Disablist language and deletions

(183 Posts)

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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 Wed 19-Mar-14 17:02:59

We no longer use words like "gimp" to describe the physically disabled

No, I don't and never have. I don't connect the word with that.

I do use it to describe the socially disabled. I also use the term 'social cripple'.

I use them to describe a NT person who is being obtuse right up to being downright deliberately offensive. I would not use them to describe anyone else.

You might count me amongst the NT people who were downright deliberately offensive because that is what I am being. Context is everything. I think my targets are legitimate but others wouldn't.

I have talked about gimp masks sometimes in the context of discussing Pulp Fiction and American Horror Story.

I have wide interests, but that's as far as my interest in gimp masks goes.

zzzzz Wed 19-Mar-14 17:03:04

"speshul" is utterly unforgivable and horrid and I would and have been disgusted to see that left un-deleted.

zzzzz Wed 19-Mar-14 17:05:16

"I do use it to describe the socially disabled." (gimp)

shock well you should be ashamed of yourself.

mercibucket Wed 19-Mar-14 17:21:37

i agree with the op

PolterGoose Wed 19-Mar-14 17:26:02

I do use it to describe the socially disabled

WTF is 'socially disabled'?

In my life socially disabled equates to autism.

BOFtastic Wed 19-Mar-14 17:26:15

"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."

See, I have a daughter who is severely learning disabled, yet I have no real issue with invective directed at people who display stupid or unthinking behaviour. I'm sure I've been known to call David Cameron plenty of things, including in all likelihood 'moron'. Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever used those words to insult my daughter- why would they?

I just think that any so-called medical descriptive function of words like 'moron' and 'idiot' is so long-obsolete that it is, in my opinion, perfectly acceptable to employ them as general insults.

As I tried to explain in my OP, there are words which still get used by particularly unpleasant folk to belittle the disabled. I don't think that we should be using those words in a general sense, or be attempting to rehabilitate them as funny or cool.

Do you see the distinction I'm trying to make?

Thanks for everyone's thoughts on this- I'd be really interested to hear more views.

limitedperiodonly Wed 19-Mar-14 17:34:11

well you should be ashamed of yourself.

Do you think so, zzzzz?

I thought I'd explained what I meant by my use of the terms 'socially disabled' and 'social cripple' and the context in which I used them.

I also thought this was a discussion.

If you would like further explanation, you have only to ask. It's more helpful in this context to challenge rather than to make bald statements of outrage.

My views may differ from yours but I will be polite and as accommodating as possible. Perhaps you can be too.

But if you just want to shut down debate, then this is not the thread for you.

Goblinchild Wed 19-Mar-14 17:43:16

'I do use it to describe the socially disabled. I also use the term 'social cripple'.
I use them to describe a NT person who is being obtuse right up to being downright deliberately offensive. I would not use them to describe anyone else.'

And you really don't understand why some people with a physical disability might be offended at your use of gimp and cripple in this situation?
Or why someone who does have a social communication disability might be distressed by being described as a social cripple?
How thoughtful of all your friends and aquaintances to have stencilled NT on their foreheads, so you know they are not on the spectrum but merely rude, crude, insensitive and obtuse because they actively choose to be so.

<hands limited a mirror>

OwlCapone Wed 19-Mar-14 17:50:11

What is a suitable replacement for the word idiot? How else do you describe someone who is being really stupid?

Sorry, what does socially disabled mean?

For me moron can stay back in the 1980s playground, I think it may have been used then but I don't know anyone who uses it now.

BOFtastic Wed 19-Mar-14 17:53:54

What about 'dunce', 'halfwit', 'nitwit', 'dullard'?

None of them in current use to refer to people with learning disabilities, but all originally referred to specific intellectual impairment. Now they are only applied to neurotypical people acting in a way we think is daft...

Daft? Is that ok? Soft?

RaRaTheNoisyLion Wed 19-Mar-14 17:57:54

What about 'loon', 'insane', 'crazy', 'mentally unstable', 'idiot' etc.

ImAThrillseekerHoney Wed 19-Mar-14 18:00:42

Tangentially, I struggle in particular with mental-health-based insults. For personal reasons I am a bit sensitive on this one, but there are times when you really need to tell an OP that what they are suggesting is profoundly lacking in rationality. Maybe we just need to switch en masse to "Are you on glue?" If anyone crops up to say that they're hugely offended by that because their brother is struggling with a solvent abuse problem then we can move onto something else.

ImAThrillseekerHoney Wed 19-Mar-14 18:01:32

X-post with rara

BOFtastic Wed 19-Mar-14 18:02:01

To reply to limitedperiodonly, I do find the term 'socially-disabled' unacceptable, precisely because there are real actually existing people who are oppressed and marginalised who are regularly referred to as disabled, or having social impairments. I don't think we should be converting non-pejorative descriptive words which apply to people with disabilities into words used to criticise anybody.

limitedperiodonly Wed 19-Mar-14 18:06:37

In my life socially disabled equates to autism.

Isn't that interesting? Because in my life, it doesn't.

I find the use of the word autistic as a term of abuse abhorrent.

As I explained, I use the term 'socially disabled' and 'social cripple' to describe an NT person who was being deliberately obtuse or offensive and never to describe a person who has special needs.

I would ask you to note that. I have no right to make you accept it though.

I find some other terms of abuse related to mental or physical disability abhorrent too, but I'm not going to list them.

However, I find the words Idiot, Imbecile, Moron and Cretin acceptable. But I respect anyone's right to find them offensive.

But I do ask them to explain why, rather than saying that they find them 'disablist'.

Shall we ban mad, madness, crazy, lunatic, loon, loony, mental, mentalist, special, speshul, retarded, retard, backward?

There are some words there that I'd use and some I wouldn't, but it's not up to me, or to you to shut it down.

It's a debate which will lead to a policy.

I'll stick to that.

But can we talk about it?

limitedperiodonly Wed 19-Mar-14 18:16:02

Simple? Simpleton?

I'm not saying these terms are right. But I want to use them and this is a debate.

I have plenty of mirrors goblin. What do you mean? Because I think I've been plain.

Say what you think is wrong with my view and I will explain. We might not agree, we probably won't, but it would be more helpful if we avoided trickiness.

PolterGoose Wed 19-Mar-14 18:20:45

I thought we were talking about it. People have explained why they find some words offensive. Other people have explained why they don't. We respond to each others points. That's a discussion isn't it?

As I explained, I use the term 'socially disabled' and 'social cripple' to describe an NT person who was being deliberately obtuse or offensive and never to describe a person who has special needs.

So do you also think it's ok to call someone the R word as long as they don't have a learning disability? What about 'mong' - is that OK as long as you're talking about someone who doesn't have DS?

BOFtastic Wed 19-Mar-14 18:36:58

There will always be words which some people find offensive and others don't. Always.

But if we are trying to come up with a coherent rule of thumb for what gets deleted on mumsnet, my suggestion would be delete insults as disablist when

a) they are terms currently, or very recently, used in an ordinary descriptive sense about people with disabilities, because they are converting that description into something pejorative; and

b) they are terms which get used in an unpleasant way by rude or bigoted people to directly demean and belittle people with disabilities. While we still have nasty people who bang on the school bus yelling 'mong', 'spaz' 'or 'retard' (for example), then it doesn't matter if the poster on mumsnet isn't using it to refer to disability. Regardless of their intent, they are still cruel words which serve to oppress and insult the disabled.

Words which have fallen into disuse to refer to disabled people altogether and now only get used in a general sense, should not be deleted, in my opinion, even though some people may find them offensive or choose for themselves to avoid those terms.

limitedperiodonly Wed 19-Mar-14 18:46:17

So do you also think it's ok to call someone the R word as long as they don't have a learning disability? What about 'mong' - is that OK as long as you're talking about someone who doesn't have DS?

No, I don't.

And where did I say that?

I thought I covered it when I said this:

I find the words Idiot, Imbecile, Moron and Cretin acceptable. But I respect anyone's right to find them offensive.

and this:

I find some other terms of abuse related to mental or physical disability abhorrent too, but I'm not going to list them.

If you wanted me to list them, then yes, retard and mong would be on my list of abhorrent terms which I'd never use. I didn't think it was necessary to list them or other words because I was trying to talk while not being deliberately offensive or provocative.

I'm not going to unless you specifically ask. And if you did, I think that would say more about you than it says about me. Provocative and offensive, actually.

This is a debate. Some words need to be used. But we don't need to make accusations.

At the end of it I hope we will reach a consensus and I will abide by it.

AladdinKingOfTheives Wed 19-Mar-14 18:46:56

I agree with you language moves on at a stable rate- Pejoration can occur on previously fine words, FYI little know fact- Gay used to be slang for prostitution in Victorian london. Just like some words are ameliorated, it is just silly for people to pick out insults unless someone has directly made someone with special needs. That is not what moron and imbecile are referred to anymore. Much like "Merry Andrew" used to be a huge insult in the Victorian era.

BOFtastic Wed 19-Mar-14 18:53:50

Just to be clear, I am NOT trying to tell anybody what they should or shouldn't find offensive.

Anybody would be free to tell another poster that they dislike their terminology, and say why they think it's unacceptable to describe people in any particular way.

I just think that we need a deletion policy which is comes from consensus and is consistent and objective, rather than one based on individual posters reporting words that offend them personally.

But your argument was that it was fine to use 'social cripple' because the person you were referring to was NT confused

BOF I think your a) and b) sound sensible.

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