Words that Damage and Destroy: "Losing" a Home, A Job

Words misused can trick, damage, and weaken the full humanity of human beings. There are several such words that our “official” media use and many of us use in casual conversation to describe our present human disaster: what is called the Great Recession.

I no longer use the official word “unemployed” because it sounds as if workers had stubbed their toes on the way to work–-just an unfortunate accident. And “lost their jobs” or “lost their homes” sound the same. “Gee, I lost my keys, my wallet and my job and home besides. Help me look under this lamp post.”

The word “disemployed” makes clearer that some person or institution decided not to invest in Company X or to move the jobs to Thailand or to use advanced technology not to reduce the work week while paying workers just as much and keeping normal profits instead of super-profits, but to fire workers and gobble up more billions. 

And the official phrase “discouraged workers” is a travesty when used for those who have given up looking because there ARE NO jobs, and who are no longer counted in the numbers of the “un”-employed. More honest would be “despairing workers.”

For the same reasons, I no longer use the phrases “lost her job” or “lost his home.” I know what losing a walking stick or a phone feels like. The loser feels stupid, ashamed. That is what the dominant American culture wants the disemployed or de-housed to feel like, and others to feel about them: They/we are stupid, our “losing” is shameful. We are just "losers."

But that is NOT what being homeless or jobless is about. The emotion arising from being de-housed, evicted, because you/ we were bamboozled into owing more than we can afford should be anger, not shame. The same with being disemployed.

The "official" words mirror and strengthen an ideology that says the poor are poverty-stricken because they are stupid, lazy, careless. That may be Ayn Rand. It is not Torah, the Gospels, the Talmud, the Quran,  Gautama, Gandhi, King, Heschel, Malcolm, Dorothy Day, John XXIII.