Replacing “crazy” for ableism and preciseness of language

If you’ve arrived at the conclusion that the word “crazy” is ableist, or at least makes some people uncomfortable, or is commonly misused and overused to the point of losing its meaning, you may be struggling to find substitute words. This post is for you. I’ve put together a list of many words that convey better what you mean when you say “crazy” and the specific usages and contexts where they make sense. And fear not: many of them are colorful, and all of them pack punch.

NOTE: these terms are meant to describe and label, not insult. While some of the words I mention could be screamed at a fellow driver who just did something incredibly reckless, this list is meant more for discussion and published writing (including blogs). It’s meant more for the writer who, say, is tempted to call Todd Akin “crazy” for his remarks about rape in 2012, but realizes that might stigmatize people who have mental illnesses and wants a better term. Be careful with the use of ANY of these terms, as they are all controversial in some ways, inappropriate in some contexts, etc. It is not possible to compile a list of perfectly “safe” terms to describe antisocial behavior – what’s recognized as “antisocial” isn’t even the same in every culture or region.

Finding the word

You’ll have to ask yourself what you actually mean in order to figure out how to convey your thought to someone who’s not living in your head with you. I’m not going to get into every possible usage of crazy, i.e., “the weather’s crazy all over the place.” I’m sure you can figure out alternative terms and phrases for those things on your own.

I am going to cover some replacements for “crazy” in the context of describing human beings. Because mental illness is not well-understood (and most people receive little or no education in it, even with what’s considered a good liberal arts education), it can be a struggle to express better how someone’s just plain “crazy.” This list will help.

Instead of crazy

  • Someone who disagrees with you for reasons that make no sense is not necessarily “crazy.” They may be illogical, irrational, misleading, taking an emotional position, lying, not making sense, not thinking, incapable of critical thinking, an asshat, an assclown, a dipshit, beyond irrelevant, rationalizing, arguing an unsound position, arguing without foundation. They may also be naive, mistaken, confused, misled, misinformed, uninformed, ignorant. What they’re saying may be absurd, nonsensical, half-ass, ridiculous, ludicrous, full of shit, bullshit.
  • Someone who acts like an asshole may or may not be mentally ill – neurotypical people are fully equipped to be assholes. They may be entitled, violent, aggressive, toxic, rude, mean, cruel, deranged [see note here], selfish, having delusions of grandeur, inconsiderate, full of shit, a user, a jerk, an asshole. Modifying these words with adverbs or incorporating them into colorful phrases – “farcically entitled” or “too selfish to live” – makes them far more powerful and memorable in written language than “crazy.” Other choices include: incapable of getting along with anyone, thinks so highly of him/herself, refuses to listen to anybody, never admits s/he’s wrong, doesn’t care about anyone but him/herself. That’s really just scratching the surface. There are so many ways to vibrantly describe someone’s bad behavior with pinpoint accuracy – and that accuracy gives your words power.

What about someone who’s really, really acting like an asshole? Say, a murderer, or child molester, or domestic abuser? Let’s say this person has not only done these things, but claims he had every right to do them, or that his victims forced him to it or something equally nauseating. Or what if some people online agree with him: “Yeah, some little kids really do just look so sexy, it’s hard to keep your hands off them.” Suddenly, you feel like you’ve stepped into some hideous otherworld, and you’re so offended you’re having fantasies of lopping these people’s heads off. “You are just so crazy!” is all that’s coming to mind.

But you can do better. Extreme assholes need to be exposed for precisely what they’re doing wrong. Most people probably already agree with you that they’re “crazy” (in the sense of being stunningly out of kilter with the reality most of us seem to share). Being more precise will enhance the words you use against them. Extreme assholes like the ones I described are:

  • Vile. Vile is a great word that people don’t use enough.
  • Disgusting. Implies they’re dirty. Will really, really offend people who value their social status.
  • Scum, unworthy, bottom-feeder, turd, vomitous, a little piece of shit, a piece of filth, inhuman, ugly (as long as context clarifies you’re not critiquing appearance).
  • Lacking empathy. This is far more precise than “narcissistic”, and applies to far more of these types of people.
  • Criminal, but only when used against someone of higher social standing, like a banker or rich child abuser, who thinks his status protects him from consequences. (The word “criminal” can be problematic in its legal usage, given that what’s defined as “crime” for a less privileged group is often defined as a misdemeanor or even non-event when, say, someone like George W. Bush does it.)
  • Narcissistic. Please use this one correctly. It’s not synonymous with ordinary selfishness. Narcissists are what we used to call “psychopaths.” If you actually know a thing or two about narcissism, from having studied it or lived with it, you can use this one. Don’t bother telling someone he’s a narcissist: he’ll just be happy you’re talking about him.
  • Rape apologists. This term can start a riot online if you apply it to people who are rationalizing the activities of rapists, or blaming victims of rape. Much stronger than “crazy.” It’s like racism: people are happy to engage in it, but they sure don’t like getting the label applied.

Controversial terms

Now, here’s the thing. There are some other mental illness related terms you need to be aware of. First, the one’s with easy answers:

  • The weather or your job cannot be “schizo” or “bi-polar.” Only people can be those things [ETA: reader Mel Health left a great comment about this: “one should not say ‘that person is bi-polar, or ‘that person is a schizophrenic’, it must be phrased ‘that person has schizophrenia’. The point is to avoid identifying someone only by their disorder (which sadly happens anyway).”] . Just don’t ever use these terms unless you’re discussing them in a mental illness context. That doesn’t mean you can speculate out of frustration, “I think Politician A has bi-polar disorder.” First of all, it doesn’t matter if she is or not, because mental illness is not the reason people do or say horrible things.
  • Don’t armchair diagnose real people. The vast majority of you deeply overestimate your skills in that area and will just make an asshole of yourselves. Those of you who actually do know what you’re talking about – well, it could still be considered defamation, and thar’s big bucks in them thar lawsuits. If, for example, you think it’s vital that people realize a particular politician might be literally devoid of empathy and conscience (and I think these things are important), the best way to say it is: “Her behavior demonstrates a lack of empathy” or whatever rather than saying “I think she has NPD/ASPD.”

There are some other words which may or may not be ableist, depending who you talk to. Perhaps this is the right time to say that I have had depression and anxiety issues since childhood and personally don’t find “crazy” ableist except when it’s being used to describe a person who’s not conforming to your expectations. Different people have different sensitivities. To be safe, dumping all of the following words from your publication vocabulary would be wise. But they are not indisputably ableist – there is debate.

  • Lunatic/lunacy. Refers to the belief that the moon could make people deranged, which we now know is just silly. But it’s still a mental health label, and calling someone a lunatic is a little like calling one of those armchair diagnoses we discussed above. I think “lunacy”, however, is acceptable, as in “This law the politician has proposed is sheer lunacy.” That suggests a very real phenomenon, in which humans get swept up in a mob mentality and develop horrifically bad judgment. But that’s the only context I use it in. [See comments for arguments that lunacy is ableist.]
  • Nuts. Purely a euphemism for crazy, so most people who find crazy ableist will also object to it. But, again with the varying sensitivities.
  • Batshit. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t find an argument suggesting this one is ablist. Bat shit – guana – is used to make explosives. Calling someone “batshit” suggests they have an explosive and unpredictable temper, not that they are mentally ill. [ETA: M Peterson points out that most people understand this word as synonymous with “insane”, which kicks all the usual ableist problems right back into play. From polling people I know, I’ve confirmed that’s true, and unfortunate. It could be such a good term, if only more people knew what it really means.]
  • Loony is short for “lunatic” or “lunacy”. I thought it came from some loon (bird) behavior, and apparently there is a shade of that, but mainly it’s synonymous with lunatic. So I might say, “This law is loony-tunes”, but I would not call someone a “loony.”
  • What about insane, the obvious substitute for crazy? Well, aside from having a decidedly more diagnostic feel than “crazy”, it’s otherwise identical. Even when describing ideas rather than people, you should use one of the substitutes discussed above.

Got anymore suggestions or questions? I’ll do my best to answer.


  1. M Peterson says

    Nice post. One tiny note: I think “batshit” is most often actually a shortening of “batshit insane,” (Google it) so it’s really also ableist at root. Nice post.

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      Hmm, you’re right. That’s too bad, because it could be such a cool term for people with explosive tempers. I’ve edited the post to reflect what you say here.

    • Courtney says

      I agree with this. I have always understood “batshit” to be shorthand for “batshit crazy” and/or a variation of the very colorful colloquialism “crazier than a shithouse rat.” (No clue where it comes from, but I heard it all the time as a child in the south.)

  2. Stella says

    I think “deranged” and “crazy” are essentially synonyms, except that deranged is only applied to people. Both mean insane and lacking a grasp on reality (OED for deranged: Disordered in mind; insane), so I don’t think deranged is an effective substitute.

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      I’m adding a link to this comment under deranged, because it does need some clarification. So this is directed not at you, Stella, but at all readers:

      Be very selective about using “deranged.”

      Deranged is a psychiatric term meaning that someone is literally unable to grasp reality. It describes people who could be classified as “legally insane.” The law doesn’t care how many mental illness issues a criminal has, unless one of them actually may have caused him to be out of touch with reality, and therefore not responsible for his actions, during the commission of a crime. That’s your standard for using this word: if you’re talking about a crime committed by someone who clearly didn’t know where they were or what they were doing, then “deranged” is appropriate. If you’re talking about your neighbor who suddenly switched political parties, that’s ableist.

      Note: neurotypical people can do seriously bizarre things (think publicity stunts, things people do to get attention, pranks), so don’t use strangeness of behavior as your standard for judging someone’s state of mind. Also, don’t use violence. John Hinckley, Jr., was legally deemed to have been deranged when he shot Reagan, but most brutal serial killers are actually never deranged, not even temporarily (they know what they’re doing and are in full control of their actions).

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      Thank you! They really are, aren’t they? Once I started using them, I felt I had really missed a lot of opportunities by sticking to “crazy” for so many years. It just doesn’t mean enough, somehow.

  3. minuteye says

    I love the vast majority of your suggestions here, but I’m having deep misgivings about “neanderthal”. One of the arguments for dropping ‘crazy’ in favour of other terms (aside from ableism) is about accuracy of use. Describing someone who’s amoral/willfully ignorant/irrationally violent as a “neanderthal” or “caveman” is very far from accurate. Also, I feel like it pushes into some very problematic territory along with such gems as “primitive” and “unevolved”.

    Yes, this is intense hair-splitting. Blame the archaeologist in me.

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      Hmm. I was thinking of it as a description for someone with malignantly “unevolved” ideas about, say, race or gender (i.e., someone who’s actually harming people, not just an Archie Bunker). While the lack of accuracy you describe doesn’t bother me very much (loads of good words aren’t true to their roots), your point about “primitive” and “unevolved” bothers me very much. Evolution is a biological term, and using it (or related terms) to describe someone’s ideas does evoke stereotypes of what it means to be primitive. I just hadn’t thought of it that way. Thanks for pointing it out.

      I’ve removed the word from the post, as I now don’t see that any good can come of this kind of usage.

      • The Other Anne says

        Also, I’d say that describing something as uneveolved in a biological context is inaccurate in and of itself because biologically speaking there’s just no thing. There’s no pinnacle of evolution, despite what modern humankind thinks of themselves–we are all still evolving, as is every other species of living thing on the planet–we’re all transitional forms. Since it’s not a ladder, reaching towards some evolutionary goal, there isn’t a way to be “less” evolved in the sense of macrofauna, I think. There are clear phases of animals–coelomates are generally considered more complex than, say, a slime mold, but that still doesn’t make the slime mold unevolved, and the enormous similarity and closeness we share with neanderthals is such that the complexity issue is null and the only difference is that we are still alive and they are not.

        But I’m preaching to the choir, now, aren’t I? 😀

      • minuteye says

        Hmm, I understand what you mean about words not always being true to their roots. If I can better articulate what I mean by accuracy, though…

        For us to go around, as a society, assuming that we’re more enlightened than our predecessors (both human and non-human) can be destructive. It discourages us from thinking about how we could be better. A lot of social activists have to deal with this kind of thinking all the time, in the form of arguments like: “(insert marginalized group of choice) use to have it so much worse in the olden-days. Look how much you’ve got relative to that! Why are you still complaining?”

        So, I was really thinking more about the accuracy of the ideas represented by the word, rather than the importance of only using a word the way it’s defined in the dictionary.

    • The Other Anne says

      I agree with minuteye, especially since recently it’s been found that homo sapiens sapiens as we are today is due in part to our ancestors breeding with neanderthals, who had tools and language. Considering how close they are to modern man I would find it insulting to neanderthals to use our word for them as an insult. It’s dehumanizing to them because, though they may not be considered the same exact race, it’s likely we could breed. There’s no reason to lump neanderthal into a group of words with “inhuman” because we may not be so dissimilar that it’s accurate, and I haven’t read any evidence to support the notion that they were somehow more barbaric than our ancestors.

      Eh, it’s easy to use the word because they’re all dead (likely from interbreeding and genocide by our ancestors–which kind of makes using the word as an insult even stranger to me), but I don’t consider it a valid word to use as any substitute for ablist words.

      But other than that, great post, great list, great way to firmly put to ground the notion that it is somehow censorship or limiting to get rid of ablist language. Getting rid of all these problematic words and phrases promotes accuracy and precision over dehumanization, dismissal, and inaccurate and harmful portrayals of those who do actually live with mental illnesses.

      I’m still in the process of removing ablist language from my life. It’s hard after being ingrained with it for so long, but it’s so worth it and so necessary. And actually incredibly troubling when you notice just how rampant it is in US society.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    To everyone: thanks so much for your contributions in this thread! I anticipated some debate, but what I got instead was constructive criticism/feedback, and that’s helped make the post a better for everyone.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    You started out saying this: “Irrational isn’t necessarily bad though. We are all a bit irrational.”

    I’m arguing that your second statement simply isn’t true. I’ve never experienced being “irrational”, and I’ve been sick enough to have hallucinations, and once having a psychotic break due to a medication side effect. But in both cases, I knew what was happening, I knew I needed help, and I got it. That’s rational. The fact that I wouldn’t have trusted myself to do accurate bookkeeping during either incident is trumped by the very rational self-diagnosis followed by appropriate action. Narcotics and drinking also do not uniformly render people “irrational” as you suggest. They compromise one’s judgment, but don’t necessarily take away the ability for logical thought.

    Irrational people are people who are governed by their emotions. They refuse to let logic steer them from the choice that feels good. When confronted with a takedown of how illogical their ideas are, they usually acknowledge it for the moment so you’ll go away, but five minutes later, they’re preaching the same old logic-free shit again.

    It’s a very powerful word, precisely because it is so unusual for people to be truly irrational. Ideas, on the other hand – well, the very idea that God exists is irrational as it gets. It’s based on absolutely nothing rational. Lots of rational people maintain this highly irrational belief.

  6. Elee says

    Nice post. I am trying to become more language-conscious as of late, and while it is frustrating enough to remind yourself constantly to think before talking :-) it is much worse when there is something on your tongue that you need to say but know exactly that it won’t do. I might even write them up and take with me everywhere to never be short of a word.
    Also: I am growing fond of “not using the Earth logic” as a substitute for crazy though it is probably not unproblematic description.

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      I can’t see how “not using Earth logic” would be problematic. Unless we do eventually meet aliens. Because you’d be as likely to apply this to a neutotypical person as one with a mental illness, since illogical thinking is very common amongst all sorts of humans.

  7. says

    Love this post! I’ve been trying to get the word “crazy” out of my vocabulary and this list is very helpful.

    I’m wondering if the words wonky, wacky, or bonkers is okay to use. They’re words I’ve been using to describe a situation reminds me of being in a nonsensical cartoon or the fact that the cellphone of my coworker’s been changing time back and forth all day because of the daylight-saving changes.

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      I’ve been wondering about them too. I guess the possible reason against using those words would be if they’re understood as synonymous with “crazy.” But I think of them as replacing “crazy” in it’s “Ha, you’re so crazy!” or “That ride at the theme park was crazy” or “That new law is just crazy!” sort of way. But I can’t decide whether that makes them okay or not. *sigh*

      • The Other Anne says

        To me I’d think wacky and wonky are okay but not bonkers (based solely on personal anecdotal evidence which can probably be refuted), because I’ve heard bonkers used to describe someone in a “crazy” way (i.e. “So and so was completely bonkers”) whereas I’ve only heard wonky and wacky to describe someone being “weird” but not “crazy” or situations and things.

        In other news, I just tried to spell “describe” five separate times but every time I used the “d” instead of the “b.”

        • Jennifer Kesler says

          Hmm, I think that actually fits with my anecdotal evidence, too.

          As for the d and b issue: deen there, bone that, got the t-shirt.

        • SunlessNick says

          Wonky refers to something that’s unstable, or out of shape or fit. It might get applied in metaphor to someone’s mental state, but that’s not its origin. So I’d figure it’s ok, akin to calling someone unstable or disturbed.

          Maybe this is a British thing, but as a perjorative against a person, I’ve only heard wacky used to mean someone who does silly stuff in order to seem more interesting or weird; I’d take it as a comparison to bad performance art more than I would to mental illness. I’d only be pissed off (but pissed off something fierce) if it was applied to mental illness, because I’d then take it to mean the illness was being put on for show).

          Then again, I’m terrible with words like this. I use crazy and nuts all the time, and glibly refer to myself as a basket case or headcase (though I don’t call other people either of those things). I guess because my own illness has enough power over me already and I want to diss it. But I’ll only do that with slangy words; it’s the more proper words being misued, like psychotic, which are the ones that get to me.

          • Jennifer Kesler says

            But you’re talking about describing yourself and your own condition in the language that works for you. That’s very different from:

            –Using these words before an audience of mixed people who may or may not know your personal values (i.e., that you are NOT making light of mental illness or being pejorative toward those who have it)
            –Using the words pejoratively in regard to other people

            Some people with mental health issues object to calling themselves crazy, others do it regularly. I personally think if we’d just exercise a little more thought when we’re talking to audiences or people we don’t know (who may be hurt by what we say, or may feel encouraged to mistreat the mentally ill because of what we say), what we say to people we know is not so important.

            I have depression and anxiety issues myself and personally don’t care how people use these terms. But I figure depression is one of the more manageable conditions one could have, so maybe I don’t know what others are going through. I still use “crazy” to describe myself to people I know to let them realize, “I know I’m overwrought right now, and my judgment’s off.” To those people, “crazy” is a shorthand and we all understand what’s being said. Online, not so much, and therefore I’ve stopped using it.

            • SunlessNick says

              Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do too. I figure someone with their own mental health problems would understand where I’m coming from when I talk about wanting to diss my illness, but I can’t expect anyone to divine that when I’m just a random internet stranger.

  8. Gabriella says

    I just wrote a comment on Hathor regarding the use of mental illness terms for things completely unrelated, like ‘this weather is so bipolar’. But it made me pause: what about PHYSICAL illness terms, like rot/rust/termites etc being referred to as cancerous (as substance that, once having infected, will multiply and eventually bring down the whole structure if untreated). To me, it’s a far more appropriate metaphor than ‘the weather is bipolar’ but I wonder how those who have lived with cancer feel about it?

      • Gabriella says

        A pet peeve of mine is when a youtube vid is said to have ‘gone viral’. Er… you people do realised that VIRUSES ARE BAD, don’t you?

        • Gabriella says

          Sorry – add this to the first comment. I meant to say that a virus on the endemic scale ‘going viral’ refers to is like the equivilant of like, Black Plauge, Spanish Flu or AIDS.

  9. Amy Snively says

    Great stuff. Thank you! I’m not alternatives to diagnosis-derived insults, though. I found this page Googling for alternatives to terms like “crazed” or “manic” in the context of being very bust or stressed-out. I’m currently using “wild” and “hectic,” but would love more choices to use instead of the commonly-heard:

    “We we’re crazy busy that day”
    “It was just insane that day”
    “It’s a madhouse over there”
    “It was sheer Bedlam”

    Thanks :-)

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      Those are tough. Let’s see…

      “It was just chaos that day.”

      As far as I know, “pandemonium” isn’t ableist (means “chaotic” according to the dictionary), so that might replace Bedlam.

      “It’s a madhouse over there” – if people are behaving like kids, “It’s like Romper Room over there” could work. Or possibly something like, “It’s like the last shopping day before Christmas over there.”

      For “crazy busy” all I can think to do is pick a colorful metaphor that fits: “We had customers coming out our ears that day.” Sometimes I say, “I’m wicked busy today”, but that sounds pretty 80s, so not everyone’s up for using it, LOL. Also try, “We were busy as a…” and fill in with, I dunno. Nothing’s coming to me just now.

      • Amy Snively says

        Chaos, chaotic–very good! I love the word “hectic,” which is what I use most often now. I think that “wicked” used in that way is exclusively a New England thing, so I doubt I can get away with it here in L.A. without seeming inauthentic!

        I’d avoid “madhouse,” though. It’s a derogatory term for a mental hospital. (“Mad” = insane in UK English. Remember the Mad Hatter? He wasn’t angry; he was driven “mad” by the chemicals used in the hat-making trade–a common real-life industry hazard.)

        • Jennifer Kesler says

          Re: wicked. It originated in L.A. as surfer talk, usually just “Wicked!” or “That’s wicked!” I do hear people saying the “wicked cool/busy” type usage around here (I’m in L.A., too) from time to time, and I grew up with “wicked” in the south, so it’s definitely not a New England thing.

          Yes, I know you wanted to avoid madhouse – I was giving you an alternative to the “madhouse” phrase you mentioned, not suggesting you use it.

          Just thought of another alternative to “crazy busy” – “hella busy.” Learned it from South Park, but it’s served me well over the years. :)

  10. Quib says

    This is a good article, and it’s been helpful.

    I might be being kinda obtuse here, but there’s an idea I’m stuck on not describing as “crazy”, which is summarized pretty well with Tyra Banks, and in particular, one specific instance, which was inviting Taylor Lautner to bite her leg. I realize it’s lazy and inaccurate to describe it as “crazy” because I don’t think that Tyra Bank’s behavior is at all attributable to mental illness. Finding a replacement that concisely conveys that she makes me afraid of her and her decision making process is difficult, and all the words I can think of feel like direct euphemisms for “crazy”, like “wacky” or “odd”, which I don’t think is helpful.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says


    This is tough. I’m sure you’ve thought of most or all of those, but I’m just tossing them out in hope they’ll spark something:

    bizarre (sort of a synonym for crazy, but I think with less implication of actual mental issues?)
    misguided (doesn’t seem strong enough)
    puerile (except this word has a connotation of naivety, which I suspect is not what you want)

    It may be no adjective will suit, and you need to use a simile or something.

  12. firebird says

    The Other Anne,

    I was reading this again because ableism has come up a couple times recently, and a word struck me differently this time than last.

    I used “wonky” in the presence of a black man who is from New Orleans, and he heard it differently than I meant it. It doesn’t seem to be a common meaning, but it can be an ethnic insult referring to a non-white person who is trying to fit in with white society – basically the same as “apple” if you have heard that. I found it spelled “wonky” in a book listing and “wonkey” in Urban Dictionary.

    Apparently the word can also be a diminutive slang for penis, although if we stopped using every word used for that we would have a bit of trouble expressing ourselves.

  13. The Other Anne says


    I had never heard that usage before. Apparently using words you first read only in Harry Potter can be dangerous! Thanks for that, I will definitely keep it in mind!

  14. Mel Heath says

    One: This is wonderful I’m absolutely assimilating these words into my vocabularly, well done.

    Two: For the sake of political correctness (because you are open to constructive criticism, once again well done so few are) and because I have recently learnt this in my Psych degree, one should not say ‘that person is bi-polar, or ‘that person is a schizophrenic’, it must be phrased ‘that person has schizophrenia’. The point is to avoid identifying someone only by their disorder (which sadly happens anyway).

    Tremendous post. Since I started my degree I’ve been looking for more alternatives, I’m writing these down!!

  15. Jennifer Kesler says

    Mel Heath,

    I feel like I should’ve known that! It’s one of those things that seems obvious in hindsight. I’ve edited the article to add that in, and I’m going to start changing my own usage.

  16. says

    I very much enjoyed this and appreciated the fact that you offered so many alternatives to the use of crazy. I shared this article with people.

    I do disagree though that the use of some of the alternatives is not also ableist or patriarchal. Specifically “illogical, irrational… taking an emotional position”. The idea that taking the emotional position, or that anything emotional can be turned into “illogical or irrational” is also very harmful to those of us who are sensitive, emotional beings. A tenet of patriarchy is to favor “rationality” (which is often not rationality) over everything else, and to demean anything seen as feminine or “emotional”. So, I would add that using illogical, irrational, and emotional should be used with extreme caution much like narcissistic.

  17. Jennifer Kesler says


    A thing can only be irrational or illogical if it SHOULD have been logical or rational in the first place. This does not apply to emotions, which are by nature neither logical nor rational, and anyone who expects them to be so would be behaving illogically.

    I’m talking about people substituting emotions when reason and logic are called for – i.e., arguing for or taking action toward the reduction of abortion rights on a purely emotional basis, with no thought for the practicality or the larger context of overlapping human rights and responsibilities. Because public policies SHOULD be tempered with logic and reason rather than being based on whatever folks are feeling at the moment (hello, lynch mobs), this is irrational – a failure to be rational in a context that requires rationality.

  18. Wolf says

    I have a bipolar brother. Two things I’d like to see:
    1. If you think someone is mentally ill, name it SPECIFICALLY or don’t
    speculate at all. This particularly applies to news pundits, who use
    “mentally ill” to mean “someone who has committed a crime because they
    are crazy.” In fact, “mentally ill” is about as descriptive as
    “physically ill.” Hangnails and cancer are both physical illnesses.
    Bipolar and anxiety disorder are both mental illnesses; PTSD,
    obsessive compulsive disorder, trichotilimania, and on and on–there
    are NAMES for “mental illness,” and by differentiating, we can keep
    people from confounding “bipolar” with “psychopath” or
    “schizophrenic,” and make the point that people with a mental health
    diagnosis are still PEOPLE. My brother does not murder little kids; he
    just gets really depressed in winter and very active in winter.

    2. Do not assume that, because a white boy from a middle-class family
    commits horrible crimes, he is mentally ill. You know full well that
    if it were a black boy from a poor family, he would be labeled “evil,”
    “criminal,” and other things that imply character-flaw and guilt,
    instead of “sickness.” White and middle-class should NOT mean a “Get
    out of Evil Free” card in the form of a “mental illness.”
    Psychiatrists have even stated that psychopaths such as Jeffrey Dahmer
    aren’t mentally ill at all. They’re just like that–devoid of empathy,
    not sick because not cureable–a form of humanity that we would
    perhaps do better to cull than to “treat.”

  19. Ceri says

    Delusions of grandeur is seriously not an okay term! It has a very specific meaning in the mental health field, to describe symptoms I sometimes get as part of psychosis or mania, like having superpowers and being on a mission / responsible to change the world. It isn’t the same as just being an over-entitled selfish person.

  20. Jennifer Kesler says


    I never said it was synonymous with “being an over-entitled selfish person”. I’m well aware of the diagnostic use for it, and if someone is exhibiting delusions of grandeur, it’s better to say so than to just say they are “crazy.” I don’t know what your point is. I think you’ve misread.

  21. says

    A few notes —
    @Mel Health: What you’re describing is person-first language. There are many disability communities that strongly prefer person-first language, such as people with Down Syndrome, people with cerebral palsy, and people in wheelchairs, but there are also many disability communities that actively reject person-first language in favor of what is called identity-first language, such as Autistic people, Blind people, Deaf people, and Turner’s women. As an Autistic person, I do in fact identify with and by my disability, just as I also identify as a woman and as an Asian. Calling me a woman or Asian does not detract from my humanity, so why should calling me Autistic detract from my humanity? I find that person-first language actually reinforces the idea that disability is a negative condition incompatible with full personhood, in its insistence that disability be somehow separated from humanity.
    @Jennifer Kesler: I’m only finding this article now, and am glad other folks have been writing about ableism perpetuated in linguistic microaggressions. I actually have a similar page on my site (more comprehensive in covering ableist terms, much less comprehensive in offering alternatives) at the Ableist Phrase Glossary.
    @Gabriella: I would avoid using disease or illness (as well as any kind of disability) as metaphor. Susan Sontag has an excellent scholarly treatment of the topic in Illness as Metaphor from a critical disability theory perspective, but a brief essay on the matter can be found at Disease Is Not A Metaphor by Cyrée Jarelle Johnson over at Black Girl Dangerous.

  22. Anon says

    So do you think there is any situation at all ever in which the word crazy is acceptable, other than discussion about the word crazy?

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      As I stated, I’m not taking a position on that, just suggesting words you can use if YOU have decided to stop using crazy. I know people who actually have mental health issue and think the word is just fine, while others disagree whole-heartedly… there is no “right answer”. This is a collection of alternative words you can use or not at your discretion.

  23. Josh says

    Useful list in so many ways, but I’d like to see you take ‘common criminal’ off of there as an insult, because it taps into a whole other set of oppressions (not only racism and classism, but also ableism) that make some people more subject to criminalization. Thanks!

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      Ah, very good point. This article is 4 years old, and I wasn’t aware of those issues as much as I have become since. Please check out how I rewrote that section, because I think it CAN be useful to apply the term to people of higher status – like George Bush with his expunged DUI, which makes him a felon in my book – shouldn’t be allowed to vote, let alone run for office. But if you disagree, let me know why and I’ll think it over.

  24. kuu says

    so what one is a flat earther? they say they have evedance? are they mentaly ill with fantasy prone personality disorder, or just ignorant like an infant? because “crazy” is to mental illness as AIDS is to an immune disorder, so flat-earther holographic moon people are no loony, insane, crazy or anything. just hardheaded and strubbron

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      I think that would come under the “Someone who disagrees with you for reasons that make no sense…” heading. I would avoid armchair diagnosing them with a mental illness, but “irrational” (their beliefs certainly are) could work. They’re believing what suits them emotionally, and trying to twist facts to support it, instead of just accepting reality.

  25. cathy says

    I am in love with this. I have mh health diagnoses and advocate for others in my position. I also cringe when I hear ppl say they are gonna kill themselves because having bad hair day or the like. I’m hearing voices, you are delusional, all of these things are casually used in joking ways. It’s entrenched in our language. I’m pretty asymptomatic most of the time, and pretty open about my illness. But even then people say stuff that just boggles my mind. Also, when you meet a person at work or elsewhere, and they mention that they have a mental illness, don’t say, oh but you seem so normal. It’s really not a compliment. I promise.

    • cathy says

      Oh, and along with armchair diagnosing, saying you think someone needs to go to a mental hospital, get therapy, or get back on their pills. All gross. Sometimes I count how many times someone says any of these mental health stigmatizing things. Yesterday was a hot bed of activity because of the NAACP president who was found to be a white woman presenting herself as a black woman. Between blogs, social media activity, tv, and articles, I lost count at 50. Or should say I quit counting, and I don’t even bother counting crazy anymore. I’ve about given up on that one. Again, this is sometimes from people who have read my blog, tweets, and statuses about how damaging it is. I also do anti racism work, so I am feeling urgent about fixing our language, because many of the folks whose lives are being lost to police brutality, are sometimes in mh crisis. Being stigmatized makes them vulnerable to police mistreatment and killing.

  26. Amanda says

    Hi there,

    I just wanted to thank you for writing and let you know I copied, edited, and reposted your paragraph on alternative language in the form of a facebook note, giving you credit and linking your website. Specifically, I posted this:

    Instead of crazy
    July 9, 2015 at 11:13am

    Someone who disagrees with you for reasons that make no sense is not necessarily “crazy.” They may be illogical, irrational, misleading, taking an emotional position, lying, not making sense, not thinking, incapable of critical thinking, rationalizing, arguing an unsound position, arguing without foundation. They may also be naive, mistaken, confused, misled, misinformed, uninformed, ignorant. What they’re saying may be absurd, nonsensical, ridiculous, ludicrous, full of shit, bullshit.

    Someone who acts like an asshole may or may not be mentally ill – neurotypical people are fully equipped to be assholes. They may be entitled, violent, aggressive, toxic, rude, mean, cruel, selfish, having delusions of grandeur, inconsiderate, full of shit, a user, a jerk, an asshole. Modifying these words with adverbs or incorporating them into colorful phrases – “farcically entitled” or “too selfish to live” – makes them far more powerful and memorable in written language than “crazy.” Other choices include: incapable of getting along with anyone, thinks so highly of themself, refuses to listen to anybody, never admits they’re wrong, doesn’t care about anyone but themself. That’s really just scratching the surface. There are so many ways to vibrantly describe someone’s bad behavior with pinpoint accuracy – and that accuracy gives your words power.

    Edited from the original post on FEBRUARY 10, 2011 by JENNIFER KESLER at


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