Cripples, Retards and Politically Correct Euphemism.

Paddy Doyle is a cripple.

That’s right.  He isn’t differently abled.  He doesn’t have special needs.  He doesn’t have a mobility deficit, or any of the other bloodless, insipid phrases foisted on us by a world too afraid to face reality.

He’s a cripple who has to spend all his time in a wheelchair, because a crowd of bastard nuns did an experiment on him when he was a child.  If you want further evidence that Paddy is a cripple, well how about this: he told me so himself, in a pub, over a pint.

You see, Paddy hates euphemism as much as I do, and the word “cripple” has a very precise meaning.  Too precise for a modern society that prefers to sanitise the hard realities of life and hide them behind vague, spurious, pseudo-scientific cant.

I injured my back quite badly a long time ago but I’m fine now, except for the occasional attack of sciatica every few years.  When I have that attack, which could last a month, it leaves me crippled.  Not reduced in mobility.  Not with a walking impairment.  Fucking crippled!

The old people don’t talk like this.  The old people don’t talk about someone passing away.  They were brought up in an era before a terrified TV-fed world became so afraid of reality it had to put on an armoured suit of bland euphemisms.  No.  If somebody dies, they’ll say he’s fucking dead.  My mother used to say things like If you die with that face, no-one will wash you. You couldn’t say that to a child today in case a legion of half-witted social workers broke your door down and snatched the kids into care.

I knew one old lady who used to talk about disabled children with the greatest sincerity: Poor little grow-badlies, God bless ’em.

Some people are blind, or half blind. Some people are deaf.  Some people can’t walk.  Some people don’t know when to shut up.  These are all handicaps, but you can’t use that word any more.  Handicap.  Why can’t you say handicapped any more?  Because someone, somewhere decreed that it was offensive. 

Now, here in Ireland, we have Travellers.  We used to call them tinkers, but the government decided that was a term of abuse, and it launched a massive publicity campaign persuading people to call them itinerants.  That lasted a while until someone decided itinerant was an abusive expression as well.  You had to call them Travellers.  Not tinkers and not itinerants.  The new required word was travellers.  That’s now starting to fall into disrepute, and the preferred term is the word they use to describe themselves: Pavees.  But here’s an interesting experiment you could try if you live in Ireland: start talking about Pavees and see how long it takes before someone tells you not to use that sort of language. 

You see, it’s all in the mind.  A word is only a word, and what matters is the intent behind it.  People will tell you not to say cunt.  Why not?  It’s only a sound.  There’s nothing magic about it.  The intent is what matters, and if we start looking into people’s minds, we’re heading down a very dangerous road.  I know what you’re thinking and you’re wrong, as a cretinous imbecile in this town is fond of saying.

There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with giving offence.  Offence is what some people are waiting to take, and I have no control over that.  Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with blunt, straight talk.

I got started on all this when I received an email from Nick McGivney.  Nick writes the excellent Our Jacob about his son who has Down Syndrome.  Nick is talking in this piece about Tropic Thunder, the new movie written by Ben Stiller.  There’s a character in the movie described as a retard, and Nick is making a point about how often the word retard is used in the script.  He takes the view that it harms the cause of people with disabilities, but don’t let me paraphrase it.  Read for yourself what he has to say.

I’m not so sure, and I’ve said so to Nick.  I’m not in favour of banning particular words, because it won’t change anything.  The word “retarded” was originally a well-intended euphemism to replace “slow” but it gradually acquired pejorative overtones. So will all the new terms that replace it, because the problem lies inside people’s minds, not in the words they use.

I’m reminded of the air-crashes involving the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 a good few years back.  A cargo door kept blowing out under pressure and when they investigated, it turned out that the locking mechanism was at fault.  You were supposed to rotate the locking wheel until a green light came on, but the cargo handlers were finding it a bit stiff.  However, they eventually discovered that one last heave would do it and the green light would appear.

There was a big problem with this.  The green light was connected to the wheel, not the locking mechanism, and if the handlers forced it, all they were doing was rotating the wheel.  The locking mechanism inside the door was just bending out of shape under the force, but not securing the door.

So there you have it.  It’s the same with words like retard and cripple and idiot and imbecile. You can try to force them out of existence if you like, and the green light will come on, but you’re not fixing the problem.  In fact, with the new, bland, vague substitutes, you might be making it worse, because so many of these imposed substitutes are only the husks of a living language, drained of all meaning by the PC vampires.  If you don’t have the words, you can’t do the thinking.


Here’s George Carlin on the subject.


I had a look around and came up with some lists of appropriate and inappropriate language in the opinion of various people.

See what you think.


Inappropriate Appropriate
Barking and Dagenham Council  

The Disabled

Disabled people

People with disabilities

Disabled people


Disabled person

Severely disabled

Requires substantial or significant personal assistance


Impairments (or state actual medical condition)

Suffers from

Living with (state medical condition)

Mentally handicapped

People with learning difficulties

The blind

Blind people/partially sighted people (specify which group) or visually impaired people


Personal assistance/personal support

Special needs

Specific requirements (state what these are)

Disabled parking

Orange/Blue Badge holder parking

For wheelchairs

For wheelchair users

Office of Civil Rights, Seattle  
crippled, suffers from, afflicted with, stricken with, victim of, invalid has a disability, is a person with a disability, physically disabled, walks with a cane, uses leg braces
paraplegic, quadriplegic man with paraplegia, woman who is paralyzed, person with spinal cord injury
visually impaired, visual impairment low vision, partially sighted, blind
dumb, mute

person who is unable to speak, has difficulty speaking, uses synthetic speech, is non-vocal, non-verbal

dwarf, midget

person of small stature, short stature; little person

birth defect congenital disability, disabled from birth



The Family Voyage

The God Squad

Our Jacob

The Secret Fire


Also on Bock:

Non-PC posts

The Brothers of Charity


Christmas gift ideas

Giving offence

Placenames and the Thought Police

Friends of the Earth

Trócaire ad banned

The savage-stupid gene

The Working Class

86 thoughts on “Cripples, Retards and Politically Correct Euphemism.

  1. thats a load of old nonsense you spasmo geansai wearing hippy, but in my head I actually like you, they’re only words

  2. What a great post Bock. I agree 100%. Swearing is natural to humans and they are only words. How do I know? My toddlers, who have never heard “bad language” swear amongst themselves. When they are especially angry or frustrated they express it with made up words spoken with such ferocity you knew if they’d ever heard the word fuck, that’s what they would be saying. The current word of choice is “biddle!” It’s a harmless kid word, but basically what they are saying when they use it is “fuck” or when they call each other “biddles” they are really saying “fuck you bitch!” they just don’t know those terms.

    I always laugh when people use the tame version of swear words. Shoot for shit and the like. THEY MEAN THE SAME THING!!!! ARGH!

    Amateur sociologist me! :P

  3. Good post bok. Some disabled will probably prefer your blunt way. Another guy i know whos very fit probably get his shin into your fecken balls man.

    ‘He’s differently abled’ is probably the best way. The americans say Alternatively Abled. More sensitive. We thick Fecks in UK and Ireland just say ‘Disabled’, ie not able, not good definition

  4. Speaking as the parent of a child who has grown up with one or two health problems, I agree that words are just words. Terminology is only as painful as you want it to be. My son used to say in times of frustration to the school yard bully boys.. “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but my dad will fucking kill ye!”
    It made him smile and thus made us smile to. He realised that words are harmless long before we ever did.

  5. Fucking great post – our ways of expressing ourselves is being crippled.

    Soon we won’t be able to communicate with each other unless we learn a new language!

  6. Window-licker would be my own personal favourite. Boy does that term get me frowns.

    Any word can sound vicious or dirty if you use the wrong tone, the content of the sentence doesn’t really mean anything if it’s said properly and with honest intent.

  7. Now there was something that needed to be said and there was a post worth reading. Good stuff Bock, y’ould cuncha. (Believe it or not, a term of endearment in Cavan).

  8. I was pulled up on using the word ‘tard in a post,it was actually a typing error,(i meant to type hard but my hands were being retarded today) i explained the slip of the finger but straight away a link to the article above was despatched in response.. I believe the word Nazi was my response..

  9. I guess this one is always going to be different for me now. I can’t keep up with the litany of PC names applied to many minorities these days, and I don’t even try. I have been called to task for calling Jacob a Down Syndrome baby, rather than a baby with Down Syndrome. I can see the miniscule point somebody is holding on to there, but the razor-thin slices of difference in the semantics are a waste of time, frankly. Life is too short. As K8 says, tone is everything. Cunt can be the most highly eroticised or the most vulgar of terms. I try not to use it as the latter because I believe it makes me less of a gentleman. I’m frequently less of a gentleman.

    In this instance though, we (parents and guardians of mentally less able folk) are advocating for a large minority who, unlike Paddy Doyle, cannot usually advocate for themselves. My son is retarded. That is a clinical term and as such it is accurate, even if it comes with a pang. In this film the term is not used in a clinical sense. It is used in a perjorative, abusive and downright ugly way. The speaker need not have in his or her mind the actually mentally handicapped for their words to do damage, actual damage, in the lives of retarded people. But as long as we have humans we will have herd instinct, and the herd can enjoy copycat cruelty too. (That’s not a mixed metaphor. I had a herd of cats in mind!)
    This seems to be more of an issue in the US where the word retard has a more common (non-clinical) currency than it does here. Perhaps because our incidence of living, breathing people with one kind of mental disability or another is much higher. I’d like to think so. In any event, we still don’t disagree on much, Bock. I’ll just be looking out for my boy’s back whenever I find ‘more able’ people being cruel to him.

  10. Nick —

    It’s different when you’re the parent. It always is. Many words are inevitably going to hurt you, simply by the nature of things, and because you have such a strong emotional investment in the situation. That will include innocuous phrases and simple acknowledgements that conditions like Down Syndrome even exist.

    Your post opened up the possibility here to have a debate on the broader issue of PC diktats, which is something I’d intended to do for some time, but kept forgetting.

    Just going with the theme, there are many fine insults in the English language that have their roots in mental disability. I personally would be lost without idiot, cretin, imbecile, moron and half-wit, and I’m sure you must have flung such insults yourself from time to time.

    How will we know which words are unacceptable? Who’s qualified to decide what we may say, or even what we may think?

  11. ‘Tis a fine dilemma on the horns of which we sit to be sure. (Oh God, That’s enough of that. I couldn’t keep that tone up). Language, especially English, being the swift-flowing current that it is, words do become smooth with use, and they do fall into redundancy. They get hijacked too, and abandoned. When black Americans coined a new use of the word hot, it took a while for white young Americans to catch on. When they did, black Americans promptly dropped the hot new word and started to use cool instead. Slightly off point, but a good example of language being shaped. Cretin became a term of abuse and as a result clinicians began to drop their use of a perfectly reasonable and descriptive word for cretinism. I’ll bet the French from that particular region didn’t mind. It could conceivably happen with retard too.
    You ask who’s qualified to decide what we may say. No one of us, as you know. But nonetheless, even this debate is shaping the currency of the words we use. As you point out yourself wrt travellers, the vogue doesn’t staying vogue for very long.
    Ultimately, the deciding factor is in the ferocity of a word’s use. Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross called – was it Ed Harris? – a fucking child, and his delivery turned the walls blue. When he said cunt they fell over. And so it comes to what’s in the heart of the speaker. Calling someone a half-wit can be funny or can be nasty. Calling a half-wit a half-wit can never be funny to me.

  12. [ah now, BBB. I had to modify your comment. I thought you’d have a bit more cop-on than that.


    Do you mean my attempt at ironic humour Bock (given the content of the link) or my html disability?

  13. I don’t know. I tell my kids often that there are no such words as “ bad words”, and then I say to our eight, twelve and nearly fourteen year old that there is no such thing as bad language, only inappropriate language or context in which these words might be used. So words in themselves cannot do harm, it’s a matter of context. Fucks, cunts, shits and dams come up for air frequently in our house and they smile at me, knowing the context and appropriateness thing, and they’re right. Personally I feel retarded.

  14. I got chewed out on a blog a while back for using ‘retard’. She completely missed the point I was trying to make and took offence on behave of special olympians everywhere. She even did a post on me – quickly taken down bc she probably realised what a spaz she was. I’m sorry I didn’t have that Geroge Carlin link. It would have been a perfect reply. I was merely trying to offer her some advice on the dangerous of shit-fighting on the web with the infamous phrase: “Arguing on the web is like competing in the Special Olympics, you might win but you are still a retard”. Twas just as well really, as her reaction made me realise I was wasting far too much time with her blog.

  15. Bock, a good and thoughtful post. I’ve always thought that the word handicap, has it’s roots in “cap in hand” from aeons ago when people, unable to work, had to beg on the streets in order to get by. Maybe this is right, maybe it’s wrong. If it’s right, it’s wrong to be using that word for people who are disabled now surely, but applies to millions of people claiming on the welfare.

    On a different point, my six year old son came back from the shops yesterday with a phonics book to help his reading, caled “Stunt Duck” I’m waiting, and it can’t be too long, for the mis-reading of those words.

  16. Handicap doesn’t come from “cap in hand”.

    It was originally used to describe a trading game and after that to describe a horse-race.

    Both involved a degree of inequality.

    It was only recently that the word handicap came to be transferred from its original meaning to describe the disadvantage one competitor had with regard to the other.

    However, that doesn’t deter people with an agenda from altering the etymology.

  17. Hmmm, I think it boils down to that people use negative or perceived negative adjectives as insults.

    If you call someone a spastic, tinker,homosexual or a retard or whatever when they’re not, it’s meant as an insult.

    That people are using a genuine condition/difference as an arbitrary insult offends people.

    That insults offend people shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

  18. Couldn’t agree more with your post, Bock.

    My complaint about the word ‘cunt’ on Twenty’s blog had nothing to do with the word itself. I was remarking on the vacuous and unnecessary comments (adding nothing whatsever to anything, IMO) which seemed to be there purely to throw in yet another ‘cunt’ — in order to be ‘cool’.

    I found it very juvenile and not ‘cool’ at all.

    Yes, give me ‘crippled’ or ‘deaf’ or ‘dumb’ or ‘half-blind’ anyday. But (DG) I’m not handicapped, so I’ve love to hear more from those who are, and how *they* feel about all the PC nonsense.

    Regarding the USA: I’ll never cease to be amazed by their reaction to the words ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’. People who clearly don’t give a damn about how many innocent Iraqis have died, or attempts to legitimise torture by their own country, get outraged if I say ‘fuck off’ or ‘your fucking party’, etc. Apparently saying ‘fuck’ is a far, far, graver sin than killing and/or torture.


  19. Francis Ford Coppola from 2001 re Apocalypse Now:

    One line in John Milius’ original script suggested this: “They teach the boys to drop fire on people but won’t let them write the word ‘Fuck’ on their aeroplanes.” In the words of Joseph Conrad: “I hate the stench of a lie.”

    That line from Brando always resonated with me. The horror of the hypocrisy is lost on millions.

    Another post has yet to be written on the usurping of the word ‘Patriot’ to mean anything but.

  20. It always amazes me how politically correct Ireland has become. We are well on our way to becoming the 51st state as we adopt everything bad about the US into Irish culture. Where have the great words of Ireland gone, yabollix, yahoor, (insert feckin for increased effect) when referring affectionality to your friend after “a rake” of pints. A friend on mine used to frequently use the cunt word around our office. A complaint was made by one girl in the office about his use of the C word. When formally asked to stop using the c word around her, his reply was that he spells it with a k. He still happily continues calling everyone a kunt. He is of course a rare example. most of us have been culled into using the Politically correct terms in polite company. Oh I long for the days when “go way and shite for yourself ya dirty hoor”….was telling your drinking buddy you disagreed with his opinion and was not a politically incorrect way of telling “an odourly challanged sex worker that she was in need of a visit to the toilets”

  21. Great post Bock. I am of one mind with you on this, and also on the issue of Joe Duffy, although I find it hard to get a word or words which expresses exactly my feelings about him. A slimy creeping Jesus is the nearest I can get to it. I have to switch channels the moment I hear his voice.

  22. “The horror of the hypocrisy is lost on millions.” –Nick

    Sad, isn’t it.

    Anyway, back to ‘PC’ or Bock will say I’m off-topic. :)

  23. If you don’t have the words, you can’t do the thinking.

    That was one of the central themes in Orwell’s 1984. I carry the thought with me always. It is so true and explains so much when you bring it to bear on all this PC rubbish.

    You would have thought “tinker” was a noble word in itself. “Knacker” used to be a trade (unless you had a sensitive nose next to the knacker’s yard). But as you say PC is a moving target and the path to it is infinite.

    Is there any way we could loop it back to the original having done the rounds?

    Nora: as you say the contrast is staggering. Killing innocents is OK; cursing is a capital crime. There is a lot of self-serving “morality” around. Indeed it would seem to have been so since the beginning of time. Maybe it’s just got worse or I’m just getting on and beginning to notice it more.

    I now have to confine my store of Dublin, Jewish, Disability, Drunk , German and Kerry jokes to after the watershed, which for this subject matter is about 1 a.m. on licensed premises. Shame! The only ones I keep are funny and no harm is meant.

  24. One of the funniest things I’ve seen was Billy Connolly talking about “curse words” and how just-about-anything can sound like a swear-word depending on how you say it. Which he promptly demonstrated, using “bollard”.

    Don’t start on jokes, Benny … we’ll be into Muslim cartoons before we know it!

  25. Terms of endearment. Lennie Bruce defended himself in court after being accused of obscenity during his act. He had used the term motherfucker repeatedly.
    His defence was to say to the black Judge that motherfucker was a term of endearment. I’ve heard loads of Tipp fella use cunt is a term of endearment. It’s like you say Bock, it’s about the intent. And Nick is definitely more committed. I laugh when I call my good friend a double spa steamer, no one else will hear me say this and definitely not children, but I laugh and so does he.

    You’re right about not being able to stop abuses of words, we can only educate ourselves and others about language and context and appropriateness.

    Great piece Bock, seems to have got legs.

  26. If by that you mean that the non-Bocks non-rock then I’m sorry, unstranger, but that is most decidedly not ok. It’s rockist and completely un-ok and I will have no more to do with any of this.

  27. I am heartily sorry for all I’ve said, may the gods of words forgive me before I am called to account – eh, du u mean ur now conflictedly departed? Jeeze! what have I done???

  28. > If somebody dies, they’ll say he’s fucking dead.

    I agree and all, but Jaysus, they don’t have to be so aggressive about it.

    One of my favourite essays is “Obscenity” by Kurt Vonnegut, in which he argues that being overly sensitive about Bad Words and bodily functions and so on makes us incapable of dealing with the various unpleasantnesses that routinely befall ourselves and our society. I can’t find the text online, unfortunately, but if you want a jolly good read you’ll find it in Palm Sunday.

    Vonnegut, incidentally, used to include a little sketch of his arsehole when signing his name. A true champion.

  29. A good one Bock.Was at a charity golf tournament many years ago(hate the game but I was the photographer),in the company of a friend long since gone from us of”stunted growth”,a dwarf or whatever you want to call it,PC or not PC.At the worst possible moment,a mates 6 year old decided to announce”she’s too small and her head’s too big”.She cracked up laughing so much that she took us all with her.I asked her later if she really meant that laughter and she said”fuck yes.I get weird looks all day every day,but nobody ever speaks their mind”.A great person with the political correctness of a lump hammer.Words are just words.

  30. There you go. Excellent. What a great story.

    Maybe we should put children in charge of political correctness.

    Or maybe we should just kill all the retarded, stupid mentally-crippled cunts who try to tell us what we should be thinking.

  31. excellent post,

    I actually mentioned the dreaded “c” word in my blog, before I visited here.

    I remember a friend of mine was sitting with me and my then infant son in a waiting room. She had her daughter Sarah with her, and of course because Sarah had downs syndrome, she attracted that peculiarly annoying condescension from certain ladies of a certain age, all tongue clicks and snatched sideways glances. One of them, unsure as to Sarah’s specific condition asked “And what is she?” My friend turned to her and said “She’s Sarah, she’s a baby”

    May Sarah continue to be defined by who she is as opposed to a condition, or a handicap or a “differing ability”

  32. Fuck it. This sucks. Some people might be saying the word retard should be banned, but not many. How the hell do you ban a word anyway? No that is not what is wanted. But some people, those of us who have learning disabilities or family members who are learning disabled, don’t like the word and want to educate people as to the reasons why.

    Yes words change but right now, retard is an ugly, hard and hurtful word. People can keep on saying it if they want, knowing that choosing a word that refers to people like Brent Martin (beaten to death because a few lads thought it was fun to pick on the ‘tard) or Nick’s son or my son or the thousands of people like them, and using that word as a short-hand for stupid, moronic, pathetic, just devalues these people and hurts them.

    So complain about requests for PC language if you want. Ignore the people who have explained the history of ugly words and how they cause harm. People can argue for their right to call my husband a nigger or my children half-castes, even when we have explained that we prefer the terms black and mixed race. They can clamour for their freedom to call stupidity after a term used to describe my son’s developmental delay. They can fight to call gay people faggots. It’s different when you know someone well enough that it’s an in-joke. But not in a million years will I use a term associated with hate speech. Do you think when bigots attack, they accompany each kick with the PC words, or might they choose the strongest, most hateful language possible?

    What people are complaining about in the comments here and in other places I’ve seen, is that they want to use whatever words they choose. I don’t know why people are so desperate to be able to keep saying retard as an insult. IMO, say and write what you want. I can choose who I talk to and what I read, Just be aware of the reasons why some of us wish that word could just be quietly dropped out of circulation.

    Please, just read this one post, then decide if moderating language can be the right thing to do.

  33. Sharon —

    You might have noticed that this entry was written after Nick contacted me about his own post on the use of the word “retard” in the movie.

    It’s important to draw a distinction between hate speech and offensive speech, and I have no problem with confronting hate speech. “Retard” is a word designed to hurt, a back-formation from “retarded” which is a perfectly valid word in the English language, used in many different contexts.

    Therefore, “retard” could validly be considered hate speech but not “retarded”.

    As I already said, it doesn’t matter what the words are. The intent behind them is what matters.

    The other point I’d make is that it isn’t safe to assume anything about the people contributing to this discussion. Many may well share the experience of having a disability, either in person or through someone close. They may not be as ill-informed as you believe.

  34. Much has been said here, and I’ve clearly got to the debate late, but something I did want to mention is, unlike Nick, I actually think there is the world of difference between saying a “Down’s Syndrome child” and a “child with Down’s Syndrome”. And of course, I know I’m touchier than most about this subject being a parent of a child with DS.

    We know that language doesn’t just reflect out perceptions, but helps to shape them too.

    If you use the phrase DS child, then the entire emphasis is on the DS – the child is a secondary consideration. Whereas if you talk about a child with DS, then the emphasis is on the child. Yes my daughter has DS, but it is one aspect of her, not the defining aspect of her. Unless it is cahllenged, her humanity is placed secondary to her condition, which is a dangerous place to go.

    And this links in, too, with the words such as Retard, handicapped and the like. What these words do is create a definition which says change will not, cannot happen. This kind of pigeon holing is a way of writing people off rather than seeing their growth potential in different ways.

    Anyway, just wanted to say my piece

  35. Thanks Kim. I know this is a touchy subject but I felt I had to be a bit blunt about it in order to draw people out.

  36. Fair enough Kim if that is how you feel. Whatever works for you. This is where I fall closer to Bock’s viewpoint. I just don’t think that people take the time in their lives (most especially if they have no direct experience of a specific condition) to bother to make the distinction, especially at this scale. And I do understand your point. DS is not the defining aspect of my third son either. At the moment snoring is. But I just can’t be arsed worrying about the microsemantics of it all, frankly. Abusively call him a retard however and we can go fifteen rounds no bother.
    (Apologies for hijacking, Bock. Reading this back it all seems quite proprietorial of me. But I’m beginning to feel quite at home with the colour scheme, come to mention it…)

  37. Ah the old PC police are burning words argument. I’d have posted sooner but I was away honouring our goat king. Words are just letters placed in a certain order; their use is about intent and context. If certain words are used in certain ways then those using them have to be prepared to stand over them. Is that word appropriate there? Does it do the job you wanted it to while not doing anything else? You can use a knife to put together that bookshelf but isn’t it better to use a screw driver? We’re human and none of us have the time to parse extensively over the words we use in speech so we all can be open to saying stuff that may not be 100% what we intended. In something like a movie though, you’d think some time was spent in…well, thinking about the words and the characters, after all hundreds of jobs are involved and millions of dollars. There again given the way Hollywood works that might be asking a bit much, two big budget movies about rocks hurtling towards earth you say, after the magic that was Meteor with Sean Connery why ever not!

    If certain words are going to be used then people are going to make judgements about what was meant by them. Using a term like retard as a form of abuse, is exactly that a form of abuse. We’ve got perfectly functional words like ‘fucking eejit’ that can do the job that retard frequently is used for. There are others times when the word is quite apt, one good example is in ‘There’s something about Mary’ where Matt Dillon’s use of the word retard shows him up for being the prick that he genuinely is despite his attempts to appear like a great humanitarian.

    I’ll wait and read and see more about the movie before making up my own mind. That said I probably won’t bother with it, mainly because Stiller’s output is kind of inconsistent. One of the writers Etan Cohen has been quoted as saying “Some people have taken this as making fun of handicapped people, but we’re really trying to make fun of the actors who use this material as fodder for acclaim.” And we all know there is ample call for making fun of ‘self of themselves’ actors, but from someone who wrote and directed a short called “My wife is retarded” I’m not so convinced that really was his intent. It sounds all kinds of fishy to me.

    At least, Bock, you had the decency to reference the alternative viewpoint and allow comments to be made in response unlike some other darlings of the Irish blogosphere who prefer to post and hide whenever someone has any reason to comment in the negative and then pretend to all their friends that they’re being oppressed, harassed and stalked or even being made ill by chanting and voodoo.

  38. Your excellent post seems to have gained legs. Well done.
    This reminds me of the time when, many years ago, my first daughter went to school for the first day. One of the other children was born with a deformed hand which had been removed surgically. The teacher took the bull by the horns and introduced the new class to the school. She said “This is Tommy, he has blue eyes. “This is Mary, she has a lovely singing voice” etc and then “This is Joe, he has only one hand because that’s the way God made him.” The usual nudging and sniggerin stopped and he was accepted for what he was.
    The point is that while we cover over the blemishes we all have with euphemisms we make them into mysteries. We aught to flaunt our differences -your friend Paddy Doyle is not differently abled, he’s crippled.
    I’m not follically and vertically challenged and heavy, I’m a fat little bald fucker.

  39. Yes I noticed the reference to Nick’s post Bock.

    So how do you make the distinction between hate speech and offensive speech? Yes sure retarded is a valid word. If I put sand in my car’s tank it would retard its performance. My son’s development is retarded compared to his typically developing peers. (I’m not going to refer to them as “normal” as that just makes him by default, abnormal.) Those are perfectly fine uses of the word.

    But using that same word to mean disabled people like Duncan, and then using it as synonymous with stupid, pathetic, crap is not nice. If you drop your glass, or bash into a wall and your mates call you a retard or say “jeez you’re so retarded” then a judgement is made on learning disabled people as the epitome of thick.

    I agree that intent matters, but even mates messing about who are overheard by the kind of people who do feel attacked by the word, can cause pain. Would it really be so hard for people who care about not making other people feel like shit, to just drop the word from their vocabulary?

    Bock, I appreciate your thoughtful response. I don’t know that I made any assumptions about the other commenters. Having disabled children or being disabled yourself doesn’t make you any kind of paragon of wisdom and compassion. You should have a bit more cop on about disability rights, but not necessarily. I’ll not judge anyone as ill-informed, unless they appear that way. I don’t know if it’s ill-informed or just rude to boast about “window licker” being your insult of choice.

    Nora asked how disabled people feel about “PC nonsense”. If you really want to know read any one of hundreds of blogs by disabled bloggers. Try this post.

    King’s Bard, is that story really true, did a teacher really define each child by some random attribute? How did she pick which one to use for each child? What would she have said if Joe with the one hand also had lovely blue eyes or a lovely singing voice?

    And are you really comparing the terms fat and bald with words like retard?

    Oh and just to round off a rambling comment, here’s a much funnier and less wanky way of making the point Stiller claims he wanted to make with his movie in Extras with Kate Winslet. See at 4.40 in particular. Look at the reaction of Gervais. Excellent stuff.

  40. Sharon —

    The mindset I have difficulty with is the one that says I mustn’t use words like “retarded” or “handicapped” or “tinker” or any of a thousand other forbidden words. There are people who would have you refrain from using words like fat and bald too.

    As I said, words like “retard” as a noun, are designed to hurt, and people should try to have more understanding. However, that’s a matter of personal responsibility rather than the sort of quasi-official approach we get from the Council for This and the National Consultative Forum for That.

    Likewise, being hurtful and giving offence are two very different things. For example, there are some devout Muslims who would be offended to see me drinking wine in a restaurant, but that’s their problem, not mine. If you think I’m joking, there was a dinner in TCD a couple of years ago where a PC decision was made not to serve alcohol in case the Muslims present were offended.

    By the same token, I’ve written a lot of posts here making a laugh of Mother Teresa, and I’m sure they offended some people. My reaction? Good! I’m glad.

    I don’t believe in advocating hatred, yet at the same time I think giving offence can be a good thing, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line.

    For example, if I say “GW Bush is a contemptible fuck and someone should feed him to a crocodile”, I think that would qualify as hate-speech, and yet most people would agree with me.

  41. Bock, there is a world of difference between someone expressing an opinion that they’d prefer if you didn’t do such and such and someone saying you must not do something.

  42. True, but I think Sharon is saying that it’s all very well attacking someone your own size, but a different matter going for someone vulnerable.

  43. “Nora asked how disabled people feel about “PC nonsense”.” — Sharon

    I didn’t quite say that, Sharon. I said, “I’d love to hear more from those who are” — meaning as contributions to this blog post.

    I know quite a few people who are either physically or mentally disabled, including one girl who was born of a ‘thalidomide pregnancy’, and a friend’s child born with Down’s. Plus a very young man who lost a leg in a motorbike accident. And others. I felt that this discussion being on the net would likely bring a far bigger/wider range of views and experiences than those I’d had myself. That’s what I was really getting at.

    As for what I called ‘PC nonsense’, it seems to me that ’embroidering’ the language is somehow designed (or thought to be designed) to make people’s disabilities somehow easier to manage, or to make their lives easier. I don’t believe that that’s possible. If people want to hurt, insult, or be nasty, they will find ways to do it, irrespective of what words they use.

    See my comment above about Billy Connolly and “bollard”: Swap bollard for retard, give it enough usage, and it will become offensive — if *used* to be offensive. But it’s only a glorified traffic cone.

  44. Thanks again for responding Bock. Dan has explained what I’m trying to get at exactly. I seem to be using more words than I really should to express this! I do want to give people the knowledge of why I and others would prefer folk didn’t use those words in public. If they want to keep using them, I will speak up when I feel I have to, and then leave them to it.

    I agree that causing hurt and giving offense are different. Those words offend me and they hurt others. Well, it also hurts me to cope with ignorance and nastiness directed at my child.

    But no-one has a right not to be offended. We all have a right to discuss ideas and beliefs though doing that will inevitably offend some. I agree with the examples you gave. I offend quacks when I slag off homeopathy and call anti-vaccine campaigners parasites, but tough. Your post didn’t offend me. Debate is welcome.

    And no Bock, it’s not true that it’s wrong here as disabled people are more vulnerable. My son is vulnerable now, but then so are all children. I’ll be doing my best to raise him to stand up and speak out for himself, to be no more vulnerable than any other adult. I’m saying that this word has a history of making people like him out to be the worst a person can be, and it’s just plain discourteous to use language that people in a particular group say, with good reason, they prefer you didn’t.

  45. I misunderstood Nora, but there are loads of disabled people writing about this issue on other boards and blogs. I linked to one above. The same man posted about the response on his blog, where he has been attacked in the harshest most hateful terms.

    You said, “As for what I called ‘PC nonsense’, it seems to me that ‘embroidering’ the language is somehow designed (or thought to be designed) to make people’s disabilities somehow easier to manage, or to make their lives easier. I don’t believe that that’s possible. If people want to hurt, insult, or be nasty, they will find ways to do it, irrespective of what words they use.”

    Trust the people who make these claims. It might nit work, but it’s worth trying. If they say that they prefer you not to use words like wheelchair-bound or spastic or whatever, the what harm is to you (us) to just give it a go.

    Nora said, “See my comment above about Billy Connolly and “bollard”: Swap bollard for retard, give it enough usage, and it will become offensive — if *used* to be offensive. But it’s only a glorified traffic cone.”

    Yes fine you can make ordinary words sound a bit rude or edgy, but bollard will never have the same power to harm as loaded words, words with a history of oppression and abuse. No one has been called a bollard when people just like them are routinely beaten, abused, killed (and their murderers get far reduced sentences compared to murderers of non-disabled) institutionalised and in every way marginalised.

  46. I once attended a training session on disability awareness, and I learned some useful things, like how to guide a blind person properly. It was very useful.

    However, as part of the session, we had to endure a lecture on forbidden words and I’m sorry I didn’t keep the list.

    We were instructed not to say “disabled people”, but instead use “people with disabilities”. Yet I know that some disabled people hate that expression.

    We were told not to say “the blind”. What a pity nobody told the National Council for the Blind.

    Do you know what? I think I should extend this post with a list of such instructions from wherever I can find them. See what you think.

  47. Bock, you must be sick of me by now. I hope you’ll tolerate another bit of my waffle here.

    Ah boy, training sessions on disability. I can just imagine it. I’d say I’d have been squirming in my seat for the whole thing. These sorts of things are usually run by the “professionals” and they can be the pits at understanding what people themselves want.

    I have never come across a single disabled person who objects to that description in favour of “people with disabilities” and all the autistic people I know prefer that expression to “people with autism” and I won’t bore you with the reasons why. It is often parents and professionals who complain about that type of language. I take my cue from the disabled people themselves. I use the language they have written about in talking about my son, in the hope that one day, he too, will grow to be a mouthy self-advocate, pushing forward for people like him.

    The less favoured terms are fairly easy to avoid, and I listed a few in the last comment. I think it’s well worth paying attention to those who have grown up with my son’s condition. They have great advise.

    Thanks for giving me space to bla on your blog.

  48. wow, lots of great posts here.

    I once had to go to a work seminar that ‘counseled’ employees on proper conduct in the workplace. The Experts were not teaching us on The olde Golden Rule of ‘do unto others as you would have done unto yourself’. Instead, they were teaching on The Platinum Rule….’do unto others what they would have done unto themselves…and be sure not to offend them’.

    Now what I wanted to know, and still want to know,…is how am I supposed to figure out what and how others are going to react? Sure, there are customs within cultures that one can learn, and of course the errant or rude words to avoid, but this was way beyond reality, in my opinion.

  49. I must be the most unfeeling person in the world. I have a child with a congenital heart defect. That’s how we refer to it. We also used to call him a heart baby, not a baby with a cardiac anomaly present from birth. It was far too long to say when you’re yelling at the cousins/sibling for sitting on/hitting/ god knows what else, said baby. Heart baby is now described as heart kid when anything to do with his health comes up. Otherwise we don’t refer to it at all.
    My mother called us collectively “an ungrateful shower of bastards” . Truly it’s all in the delivery.

  50. Couldn’t agree more bock. I once had a friend who, every time I called someone a retard or a handicapped would tell me not to say that and throw me dirty looks. Why? Because her brother has downs syndrome. Retarded or wha.
    I got annoyed at her one day and said well your brother isn’t here and he probably wouldn’t be insulted anyways, so I wont stop using my everyday language for you.

  51. Hang on Audrey, you got annoyed, did you? That someone else’s use of language differed from yours. And that they expressed this difference using words and dirty looks, why that’s practically a police state you were living in there. And you must have been one hell of a friend for her to have, she was so lucky to have someone like you to call if in trouble..

  52. Dan,
    Wha?? I’m agreeing with Bock. My friend was the one who would get annoyed with me. She would make the association of those words. It’s common to use retard and handicapped I think.. in a joking manner. I mean what else could you call people sometimes without being more offensive. And yeah dirty looks aren’t very nice now Dan are they. :)

  53. You might have missed it but not everyone commenting on this post is agreeing with Bock. Some are downright disagreeing with him. Audrey, you said “I got annoyed at her one day”, so you got annoyed. And I’m pretty much at a loss as to how you think she was ‘making an association’ between your usage of words and their actual meanings.

    And no, it is not common to use retard in Ireland. It would seem it has become more common over the last 15 years as it does appear to be common in the US and some folks are inclined to think all the cool things start in America.

    And you’re saying you were concerned about using other words about people in case those people might find them more offensive to them but you reckoned it fine out to be saying stuff your friend thought offensive? Like I said you must have been some friend to her.

  54. When i was a kid, people would routinely say “I’ll kill you for that,” such as my mom might say to me if I got into some minor mischief.

    Nowadays, this has been purged from the vocabulary. The expression, that is, not the deed. Nobody would ever say such a violent thing anymore, yet the deed, rare back then, is now commonplace. Go figure.

  55. This sort of process (words becoming offensive and being replaced by new terms that end up becoming pejorative over time only to be replaced by more and more cumbersome and ridiculous expressions and so on and so forth ad infinitum) is known as the euphemism treadmill. And people who keep insisting on keeping this treadmill going are fucking retards (I hope the actual innocent retards forgive me for using this innocent word pejoratively).

  56. I’m a wheelchair user, that’s how I prefer to describe my disability. I’ve been called all kinds of things some deeply offensive and some very funny. PC gets on my nerves and I believe it stops us from discussing issues such as race, sex, disability discrimination etc for fear that we might use an incorrect term. All I ask is that you show me the same level of respect or disrespect which my behaviour merits.

  57. Rosemary — That makes perfect sense. Your behaviour and mine is what determines how we should be treated, not our physical state.

  58. You said everything precisely how I think it. It is sad how our structure (as a whole) is very much weakened by political correctness. Tragic how remorseful society has become for so many things that are of sheer ignorance and stupidity. If is say to you my friend is a short person or is a little person, it’s doubtful any one would know exactly what I was in reference to. However, if I say my friend Tom is a midget, there is no gray areas or no wondering whether it is a person who is 4′ 9″ or is a 3′ midget. There is a huge difference in terminology and perceptions of them. To all who made this page possible, thank you for being as I am accused of being “BRUTALLY HONEST” !!!!!

  59. Finally reading somewhere your view, so clarid and well-put, is a nice feeling. I’m 100% convinced any “disabilitated” person would appreciate more “someone who respects them for who they are, means well to them, and calls them retards/cripples/etc.” than “someone who addresses them politically correct, and then proceeds to ignore their very existence, because it’s inconvenient”.

    I was in a relationship with a cripple when I was 18. She had a damaged spine and couldn’t even feel her legs. We split up after a couple of months, because she was a manipulative bitch, but that’s another story. I’m fairly certain a large chunk of how she became such a manipulative bitch was due to how she was treated by people addressing her “politically correct” and then pretending she was never there, cause it was uncomfortable for them. It was her natural reaction, she wanted things too, and she had only one way to get them. Manipulate her way to them. Use her sharp brain. Makes me wonder how much better things would’ve been for her, if people actually -saw- her there, instead of turning a blind eye. She wouldn’t have grown up like that, and that sharp brain would’ve had much better use instead of trying to snatch what she can, like a vulture, because that’s how she was tossed aside as.

    Words are sounds to carry a message. That message depends both on the transmitter and on the recipient. I can splurt out a bunch of greek words to you, words “with meaning”, “beautiful” words, “extremely offensive” words. Will you feel offended by a word you don’t know? No. Why? Because you don’t give a meaning to it, as a recipient, no matter how much meaning I may give to it as a transmitter.

    So many times I’ve been sitting on my pc, with a smile on my face, good or neutral mood, discussing about something and receiving a bitter offended reaction. Because it’s text. Because the recipient -felt- insulted/attacked.. when in fact I hadn’t lifted a finger to insult/attack them. No, I generally don’t feel I should be apologetic for that kind of “insult”. The recipient chose to interprete my words in a way so to be insulted, that’s none of my god damn problem.

    I can call you a “lovely chap” in a very very sarcastic way, so bitterly and acidly that you will feel your stomach knot. I can call you a “retard” and receive a pat and a hug, or a pint of beer. Words, words, words. They are worth shit, without the intent and the recipient. I wonder how many millenia will go by till mankind figures it out. Then again, maybe we already have, just.. refuse to face it (once again).

    I really couldn’t care less if someone dislikes my opinion. If that’s the case, I probably dislike theirs too, so it’s all cool. ;)

  60. The problem I see is that the word “cripple” conjures up a bad connotation. The writer himself implies this, saying that he is “Fucking crippled!” with an exclamation mark. Also, his friend is upset with the nuns who did this to him, and therefore emphasizes the egregious nature of his condition by using this word. Just because a few outspoken people, over a pint of beer, reproach the idea of political correctness in this regard, stop and think a bit — if you yourself became physically disabled, would you like this description applied to yourself? I wouldn’t, as I would like to have a positive idea about myself, considering myself with a physical disability, that I could make up for and overcome in different ways, but not a cripple. There IS a difference in the connotation, and we all know that. Pretending it isn’t there does not make you franker, or more honest. Just more insensitive.

  61. ” I wouldn’t, as I would like to have a positive idea about myself”

    Frank, there’s nothing fucking positive about being a fucking cripple. Fucking retard.

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