Blind is commonly misused by people to add negative punch to their speech. By blind they mean unaware or ignorant. This meaning is only positive in “blind justice”, otherwise this prejudiced use of blind can only adds to the sense of profiling that many blind people carry with them. Yet when you meet someone who is blind, it is likely that she is making deductions from sounds, scents, and the ground underfoot. The blind are frequently more alert and attentive than most sighted folks.
Blind is used correctly when it indicates sightlessness, or preventing sight from operating – as in a blind driveway, a blind corner , a blinding fog, a blind to conceal the hunter, and of course window blinds. A few other terms – such as blind spot and blindsided – can have the right meaning but are often used to mean unaware.
Even in our politically correct culture, you can hear the word blind misused on Public Radio, by serious print journalists and academics. People who would never use demeaning expressions about race, or mental illness, still think Blind into Baghdad is a smart title for a book*.
Here are some of the commoner phrases that promote a negative – or worse than negative – idea of blindness:
- turn a blind eye to – deliberately ignore
- blind drunk – out of control, unable to think or act
- swear blind – blindness is so dreadful that I am using the idea of it as insurance for a promise
- curse him blind – blindness is so dreadful that I am using it as a threat
- blind courage – unprepared, unaware,
- walked blindly into – thoughtless careless
- I was so blind – unconscious of
- blinded by – unable to think clearly or plan
- double blind experiment – two sets of people kept in ignorance of the real purpose of the experiment
Ugly isn’t it? And it can only add to the anger that blind people sometimes feel towards the world of sight. It’s not exactly helpful to a young parent – the parent that I once was – who hears the eye doctor holding her baby daughter say “She’s only seeing light and dark.” Or to the young man or woman whose career has been swept away by sudden blindness from accident or war injury. Or a father bringing up a family while dealing with a blinding disease. or your mother getting on in years and now struggling with fading vision perhaps on top of another disability.
Let’s start a campaign right here to eliminate the misuse of the word blind in civil speech (and let’s throw in deaf, dumb and lame as well). Let’s make sure people don’t get away with such harmful speech on our watch! The word watch comes from German meaning awake and alert. Let’s be alert, ready to speak assertively when the word blind is misused in our hearing.
You will work out your own wording but here’s a suggestion: “Don’t use blind to mean stupid. It’s offensive to me and damaging to blind people everywhere.”
If you can, call the radio or TV station if you hear blind misused on a show.
*By Bob Woodward, 2003
Please comment on this post. How can we get the misuse of blind to be as bad as a racial slur?