A certain person should probably remove me from her flist if she doesn't want me to see her locked entries martyring herself for having to endure such horrors as a person with a disability pointing out to her that a single word that she used in a warning line for her fanfic is still used as a hurtful slur against people with disabilities and requesting if she could please change that single word. Just sayin'.
And, for anybody sitting at home thinking well
*I've* never heard the word "spaz" used as a slur before, therefore it clearly isn't used that way anymore!
here is some stuff that you might want to be aware of:
"Spaz" is ranked second in a poll of most offensive disability-related words, right behind "retard."
* When Tiger Woods used the word "spaz" in a CBS interview after the 2006 Master's Tournament, it was considered so offensive that the LA Times changed the word to "wreck" in a subsequent printing of the interview, while the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe eliminated that sentence from his interview quotes entirely. Meanwhile, there was a firestorm of coverage about Woods using the word "spaz" in the UK press, led by the BBC, the Telegraph, the Independent, and the Scotsman. Woods eventually issued a public apology.
* Similary, Simon Tiffin, who was the editor Esquire
magazine back in 2003, issued an editorial apology the issue after Esquire
printed an interview in which Sandra Bullock was quoted saying "I'm such a spaz."
The money quote: Both 'spaz' and 'spak' have clear ableist roots because they’re shortened versions of an actual diagnostic term. They shouldn’t be used to refer to spasticity at all (unless, of course, as self identification by someone with spasticity) and they’re definitely not appropriate as slang terms to refer to people without spasticity.
Warning for vile Oppression Olympics, but linked here anyway for the money quote: "We are giving people permission to say and do hateful things," said John Knight, director of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability, who himself had to endure screams of "spastic" from two aggressive men in the street just a fortnight ago. "And it's getting worse. If we don't address low-level abuse, we let people think it's acceptable, allowing it to proliferate and become mainstream."
The money quote: How the hell did 'spastic' become so much of a pejorative that some people aren't even aware that it's a legitimate medical term?! How did that happen? More importantly, how can we stop it? I'd really like my descriptor back from the forces of bigotry and semantic pollution, thank you.
The money quote: By equating spasticism with looking stupid it not only perpetuates the stereotype that those with physical disabilities are automatically lacking in intelligence, but puts a clear separation between those with and without a physical disability of that type, something which the individual has no more control over than the colour of their skin or eyes and seems to indicate that they are less.
Money quote: I loathe “well, it’s a value neutral term.” No, it’s not. If it was value neutral, it would not be in use as a pejorative. I loathe “no one really means that anymore.” Yes, they do, because if they didn’t, they would use a different word. Just like no one calls a “train” an “iron horse” anymore.
* I have some some very, very icky memories of being called a "spaz" in middle and elementary school because of this thing I used to do when I would flail my hands whenever I was having obsessive thoughts, particularly during one hellish week at sixth grade camp when a group of girls in my cabin decided to bully me so relentlessly that I had a nervous breakdown and cried so hard that a teacher thought I was having an asthma attack. And I'm an American. I grew up in Iowa. But oh wait I guess "spaz" totally isn't used that way
in the Good Ol' US of A or whatever the fuck.
* I've worked most of my adult life as a teacher. I can't tell you how many times I've heard students use the word "spaz" to bully any of their classmates who are being socially inept or "different." But oh wait that totally doesn't happen in AMERICA.
Or maybe it's just that there isn't as much high-profile campaigning against the word "spaz" in the United States the same way that there is in the UK, which is why so many American English speakers feel that they're right to argue "But it doesn't meaaaaaaaan that over here!" Except for how, er, it sometimes does. If "spaz" were never considered an offensive term in the United States, then why would four major national American news outlets all independently decide that it was necessary to either edit or delete the word "spaz" out of a statement given by Tiger Woods?
Do words have multiple meanings? Yes.
Do many US English speakers use the word spaz
simply to mean "silliness" or "excited flailing"? Yes. Does that change the fact that other US English speakers use the word spaz
as a slur against people with physical and mental disabilities? No.
As long as the word is still being used by some
as a hateful word, then it is a word with the power to hurt. As long as it is a word with the power to hurt, then it is a word that it would behoove anybody with decency or empathy for the fellow human being to think twice before using.
Besides, when you want to say that somebody looks silly or is acting like a dork or is full of failure or whatever, why not just say
that they're "silly" or "acting like a dork" or "full of failure" or whatever? No matter what concept it may be that you're trying to convey, the English language is happy to provide dozens of colorful and creative substitutes for the word "spaz" that come without
the nasty bonus of associating having a disability with being inherently undesirable or failtastic.
And that's all I have to say about that.
ETA: No, that's not all that I have to say about that. We've got some anons showing up in this post who apparently need some Language 101 remedial lessons. The very first person to comment on this post is an anon whining about me "condemning" and "accusing" people of being prejudiced when really they were using the word "spaz" in a totally innocent context. No. I'm aware that plenty of people use the word "spaz" without having any idea
that it's still used as a slur or that it had bigoted origins, and they clearly don't intend anything hurtful when they use the word.
But even though you may not intend to hurt anybody when you use a certain word, you can still end up hurting a lot of people, regardless of your intent.
To anybody who has ever had it pointed out to them they they were using an offensive word that they weren't aware was offensive, whether because they read it in a blog post or actually had it pointed out by somebody in person or on the internet: Accidentally using a bigoted word without being aware that the word is still widely used with a harmful meaning is kind of like stepping on somebody's toe by accident. In real life, when somebody says "Ouch, you're standing on my toe!" do you take it as a personal insult or an accusation against you? No, because the person whose toe you're standing on knows
that you aren't doing it intentionally - but they're still going to say something, because ouch that hurts and they want you to remove your foot! And since you
know that they know that you didn't do it on purpose, you just remove your foot and move on with life, right? You wouldn't keep standing on the person's toe and tell them "Well since I didn't know that your toe was there and it was an accident, I don't have to remove my foot." Right? So when somebody points out to you, "Hey, I know that you probably weren't aware of this but that word is still used as a bigoted slur," it's the linguistic equivalent of saying "Um, you're standing on my toe." It's not an accusation against you, it's nothing to feel embarrassed or defensive about, but it IS something that you correct with a simple gesture - like substituting one word for another, the same as moving your foot an inch backward - and it's never a big deal unless you decide to make
it a big deal by throwing a tantrum about it.