The Word “Blind” Is Still Misused in Everyday Speech- Let’s Get Rid of It!

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?

17 thoughts on “The Word “Blind” Is Still Misused in Everyday Speech- Let’s Get Rid of It!

  1. Hi Hannah, thanks for a very thought-provoking post. I don’t believe I use the expressions above but this has made me more aware of the negative use of the word “blind” and next time I hear someone using these expressions I will definitely call them on it. What are your thoughts on “love is blind”?

    1. Thank you Corina. I guess you can take “Love is blind” in either a positive way to mean we can be unaware of the faults of a loved one, or negatively – more like “blinded by”. For the sake of everyone who lives with vision loss it will be good when The word blind is not associated with unaware or ignorant at all.

  2. Although I did appreciate your thoughtful discussion of this issue, I’m not sure I ultimately agree with your stance. There are all sorts of words in the English language that are used to mean very different things in different contexts with positive and negative connotations depending on the specific usage–e.g., bat (baseball) vs. bat (nasty rodent with wings). I think that, as English speakers, we are likely used to compartmentalizing the different meanings.. I would argue that the negative uses of the word “blind” you mention will have become somewhat divorced from the concept of the blind person in the mind of many speaker–becoming a sort of “homonym.”

    In a broader sense, I’m not certain that the struggle to overcome prejudice against the disabled is best fought at the level of language. Every few decades a different word associated with a minority group develops a stigma (e.g., mental retardation, etc.) and a campaign is launched to eliminate its usage. Such campaigns seem generally ineffective in eliminating underlying stigma and, over time, a new word ultimately replaces the original and develops negative connotations.

    Finally, majority group members seem already overly concerned about the specific language they use in reference to minority groups (and perhaps too little concerned about their underlying attitudes). Since open discussion and positive social interaction between minorities and majorities can be one of the best ways to tackle underlying prejudice, inducing a state of language-related paranoia among sighted individuals may not be the best way to proceed.

    1. Hi sweetheart thank you for posting this. I should tell you folks that Catharine is the daughter that only saw light and dark as a baby – she sees much more now, and as you may note has in general come a long way from that sad day.
      I completely agree with your last statement – that more connections between people who see and people who don’t are vital. I also think that the main responsibility lies with the blindness community to get skilled at jumping over the barriers that people who aren’t accustomed to vision loss often feel. (Check out this week’s post) Unlike you I think that the discomfort that the public at large feels with using “cripple” or “sped kid” is a good thing. It shows awareness of the negative effects of taking the name denoting a minority group and giving it an ugly twist. .

  3. Genuine question— I just saw a tik tok on “time blindness” and a user said she was blind in one eye and calling it that was ableist. Of course, I feel like for them their feeling is valid but I am curious how other people that have serious vision impairment feel about it. Should we be using a different term for this aspect of our adhd or is time blindness ok?

  4. I was lost but now I am found was blind but now I see.
    Now there’s a use of the word blind that speaks of being unaware.
    That’s from the song amazing grace.
    Is that use politically incorrect, too?
    Most stumbling blocks are impairments i n one’s life are illustrated as being blind or falling on deaf ears.
    These are illustrative lessons not words meant to be hurtful, mocking or politically incorrect

    1. Hello, Yes the words are illustrative but they also add to the habitual thinking of people who see well that blind means unaware. The song or hymn “Amazing Grace” is talking about the Grace that is merciful and compassionate. You would not, I am sure wish to add to the disadvantages that blind and deaf people already face by being less than thoughtful and compassion ate yourself. Hannah

  5. Good one,
    I saw a quote on the internet
    “There is a condition worse than blindness is seeing something that isn’t there”
    Here also indirectly or unconsciously blindness is mentioned as unaware.
    I just put my point if you have any argument let’s talk and discuss

  6. Very thought provoking! Thank you for writing this! I know I am late to the party, but what do you think of the term “blind date”? Our library is doing a “blind date with a book” display, and someone questioned if that was ableist, and I honestly don’t know the answer.

    1. Blind date is not the worst use of “Blind” in that the word is not a substitute for unconscious, or stupid, but in this context it does mean unaware as well as the reasonable “unseen”. I think a library should try to find another catchy word or phrase that does not involve a disability group who face many barriers. Hannah.

  7. what can be used instead of saying “double blind experiment”? I’ve used it in classes before and was wondering if there was an alternative?

    1. Hi Stella, thanks for thinking about this. “Double blind” can be thought about in two ways; either as a denigration of blindness as in “blind drunk” or as a statement of obscured vision as in window blind and blind corner. However a change would be great! What about “double blocked” or “doubleblinker”? Hannah

  8. Hello! I had a question as I looked this up while doing research for a book. I have this character who’s a blind journalist who’s just started working at this new job. Her friends set her up on a date with this guy she’s never met, who turns out to be a co-worker from her new job. I’m not going to use the term, but I thought it might seem like I’m making a joke about a “blind date”. Is there a way I can make this better or use it as an opportunity to denounce the term “blind date”? Thank you!

    1. This is one of the tricky uses of “blind” that does partly mean unseen while also having a connotation of “foolish”. I don’t think you have have a blind person going on a blind date without it sounding like a tasteless joke. You could use “unknown”.

      1. Thank you for your advice! I’m written that out entirely and I feel better knowing that the new storyline won’t come off as tasteless. Plus I think it’s just a better storyline overall now. Thanks again for your help and for this informative article!

      2. I found this website and discussion while researching a question about the use of the term ‘blindsided’. I work for an organization in the IDD community. In a discussion with a colleague, who stated she was ‘blinded sided’ about how much passion she had for working with individuals with disabilities. It was suggested that the term might be insensitive.

        As I read through the comments, I understand a bit better.

        However, the term ‘blind spot’ in describing the area you can’t see between the rear view mirror and the side view mirror…that is still appropriate, right?

        1. Hello Rob, Thank you for this comment. It takes a lot of care not to repeat words and phrases that other people use, and we all make accidental mistakes. My general rule is to only use words referring to disability to mean inability to see, to hear etc., not to any idea or emotion which can be expressed in other ways. Your colleague could have said astonished, taken aback, or amazed rather than blindsided. But I do also think that blindsided which mostly refers to driving is not such a damaging expression as some others. But because you both work in a community where ugly words are so common and so injurious especially among children that it is important to set a good example. Hannah Fairbairn

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