Political incorrectness gone mad

Here’s my iron­ic approach, then. Write an entry for Blog­ging Against Dis­ab­lism 2007 in which I blatantly put on dis­play a whole slew of dis­grace­fully dis­ab­list words. Shock­ing though they are — and hope­fully you are all nod­ding vig­or­ously in agree­ment and think­ing to your­self that you wouldn’t dare use such phrases even in private, let alone in pub­lic — the irony is that, some sev­en years into the 21st cen­tury, if I wanted to post these dis­crim­in­at­ory or just plain offens­ive terms to my site in all ser­i­ous­ness, I could prob­ably still get away with it. The same would most likely not be true if I placed racist, sex­ist, homo­phobic or ageist words here. Double stand­ards, any­one?

I’m noth­ing if not obvi­ous. As with so much of my think­ing, dis­ab­lism for me is primar­ily about words, about lan­guage. I have always dis­liked the phrase ‘dis­ab­il­ity dis­crim­in­a­tion’, not for what it stands for, but because apart from the allit­er­a­tion (and the sad fact is that I’m anyone’s for a bit of art­ful allit­er­a­tion), it is so clumsy and unwieldy. Wheth­er we like it or not, this mod­ern media whirl thrives on jump-cuts, sound-bites and pace, pace, pace. To these ears and eyes, ‘dis­ab­il­ity dis­crim­in­a­tion’ just doesn’t cut it in that com­pet­it­ive arena. ‘Dis­ab­lism’ does. When the dis­ab­il­ity char­ity Scope launched their Time to Get Equal cam­paign in 2004, I clearly remem­ber think­ing that the pledge to bring the word into com­mon usage was one of its undoubted high­lights — though I also remem­ber being sur­prised that the term didn’t already exist. Three years on, it still doesn’t — offi­cially.

Dis­ab­lism. We all know what it means. It doesn’t require any sort of explan­a­tion. It’s instantly recog­nis­able and does exactly what it says on its dis­crim­in­at­ory tin. Yet reach for your nearest dic­tion­ary, flick through to the D-words and, chances are, you won’t find ‘Dis­ab­lism’ lis­ted on its pages. More double stand­ards, any­one?

Many of you read­ing this site will know that in the middle of last year I became phys­ic­ally dis­abled when I gained a pros­thet­ic limb and lost half my right leg. I think I’ve got that in the right order, but the past elev­en months have gone by in some­thing of a blur so I’m still not entirely sure. Through­out my life, I have also been affected by minor men­tal health prob­lems (though I use that phrase through griit­ted teeth since it’s anoth­er one that I loathe, but at least it’s vastly prefer­able to ‘issues’). Neither of these mean that I expect to be con­stantly referred to in the most polit­ic­ally cor­rect terms. Not at all. How­ever, what is vitally import­ant is that the lan­guage I choose to use about myself and with oth­ers is a highly per­son­al decision. It’s a ques­tion of choice. My choice.

As a dis­abled per­son, my approach to terms that many might find offens­ive is as fol­lows. God help me, but I have a sense of humour. Fre­quently, that sense of humour lapses into bad taste. If you know me, under­stand me, respect me, if we laugh at the same ideas and situ­ations, you will quickly come to real­ise that I can and do make jokes at the expense of my impair­ments. Then, and only then, you can jok­ingly refer to me as Peg Leg, Hopa­long, Jake the Peg, Speedy Gonza­lez, a hob­bler, a wob­bler, a cyborg or a lurch­er. (Well, now I come to think of it, I might draw the line at lurch­er, but only because this is Blog­ging Against Dis­ab­lism, not Dog­gism, and thus has noth­ing to do with can­ine breeds.) You can call me a nut­ter, mad, loopy, a loony or, if you really want, a miser­able git and a mor­ose sod — and indeed, in the past I have shared such dubi­ous and allegedly hil­ari­ous terms with many sim­il­arly tra­gic­ally afflic­ted friends and con­fid­ants, all of whom have exper­i­enced the Loom­ing Dark Clouds or the dis­tant howl­ing of the Black Dog, as we have wept into our warm pints of beer and sung along wear­ily to Joy Divi­sion records.

Yet in all these cases, there must be that impli­cit agree­ment, that under­stand­ing. We need to have that com­mon ground in our frames of ref­er­ence. If I am nervously walk­ing along the street on my cur­rently still ‘locked’ pros­thet­ic limb and crutches and I hap­pen to over­hear a com­plete stranger com­ic­ally refer to me as Hopa­long or do an oh-so-amus­ing Long John Sil­ver impres­sion, I may well be temp­ted to show them just how sturdy this right leg can be as I launch the sol­id metal­lic and plastic knee firmly at their crotch. Harsh but fair, I think. Don’t you agree?

Only friends, acquaint­ances and those who share both my sense of humour and my slow but steady pro­gress towards liv­ing with my newly-acquired dis­ab­il­ity get to call my pros­thet­ic limb by its pet name. Ladies and gen­tle­men, say hello to Lurch.

Comments: 34

    Coin­cid­ent­ally, someone com­men­ted on one of BADD’s participant’s blogs that “Blog­ging Against Dis­ab­lism Day is retarded.” The irony of which did raise a giggle, but I’m sure it wasn’t meant to…

    The Goldfish | 05.01.07, 15:33

    Bravo !!

    You hit the nail on the head so many times there.Words really are like loaded pis­tols if they’re used incor­rectly.

    I’m allowed to call my mum hopa­long because I love her.And we don’t judge the people we love.

    isabelle | 05.01.07, 15:52

    Elo­quently put, as ever.

    I read some­where the oth­er day that employ­ers were too wor­ried about using the wrong terms to take on dis­abled people. Surely all it takes is com­mon sense and com­mu­nic­a­tion? Lan­guage changes over time and with­in roles and rela­tion­ships, if you don’t know, ask.


    Angelalala | 05.01.07, 15:54

    Lurch is a great name

    {waves at Lurch}

    dis­ab­il­ity is not a great name

    small-minded­ness is the most wide­spread dis­ab­il­ity of them all

    {this is a fant­ast­ic post, and i still fancy your hand­writ­ing btw}

    annie | 05.01.07, 16:27

    Gold­fish — Maybe it was an unin­ten­tion­al error. Maybe they were just being ‘brave’. *Cough*

    Isa­belle — Do say hello to your moth­er, from one hopa­long to anoth­er.

    Angelalala — Here’s the story you’re refer­ring to: Dis­ab­il­ity terms ‘put firms off’. My opin­ion is the same as yours. Rather than just dis­miss employ­ing a dis­abled per­son out of hand because you don’t know how to refer to them, why not ask? It’s not rock­et sci­ence.

    Annie — Lurch would say hello, but he’s hid­ing in the corner up against my ward­robe at the moment. Like his own­er, he’s a little shy, bless him.

    An Unreliable Witness | 05.01.07, 17:01

    Am going to make spe­cial ‘I’ve Been Goosed By Lurch’ badges for you to give out to the blessed.

    Jack | 05.01.07, 17:06

    Thank you, Jack. As ever, you know the way to my heart.

    Can those who would like to be goosed by Lurch please form an orderly queue. No unseemly push­ing or shov­ing.

    An Unreliable Witness | 05.01.07, 17:10

    oh yes please to a badge!

    {first in line in the queue of orderlys)

    annie | 05.01.07, 17:15

    Some­times per­haps the act of ask­ing could make the per­son ask­ing feel a bit silly — which is per­haps why they think about it but don’t ask in the first place. But this is one time where it’s wise to say some­thing and ask a ques­tion, rather than just remain­ing quiet. (per­haps!)

    also, very much liked the pictori­al ele­ments. They’re sort of hard and brash and bold, which is the aim of the post. You release words won­der­fully into the eth­er… and illus­trate them accord­ingly with very much con­sid­er­a­tion and eleg­ance.

    Miles Away | 05.01.07, 17:16

    I like posts on dis­ab­il­ity and lan­guage too. Yours puts it very well.

    Ruth | 05.01.07, 17:23

    Miles Away — Yes, I am try­ing to become all mult­me­dia and Web Three Point Oh (which is one bet­ter than Web 2.0, obvi­ously). But you are far too kind.

    And it’s begin­ning to look like I may have to put in a rush order with the top secret Jack Pan­demi­an badge fact­ory. So much goos­ing, so little time …

    An Unreliable Witness | 05.01.07, 17:26

    You are so right! So very, very right! Thank you for this post, it is well spoken and right on the money!

    Imperfect Christian | 05.01.07, 17:45

    I only became famil­i­ar with dis­ab­il­ity ter­min­o­logy when I recovered suf­fi­ciently from the early stages of my own ‘tra­gic han­di­cap’ to begin read­ing blogs, which was about the same time that your leg fell off. I’ve been far more enlightened by people online than any health pro­fes­sion­al or sup­port work­er. In fact, I really believe a lot of my pro­gress is down to being part of a big­ger and wiser pic­ture.

    seahorse | 05.01.07, 17:52

    Stand­ing, clap­ping and cheer­ing!

    The one that gets my tidies in a twist most lately is the term “f*cktard”. I just can’t help myself.

    How any reas­on­able per­son can find that term accept­able is bey­ond me.

    Just loved your post! Thanks so much for writ­ing it!

    Attila the Mom | 05.01.07, 18:30

    *Exactly* the cal­ibre I would have expec­ted from Your Limp­i­ness.

    I’m not worthy.…

    Lady Bracknell's Editor | 05.01.07, 20:11

    Seahorse — Health pro­fes­sion­als. Sup­port work­ers. Beware of men­tion­ing Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­ap­ists too, because it … Brings. Me. Out. In. A. Nervous. Tic. And then I have to take my calm­ing pills.

    Attila — I quite agree. Any­one who dis­respect­fully uses the term “f*cktard” should change it to the much more aesh­thet­ic­ally pleas­ing and non-dis­ab­list “f*ckwit” imme­di­ately. The aster­isk, how­ever, is entirely option­al.

    Lady B’s Edit­or — I think call­ing me Your Limp­i­ness is a trifle per­son­al, don’t you?!

    Oh, you’re talk­ing about the leg. Yes, the leg. As you were, then.

    An Unreliable Witness | 05.01.07, 20:18

    You are bril­liant and i love you.

    Rachel | 05.01.07, 20:38

    You have a pros­thet­ic limb? My God man, why didn’t you tell me!

    {nice post, as ever}

    andre | 05.01.07, 20:43

    Great arty pix and great post. If we could just change lan­guage, we would change the world.


    wheelchairdancer | 05.01.07, 20:44

    Nice one! I hate to hear the phrase ‘polit­ic­al cor­rect­ness gone mad’ as it’s always accom­pan­ied by a small minded, illo­gic­al rant about the sil­li­ness of treat­ing people respect­fully!

    I had an argu­ment with a friend recently about the use of ‘retarded’ as an insult syn­onym­ous with ridicu­lous.

    Sharon | 05.01.07, 22:53

    Yes, please (to goos­ing and badge)!

    I’ve ever been con­cerned by those who are afraid / incap­able / unwill­ing to take the time to find out what lan­guage / “label” the poten­tially labelled would prefer. Hon­estly, who else has the right to decide what they would like to be referred to as? It’s not rock­et sci­ence.

    Damn… try­ing so hard to come up with an attract­ive, appeal­ing, and art­ful allit­er­at­ive addendum to this mes­sage. Didn’t go nearly as well as I had hoped. :)

    la fille | 05.02.07, 00:05

    Com­mon sense… so rare these days.

    Fant­ast­ic post: love the end­ing, par­tic­u­larly.

    Ahistoricality | 05.02.07, 06:36

    Hello UW, I’m still quite gobsmacked by not only this post but the past and the dia­betes and the ampu­ta­tion and how utterly amaz­ing you are. Fant­ast­ic post. I had only read bits of your archives. I am hooked.

    And hello and love to Lurch. Can I get a badge too please ? XXX

    Peach | 05.02.07, 12:53

    Badges have been done. I think you should give lam­in­ated post its with each goos­ing.

    *joins queue*

    Angelalala | 05.02.07, 14:23

    My wheel­chair bound uncle likes to be called ‘gimp’ (dates back to way before Pulp Fic­tion).

    My his­pan­ic hus­band tol­er­ates my call­ing him spic.

    Yes, lan­guage is power­ful, but it only gets that power from those who give it. The ran­dom jux­ta­pos­i­tion of let­ters that cre­ate a sym­bol, that rep­res­ent a sound that means some­thing … and that mean­ing can be strong or weak depend­ing on so many things.

    Today I am dis­join­ted in the brain.

    clarissa | 05.02.07, 14:34

    ps you missed off your list the cock­ney rhymer “Rasp­berry Ripple” — An ex boyfriend’s Dad’s favour­ite expres­sion for him­self…

    Peach | 05.02.07, 16:05

    Rachel — No, really, I am just aver­age. Aver­agely bril­liant.

    Andre — Yes, I have a pros­thet­ic limb. I have been hid­ing it well, have I not? Would you like to see my metal­lic ankle?

    wheel­chaird­ancer — I have already changed lan­guage. I speak flu­ent eye­lid gib­ber­ish.

    Shar­on — I hate the word retarded with a pas­sion. A pas­sion, I tell you!

    ia fille — I admire your acci­dent­al allit­er­a­tion.

    Peach — No, really, I am just aver­age. Aver­agely amaz­ing.

    Angelalala — I am going to offer tat­tooed eye­lids, I think. Very Unre­li­able Wit­ness.

    Clarissa — That didn’t sound dis­join­ted at all. I know dis­join­ted, and that wasn’t it.

    An Unreliable Witness | 05.02.07, 20:49

    I wanted to call my new car either The Crip­mobile or The Spazwag­on but got shouted down by many mem­bers of my, er, entour­age — appar­ently I was sup­posed to “think of the chil­dren”. After a brief dis­cus­sion of which I was only an observ­er (or … listen­er) it was duly named Skippy … because it’s a Kan­goo … ged­dit?

    Excel­lent post as always.

    I feel I must com­ment more often so people know I’m here.

    Timmargh | 05.03.07, 01:28

    Fant­ast­ic post.

    I have a great friend in a sim­il­ar situ­ation, and I think us both hav­ing sailed with the Jubilee Sail­ing Trust has prob­ably changed both of our positions/opinions etc.

    (worth a look too! http://www.jst.org.uk — I’m off to sail with them again in a week or so)

    It's Just Me | 05.03.07, 16:45

    Hur­ray! This is bril­liant. But what of those twee phrases, com­mon in Amer­ica about “dif­fer­ently abled people” and the like? It’s polit­ic­al cor­rect­ness bend­ing over so far back­wards that it gets its head stuck up its arse frankly. And yo Lurch!

    Ariel | 05.03.07, 19:08

    Ari­el, my love. Amer­ic­ans only make up these con­des­cend­ing terms because they’re so damn fat they can’t bend over to tie their own laces let alone bend back­wards to intro­duce their huge heads to their lardy arses.

    And then they have the bare­faced cheek to call it a dis­ab­il­ity and sue someone for caus­ing it.

    It’s just not crick­et.

    Angelalala | 05.04.07, 01:24

    Being PC, surely pos­it­ive dis­crim­in­a­tion.

    I’m doing an essay which involves PC, whatever happened to the ideals of equal­ity, rather than restric­tion.

    Then we go into Human Right, one per­sons free will imposes anoth­er.

    Gaah. Nice work there.

    Jennie | 11.14.07, 01:50

    thanky­ou for the art­icle, search­ing polit­ic­al cor­rect­ness is get­ting quite stress­ful due to the awful cyncism and small minded views of some people! just ask­ing per­mis­sion to use your two images in an EPQ essay about polit­ic­al incor­rect­ness, will cite source, of course.
    please email a reply if pos­sible? thanky­ou

    emma | 06.10.09, 17:55

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