On how most of us were raised, we come to identify the prefix “over” when attached to a root-word as an indicator of something above what is normal or socially accepted. And all thanks to the popular saying we all know too well, the one about ‘too much of everything’ being ‘too bad’, all words with the “over” affront come imbued with negative connotations hanging over them like homophobic slurs. Words like “over-zealous”, “over-ambitious”, and “over-sensitive” become words you do not use on friends to avoid annoying them, and words used to show disapproval.
To call someone “over-ambitious” was akin to calling them ‘greedy’ or ‘desperate’, albeit in a milder way. The needful question to ask becomes, is this really what it is or has our lingual upbringing prejudiced our perception of such words?
7 out of 10 times when people use the word “over-sensitive”, it is often to describe how people or their actions are when they both or either make them uncomfortable or feel dumb. I have come to realize that most people do not even understand terms like ‘offensive’, ‘micro-aggressors’, and ‘sensitivity’, they always liken such awareness to superior linguistic competence or a false claim to wokeness.
A friend had once called me over sensitive, because I called him out on mansplaining and he had retorted with the word. He meant it as an insult, as indirectly saying that I was too touchy and was fond seeing things that weren’t there. I laughed though, I was far from being offended.
Oversensitive is a word most people would use on an average ‘receptive’ person, ‘receptive’ here meaning someone fully aware of the linguistic weight of words, of intentions behind some select word choice, tone, and the affective state of one’s mind. People also use this word as a weapon because of how certain they are that it would throw you off balance, or lose track of your argument while you struggle to clear that misconception. And it has worked so far, I mean it is that one word that shuts people up even when whatever they are saying makes sense. And it is also a word most people consciously run away from.
I personally think being over-sensitive is a good thing, even an achievement, depending on the context. In the right context, it betrays a certain level of human understanding and a superlative grasp of how perception works. For example, an over sensitive person would know that hugging or touching people without asking first might annoy. On the other hand, it may be sufficient to be just sensitive, but I do not trust that disposition. I mean this is similar to being cool, being lax, that we might even let some things slide.
I give full validation to over-sensitivity because our feelers are dead in the first place. We do not have a prior-structure to judge from, so anything that does not fall in what majority sees as okay is labelled “over”. “Offensive” is like the norm, so where exactly do we start to draw the tape from?
In addition, “over-sensitive” is a feminine adjective. It is likely to be used to describe a woman than a man. And often times, it is used on a woman trying to point out an irregularity in a man’s behaviour towards her. A woman complaining about manspreading in a public bus would likely be termed insensitive as most people won’t see what the fuss is about. Also, an average man in a woman’s inbox to discuss business would likely not see anything wrong in calling the said woman “babe”, “dear”, or “darling”. After all, it is assumed that women like that. And if this particular woman was to protest or complain, she would probably be termed “insensitive”.
So you see?