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When there is a change in temperature, it’s not unlikely to hear people complain of “bipolar” weather. When technology isn’t working properly or when something is unpredictable, a frustrated and uninformed person might call it bipolar.
Using bipolar as an adjective to describe an inanimate object that the person is unhappy with is sadly common. Here are 15 objects that members of our audience have overheard someone call “bipolar”:
1. Erratic weather
2. GPA that fluctuates
3. Car that won’t start
4. Inconsistent shower water temperature
5. Flickering lights
6. Pen that won’t write
7. Photocopier that keeps jamming
8. Cell phone that doesn’t have signal
9. Batteries that lost their charge quickly
10. Weed whacker that won’t start
11. Washing machine that turns off mid-cycle
12. Ovens that won’t maintain their set temperature
13. Music when an artist ranges from pop to serious
14. Hairstyle that constantly switches
15. Flight schedule that changed unexpectedly
Bipolar disorder is a serious medical condition that affects around 60 million people worldwide. People with bipolar disorder experience a pattern of depressive and manic or hypomanic episodes. The episodes last for days or weeks and involve a list of symptoms that affect a person’s mood, energy levels, and ability to function. It’s not the same as being moody or unpredictable.
When you use the word bipolar to describe something broken, you are implying that people with bipolar are broken. Someone with bipolar disorder or another mental illness who overhears you can feel ashamed and may be less likely to be open about what they are dealing with. This silence and shame prevents people from seeking help when they need it.
Bipolar literally means, “having two poles.” Some argue that this is why they use it to describe objects that have two extremes. While it is semantically correct to use it as an adjective this way, it can still be harmful. Yes, we use human qualities to describe inanimate objects when we make certain points, but we should draw the line at diagnostic terms. The same way you would not use the word retarded to describe things that are slow.
Make an effort to stop using the word bipolar this way. There are plenty of other words to choose from that will more accurately express what you mean:
10. Needs to be recalibrated
15. All over the place
On a positive note, two people we asked said they had never heard someone use the word bipolar when describing something moody or temperamental. By spreading awareness, hopefully it will become less acceptable and we will continue to have people who never hear it used incorrectly.