Disablist language and deletions

(183 Posts)

MNHQ have commented on this thread.

BOFtastic Mon 17-Mar-14 01:43:12

Sort of on the back of another thread, I've noticed recent deletions of the word 'moron' as disablist.

I''ve done some googling. It was used among a couple of other older terms, idiot and imbecile, by Henry H. Goddard, a psychologist at the turn of the 19th century to grade people of "low intelligence", and it was taken up to justify eugenics. So distasteful, yes.

Is it just that Goddard actually coined 'moron', and the other terms were pre-existing? Goddard himself disavowed it shortly afterwards, and it hasn't been in use medically for a very long time. I very much doubt that people who use the word are directly referring to learning disability- the word in that sense is long-obsolete. Much like the word 'cretin', which has a similar history.

Language changes, we all know that.

The issue gets more clear-cut, I think, when similarly-originated terms are used as insults separate to their initial meaning. It is NOT ok- regardless of the speaker's meaning and motivation- to, for example, use 'gay' to mean 'pathetic', because it is still primarily used to refer to people's sexual orientation, and making the word an insult is demeaning to them. Also words like 'retard', because alongside its general use, it is still used to abuse and insult people with learning disabilities.

That, in my opinion, should be the rule of thumb: if the initial meaning is long obsolete, fine; if it still gets used in a discriminatory sense about actually-existing groups of marginalised and oppressed people, not fine.

So after thinking about it, I don't think I agree that the word 'moron' should be deleted as disablist language.

So what do people think?

limitedperiodonly Mon 17-Mar-14 09:47:41

I agree with you.

I agree with you wholeheartedly.

I've never known it used as a derogatory term to describe disability, the current MN stance on the word baffles me.

Moron is akin to prat, idiot, stupid, muppet and not "retard".

PartialFancy Mon 17-Mar-14 10:17:11

I've been thinking much the same. As so often, it's one of those Where Do You Draw The Line questions.

For me, moron is over the line into acceptable, for exactly the reasons you give.

Ditto idiot and imbecile. Most people go their whole lives without knowing these words have any connotation of disability.

But I'm not keen on cretin. Cretinism does still seem to be used for the medical condition caused by iodine deficiency - at any rate, it's a recent change if it's no longer widely used, so not obsolete for decades.

MoominIsWaitingToMeetHerMiniMe Mon 17-Mar-14 10:25:40

I confess to using moron, but pronounced the Welsh way, so actually it's calling someone a carrot.

I started a thread about this a while ago, I find it an unpleasant word. But I think after the thread, I'm more likely to agree with you about its not disabilist like other words

I still find it unnecessary and unpleasant though, as I do imbecile and idiot I would really prefer to not be called any of them.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 17-Mar-14 10:35:01

Hi Bof,
That's interesting - thanks for raising. We do get lots of reports about use of the word moron from MNers who think it is disablist, and more offensive and, than, say idiot or imbecile. Would be good to get their perspective on this thread....

Goblinchild Mon 17-Mar-14 10:40:30

The problem is that it's such a personal thing that getting a consensus would be almost impossible.
I object to retard and mong and cripple and spaz, but there are other words that I don't find offensive, such as idiot, fool and loon. But someone else might well.
I tend to stick to twit, arse, noggin, muppet and twerp along with other words that are less emotive.

I completely agree that if a word is only used in its ordinary insulting sense and has no other current meaning then it should not be considered disablist.

Of course even if it did have a current meaning it probably wouldn't be intentionally disablist, but I can see why someone wouldn't want the current medical name for their condition used as an insult.

PartialFancy Mon 17-Mar-14 12:03:01

Any word that has a current meaning should never be used in the pejorative sense. Be it "gay", "mental", "woman" or anything else.

Regardless of whether the individual saying it meant to insult.

Because it's impossible on the receiving end to separate out the intent of the speaker, and anyway the word carries with it the negative connotation regardless of that intent.

People are rightly revolted to find themselves labelled "X, the bad thing" even if the speaker didn't mean that.

Besides, although the speaker isn't required to be omniscient, once the dual meaning's been pointed out what sort of wally would honestly go around deliberately trying to be mistaken for being pejorative? Usually one who is trying to be pejorative, but thinks dual meanings provide cover?

PartialFancy Mon 17-Mar-14 12:08:09

("Woman" was a particularly bonkers insult from my youth, used exactly the way the derogatory "gay" is now. 'Twas an object lesson in the appropriation of entirely neutral words to express and reinforce contempt for the group described.)

BOFtastic Mon 17-Mar-14 14:24:36

Yes, like "You're such a girl!", I see what you mean.

DoJo Mon 17-Mar-14 23:21:10

Besides, although the speaker isn't required to be omniscient, once the dual meaning's been pointed out what sort of wally would honestly go around deliberately trying to be mistaken for being pejorative? Usually one who is trying to be pejorative, but thinks dual meanings provide cover?

I don't think most people would, but if you've been using a word for decades without anyone ever objecting to it then it seems reasonable, even after someone pointing out the relatively obscure origins of the term, that

a) you might still find yourself saying it without really thinking
b) you might question the significance of one person's opinion that a word is insulting against the fact that you have NEVER met anyone else who agreed

It seems almost as though the offensiveness of the word is spreading like a virus - one person finds it offensive, explains to another who begins to find it offensive and so on, but was that first person correct to believe that a large number of people were using the word in a derogatory way? Or is it just the knowledge of the origins of the word? After all, there has to be some word to describe people or actions which show below average intelligence, and some will always be derogatory.

And a relatively innocuous term like 'simple' would once have been a common way for all kinds of people to describe a range of characteristics, from those with low IQs to the very naive or even someone who is just immature. Can we ban the use of all words which could potentially be used to describe traits which are traditionally considered negative, but could also be symptomatic of a disability or medical problem?

These aren't rhetorical questions, by the way - I am genuinely pondering all this as I feel quite conflicted on the 'moron' issue, and BOFtastic has sort of summed up my internal debate over the word. (Except every time I decide I don't think it's disablist, I swiftly follow it with an inner conflict over whether that would be EXACTLY what disablist apologist would use to justify their stance and end up back where I started.)

Because it's impossible on the receiving end to separate out the intent of the speaker

No it isn't.

Occasionally it's possible to be mistaken about the intent of the speaker if you don't know them well or were not paying attention to the context.

RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 19-Mar-14 13:25:22

Thanks v much for your thoughts so far. We're just stickying this in Special Needs: Children (as well as in Site Stuff) to make sure it gets seen by the posters there as well.

It's a thorny issue and one that we do struggle with sometimes (as we're sure you've noticed wink). For every person saying they think 'moron' is fine, we have another person reporting the thread or post for being disablist. And obviously, some terms are more borderline than others.

So we'd love to gather some more opinions - anyone else want to have their say?

bialystockandbloom Wed 19-Mar-14 14:20:39

For me, the word moron doesn't offend, or make me think it's a word used to define a learning disability which is being applied as an insult (in the way that "spaz" or "retard" is, or a more recent one, being called "autistic" as a pejorative). I don't think I have ever heard it used in that way.

But then I freely use the word "cunt" and "twat" as insults (usually not seriously!), which are offensive to some, being based on female genitals.

On the whole I agree with you.

zzzzz Wed 19-Mar-14 14:33:28

"Fucking moron" and "fucking retard" register exactly the same to me. I am trying to remove "moron" and "idiot" from my vocabulary as a result. Mercifully "retard" never featured in my language anyway shock

FWIW I had a very un-PC childhood and have since grown up and had two children with neurological disabilities (though neither could be described by the words we're discussing) and I find that I do care and those terms do hurt.

I'm bringing up my children NOT to say them.

hazeyjane Wed 19-Mar-14 14:59:38

I have stopped myself using 'moron' and 'idiot' after reading posts on here. They are not words that jump out at me in the way that 'retard' or 'spaz' would, but I can see that they cause hurt to some and there are enough suitable alternatives to use for it not to be too much of a hardship!

The word that my dds (6 and 7) think is the worst word to use and they refer to as the 's word' is 'stupid'.

I heard dd1 say 'are you stupid?' to ds the other day, when he said 'uh uh uh' (he can't speak), she said 'you didn't say no, so you must be stupid' - then she saw that I had heard her and looked horrified. It broke my heart because she knew that what she was saying was hurtful.

Words and the intentions behind them can be messy painful things.

PartialFancy Wed 19-Mar-14 15:32:43

Surely we are more than "occasionally" in the presence of people we don't know very well? Virtually and in RL?

BOFtastic Wed 19-Mar-14 15:39:27

It's one thing to personally resolve to avoid certain words, and another to say that they should be deleted by mnhq if somebody else uses them though, isn't it?

Morgause Wed 19-Mar-14 15:41:45

Language evolves. Moron and idiot are far distanced from their use in the early 20th C, to the vast majority they aren't in the least disablist. in use or intent and Mumsnet looks very precious, not to say daft, for deleting them.

BOFtastic Wed 19-Mar-14 15:43:18

Many people, for example, feel deeply offended by expressions like 'Jesus Christ!', but does that mean their offence should shape the deletion policy on mumsnet? Or is the most that is reasonable to discourage its usage in your own family?

zzzzz Wed 19-Mar-14 16:24:28

I'm not commenting either way on who should delete what or why. I'm simply expressing how I feel about it.

MNHQ are on the whole extremely understanding to the parents of children with disabilities. I personally don't worry about how "precious" people think I'm being when I decide how I want me and mine to behave.

I think the underlying message that being "stupid" is something to mock or deride people for is unlikely to hold much attraction for those of us that love people who through no fault of their own are not operating on an even playing field.

We no longer use words like "gimp" to describe the physically disabled, yet a doubt many people would welcome it being used about them or theirs.

ImAThrillseekerHoney Wed 19-Mar-14 16:36:32

I have reported "moron" in a thread title recently, saying "is this OK?" I wasn't asking rhetorically (though MNHQ might have thought I was) - I genuinely didn't know the answer, so I was drawing the thread to their attention. I'm still genuinely unsure where the line should go - I do see the OP's point, but to me it does feel quite close in sense to "retard".

PolterGoose Wed 19-Mar-14 16:55:21

I personally don't use 'moron', but don't find it quite as offensive as retard, 'speshul', and the other more obvious disablist words.

I do think it's time for MNHQ to update their Accessibility Policy and perhaps look at extending it by developing an inclusion policy which explores the use of language and how it might impact on particular individuals and groups of posters.

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