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Avoid—Medical appropriation




We would recommend adding a content warning when speaking about this term. Please read the guidance on how and when to warn people before using this term in any context.

amusia, a neurological disorder that can be congenital (from birth) or acquired (due to comorbidity or injury) that results in the inability to differentiate speech, loss of ability to sing or produce pitch, or other disassociations with music (like rhythm); colloquially, when something is insensitive or poorly thought through.

Appropriate Usage

Referring the medical condition (amusia) as described above

Inappropriate Usage

As a literary metaphor for insensitive or negligent


Connoting negligence with a medical disorder implies that actions we can control (bad choices) are the same as actions that cannot necessarily be controlled (deafness). It reinforces the discriminatory idea that disability is bad.


Using the word tone-deaf reinforces the idea that Deaf and/or non-speaking/non-verbal people are somehow less than and that disability is bad (see Ableism).

By using ableist language, we are perpetuating violence against people who experience mental or psychological disabilities. Using this language perpetuates those systems and language of harm, regardless of our intent.

Usage Tip

Be mindful if you're referring to the medical condition or using it as a literary metaphor. If the latter, substitute by being more specific. Typically we can find an alternate definition by taking time to reflect on what emotion we're really feeling.

Alt Words

  • badly drawn
  • in poor taste
  • insensitive
  • negligent
  • not thought through
  • unaware
  • poorly-conceived

Further Reading

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