According to a story in USA Today, some lowly airline employee is being excoriated for using the wrong terminology to describe people who can neither hear nor speak:

A deaf couple from Texas demanded an apology from American Airlines after seeing a note on their luggage that read: “Please text. Deaf and dumb.”

When Angela Huckaby and James Moehle returned from a Hawaiian vacation, they found that the airline had lost their luggage. When they received it on Sunday morning, they saw the note scrawled on the luggage receipt, reports KTRK-TV in Houston.

“It was just outrageous and cruel and unnecessary,” said Moehle’s mother, Kay Moehle, in an interview with KTRK.

Ms. Moehle demands that whoever wrote the reminder be fired.

The story alerted me to the fact that activists now maintain that the word “dumb” to be an insult.

Deaf-mute is a term which was used historically to identify a person who was either deaf using a sign language or both deaf and could not speak. The term continues to be used to refer to deaf people, mainly within a historical context, to indicate deaf people who cannot speak an oral language, or have some degree of speaking ability, but choose not to speak because of the negative or unwanted attention atypical voices sometimes attract. Such people communicate using sign language.[1] Some consider it to be a derogatory term if used outside its historical context; the preferred term today is simply “deaf”.[2]

Additionally, it is sometimes used to refer to other hearing people in jest, to chide, or to invoke an image of someone who refuses to employ common sense or who is unreliable. “Deaf and dumb,”[3] “semi-deaf” and “semi-mute” are other historic references to deaf people. Of these latter examples, only “deaf and dumb” prevails as a reference.

In the past deaf-mute was regarded as a socially acceptable term, usually to describe deaf people who use sign language, but in modern times, the term is frequently viewed as derogatory, insensitive, insulting, inaccurate or socially and politically incorrect.[4] From antiquity (as noted in the Code of Hammurabi) until recent times, the terms “deaf-mute” and “deaf and dumb” were even considered analogous to “stupid” by some hearing people.[5]

In Europe and Western society, most deaf people are taught to speak with varying outcomes of ability or degrees of fluency. The simple identity of “deaf” has been embraced by the community of signing deaf people since the foundations of public deaf education in the 18th century and remains the preferred term of reference or identity for many years. Within the deaf community there are some who prefer the term “Deaf” to “deaf” as a description of their status and identity.[6]

These things get more and more complicated. Pretty soon the word “deaf” will be an insult. Or “blind.” “Retarded” already is.

I’m sick of these endless wars over words. What ought to matter is whether a word was meant as an insult, not whether it was taken as an insult.

Anything can be taken as an insult.