Normal or Common? Using the Words in Their Correct Contexts

Throughout all of time really, our vernacular has changed and sculpted itself to the society it is used in.  That ranges from the words “ain’t” and “yolo” being added to the Oxford Dictionary, to the transformation of common words we use today from their original meanings in previous centuries.  For example, “awful” used to mean “full of awe” and did not have a negative connotation, and “silly” used to mean worthy or blessed.

There are many words and phrases that can become synonymous with others and can be used interchangeably in the English language. However, there are many words that may seem like they can be used in this way, but in reality, they cannot and could come across as offensive.  One of my big pet peeves is when people use the word “normal” as a synonym for “common.”  Normal and common may have similar denotative meanings, but their connotation can be easily misconstrued if used in the wrong way.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, normal generally means “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” Meanwhile, common literally means “occurring, found, or done often.”

While these do not seem too terribly different, there are many ways that, if used in the incorrect context, a small mix-up could really negatively resonate with someone.  For a light-hearted example, we may observe popular trends, fashions, and looks, and then we refer to them as the “normal” (e.g. for the sake of the season, “the normal fall look”).  However, getting into deeper and more impactful examples, we refer to being cisgender, heterosexual, or most of the other common intersections of our identities to be “normal.”  When we do this, it can imply that people who do not fit into these categories are “abnormal,” which has a very negative connotation.

Should we be normal?
Should we be normal?

Let’s make a little hypothetical scenario.  You go to the doctor, and you point to this birthmark that you have and ask if it’s normal.  Your doctor could say no, it’s not normal.  Hearing that come from a medical professional could potentially make patients uncomfortable, scared, or anxious as to what the birthmark could mean.  However, if the doctor had chosen his words wisely and said “it’s uncommon, but it’s normal,” you would know that you don’t need to worry about the mark on your skin and just know that it adds to your uniqueness.

I encourage you to think about how that may apply to when you are discussing normalcy with friends, family, coworkers, or acquaintances.  It’s very easy for something to be common but not necessarily normal, or, perhaps, something to be uncommon and yet completely normal.  It’s also very easy to accidentally offend someone while using the incorrect words, even if you believe that it’s not offensive from your stance.  So take the time to learn the difference between the words and their individual connotations and implications!  If you realize that you do use these two words synonymously, try to start training and correcting yourself in everyday conversations.  Using the correct word may not brighten someone’s day, but it’s a huge difference from darkening it.

2 thoughts on “Normal or Common? Using the Words in Their Correct Contexts

  1. Hi, Christi! I have not read that book, but from reading the Amazon page, it seems very interesting. I did a little bit more research and noticed that it is in one of our JMU Libraries, so I will be checking it out. Thanks for the suggestion! I can tell it points out some new and uncommon perspectives that, like you said, could highly resonate with other feminists. Thanks so much for commenting!


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