There are many words that are misused, there are many words that are ambiguous, and there are many word that depend a lot on context for their meaning (who says it, why they say it, how they say it, etc.). One of these words is ‘normal’, and this a word that has always raised my hackles a bit, because it’s usually used in judgement of what people are doing and how they are. It’s a belittling word when used in the negative, and always carries with it a tone of what ‘should be’.
Here’s a few examples that are implicit and explicit in its use:
– healthy, sane, good
– usual, habitual, common, average
– conventional, general consensus
– acceptable, approved of
What’s normal in Spain isn’t always normal in England, and vice versa. And what’s normal in the natural world can be out of place in human societies, and vice versa. As definitions, they can be quite close, but at times there can be a great chasm between each one. Questions like “Do you think it’s normal?” are meaningless, until they define what they mean by normal.
In the dictionary, the two basic meanings are ‘natural’ and ‘habitual’, which I don’t think should be confused at all, since not everything that is habitual is natural. And in human society, many things that should be natural don’t have regular appearance in our lives. Perhaps my greatest objection is the idea that anything that is concieved of as average or conventional in society is somehow good, healthy or acceptable, where I believe this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In Spanish I can give a bit of leeway, because estar normal (to be habitual) isn’t confused with ser normal (to be natural), but even so, I tend to avoid it if I can, since there still seems to be an implicit social value of what ‘should be’, which doesn’t always coincide with habitual or natural.
One day, a rather eccentric lady and a friend of the family who didn’t see herself as ‘normal’ asked me “But what is normal?” My response was “Normal is whatever is normal for you, especially if it’s what you normally (usually, habitually) do.” After that I abandoned its use and substituted it with healthy or usual, which more or less matches the dictionary examples.
I’m not against the concept of ‘normality’ or the word, but it’s (mis)use makes it virtually senseless, unless it’s use is well defined. In the end, either we use it in a consistent and intelligent way, or we abandon it completely and search for more appropriate alternatives.
It’s (not) normal > I (don’t) like it
It’s (not) normal > It’s (not) usually like that
It’s (not) normal > It’s (not) healthy/good
It’s (not) normal > It’s (not) naturally occurring
It’s (not) normal > It’s (not) generally acceptable