Normal or Abnormal: Is it an International Word?

How do people define the words “normal” and “abnormal”? Are these words used often, are they insulting or is it common in society to use these words? By the Oxford dictionary, the word normal is defined as Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected (Oxford University Press, 2018) and abnormal as deviating from what is normal or usual, typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying (Oxford University Press, 2018). Are these words defining the way we live by dividing families, friends and look down at other cultures because of how others think? Culturally, there are ways of doing different things that can be accepted or are disrespectful towards peoples believes. Time must also be taken into account, as to what is considered abnormal at one time in one culture may be normal another time, even in the same culture (McLeod, 2018). It all depends on how well society is educated; and how open people are to new concepts and ideas. Everyone is probably thinking, why is Hector writing about this topic? And the answer is because I have heard these words in many conversations while in India.

It has been almost two months since I arrived in Mysore. So far, I have celebrated my research and culture with much cheerfulness, travelled with other fellows and enjoyed Indian festivals with the local community. During many conversations with my affiliated organization’s staff and students, I noticed that the words “normal” and “abnormal” were used frequently. As a health organization, it is understandable that words like these are used for many purposes. As an American citizen, in my opinion, these words have been used in our culture to define differences in race, psychological disorders or even as an insult, creating a negative concept for those who use it. Depending on how I use the words normal and abnormal, I can easily be insulting or professionally enriched. But in India, in my opinion, these words are culturally a part of people’s English vocabulary, colloquially, to mean common and uncommon, without being derogatory or insulting.

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A week ago, I was having a conversation with an NGO’s (non-government organization) Indian fellow about my transgender project and how excited I was to start my focus groups. While talking to a post-Doctoral fellow, the words “abnormal” kept coming up while defining the transgender community that I am studying in Mysore. There was a moment where I had to stop the conversation and ask the fellow what was the definition of these two words for her. I remember her looking at me and laugh in a slightly embarrassing way and telling me that she knew why I was asking her such a question. At that point, it was very clear to me that she did not mean it disrespectfully. That is when my ears completely opened to listen to someone from a different culture and realize that we are definitely from two different worlds. At any one time, a type of behavior might be considered normal whereas another time the same behavior could be abnormal, depending on both context and situation (McLeod, 2018). From what I understood the words normal and abnormal are used to defined topics related to majorities and minorities in society. For example, in my case studying the transgender community because they are a minority group the word abnormal will be used. On the other hand, when people in India talk about straight people that are the majority, the word normal is used. It is not necessarily judging gender preference, but it is distinguishing a trend not in a negative way. I know it sounds like they are dividing minority populations from being a part of the society, but that is not the case. These are two words for people to understand what a topic is about and the context they are used in a conversation.

My discomfort with the words normal and abnormal comes from the words being socially used in America to denigrate and insult many communities. It has been a way of mortifying and making groups think that they are not equal. But even while describing us as abnormal, we have come so far to break chains of ignorance. However, in other parts of the world words are not used in the same context. Sometimes we must open our hearts to new concepts and understand that all over the world conversations will have different meanings. It is incredible how closed our minds can be when simple words are used in a sentence. I stopped a conversation I was having with a fellow just because I was getting uncomfortable about what I thought was the definition of two simple words. It’s incredible how closed minded we can be and jump into conclusions without even people finishing their thoughts. We, as people must remember that we all have different opinions and what can be described in one side of the world in one way, can be very different for others.

“This site/blog is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.”


McLeod, S. A. (2018, August 05). Abnormal psychology. Retrieved

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