10/31/2012 12:59 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2012

Choose Your Words Wisely

Maybe it's because I'm an English nerd. Maybe it's because I'm in the process of editing college essays, where literally every word counts. Suddenly, word choice has become a priority for me. The phrase "think before you speak" has new meaning.

Words have a purpose: Each word we say is said for a reason, which is why I have such a problem with the lax uses of terms such as "gay," "retarded" and "rape" in the vocabularies of teens, and even adults, currently.

The R-word has come up in the news recently, with prominent political commentator Ann Coulter describing President Obama as such.

John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympian with Down Syndrome, demonstrated the effect of Mrs. Coulter's word choice perfectly:

"So, what's wrong with 'retard'? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the "in" group. We are someone that is not your kind."

Stephens even replied to Coulter's tweet on the Special Olympics Blog.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident, but a frequent one. Walking down the halls of a high school, anyone can hear a student yell, "You're retarded!" or "That test just totally raped me."
Really? Did that test emotionally and physically scar you for the rest of your life? The chances are no, as much as you would like to think the contrary. The fact is using words like "rape" to describe everyday actions devaluate the impact of the word. Rape has a specific meaning, and should only be used as such.

Word choice is important. I remember a day when, in an attempt to be more politically correct, some of my friends decided to use "gay" backwards when speaking. This obviously was not a well thought-out plan. The connotation of "gay" is the same, backwards and forwards -- it's still negative. Although you may not realize it, it is reinforcing that there is something wrong with homosexuality.

I even admit to letting these words slip into my conversations -- it has become so commonplace to use them we don't really think about it. Society has easily come to accept the casual connotations of these words, not thinking through the real meaning behind them. Not realizing that society's acceptance of these casual definitions devaluate the actual meaning and use of the word. These three words, and more, have specific definitions in the dictionary for a reason. Their should be used sparingly, with a definite purpose.

The dictionary is full of a multitude of words; you are sure to find one to suit your needs. Just don't lessen the meaning of another word.