The Ohio Legislature did something this month that might seem to some like nothing more than a symbolic gesture. But that gesture has the chance to lead to tangible results.
Lawmakers voted to rephrase certain terms and phrases relating to people with mental disorders. The state has eliminated the words lunatic, idiot, imbecile, insane, mental derangement and habitual drunkard.
However, this decision is more than a case of politicians being politically correct. These words are commonly used as playground insults. They aren't clever or witty retorts, but base, mean spirited and demeaning. Eliminating these words from official language referring to those with mental illness is an attempt to change the attitude some people have toward those with developmental disabilities. It is the same logic behind the push to eliminate "retardation" from the name of many county and state boards of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disability.
As Gov. Ted Strickland said when he signed the bill into law, language has power and these changes make sure "individuals are referred to in a way that is accurate, appropriate, dignified and shows value."
As medical and psychological advancements allow society to better understand the cause and effects of developmental disabilities, the words we use to describe those conditions should be clinical, rather than filled with the stigma words such as idiot and lunatic have.
And, yes, in the future the currently acceptable terms, such as incompetent and developmental disorder, may be found to carry the same stigma as idiot and lunatic. But, if our leaders continue to combat these negative connotations, we might, eventually, arrive at terminology that does everyone justice.