Lose the language. Now.

Cross posted


This post is my contribution to Blogging against disabilism day.

I’ve noticed, not so much at In a Strange Land, but sometimes in comments, and more frequently in comments at The Hand Mirror, and very, very frequently elsewhere in the NZ blogosphere, ‘ableist’ language. That is, language that uses disabilities to disparage something. Very, very simple stuff, like saying that something is lame, or that someone had a bit of a spas / spaz.


Here’s why. (This is very much Disabilism 101 – old, old news to people who work with these issues all the time, but evidently, not much known elsewhere.)

You can say that x is bad just by saying, “X is bad.” But another way to say it is to compare x to something (which is also perceived is bad). So, “X is lame” carries that same connotation i.e that “X is bad.” The two statements are equivalent. And from there, it’s just a short step to: “Lame is bad. You are lame. You are bad bad bad.”

Sure, you can pick apart the language logic, and point out that of course, being lame is not something that people normally welcome, that being less than able bodied in any way is not desirable. And really, that’s all that you are saying.

Whatever. The point is, you are using language that describes the way that living breathing thinking feeling human beings are, language that describes integral parts of their every day reality, and using that language to say that some other totally unrelated thing is bad. What people with disabilities hear, and what I hear too, is language that mocks and denigrates them. It’s all so very negative, so very disempowering for people with disabilities, and yet it is so easy to avoid.

So lose it. Make the effort and find another word. Here’s some that you can use:


And instead of knocking people who have cerebal palsy, which is a heart breaking condition, by saying that you, or someone else, threw a spaz, what about talking about having a wee tanty. It carries exactly the same connotations.

English is a very rich language. Next time, instead of plumbing only the depths of disabilism, that is, language and behaviours that deny the humanity of people with disabilities, make a little effort, try being just a bit sensitive, and mine the rich resources of English instead.


8 responses to “Lose the language. Now.

  1. Great list of alternate words Deborah, goes to show how hollow the “but what will I use instead if you take away my preferred slurs?” protests is.

  2. or are even *needs sleep*

  3. Thanks for writing.

  4. I do try and get my son to expand his vocabularly sometimes. He’s grown up with me disabled (the past few years anyway) so he knows not to use retard, spaz etc. But sick is very big in the UK at present. And I wonder where I stand on that one sometimes.

  5. Pingback: ThePickards » Bloggers Blogging Against Disablism (BBAD does BADD)

  6. What a well worth will blog post. I really appreciate being reminded of these things.

    I try to maintain a reasonable vocabulary of words that describe my own feelings. Thats not particularly macho, but it’s better than spiting the dummy due to being misunderstood.

  7. When did ‘gay’ start meaning ‘weak’ or (heavens above) ‘lame’? Apparently it is a very common word to use for something that isn’t very satisfactory. Or so I’m told. Anyone using it in my hearing would get a smack round the ears – and I wouldn’t care how old or tall they were.

    One story about language and disability: I have a photo of my late partner in her wheelchair at the Museum of History in Washington DC, grinning like a maniac, under a poster that reads ‘I am not a case and I do not wish to be managed’. The exhibition was about the history of disabled activism.

  8. This blog entry has had me thinking. And thats not to be underestimated. The onset of winter among other things has had me vegetating.

    So here we go, nothing to profound, just a small, very small insight into feminism from a male perspective. And I repeat very small, very basic insight, like a block of four by two.

    Why would a stereo typical man with a shed and/or boat, good keen Kiwi bloke, be interested in Feminism? Well, because I am a parent to one female person, and I naturally want help her to reach her highest potential.

    I got an idea off the radio rather a few years ago. (I learn most of my stuff from the radio, since we no longer have TV) Anyway, this person was talking about ‘shame’ what being ashamed is all about.This person on the radio reckoned that women suffer from shame, more than men. The theory, according to the radio person, is that the disparity has an awful lot to do with the differences in the way our predominant culture complement and reprimands our children.

    Told you this was going to be common sense bricks for brains logic, but check this out. Boys a were more likely to be complemented or reprimanded on there behavior: “you have done well” or “you have made a mistake”
    Girls were more likely to have there being complemented or reprimanded “you are very clever” or “you are stupid”

    Lets not get into the “you are a…” or you can/can’t, do/did…” The point is, Feminism is important to me because Feminism questions these subtle uses of language that mean so much to being a good Dad, to my daughter.

    I thought that up when I was working at the shed today.