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Punny or Offensive?: Synonyms

Oct 24 2008 | Comments 15


Sometimes a newspaper editor is forced to make puns in the service of a headline. So let’s say you had a blog that was about home aquarium fish. An article about you could be called: Blogging Molly. Like for molly fish. Like making a pun on Flogging Molly, the band. Oy, that sounded lots better in my head than it reads. I swear I’m good at this.

But others are much better. A colleague of mine once wrote a good one for an article about chicken sales. Title? “Poultry in Motion.” Another time she headlined an article about the decline of an old hotel here, the Warwick. Title? “Alas, Poor Warwick.” She was a genius at headlines. She’s now teaching journalism.

When it comes to mental health, there are some truly terrible puns. A Trenton newspaper got into hot water a few years back when there was a fire at a psychiatric hospital. Their headline? “Roasted Nuts.” That egregious example aside, there are times when I want to write a headline about a mental health article, but I just don’t know how far I can go. Below is a list of words and I’d like to know which ones are inherently offensive to you.


Do any of these words offend you so much that they can’t be used in any context, especially a punny headline? I’d like to know.

liz | 1:45 PM | Uncategorized

scott Says:

I’m still laughing over Roasted Nuts.

The only one I really do not like to see used is crazy.

Oct 24 3:38 PM

LS Says:

When I think about the fact that the word “lunacy” originated during a time when people thought there was a correlation between a full moon and mental instability, it’s hard for me to be offended by it. It’s archaic at this point. I don’t hear it used very much.

“Roasted Nuts” is pretty tasteless though.

Oct 24 4:01 PM

Carter Says:

As an ex-journo, I’m almost always a fan of offensively funny headlines (though “Roasted Nuts” was pretty godawful).

Personally I think we do a lot better to claim these words as our own than to try to kill them off. “Queer,” after all, doesn’t have much bite as a gay slur anywhere outside the deep South anymore.

On top of which, I can’t think of better words than “crazy,” “nuts,” “mad,” etc. to describe me at my, well, craziest.

The problem has more to do with the dangerousness that’s implied by these words — watch out for lunatics with kitchen knives on street corners!

I think the best way to destigmatize these words is to use them, & to use them in connection with real, ordinary crazy people like us.

Oct 24 5:19 PM

cretin Says:

I can’t speak for others: I am rather thick skinned. Those words by themselves don’t tweak me, but how they are used in context could. If the writer was joking around, OK. If the writer was seriously trying to be condescending, I might take issue (or ignore it). But I am one who on occasion refers to myself as “psycho” to close friends.

Oct 24 5:28 PM

Larry Says:

I think crazy, and perhaps madness as well, are a little too ingrained in the vernacular. I liked the Gnarls Barkley song, for example.

Insanity is quite literally a judgment call. It seems like a neutral word, but it’s actually not. In the end, who gets to call whom insane?

Lunacy (with its implication linking mental illness and the full moon), madhouse and especially bedlam are words that need to pass out of the lexicon, IMO.

People should know by now how stigmatizing “madhouse” is; and the only legitimate use of “bedlam” is as a sick history lesson into Bethlehem Hospital in London …

Oct 24 6:15 PM

Katharine Says:

It always depends on the context. I’m sure there are valid, even effective, laudable uses of all those words. And I’m also sure there are plenty of offensive, counterproductive, uses of all as well.

It’s probably usually easier to come up with the latter variety.

And sort of a knee jerk thing, I don’t know that after intellectual introspection and examination I would see it as “the worst” (and also, again, it is soooo situation specific, and all the words I’m sure could actually be used well too), but ‘madhouse’ gives me the biggest ICK AGH YUCK HORRIBLE EEEWIE GROSS SCARED instantaneous reaction of all of them.

- a big fan of this blog. keep writing and speaking up, Liz!!!

Oct 24 9:14 PM

Michelle Says:

I’d have to say lunacy and madhouse.

Oct 25 12:28 PM

da6 Says:

Maybe its the PDD-NOS but words are just words, their use and context has so much influence in what they mean that declaring words as offensive has always offended me since I was a small child. Banning words amount to banning ideas. That is always a bed idea. The best explanation my father a behavioural psychologist and psycho-physicist could give me is some people are mentally weak and can not face ideas, or voids in knowledge. At least that made me sad for them so I stopped insulting other children and especially adults for being stupid. I was 4 or 5 at the time, could already read and had come up with my own notation for negative numbers, as I had been taught how to add and subtract, and they naturally came up.

Puns however are a crime against society that should not stand.

Just joking.

These words are not offensive. Especially not compared to NYC police commissioner Kelly saying after one of his officers tasered a bipolar man who was on a ledge, and in no danger of hurting anyone at that moment, other than himself, “these people stop taking their meds”
Apparently this is a good excuse to kill someone who is ill. The man fell as a result of being tasered.

That is offensive.

That the officer committed suicide because he did not want to work a desk job, he thought it was emasculating, not that he felt bad for killing someone for being sick; while the rest of them supported him saying he did nothing wrong.

Diabetics are often killed by police as they can appear drunk and out of it before they laps into a coma and die.

That is offensive.

Parents who drive their kids to use drugs to self medicate because they have a prejudice against medicine.

That is offensive.

That we can not help people in this country without either punishing them at the same time, or making sure that if they accept help they can not actually get better.

That is offensive.

I always tell friends and young people I know, like friend’s children, that they need not fear saying anything to me or asking anything. I tell them they can not offend me.

There is however one way that they can.

Belligerent stupidity, and wilful ignorance, that is the greatest crime a human can commit.

Oct 25 7:21 PM

Dano MacNammarah Says:

Oh Hell no!

I’m mad and I’m proud! I’m not Bipolar II, because I’m not a switch-hitting bear from the Arctic.

I’m Manic-Depressive, Fruit Loops, Crazy for Co-Co Puffs, and Loony Tunes to boot.

Look, I’m a size Queen and friends of many queens. The deal is, we who are not “normal” need to belly up to the bar of insults. It serves crap shots that are iced with ignorance, and flavoured with a hint of ignorance.

Run like crazy with those words. I know that you’ll put them to good use.

Oct 26 12:46 AM

Lisa Says:

The context in which these could be used bothers me a bit. On the one hand, I’m perfectly comfortable using words like “crazy” and “nuthouse” when I’m posting on the mental health bulletin board that I belong to, but on the other I feel sensitive hearing “normal” people throw around words like “lunacy” and so on. They’re all *very* loaded terms. I may well be overreacting, but I think that in using these words to create punny headlines, there’s a risk of damaging attempts to educate others on what it’s like to live as a person with a psychiatric illness.

Oct 26 2:10 AM

susan Says:

I am thicked skinned and an ex journalist too.I am bipolar 1 and schizoaffective. None of these terms really bother me.

I get more upset when people call me a “dumb blonde” or a “dumb broad”.

Oct 26 10:16 PM

Dave Allen Says:

And then Ryan Howard goes and uses “bedlam” in his post-Game 4 remarks…

From CBS Sports: “It will be absolute bedlam,” he said. “It will be one of the craziest places on earth. It’s kind of scary to imagine.”


Oct 27 1:57 PM

Neuroskeptic Says:

“Roasted nuts”, heh. I once gave one of my students a Fruit and Nut chocolate bar for coming first in my class on schizophrenia.

I have to say that I’m much less annoyed by words like mad and crazy than I am by terms like “mental health services user”, which is common in the UK.

Oct 28 4:57 AM

tarwater Says:

Bedlam I find offensive in such a way as an Auschwitz joke might be offensive. Reclaiming words and meanings is one thing, nullifying relevant history, another; nuthouse strikes me as similar, but with a little less of a stinger. All the rest are subjective in my opinion. They mean, to an extent, what you want them to mean.

Oct 28 11:22 AM

but of course Says:

Roasted nuts is inexorably funny! Yet mad, crazy, psyco and other pajorative words should never be used as an insult; they should be regarded as unacceptable as racist words.
We are insulted by the media daily(with exceptions), if every time one hears or reads this words used as an insult, people should complain to the BBC or the other broadcaster.
I shall not stand for this. They take our rights, our social respectability, and our liberty.

Apr 23 6:24 AM


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