I applaud the throwing of items at insensitive people to get their attention on important matters. Most insensitive people don’t realize they’re being insensitive, and throwing objects at them is a good way to start the conversation process, which will start a dialogue which will in turn lead to the curative process, and then, inevitably can we begin to heal, as a people. I would like to point out, however, that millions of men and women all over the world struggle with the tragedy of infertility. The throwing of eggs is a sad reminder of the burden these people live with every day of their lives. Therefore I must reluctantly say that it was insensitive of the wheelchair activists to throw eggs at Ms. Gaga et al, no matter how noble their intentions.



Ms. Gaga has a checkered history of sensitivity. She is the US State Department’s go-to person in the worldwide fight for rights of gays and lesbians, and yet, in attempting to discredit charges that she borrowed the tune “Born this Way” from Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” she used the word “retarded.” Ms. Gaga apologized for that insensitive usage, and yet the very fact that she uttered the word at all was a devastating blow to the millions of people all over the world who have to deal with intellectual disabilities. “The R-word” hurts, no matter the context in which it’s used. As this public service message featuring two cast members of the hit television program “Glee” suggests, using “the R-word” as a synonym for “foolish” (i.e. “When Lady Gaga performed that song in a wheelchair, that was R-worded,” or “Stop riding around in that wheelchair even though you have full use of your legs, you’re being an R-word”) is no different from calling a black person “the N-word,” or a Jewish person “the K-word,” or a Mexican person “the S-word”.

Not feebogzh.

Ms. Gaga would not have dared to say “The people accusing me of stealing Madonna’s music are being so ‘N-word,'” would she? No, of course not. So she should not have used “the R-word.” And if you can’t see that it’s totally the same thing to call a black person the N-word as it is to use the R-word as synonym for “foolish,” then you’re just being insensitive and those of us who are sensitive should all join together to shame you into realizing that you’re less sensitive than we are.

Sadly, this insensitivity is pervasive. Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel used “the R-word” in reference to criticism from liberals over Barack Obama’s health care reform efforts. The political commentator Janeane Garofalo used “the R-word” to criticize those whose politics she dislikes. The comedian Sarah Silverman apparently thinks insensitivity is funny, as she has frequently used “the R-word” in her comedy routines. Another comedian, Whitney Cummings, has also found humor in “the R-word.” Ms. Cummings will be appearing in her own eponymous situation comedy on NBC this season. Apparently NBC thinks “the R-word” is acceptable. I wonder if they would build a show around a comedian who used “the N-word” the way Ms. Cummings used “the R-word.” After all, as the “Glee” commercial makes clear, there is no difference between the two words.

Yet I must admit that even I myself have been guilty of insensitivity at times. In recent blog posts, I have described the comic book character Green Lantern as “lame.” In this context I was using the word “lame” as a synonym for “foolish” (I don’t like the character Green Lantern — he is foolish). As a person who has the full use of his legs, I would never think to employ the use of a wheelchair for “shock effect,” as Ms. Gaga did in her insensitive performance. Yet, by using “the L-word” as synonym for “foolish,” I was committing the rhetorical equivalent of the same crime. That was wrong, and I deeply regret it. I know that millions of people all over the world deal with the tragedy of physical disabilities, and using “the L-word” in that manner was a terrible reminder of the burdens they face every day, and it also implied that people with physical disabilities were “foolish.” Obviously, this is not the case.



I understand that words can hurt. For most of my life, I have been underweight, and had lower than normal upper body strength. For instance, today I find it taxing to lift a window-mounted air conditioning unit and carry it up one flight of stairs. I am, in other words, “weak.” And yet, every day I am confronted by situations in which I hear people using the word “weak” when they mean “foolish” (i.e., “Lady Gaga’s use of a wheelchair during a concert was really weak, let’s throw eggs at her,” and “When Lady Gaga used ‘the R-word’ to attack her critics, that was really weak”). How do you think I feel about this? I feel very insulted. I feel hurt. I feel bullied. People would never think to say that Lady Gaga’s use of a wheelchair during a concert was really N-word, so why would they be so willing to say that it was W-word?

Insensitivity comes in many forms and we have to nip it in the bud — if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the “Glee” public service message, that’s it.

But that is not all. I recently suffered from gastrointestinal problems that required a hospital stay, and a biopsy of a small growth found on my duodenum. During this time, I was unable to eat particularly spicy food. I had to eat blander, “weaker” food. Although this condition was temporary and I have since fully recovered and can now eat anything I want, my harrowing three week ordeal gave me real insight into the suffering of the millions of people all over the world who have debilitating gastrointestinal problems that require them to eat only bland food and drink flat soda all the time.

That is why I was particularly devastated to find Rachel Maddow, the sensitive political commentator, use the term “weak sauce” in reference to Democrat complaints about Republican political tactics. (Interestingly enough, Ms. Maddow works for the cable network MSNBC, the sister company of NBC, which will be airing the R-word using comedian Whitney Cummings’ new program. I am sensing a pattern of corporate insensitivity here.)

“Weak sauce” is a hurtful, insensitive term that belittles the plight of those people who must, for health reasons, only consume “weak sauce.” By using that term as a synonym for “foolish,” Ms. Maddow is implying that people who suffer from gastrointestinal problems are, themselves, “foolish.” But they are not. They are you and me. They are our mothers and fathers. Our sisters. Our brothers. Our uncle. They are our neighbors and our neighbors’ neighbors. In other words, they are you and me. Except, they’re not really me, anymore, since I have fully recovered from my health problems. But others, my neighbors, my mothers, my fathers, my sisters and brothers, are not so lucky. And I am sensitive enough to recognize this.


Ms. Maddow used the term “weak sauce” in 2010, and I have been unable to bring myself to watch her program since that time. I am too sensitive to watch an insensitive person’s television show. This is especially disappointing since Ms. Maddow is both a woman and a lesbian. One would think that she of all people would understand the power that words have. She would not think to say,”The Democrats are being such bitches about the Republicans’ tactics,” or, “The Democrats complaints about Republican tactics are so gay,” and yet, she did exactly the same thing by saying “The Democrats complaints about Republican tactics are very ‘WS-word.'”

That is why I am proposing a new word, totally made up by me, that we can use as a substitute for the word “foolish.” Because it was totally made up by me, just now, it has none of the insensitive connotations of “the R-word,” or “the L-word,” or “the W-word,” or “the WS-word.” It can be used freely, without fear of offense. The word is,


It is pronounced exactly like it sounds, and it is to be used thusly:

“My use of the word ‘sad’ in the second paragraph of this post was an insensitive slight against the millions of people all over the world who suffer from depression, and I need to learn to stop being so feebogzh.”

Words matter. They have force. The words you use are just as important as the actions you take, because speaking and expressing yourself are actions. The words you choose reflect what is in your soul. And if you use words that some sensitive people find insensitive, then it only proves how insensitive you are. And that is totally feebogzh.

Ricky Sprague occasionally writes and/or draws things. He sometimes animates things. He has a Twitter account and he has a blog. He scripted this graphic novel about Kolchak The Night Stalker. He is really, really good at putting links in bios.
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4 Responses to “Using “the R-word” is exactly the same as using “the N-word,” and if you can’t see that, then you’re feebogzh”

  1. Great neologism. But what should we throw at a feebogzh if we can’t throw eggs?

  2. Perhaps we could throw stones?

  3. Let he who is free of feebogzh cast the first stone!

  4. This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read…wait can’t say ‘read’. That’s insensitive to blind people. I’ve ever heard…no, insensitive to deaf people. I’ve ever had read to me…what about people who can’t speak. Hold on, the fact that I’m typing this is insensitive to people without fingers, hands, arms, computers, internet. Not to mention the illiterate who might as well consider this secret note-passing meant to make fun of their inability to read.

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