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It used to mean a bundle of Mongolians
October 20, 2011 3:39 AM   Subscribe

Is it ever OK to use words like 'mong' or 'spaz'*? Ricky Gervais has inspired controversy by use of the word many feel is a slur against disabled people, prompting reactions from his peers and bloggers. He argues that words change their meaning over time.

* If you are confused, 'spaz' does not mean 'clumsy' in the UK.
posted by mippy (276 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
More on the 'belm', or 'mong face'
posted by mippy at 3:43 AM on October 20, 2011


I'm pretty sure "fucking roundy heady Manc twat" has changed its meaning over time to become a universal reference to Karl.
posted by Harry at 3:43 AM on October 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


If you are confused, 'spaz' does not mean 'clumsy' in the UK.

Does "spaz" mean "clumsy" elsewhere?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:44 AM on October 20, 2011


I believe it does in the US. We went to see The Blow a while ago (supporting Jens Lekman) and she referred to herself as being 'such a spaz' as a kid, and the hush across the audience was akin to dropping the n-bomb.
posted by mippy at 4:52 AM on October 20, 2011


Does Gervais have a new show coming out? Not that I would accuse anyone of deliberately aggravating the twitterverse just to draw attention themselves, but this smells like a marketing exercise.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:57 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's viral marketing for the Mongolian Grill
posted by Flashman at 4:58 AM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


‘The modern use of the word mong means "dopey" or "ignorant".'

Same as the old use.

Gervais is on thin ice with this.

From the "change" link: Chobb: I don't think anything should be taboo. 'You can laugh at them but not at us' is unacceptable. Everybody is fair game.

Yeah, but that's not the point. It's perfectly OK to make fun of anyone - everyone and everything is fair game - but using "them" to make fun of "us" isn't.

Gervais is such a retard sometimes.

See how that works Ricky. I shouldn't laugh at you by hurting the feelings of someone else. (Unless it's really, really funny, then of course passes all around.)
posted by three blind mice at 4:59 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does "spaz" mean "clumsy" elsewhere?

In the U.S., yes. It's a highly innocuous, practically charming little schoolyard insult.

"Oh, dammit, I spilled my coffee."
"You're such a spaz."
"'Spaz'? Are we in the third grade?"

We don't really even realize that it's problematic anywhere else.
posted by Etrigan at 5:00 AM on October 20, 2011 [28 favorites]


Yeah, in the US it essentially means hyper + clumsy. Kind of a 90s-era playground taunt, something you'd call friends, harmless.
posted by penduluum at 5:01 AM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I had to learn quick-smart when i emigrated to the UK not to use "spaz" -- i'd never even heard the word "spastic" and had no idea that it was tied back to a medical condition, and it's surprisingly hard to shake as an adult. But i try to, because it's a mean thing to make fun of. I think Gervais is being a dick here.
posted by ukdanae at 5:01 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does "spaz" mean "clumsy" elsewhere?

I've never known "spaz" to mean anything but "weirdo" (USian) (sorry for saying USian)
posted by to sir with millipedes at 5:02 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


'Retard' seems to be bandied about quite freely in US culture, I think it would be used with a bit more caution here and in the UK.

Just like the 'C' word can be used between male friends here almost as a term of endearment, while in the US it's verboten.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:02 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Does "spaz" mean "clumsy" elsewhere?

I have no idea about now, but it certainly used to mean something like that in the US. Uncoordinated. A "total spaz" was just someone with two left feet, all fingers and thumbs. Not someone who was literally spastic in the cerebral palsy sense and not someone who literally had two left feet or whose body actually consisted of only fingers and thumbs.

I remember "spaz" being used jokingly by very nice, intelligent, well-educated girls who would never have intentionally hurt anyone. Times change. I bet those same people, now veterans of many years of reeducation, would never call someone a "spaz" or talk about "spazzing out" (except perhaps among friends who knew they meant no harm to anyone).
posted by pracowity at 5:05 AM on October 20, 2011


He certainly is a bit of a twat*.

* if you are from the US do not use this word as you do not know how to pronounce it.

Hearing spaz a bunch of times was certainly a weird one for me when I moved to the US, but not as weird as people innocently using the word "paki", which is on a level with "nigger" in the UK.
posted by Artw at 5:07 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fucking grow up already, Ricky. You're not being funny. You're not defending humour against the humourless censoring hordes. You're not promoting the evolution of the English language. You're just being a fucking dickhead. Here's a clue, you sad little fucker: if you have to rely on a dictionary to argue why it's OK to insult people and hurt their feelings, you've already lost.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:07 AM on October 20, 2011 [23 favorites]


An interesting New Statesman blog piece on this. The linked Richard herring piece is very good.
posted by veedubya at 5:13 AM on October 20, 2011


I'm American and I've never known spaz to be anything but short for spastic. It may be in everyday use, but so is the term "retarded" to mean daft.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:14 AM on October 20, 2011


Kind of a 90s-era playground taunt, something you'd call friends, harmless.

Harmless to your friends, but not harmless to people suffering from palsy.

I used to get a knee-jerk reaction that this is "political correctness" run amok, but when I think about, it nothing all like that and I've really tried hard to cleanse my vocabulary of this stuff.

*Shit I've spelled my coffee. What a fucking twat Gervais I am.*

Sorry Ricky, no offense mate. I meant to say clumsy, but force of habit, it just slipped out.
posted by three blind mice at 5:14 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


'Tard is my go-to weapon of choice.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:14 AM on October 20, 2011


A few years back, I spent a year in Japan teaching English. Us westerners used the term 'gaijin' to describe ourselves quite freely. We were outsiders and we knew it. It was a form of coping with being an outsider, taking a potentially abusive term and using it ourselves. Similar, I suppose, to the reclamation of 'queer' or other words that I can't quite bring myself to type - though obviously nowhere near in that league.

Of course, the Japanese themselves were far too polite to call us 'gaijin' to our faces, and I doubt they ever did it behind our backs. Except once. I was in a supermarket and a kid walked past, staring. I grinned back. Behind me I heard the kid asking his parent a question, which I couldn't pick up, and I couldn't understand the answer, but I did hear that word - "gaijin" - spat out.

Now, to be clear, it's not actually a greatly offensive word. Even so, it was upsetting to hear it, even though it was a term my peers and I used to jokingly self-describe. And it's a word that is, in comparison to 'mong', extremely mild. As a straight, white male, it was a rare learning experience to have on being an outsider.

My point is this: Gervais is wrong. He can't reclaim the word. It's not his to reappropriate. He doesn't know of the possible hurt it could cause. He's not changing the meaning of the word. If it hurts, it hurts, and even if those it insults use it, it doesn't necessarily mean anyone can.

Plus, he's used the term 'humourless PC brigade' to defend it, which is the defence of the Jim Davidsons and Bernard Mannings of this world. So he's definitely on the losing side of the argument.
posted by liquidindian at 5:15 AM on October 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


I should add, I've also never heard anyone use "paki" innocently in the US for anything other than a convenience store. Maybe these are regional things.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:15 AM on October 20, 2011


People in some of those links defending Gervais on the notion that comedy should push boundaries seem largely to have forgotten that the primary purpose of comedy is to be funny. I don't think Gervais is.

Odd about the timing though, it's not like he's a significant or frequent Twitter contributor. So he comes back after a long absence to piss people off...? I vote for this being his way of seeking attention.

What a cunt.
posted by Cuppatea at 5:16 AM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am the kind of person that might be referred to affectionately as a a spaz in the US - I'm dyspraxic, clumsy to the point where I find some slapstick humour difficult to watch because it reminds me of all the times that I was made fun of for dropping something, spilling something or reaching out to grab something and not being able to get hold of it. (And that's before we get into playing sports.) If I've ever heard it used in the UK, and not for some years, it's with absolute venom.
posted by mippy at 5:16 AM on October 20, 2011


I've also never heard anyone use "paki" innocently in the US for anything other than a convenience store.

There's an episode of Peep Show in which Mark makes a racist friend and refers to 'the paki shop' to see whether he's right in being offended. You wouldn't use this in the UK either. (I was surprised when I first saw The Simpsons in about 1998 and saw the Abu character, because it was similar in some ways to the Asian stereotype we have in the UK yet somehow it wasn't mean-spirited, just more of a caricature. Wonder why.
posted by mippy at 5:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Richard Herring (not a stranger to the controversial and potentially offensive, it has to be said) has some interesting things to say about it. Supported by Francesca Martinez on Twitter* - someone who has not only worked with Gervaise but would also be covered by a playground term of ableist abuse herself.**

*(Dear people who read this more than a couple of hours into the future. I don't know how to link to individual tweets. Sorry.)

**"Spaz" is derived from "Spastic" which is the old term to describe people who are now said to be suffering from Cerebral Palsy. In case that needs pointing out.
posted by Grangousier at 5:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to translate across the pond here "paki" is short for "package store" and does not refer to the management of said store.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:20 AM on October 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


As people of a certain age , of which Ricky may just be outside that group, from the UK can attest the name "Joey" came to mean the same thing from an item on "Blue Peter" maybe we should just reclaim the name "Ricky" and use that .
posted by stuartmm at 5:20 AM on October 20, 2011


Growing up (70s era New York) spaz meant something more specialized than clumsy, but rather uncoordinated and specifically bad at sports. The kids who couldn't play (American) handball, or baseball were spazzes, if they spilled coffee, not necessarily, but possibly.

It is interesting how slurs become decoupled form their slur meaning and then sometimes re-coupled. Because of this decoupling, I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to people who use these slurs in the decoupled sense, since the slur has actually stopped being a slur and has transformed into a new word. I am not saying that the slur-ee has to sit there and take it, but that it is not necessarily malice. This if someone said he or she was a spaz at something or spazzed out at work, or that person felt he or she got gypped, spaz and gyp are conceptually entirely separate words from the slurs. This is the same way that great in a great movie is conceptually an entirely different word than great in Great Britain. I think we think of them subconsciously as two words.

Where it gets problematical is when the slur sense is still deep and vivid and carries some obvious freight for the person slurred by it. For example, say someone says that is so gay. I submit that to a lot of young people gay has been decoupled so that it is not necessarily a slur, however, the fact that it can be taken as one should be pointed out. I am not saying this excuses people from using it, but rather people might not even realize how it can be taken, and would be embarrassed when it is pointed out to them.

As always context is everything. If I were in rural Appalachia and someone said he Jewed down someone else - not a slur, but rather decoupling, but if I heard that on the subway to work in New York, well a different kettle of gefilte fish.

I also never "got" Ricky Gervais, can't stand the Office, both the original and it's US subsidiary, but to each his own.
posted by xetere at 5:21 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was surprised when I first saw The Simpsons in about 1998 and saw the Abu character, because it was similar in some ways to the Asian stereotype we have in the UK yet somehow it wasn't mean-spirited, just more of a caricature. Wonder why.

My guess would be because in the 80s and 90s, the mean-spirited stereotype would have been to make him a Korean shop owner. South Asians just weren't as visible in US media then, so the connotations of such a character wouldn't be the same as if it was a UK show.
posted by Cuppatea at 5:22 AM on October 20, 2011


People use these words knowingly and the laughs they get from non-assholes are of the uncomfortable sort. The excuse is that there's humor in transgression and therefore anything transgressive is humorous. But pushing such boundaries from a position of great advantage is like pulling the wings off of flies: it's sociopathic and hints of more cruelty to come.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 5:25 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I moved to the UK, there were charity collection boxes on the street for the "Spastics Society", piggybanks in the form of a figurine of a little boy with his legs in braces.

On the playground, children would call each other "spastic" all the time as an insult, meaning unintelligent and/or uncoordinated. I remember being shocked by this because I wasn't brought up with the kind of values where that kind of language was OK.
posted by tel3path at 5:25 AM on October 20, 2011


Just to translate across the pond here "paki" is short for "package store" and does not refer to the management of said store.

OT but isn't that pretty much restricted to New England?
posted by xetere at 5:27 AM on October 20, 2011


If "spaz" is an insulting word in the U.K., then a British comedian who primarily performs in the U.K. should probably be sensitive about it. If Americans use the word in a different context, then at best if said in front of a British person they can be told that to British people it's offensive and then the American can choose whether to be respectful of their companion or a self-sensitive asshole.

I don't see how this is such a hard concept to grasp. It's amazing how often people have a bizarre instinct to violently not want to say "oops, sorry" in matters like this.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:27 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude hires a personal trainer and does a few pullups and he thinks he can then tell everyone what's what like they will give a rat's mong ass.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 5:29 AM on October 20, 2011


Ricky Gervais:

In my standup specials you get letters saying, “I love the show although I was a little bit disappointed with the reference to the holocaust. I know a lot of people, this is not funny.” I want to go, “But you liked the jokes about children’s cancer, AIDS, Africa’s famine, so you knew I was joking then but when it comes to your thing, because it’s so personal, you can’t treat it with the same level of irony. You can’t see that that’s also satirical.” You can’t win but you’ve got to know in your heart of hearts, if I can’t justify a joke’s okay, I don’t do the joke.

Bernard Manning:

What they never understood was that I was an equal opportunities comedian. Unlike them, with all their little checklists and taboos and easy targets, I never discriminated against anyone or anything. I was quite happy to get a laugh out of any situation. All that mattered to me was whether the gag was funny or not.

Nice company you're keeping there, Ricky.
posted by Jakey at 5:31 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should add, I've also never heard anyone use "paki" innocently in the US for anything other than a convenience store. Maybe these are regional things.

It is a regional thing, and in fact, it's almost certainly not even the word you think it is. If you hear someone in the U.S. talk about going to what you hear as a "paki", they are almost guaranteed to be talking about a "packie", which is a shortened form of "package store". The derivation has nothing to do with ethnicity, and everything to do with the fact that for weird historical reasons, there are parts of the U.S. (the northeast in particular) that refer to liquor stores as "package stores", which becomes, colloquially, "the packie".
posted by tocts at 5:31 AM on October 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


Eddie Izzard would have said this better. And in three other languages.
posted by Fizz at 5:34 AM on October 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


Serious hat on, now... where I grew up, a regular sight near my school was a guy with a motorised wheelchair with a large CAUTION SPASTIC sign at head rest level. He wasn't a mook or anything, there were some shops near the school.

Even though most of us would have used the word "spastic" as a put down in the playground, we all knew this poor guy's situation, and we knew the real meaning. I never once saw this guy even close to being teased. Hundreds of kids would walk past him each week. Never really felt the need for a Beavis and Butthead type snigger.

Anyway, I guess my point is about political correctness and labels and kids being taught "don't give that spastic any grief" rather than "don't use that word" and generally knowing right from wrong anyway.

A few spastic centres and charities in Australia have rebranded themselves recently, dropping the spastic word. Erm. FWIW.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:35 AM on October 20, 2011


In the US, I've only heard "paki" used as a derogatory term for South Asian people,
posted by Horselover Phattie at 5:36 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


OT but isn't that pretty much restricted to New England?

I think so, but, as most Americans have sadly come to know, the Red Sox Nation diaspera has spread the insipid flock of New Englanders from sea to shining sea. In the south, where I am from, a "package store" only sold alcohol. A "paki" as I've come to learn is a convenience store or corner shop where they might sell junk food and beer.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:37 AM on October 20, 2011


I don't see how this is such a hard concept to grasp. It's amazing how often people have a bizarre instinct to violently not want to say "oops, sorry" in matters like this.

On the bright side, Caitlin Moran used the word "retard" in her recent book, apologised, and it's being taken out of future printings.
posted by Cuppatea at 5:39 AM on October 20, 2011


I should add, I lived with a guy from New Hampshire and when he first proposed we "run the paki" for some beer, I was horrified!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:39 AM on October 20, 2011


He should know that you can never win in a fight with the word police.
posted by crunchland at 5:41 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ever notice that it's almost invariably white males who are refreshingly above all this "political correctness" nonsense?
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 5:42 AM on October 20, 2011 [51 favorites]


Ive been on this planet almost four decades and this is the first I've heard that "spaz" wasn't a made up word akin to "dork". You used to hear it all the time in the 80s to refer to stereotypical nerdy archetypes.
If I still ever used the word spaz I would stop now based on this.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:45 AM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't even have the strength for this conversation this morning. At this point, I'm just torn between wishing Ricky Gervais came with a mute button (to my ears only, free speech crowd! I never want to even have to acknowledge his existence ever again) and encouraging him to bleat his "anti-PC" rhetoric louder, so more people may finally realize what a worthless asshole he is.

See, "worthless asshole"? An insult that only affects the intended target, that worthless asshole Ricky Gervais.
posted by lydhre at 5:46 AM on October 20, 2011


Serious hat on, now... where I grew up, a regular sight near my school was a guy with a motorised wheelchair with a large CAUTION SPASTIC sign at head rest level. He wasn't a mook or anything, there were some shops near the school.

Even though most of us would have used the word "spastic" as a put down in the playground, we all knew this poor guy's situation, and we knew the real meaning. I never once saw this guy even close to being teased. Hundreds of kids would walk past him each week. Never really felt the need for a Beavis and Butthead type snigger.


At the improv theatre I work at, a member of the ensemble is in a wheelchair. He often wears shirts that mock his own handicap, for example a cartoon of a gingerbread cookie with broken legs or a shirt that has "CAUTION: NO BRAKES" written on the back, etc.

I've watched other performers crack jokes about his handicap on stage, while at the same time watched patrons get kicked out of the theatre for doing the same. It's almost as if people who know and understand each other get to talk to each other in ways random strangers don't. People who don't get this are the same people who, to this day, still stupidly ask things like why black people get to say a certain word to each other and if that's fair as if you actually have free time to care about this.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:46 AM on October 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


My nickname in high school included "spaz". I'll let you do the math. However, I haven't heard that term used much in the US since the 80s. I guess I'm surprised it's still used anywhere.
posted by tommasz at 5:47 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember learning to use the single pass assembler that was called SPASM.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:48 AM on October 20, 2011


Also, don't say you got 'gypped' it's as bad as saying you got 'Jewed'. I learned this the hard way. Someone of Roma heritage informed me what I was saying when I used that term in highschool. I've learned to be more careful with my language. Just because you grew up with a phrase doesn't make it ok.
posted by Fizz at 5:52 AM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


He's certainly been a bit of a joey about the whole situation.
posted by longbaugh at 5:54 AM on October 20, 2011


Ever notice that it's almost invariably white males who are refreshingly above all this "political correctness" nonsense?

It's because it's almost impossible to insult us.

What can you honestly say to a white male to insult them that's not water off a duck's back?
posted by Talez at 5:57 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, don't say you got 'gypped' it's as bad as saying you got 'Jewed'. I learned this the hard way.

Someone who didn't "lend their stuff" [erasors, ruler, cool coloured pens etc.] was called a JEWBALL at my school. I picked it up and started using it freely, the slanderous bit went completely over my head. Mum was horrified when she found out and told me to cut it out! [she also told me why]
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:58 AM on October 20, 2011


lydhre: "
See, "worthless asshole"? An insult that only affects the intended target, that worthless asshole Ricky Gervais
"

You analist.
posted by notsnot at 6:02 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the US, I've only heard "paki" used as a derogatory term for South Asian people

Where exactly in the U.S. is this? The New England meaning has been explained above, and at least where I've lived (on the West Coast and Mid-Atlantic/Southeast) it's...not a word.
posted by psoas at 6:02 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


So Gervais is out of ideas, then? I mean, if you're going to fight for your right to use slur words instead of actually thinking up things that are funny, I guess you just maybe need to take a break from working in comedy.

Beware the fate of Dennis Miller and Gallagher! BEWARE!!!
posted by emjaybee at 6:04 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


it's...not a word. -- That's because, for some reason, they don't call them "package stores" outside of New England.
posted by crunchland at 6:05 AM on October 20, 2011


* if you are from the US do not use this word as you do not know how to pronounce it.

Having watched British tv and movies for about 30 years, I'm pretty sure I know how to pronounce twat. Short a. I wouldn't use it, though.

Gervais is a comedian, he's going to say offensive crap, people will complain, he won't apologize. As it ever was.
posted by Huck500 at 6:05 AM on October 20, 2011


What can you honestly say to a white male to insult them that's not water off a duck's back?
posted by Talez at 8:57 AM on October 20 [+] [!]


"Republican"

Seriously, even Republicans all call themselves "independents" or " 'whatever-the-democrats -are-just-as-bad'-icans" or "libertarians"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:06 AM on October 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


But pushing such boundaries from a position of great advantage is like pulling the wings off of flies: it's sociopathic and hints of more cruelty to come.

This is sort of how I tend to respond. Pushing boundaries and daring to offend seem like really weird concepts to me when this is the boundary you're pushing.

The entire idea behind free speech uninterfered with by government, as I've always understood it, is that bad ideas, left open to honest discussion and debate, will lose out to good ideas. That requires that people be not only allowed but encouraged to say, "That thing you're saying? That's a bad, stupid, dangerous idea," when that applies. And merciless mocking of people with disabilities is allowed to be considered a bad idea. So is taking comedians seriously. It's a discussion.

Arguing that nobody has any business criticizing what anybody else chooses to say, I think, turns the idea of the open forum on its head. Criticizing what someone else says as offensive, rude, idiotic, or simply incorrect is a feature, not a bug, in the philosophy of vigorous debate. Of course he's free to tweet what he wants. And he should expect that people will react, and he can react to those reactions, and the chain goes on and theoretically everybody gradually gets smarter.

"I said my thing, YOU SHUT UP ABOUT MY THING I SAID" is hardly a pro-free-speech position.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:07 AM on October 20, 2011 [19 favorites]


Compared to the UK, Australia doesn't have a large Pakistani presence, but we play a fair bit of cricket against the Pakis and have got a traditional hockey rivalry with the Pakis. In general company, the word is a bit like "wog" rather than "nigger".

You could drop the Paki word now and then in conversation and only the most hardass of PC merchants would pull you up. However, the term is completely off limits in the main stream media.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:12 AM on October 20, 2011


It's also possible that he's making fun of people who would say 'mong' without seriously considering where this word came from in the first place.
posted by h00py at 6:14 AM on October 20, 2011


uncanny - usual shorthand I see on cricket forums with international participation in 'Pak', which people from the country and diaspora use themselves, e.g. Would make a handy substitute and save you a syllable's worth of breath!
posted by Abiezer at 6:17 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


A little detached but related, it is interesting how these words develop regionally in the U.S. Growing up in the semi-rural Midwest, "spaz" was bandied about quite easily. I think most people understood the origin of the world, but since "spastic" wasn't used as the name for a condition (though people could still have "spasms") it was okay. We didn't know anyone who would have actually been considered "spastic" so we had no problem with "spaz".

Related, we didn't even have a concept that "gypsies" were actually a people called the Roma. We certainly didn't know any self-identifying Roma. Hense, "gypped" was just fine. However, the first time my friends and I heard "jewed", we were horrified - we knew Jewish people.

Back in the day, everyone grew up in this stew of regionalism, not having to worry about other peoples' sensibilities because the people they would have been insulting just weren't around. Often it wasn't even understood that there was anyone who was actually being slighted. If you moved away yourself, you learned to adapt. If you migrated with lots of others from your area, you all probably started some shit as you encountered these previously imaginary people.

Then along came mass media and eventually the internet. Now, you don't know if the person on the other side of the screen is Roma, Jewish or spastic. There are no more imaginary people on the other side of the ocean - they can all hear you now. It will take a while for language to be scrubbed properly, but it will eventually happen.
posted by charred husk at 6:17 AM on October 20, 2011 [15 favorites]


Jesus, what a bunch of orcs.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The best comment on the issue remains Herring's, whose Twitter feed is full of abuse – and praise – for making a stand. He said: "Just a thought, but if you think mong only means idiot, why not just use the word idiot?"

Herring is either unfamiliar with the history of the word idiot or very subtly endorsing Gervais' argument changing meanings of words.
posted by layceepee at 6:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have to say it's bewildering that so many people here who have a problem with Gervais using a hateful term for cognitively disabled people have no problem rebuffing him by using specifically gendered insults. And I know we've been down this road before, but the defenders of these gynophobic insults always seem to have used Gervais's exact argument to support their case, that language changes and has regional variation.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:22 AM on October 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Yeah, we're all just jealous of his success! And have you noticed he's slimmed down, wow he's so handsome now!

What a sad little git.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:24 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"RT @IAmAwfullySorry: @Herring1967 YOU FUCKING CUNTMONG. GERVAIS IS FUNNIER THAN YOU AND YOUR FUCKING SMUG COMEDY VEHICLE #mong"

This is the funniest tweet in Herring's timeline. Seems like there is a massive army of braindead assholes attacking him for speaking out, perhaps because half of them think he's Stewart Lee...
posted by pmcp at 6:26 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


'Tard is my go-to weapon of choice.

Well bless your heart!
posted by kmz at 6:26 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Herring is either unfamiliar with the history of the word idiot or very subtly endorsing Gervais' argument changing meanings of words.

I think he's quite clearly made the argument that words do change but "mong" has not.
posted by pmcp at 6:28 AM on October 20, 2011


Ricky Gervais is new to Twitter and seems to have spent the first couple of weeks mainly posting pictures of himself pulling the kind of faces that school children pull to parody the disabled and calling people "mongs". Obviously some people picked him up on it as he tweeted "Just to clarify for uptight people stuck in the past. The word Mong means Downs syndrome about as much as the word Gay means happy." He didn't care to clarify what it does now mean and the accompanying pictures made it easy to assume that it had been broadened out to mean any disabled person. He added "ie I never use the word Mong to mean anything to do with Downs Syndrome. Just like I never use the word cunt to female genitalia." So I guess he means that the word "mong" has just become short hand for idiot. I must have missed that meeting. I agree that when people say "cunt" they more often than not are not thinking of female genitalia at all, so would agree that that word has changed. But when I hear the word "mong" it always makes me think of people mocking disabled people, usually with an accompanying turn.

Herring's blog, 2011-10-10
posted by Grangousier at 6:30 AM on October 20, 2011


(Except that "turn" in the last line should be "gurn", which my computer refuses to recognise, for some reason.)
posted by Grangousier at 6:31 AM on October 20, 2011


I have to say it's bewildering that so many people here who have a problem with Gervais using a hateful term for cognitively disabled people have no problem rebuffing him by using specifically gendered insults. And I know we've been down this road before, but the defenders of these gynophobic insults always seem to have used Gervais's exact argument to support their case, that language changes and has regional variation.

I see no cause for bewilderment; the difference is he's wrong and they're right, at least insofar as those were never gynophobic insults in the UK, any more than calling someone a cock made you an androphobe.
posted by Abiezer at 6:34 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was unaware of the existence of the word "mong" as an insulting reference until this thread. I only know it in the context of cheesemonger or warmonger.
posted by rtha at 6:38 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the U.S., yes. [Spaz is] a highly innocuous, practically charming little schoolyard insult.

It wasn't when I was a U.S. kid in the 70s. The connection to "spastic" and the implied link to disability was very clear and very powerful. I always thought of it as an insult that had power to hurt.
posted by mediareport at 6:39 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


People in some of those links defending Gervais on the notion that comedy should push boundaries seem largely to have forgotten that the primary purpose of comedy is to be funny.

On some level, I think humor is about taking something horrible and pricking a hole in it, removing the terrible bits and laughing at what's left. If I fall down a manhole, that's tragedy. If you fall down a manhole, that's comedy (per Mel Brooks). I think the issue with Gervais here is that he isn't deflating anything, he's just being offensive. There's no great truth that we're all too polite to say being revealed a la Lenny Bruce.
posted by ellF at 6:41 AM on October 20, 2011


Some of those Gervais Mong Faces: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Mr Gervais is nine years old.
posted by Grangousier at 6:46 AM on October 20, 2011


If people are going to equate pulling stupid faces with mocking people with disabilities then even the most innocent are going to be in trouble.

Ricky Gervais has always held up a spotlight to the many and varied ways that people without disabilities react to those with them. Awkward, insensitive, overly conciliatory, eye-avoiding, complete and utter disregard etc., ad nauseum.

I seriously do not believe that Ricky Gervais is diving into his money bin, chuckling about all the disabled people he doesn't give a shit about. I think he's fully aware of how people with disabilities deal with all the lip talk and then actually have to exist in the real world, where how people behave is more harmful than an offensive word from someone who clearly sees what goes on in their world.
posted by h00py at 6:47 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


What can you honestly say to a white male to insult them that's not water off a duck's back?

"Racist."


But seriously, this was summed up very well by SassHat in the infamous Dickwolves Incident thread:
The worst threat in their lives was not sexual violence or gender bias, but "censorship" - the idea that anyone could ever stop them from their right to speak. As young, generally-white, straight males, they have never had their privilege truly challenged. Their perception of themselves as cultural outsiders who do not have to follow the same rules. They view themselves as lacking cultural capital in the sense that they are not the richer, more powerful alpha males of the world. They saw themselves as victims of the women who were not sleeping with them, victims to the world that told them they were lesser beings than the richer, more masculine, more powerful men who stood above them. And while they would just as quickly claim that their actions/behavior had no effect on the dominant culture, I would like to point out that the entire marketing industry is driven almost wholly by their demographic. If that's not cultural clout, I don't know what is.
People in power are instinctively not used to being told to do something, and don't even realize when their responses are a kneejerk outrage at a subconscious challenge to their status. People who have power over others hate being told they are being mean, racist, misogynist, etc. because anyone who isn't a sociopath is then obligated to consider that what they are doing might not actually be right.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:50 AM on October 20, 2011 [26 favorites]


If people are going to equate pulling stupid faces with mocking people with disabilities then even the most innocent are going to be in trouble.

Did you miss the part where those "stupid faces" came with derogatory words?

someone who clearly sees what goes on in their world.

Cite?
posted by kmz at 6:51 AM on October 20, 2011


In the U.S., yes. [Spaz is] a highly innocuous, practically charming little schoolyard insult.

Yeah, innocuous, just like "faggot."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:54 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


We've done this before, right? To death?

And I still say people need to toughen the fuck up a bit. You shriek and tut and whine about how offended you are by a word and you give it more power, and the people who'll thank you for that are those who like to use the word to hurt in the first place. Well done for handing them a bigger weapon, genius. You show them you don't give a shit about the word and it loses at least some of its attraction.

I must say, I am pretty baffled by how it came to be that everyone in America seems to have somehow missed the derivation of "spaz" from "spastic". Bizarre.
posted by Decani at 6:58 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think he's quite clearly made the argument that words do change but "mong" has not.

Fair point, and as I never heard the term "mong"until I encountered this post, it's an argument that had for me to evaluate. But it's interesting that Meriam Webster's first definition for idiot is "usually offensive : a person affected with extreme mental retardation." So Herring is suggesting that Gervais should avoid using the word "mong" and insulting people by using another term that is described as "usually offensive" for the exact same reason that "mong" is considered offensive.
posted by layceepee at 6:58 AM on October 20, 2011




I see no cause for bewilderment; the difference is he's wrong and they're right, at least insofar as those were never gynophobic insults in the UK, any more than calling someone a cock made you an androphobe.

Regardless, this is an international forum, and in many part of the world gendered insults uniquivocably are degrading to women. Is it possible to try to respect that some people might like to participate in this discussion without feeling like an entire gender is being insulted because Ricky doesn't know how to act like a grownup.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:04 AM on October 20, 2011


What can you honestly say to a white male to insult them that's not water off a duck's back?

'Potential rapist' will probably raise a few hackles, quite possibly with some of the refreshingly free from PC crowd.
posted by biffa at 7:04 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


And while they would just as quickly claim that their actions/behavior had no effect on the dominant culture, I would like to point out that the entire marketing industry is driven almost wholly by their demographic. If that's not cultural clout, I don't know what is.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:50 PM on October 20


So... being the prime target of capitalist exploitation is equivalent to cultural "clout", is it?

What... in bizarro world?
posted by Decani at 7:06 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Regardless, this is an international forum, and in many part of the world gendered insults uniquivocably are degrading to women. Is it possible to try to respect that some people might like to participate in this discussion without feeling like an entire gender is being insulted because Ricky doesn't know how to act like a grownup.

Absolutely and why I wouldn't use language here I might in other contexts. Sorry, thought you meant the argument in the UK.
posted by Abiezer at 7:06 AM on October 20, 2011


And just to make things clear, I don't condone the use of words that harm people. I don't want people to be made to feel uncomfortable because no-one considers how they feel when epithets are casually tossed around.

It's a paradox, I know.
posted by h00py at 7:09 AM on October 20, 2011


Old Reliable.

Out of curiosity, Decani, what words have you had to toughen up about?
posted by kmz at 7:11 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's an argument that a lot of people probably won't like, so please don't pile on me here (also I swear to fucking god after this I am not going to post 'I am a disabled person' on metafilter for like five years):

I'm biased because I love Gervais. He is like some kind of id without the superego. Louis C.K. (who is pretty close to Gervais, I think) did a whole bit (in Shameless, I think) where his use of faggot was o.k. because in his environs, it didn't mean 'gay.'

Then, of course, Louis C.K. did that famous episode where his gay friend explains the origins of the word, and Louis C..K. goes from Shameless to I Am Ashamed.

Gervais would be a better person if, like Louis C.K., he stepped back and was like, got it, I'm wrong.

But I have a hard time finding it pernicious outside of the playground, where kids will be cruel no matter what X comedian says. As a severely disabled person myself, I get that words hurt. But here is a thing that hurts me more: Anything with stairs that has something that I need inside. Would it make a difference if there was sign that said, "No Dogs and No Cripples Allowed?"

Yeah, I would deface the sign and probably throw rocks in the window, because fuck that.

But the greater harm is that I can't get inside. There are many places I would love to go -- but I can't. That's the status quo. There's the ADA, but if you want to see a person start to freak out and get hostile, have a disabled person tell them they're violating the ADA.

I don't know what my point is, really, except that Gervais is kind of a dick, but if the energy spent on tearing Gervais apart would be applied to say, the lack of services for disabled, the inaccessibility of places to the disabled (shrug) the world might be better for the disabled, which I think everybody wants.
posted by angrycat at 7:15 AM on October 20, 2011 [28 favorites]


And I still say people need to toughen the fuck up a bit. You shriek and tut and whine about how offended you are by a word and you give it more power, and the people who'll thank you for that are those who like to use the word to hurt in the first place. Well done for handing them a bigger weapon, genius.

Bollocks. If no one challenges the use of the word, then the implication is that the word is acceptable. If the word is acceptable, then that implies that the attitude behind the word is acceptable. And that attitude is that it's okay to lessen someone by reducing them to a simple epithet, 'othering' them. Saying that this isn't on isn't 'shrieking' or 'whining'. Fears of a 'bigger weapon' are unfounded - 'political correctness' or, as I'd like it to be known, 'not being total pricks to each other for no good reason', has coincided with less racism, less homophobia, less disablism (if that's the term). Unless I'm misremembering the 80s, of course.
posted by liquidindian at 7:16 AM on October 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


Ever notice that it's almost invariably white males who are refreshingly above all this "political correctness" nonsense?

A noteworthy exception to this is Sarah Silverman. Pretty much her whole act is built around being offensive, and she has gotten called out for similar material such as her jury duty joke.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:25 AM on October 20, 2011


I don't agree with Gervais' use of those words, or his assertion that the meaning has changed. The words he used are still hurtful, and so even though he may not intend them that way, it doesn't change the fact that they are widely perceived as slurs.

However, I do agree with his general premise that words change meaning over time. A few people in the thread have pointed out that the words like idiot (and I'll add moron to that) were once clinical and widely-accepted terms for individuals with mental illness and/or developmental disabilities. Now, we're many generations removed from that usage, and so "moron" and "idiot" are commonly accepted as meaning "stupid," and are considered pretty mild at that. I would include "lame" in this category, although I do know of people who consider that insulting.

That's not the case for "mongoloid." Yes, it used to be a widely accepted term for someone with Down Synrome. But then the terminology changed, and the word fell out of usage. So when he says "mong"--well, the last common use for that word was for people with DS. We didn't continue to use that word and change the meaning, so his argument that it means dumb or stupid falls flat.
posted by catwoman429 at 7:25 AM on October 20, 2011


Decani - anyone that's the target of one slur or another spends their whole fucking lives "toughening up a bit". Every day there's some extra little toughening that goes on, thanks very much. But on the rare occasions when someone gets called out on being a shit, well, I guess those are the times everyone needs to... keep toughening up? Awesome. Thanks.

angrycat - I guess I would say that I at least hope that energy spent on Gervais doesn't take away from energy spent building ramps, although it seems likely that we all know that's because that energy wasn't likely to get spent that way in any event. :( I don't really have any good answers.
posted by kavasa at 7:37 AM on October 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


In the US, in my experience, this is (a) Spaz. Not great, but not particularly offensive. This is just one of those things - Americans, by and large, are not ignoring that spaz is offensive, for them (us) it simply IS not offensive. It doesn't mean the same thing.

I must say, I am pretty baffled by how it came to be that everyone in America seems to have somehow missed the derivation of "spaz" from "spastic". Bizarre.

We didn't but, but we heard it in reverse. To be spastic was to be a spaz, and there is no medical condition being invoked, for us, at all. Admittedly, NOW I know that spaz is derived from spastic, and that for y'all spastic is a medical term and so, not that the opportunity presents itself very often, I would probably not use the term spaz idly - I'd go with klutz, dork, or nerd.

"In fact, at least one American dictionary (Merriam Webster's) makes no reference to cerebral palsy in its definition or word origins. It simply defines "spaz" as a shortening of the word "spastic" and "one who is inept".[15]"
posted by dirtdirt at 7:47 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Funny, but, yeah, calling a white male "racist" is about the most offensive thing you can call them. White male conservatives in particular seem to have carved a complete vicitimology of reverse racism based on the idea of being called out on racist attitudes. I think it's premised on the idea that we're a post racial society or something, and therefore, one can't be racist, and anyone pointing out racist behavior is racist by making an issue of race.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:48 AM on October 20, 2011


I'm glad no one here at MetaFilter uses such hurtful terminology!
posted by Scoo at 7:55 AM on October 20, 2011


Also, fuck the white males, amirite?
posted by Scoo at 7:56 AM on October 20, 2011


Fuck the white males? No, no. Fuck the whale mites! Or the mild weights. I don't know, what are you talking about?
posted by h00py at 8:05 AM on October 20, 2011


Bit weird of Gervais to claim the word has changed when he seems to use it in the old sense in his own recent standup, and obviously knows it riles people up. Some of that is his stage character though, but it's a persona he never seems to drop these days, in any context
posted by rollick at 8:06 AM on October 20, 2011


This post from the other day is useful to understanding "packie" in the New England context. I don't think I've ever heard anyone use "Paki" outside of British television.

"Spaz" and even "spastic" meant, essentially "annoying and hyper" in my childhood - I don't think it even meant clumsy or dorky so much as something more along the lines of saying "you're so ADD" as an insult. In maybe 6th grade I described my (unbearably perky and kind of disorganized and obviosuly uncool) Sunday school teacher as a "spaz" to my mother, and she was not pleased - no one had ever explained me before that it referred to anything medical/disability-related, and I still remember how ashamed I felt when she told me (see also: the time I let "retarded" slip in front of my boss). "Mong" I don't think I've ever heard, but I understood in the context of the post. I generally like Ricky Gervais, but I think he is very much wrong here.
posted by naoko at 8:09 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think he's playing with the media and the whole idea of a celebrity profile. He references that shit all the time. I don't necessarily agree that the 'mong' hill is one to die upon and I really don't think he will. He's not a stupid man.
posted by h00py at 8:10 AM on October 20, 2011


I have to say it's bewildering that so many people here who have a problem with Gervais using a hateful term for cognitively disabled people have no problem rebuffing him by using specifically gendered insults.

They are really not gender specific in the UK, so I don't think the tweeters or anyone here would have meant this. I mean, 'cunt' is unisex (oh, you know what I mean) and I have referred to both genders as 'cheesy bellends' on occasion. If I moved to the US, I'd be a lot more wary of saying 'cunt' given that it's seen in a much different context.

I have a serious mental health condition and I don't get particularly offended by 'psycho', 'going mad' etc., but many people do.
posted by mippy at 8:11 AM on October 20, 2011


(Full disclosure - I saw The Office on first run, never since, so I don't know whether Gervais and Brent are still synonymous or not.)
posted by mippy at 8:11 AM on October 20, 2011


This shouldn't come as any surprise, basically since the Ricky Gervais show started his humor has shifted from having an awkward character saying horrible things in a funny way, to having Ricky just mock and laugh like a goddam hyena at those he considers socially and intellectually inferior.

I suppose the twist here is his utterly disingenuous free speech defense, when anyone with the IQ of a glass of lukewarm water could understand precisely what 'mong faces' refers to, and who it's mocking.
posted by Grimgrin at 8:12 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


cheesy bellends

I am learning all sort of new expressions today.
posted by naoko at 8:14 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like cheesy bellend too. Also, when I see a picture of someone pulling a face I think, 'what a stupid face', not 'ooh, that looks like the kid with downs I know' because it doesn't. You may very well be projecting without realising. It happens a lot.
posted by h00py at 8:18 AM on October 20, 2011


You wouldn't have to worry about cheesy bellends being used anymore if everyone was circumcised.
posted by Cyrano at 8:25 AM on October 20, 2011


Angrycat - I hear you totally, and I agree.

Also, I'm a total and complete spaz. Why? I actually have Heriditary Spastic Paraparesis. And while it's not severe, stairs have become a reviled enemy in my life.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:25 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nothing better than Saturday afty at the pictures munching on a bag of Cheesy Bellends.
posted by Abiezer at 8:27 AM on October 20, 2011


Christina Martin, a comedian and former stand-up, has a good blog post on this too. A bit lengthy to quote in full, but here's an extract:
He didn't make clear what it was he imagined 'mong' now meant, and undermined his position ever so slightly by posting photos of himself doing a 'mong' face.

The same face that was pulled in my direction all through school by people who seemed to think it hilarious that my brother was born brain damaged.

I remember coming to class once, and everyone was waiting for me. The floor had been cleared to make way for two girls, one sitting in the teacher's swivel chair, the other pushing her along, like she was in a wheelchair. As she was pushed along the girl in the chair did the whole 'spaz' act; stuck her tongue out, twisted her limbs up, made noises, drooled. All in my honour. Then everyone laughed at me. Like I was the one worthy of being mocked in that scenario!

When I would go shopping with my family, kids my own age would follow me and my brother around laughing at him, pointing and saying 'spastic' 'mong' 'retard'.

I dunno, maybe I just don't have the winning sense of humour that Gervais does. Maybe they too were masters of irony.
posted by rollick at 8:28 AM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's a very...specific face. Anyone British would know it wasn't just a 'stupid face', because it's the one people use to imply disability - a 'belm'. (I don't know if other cultures have a similar one). Like if you pulled your eyelids tight, people would know that you were trying to impersonate a Chinese person rather than just doing something odd with your eyes. If that makes sense.
posted by mippy at 8:32 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


'Tard is my go-to weapon of choice.

There's a better choice: http://www.angryflower.com/advan.html
posted by foldedfish at 8:33 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I still say people need to toughen the fuck up a bit. You shriek and tut and whine about how offended you are by a word and you give it more power, and the people who'll thank you for that are those who like to use the word to hurt in the first place.

The thing is, though, is that it's really incredulous to use a slur against a group to which you do not belong and tell everyone that they need to "toughen up." The slurs are not yours to reclaim. Also, telling these people to growing a thicker skin or whatever implies that it never occurred to them to do this in the first place; that they never grew up hearing these words, never tried to weather storm, heed the "just ignore them and they'll stop" creedo, tolerated it and watched their own friends laugh at it because hey, it's just a word, right? What are you getting so bent out of shape about? Sheesh, stop giving the word so much power!

Which is another thing: exactly how thin-skinned does a person have to be to fly into a rage and shout about "free speech" when they've been called out for using an offensive word? Why the tantrum? Why not just say "my bad" and move on? Whatsamatter, eh? Toughen up a bit.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:35 AM on October 20, 2011 [19 favorites]


No rollick, they were fucking arseholes. I don't like being the devil's advocate in this scenario, but I really don't think that Ricky Gervais is that kind of arsehole and I think his use of the word mong is in the spirit of the 'doh' that Homer says, not the revolting mocking and complete disregard for the humanity of someone as displayed by the people you've described. There is a difference. A word used out of context doesn't come close to what you received.
posted by h00py at 8:36 AM on October 20, 2011


Francesca Martinez - Extras - interviews Ricky Gervais

Interested in what Francesca Martinez has to say about the matter now?

Also, when I see a picture of someone pulling a face I think, 'what a stupid face', not 'ooh, that looks like the kid with downs I know' because it doesn't.

Nobody's complaining about his faces in a vacuum. They had captions. And were in the middle of a string of offensive tweets. Context matters.

If somebody tweeted pictures of watermelon and fried chicken in the middle of racist rants about Obama, would you say that those are perfectly fine and don't ulterior meanings?

I'm glad no one here at MetaFilter uses such hurtful terminology!

Has anybody claimed there's no dickishness on Metafilter? I don't like that term either.

Also, fuck the white males, amirite?

Yep, you've incisively gotten to the heart of the matter there. Cheers.
posted by kmz at 8:40 AM on October 20, 2011


Oh, nothing like that ever happened to me, h00py, thank God. I was quoting from the blog link I posted. Sorry if I misled anyone!

I think the point of the anecdote is that as much as Gervais' intentions might be sound (which I don't really believe), he can't control how the word comes across to other people, and really shouldn't scoff when they point that out.
posted by rollick at 8:41 AM on October 20, 2011


belm

I've never heard this before either! Goodness, Brits.
posted by naoko at 8:42 AM on October 20, 2011


From the BBC link:

TOP TEN WORST WORDS
1. Retard
2. Spastic
3. Window-licker
4. Mong
5. Special
6. Brave
7. Cripple
8. Psycho
9. Handicapped
10. Wheelchair-bound
posted by incomple at 8:47 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


With funding cuts in education, special education is also cut. Students who were once in sheltered classrooms are mainstreamed. The words retard, spaz, spastic, 'tard, have no place in society. Calling someone stupid, or telling them to shut up, never has a good result. Will we now discuss wounded vets as one-legged-bastards, or one-armed spazzes? Can we get all over those troops who have come home with serious head injuries? Will you call THEM retards, now that they have disabilities? The answer is no, it is not funny, clever, appropriate, or right, to intentionally hurt people with words. Imagine you are the parent of a child with Cerebral Palsy, who will make some gains in this lifetime, maybe even graduate from high school. With the difficulties these parents face, imagine how hard it might be to cope with hearing some snot nosed brat in a high school hallway describe you as the parent of that retarded blond chick?

I can see calling someone a skank, who operates publicly as a PTA president, but who privately sexts students. I can see calling out malfeasance. I can't see telling a kid who stutters to be quiet in class, or making it socially acceptable to make fun of individuals with disabilities, even in private, with exception of presidential candidates, who do not currently hold office.
posted by Oyéah at 8:48 AM on October 20, 2011


I absolutely understand that mong is a word that's loaded with historical baggage. I also know that people use words in different ways. I guess what I'm objecting to is labelling Ricky Gervais as someone who only wants to mock people with disabilities because he's used an objectionable word (and attempted to justify it) when he has an entire history of looking at people with disabilities as just simply people by including them in just about all of his work and showing quite clearly how many people interact with the disabled people they come in contact with, and how that comes across.
posted by h00py at 8:53 AM on October 20, 2011


On the subject of words changing their meanings, the UK's "National Spastic Society" was well aware of the word's pejorative uses, and changed its name to "SCOPE".

These days, kids in some primary schools are letting "spaz" die out: instead, you get called a "scoper". Nice.

On the flipside, I remember using "gay" as completely generic pejorative in the playground, before I or my peers had any idea what it meant. For a great deal of youngish people in the UK, gay (generic insult) and gay (homosexual) aren't linked conceptually, and it just gets used out of thoughtlessness rather than malice. Homophones not homophobes, if you will.

This is still bad, obviously: one of my friends took ages to come out, because he was worried that our linguistically lazy friends were actually homophobes. But perhaps not as much a sign of a hostile society as it seems at first.
posted by metaBugs at 8:55 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Data point: Canadian, prairies, growing up 70’s and 80’s, and while the common meaning of “spaz” was clear (clumsy, uncoordinated, hyper) so was the origin (spastic). Not polite language, but common. I certainly don’t mind it being claimed – either as offensive or inoffensive – by those who would be hurt by it. If the former, I’ll somehow live with using “clumsy” instead.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:59 AM on October 20, 2011


Just go with this.
posted by stormpooper at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2011



I must say, I am pretty baffled by how it came to be that everyone in America seems to have somehow missed the derivation of "spaz" from "spastic". Bizarre.
posted by Decani at 9:58 AM on October 20



Late to the party, but....

"Spaz" or "spas" in the US started out in the '50s as "spaz attack", referring to a person who got so excited about something that he had a momentarily loss of dexterity--like hearing really terrific news and subsequently dropping whatever your carrying because you're so happy. That's how my parents and older relatives and friends (teenagers in the '50s) use it.

In the '70s and '80s, when I was growing up, "spaz" could mean a generally uncoordinated person ("Don't ask me to dance, I'm a real spaz"), or the muscular equivalent of a brain fart ("I was doing great out there on the basketball court, and then I totally spazzed that last shot"). You did hear "spaz attack", but less frequently. You occasionally heard it to mean a nerdy person, or someone one bad at sports.

As far as I'm aware, the above definitions are still dominate in the US today.

The interesting thing is this:

1) I've nearly always heard people use "spaz" or "spaz attack" used to describe themselves. I only very rarely heard the word used to describe other people.

2) The word "spastic" in the US doesn't really have disability connotations attached to it. AFAIK, it's purely a clinical term

3) There seems to be a general consensus that "spaz" is derived from "spastic", but I've always understood the word "spaz" to come from the word "spasm".

I think this is a key difference, because "spasm" has no connotations of disability. It's just a sudden involuntary muscular contraction like a cramp, or a brief convulsive spell like a sudden coughing fit.

More importantly, anyone can suddenly experience a spasm, whether they're a person with a disability, the class klutz, or Michael Jordan (I've certainly seen a person with mild cerebral palsy described himself as a spaz after a coughing fit, and he did so with no trace of irony). And since anyone can occasionally be hit with a spasm, then it follows that anyone can occasionally be a spaz. Thus, it's not seen as an insult to disabled people. Being a spaz is just something everyone is, on occasion.


I guess what I'm trying to say is that "spaz" in the UK has had a highly specific and localized path to becoming a derogatory term, one that's not been replicated in the rest of the world. I think because of that, it's a little unreasonable to assume that the definition of "spaz" found in the UK should be found everywhere else in the world.

To be candid, I wouldn't like to see "spaz", which here in the US is an equal-opportunity self-deprecating term, hijacked to the UK's meaning. There's enough awful terms out there for the disabled, why add one more? Seems that "spaz" as derogatory has been caught and contained, so to speak, in the UK and is well on its way to being exterminated. Let's leave it at that, instead of giving prejudiced people around the world more ammo.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


I have a bit of an old family, but for Americans and Canadians who are just hearing of this origin, ask your parents. I'd be curious to see if they similarly did not realize there was any connection.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:05 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not only are words regional but generational. Until now, I didn't realize "spaz" was considered a slur or derogatory term. In the 90s, and early 2000 when I was finishing up high school it was used more as someone easily excitable, with tons of energy. Uncoordinated people were sometimes referred with that term as well.

I've always found linguistics fascinating as people tend to be really emotional about the acceptable usage of language. Words have multiple meanings, and while it may be derogatory in one sense or situation, even with consideration of the speaker and group, words may not in another.

There are a magnitude of words I wont use, and generally don't play pc police on people with the exception of racist terms, and when words are used in a derogatory way towards women. More or less it is situation dependent. If someone is calling their boss a bitch, its one thing, if its an over arching term about women in general, I probably wont be around these individuals.

With race it just drives me batshit. I avoid members of my family due to their racist nature, have left friends houses due to their racist rambles.
yet if I am in a situation depending n the speaker and context and a racial term emerges, I am not going to say shit. I am not a member of that direct culture, or even generation sometimes and its just not my place.
posted by handbanana at 9:11 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also I do love raunchy comedy and Ricky, ck, and Silverman are some of my favorites.
posted by handbanana at 9:12 AM on October 20, 2011


On the term "mong", I had only begun to see it used when reading Adventures with the Wife in Space. Apparently it is short for "ming mong" which is used to describe really crazy Doctor Who fans. I have no idea what the hell is going on there, considering the original meaning of the word.
posted by charred husk at 9:14 AM on October 20, 2011


Comedy is dangerous, after all.
posted by crunchland at 9:14 AM on October 20, 2011


I am pretty baffled by how it came to be that everyone in America seems to have somehow missed the derivation of "spaz" from "spastic"

To be honest, while I am familiar with the word "spastic" it's not really used here often--I could be wrong but perhaps it's more commonly used in the UK?

This thread feels like MetaTalk painted blue.
posted by Hoopo at 9:20 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kind of a 90s-era playground taunt, something you'd call friends, harmless.

Harmless to your friends, but not harmless to people suffering from palsy.


Yeah, no, I don't use it. I was just trying to explain the US usage as generally understood. As a kid, I always understood it to be short for "spastic". But none of us knew that "spastic" was a clinical term applied to anybody, any more than any of us knew "geek" meant sideshow chicken-decapitator or "moron" used to be an actual medical category of intelligence.
posted by penduluum at 9:29 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's good to talk about this kind of thing, isn't it? I like it. Where it comes from, who it affects. Who is oblivious, who is devastated. Many people just use the vernacular that they grew up with on twitter etc. and are unaware that nowadays there are so many people who are listening and judging what it means and is intended and what is just glossed over.

I don't think Ricky Gervais used mong in order to insult disabled people. In any case, he's apparently decided to use twong instead because obviously if people that he cares about ie. Francesca are bothered then he's going to take that on board. Because he's not the twonk you think he is!
posted by h00py at 9:37 AM on October 20, 2011


Born in 1975, grew up in Texas, had absolutely no connection between the word "spaz" and any kind of medical condition -- in my circle it meant, as people above had said, either an onslaught of lack of dexterity brought on by excitement, or a person prone to such onslaughts. Like, if there was a puppy who was trying to run to her food dish, and she was on a tile floor so at first she couldn't get up enough speed and was sort of running in place and then finally got traction and shot off and overshot the food dish and plowed into the cabinets beyond, you would laugh hysterically at what a spaz your dog was.

The penny dropped for me after a teacher sternly informed us that "spaz" was unacceptable language on my eighth grade field trip. . . and a bunch of the cool kids started using "palsied" instead. I became instantly and retroactively horrified. I remember almost nothing about my eighth grade year for some reason, but that moment is etched into my brain forever.
posted by KathrynT at 9:38 AM on October 20, 2011


I always thought "spaz" meant hyper. (As in "Summers, you drive like a spaz!") Never even heard of the word "spastic" or what it meant. People with cerebral palsy were uh, called people with cerebral palsy. Ditto "lame," which I always thought was a joke on the fabric lame (with accent, no idea how to make an accented letter) and the 70's.

Keep in mind that sometimes people just have no idea what originally derived from an insult, and that as far as they can tell the word doesn't necessarily mean what it originally did.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:40 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Since no discussion on the ethics of word choice in relation to the physically and mentally challenged is ever complete without a reference to the Black Eyed Peas, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the original title of their Grammy Award-winning 2003 hit single "Let's Get it Started."
posted by gottabefunky at 9:43 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think though that as Gervais is a man growing up in a time and a country where 'spaz' and 'mong' are derogatory words used about disabled people, he knows fine well what meaning people will take from them, no matter how much he ties etymology in knots for his own ends. If it was a US comedian, this would be a different discussion.
posted by mippy at 9:44 AM on October 20, 2011


Keep in mind that sometimes people just have no idea what originally derived from an insult, and that as far as they can tell the word doesn't necessarily mean what it originally did. --- Or, as Ricky Gervais contends, the meaning of words can evolve over time.
posted by crunchland at 9:45 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ricky Gervais has dead eyes.
posted by The Whelk at 9:45 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, innocuous, just like "faggot."

You see, there's another one! "Fag" is completely innocent here, and just refers to something you put in your mouth for a couple of minutes enjoyment.

PS Worst insult ever?












THATCHER
posted by Jehan at 9:47 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


the muscular equivalent of a brain fart

Is a fart, no?
posted by pmcp at 9:49 AM on October 20, 2011


Yet, people continue to denounce words that still retain pejorative meaning today, because they're older and maybe remember the original meaning of the word (or first discriminatory meaning, e.g., gay, faggot), yet continue to use words that at one point in time referred to a specific class of individuals, and were offensive, because they are not old enough to remember when it was offensive. Please, be the first to throw a stone if you've never called anyone insane, an idiot or a moron. I believe these were once clinically used words as well and were probably offensive at some time. See, e.g., the "euphamistic treadmill".

So, why can't I say someone is a "retard"? I think it to mean "stupid," not mentally handicapped. In my circle of friends, they think it to mean the same. Who gets to be the arbiter of whether a word is offensive? It's a complex discussion and I don't think it always directly boils down to "the oppressed class." The word "retard" is clearly evolving towards the less offensive spectrum and, I have no doubt that, in 20 years, it will mean the same as "idiot" and flow freely in the public forum. Some words may never lose their meaning (nigger, for example). But I clearly remember my father and his friends using the word queer to hatefully describe homosexuals. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't "queer" now a pretty much neutral word?

Words can be very regional and constantly change meaning. Some people don't take that into consideration when hopping on the "you're a hateful bigot" train when someone says a word they don't like.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:53 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't "queer" now a pretty much neutral word?

Not in my neck of the woods. It's still very much context sensitive.
posted by KathrynT at 10:06 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love (which is to say hate) how the USians here are all 'oh spaz is 100% innocuous, no baggage here, we're all just learning the root of the word today' (even though it's always been in the dictionary, as even its defenders here have observed) and yet, when someone from the UK explains that the word cunt has a very different usage there than in the US, it's 'this is an international site, please have some respect'.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:08 AM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


You see, there's another one! "Fag" is completely innocent here, and just refers to something you put in your mouth for a couple of minutes enjoyment.

I see we've been to the same bars in Soho.
posted by metaBugs at 10:09 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is probably lost in the noise, but a while back i was watching the people's court, and this guy said something to the effect that calling the black defendant a "nigger" simply meant "an ignorant person defined by the dictionary" and no one called him on it. I have several, and none say that, but living in a small town where i hear these terms a lot i hear that defense a lot. Claiming you have one meaning, doesn't make it true. Also, just as you have freedom of speech, who hears it is free to be offended, it's not the offender to say they shouldn't be. It's also usually those in positions of power who make the excuses why you shouldn't be.

Growing up and being an adult means understanding your words affect others, and not wanting to do that. Ricky is tasteless, and acts like a spoiled child most of the time, and i'm tired of his 'thing', and those who defend him. I found it funny people who love him (partly because he's such an atheist preacher) loved his anti-gay tirade on the oscars against Tom Cruise, but would have a fit if someone else did it. I'm sick of this offense as comedy shit, and i sometimes like CK, even if most of the time it's laughing because of feeling uncomfortable instead of it being funny. We need more Eddie Izzards, less Rickys. :P
posted by usagizero at 10:11 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This will admittedly sound cynical, but I believe Gervais has deliberately fomented the current controversy. He briefly tried Twitter two years ago, then swore off it, doing many articles and video pieces about how much he hated it. With a new show to produce – Life's Too Short on BBC2 – he's suddenly decided to try it again, quickly announcing that he's in love with it. This despite initially following no-one on there, and only eventually doing so because of the barrage of complaint tweets he received about his own self-absorbed usage of the medium. He doesn't involve himself in the discussions either. He uses it as a marketing tool, as many, many people on Twitter do. That's fine, although makes his talk of "loving" a medium he clearly doesn't understand look a bit insincere...
From a longish article on the subject, Ricky Gervais: Comedy Punching Down.
posted by Abiezer at 10:11 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yet, people continue to denounce words that still retain pejorative meaning today, because they're older and maybe remember the original meaning of the word (or first discriminatory meaning, e.g., gay, faggot), yet continue to use words that at one point in time referred to a specific class of individuals, and were offensive, because they are not old enough to remember when it was offensive. --- Interestingly, more times than not, I find that it's the older people who use inappropriate words, and the younger people who seem to complain when they do. A friend of mine (my age) was complaining yesterday about how her aged father had a tendency to call his visiting nurse "colored." And my grandmother-in-law scandalized my wife and I when she admitted to us that when she was young, they used to refer to brazil nuts as "nigger toes."
posted by crunchland at 10:14 AM on October 20, 2011


Or, as Ricky Gervais contends, the meaning of words can evolve over time.

They do, of course. But that evolution doesn't happen all at once, across all cultures and languages and age groups simultaneously. In England, "cunt" really does seem to be an insult (a friendly one, even, depending on context) that is divorced from gender in a way that it isn't in the U.S.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't "queer" now a pretty much neutral word?

Context context context. How is this not obvious? I can sit in my living room with my friends who identify as queer and we can call ourselves and each other queer. The guy who leans out of a moving car and calls me a queer faggot as he drives by clearly does not mean something neutral by it.

Who gets to be the arbiter of whether a word is offensive?


Excellent question, and one that we'll surely tangle with until we all forget how to talk and climb back into the trees. One thing to remember is that while you have the right to use the word "retarded" as a way to denigrate someone who is behaving stupidly (but who is not actually mentally retarded), you don't have the right to not have people tell you that they think that usage is offensive or wrong or that they won't hang out with you if you're going to use it like that.


I love (which is to say hate) how the USians here are all 'oh spaz is 100% innocuous, no baggage here, we're all just learning the root of the word today' (even though it's always been in the dictionary, as even its defenders here have observed) and yet, when someone from the UK explains that the word cunt has a very different usage there than in the US, it's 'this is an international site, please have some respect'.


Do a search for "spaz" (used as an insult, not in the way it's being used in this thread) and do a search for "cunt" on mefi. Spaz has been used very rarely here - it just doesn't seem to be part of the vocabulary of (American) mefites, at least those who are over the age of eight. I don't really get your point. American mefites are not running over to UK-run sites and using the word spaz, as far as I know.
posted by rtha at 10:15 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love (which is to say hate) how the USians here are all 'oh spaz is 100% innocuous, no baggage here, we're all just learning the root of the word today' (even though it's always been in the dictionary, as even its defenders here have observed) and yet, when someone from the UK explains that the word cunt has a very different usage there than in the US, it's 'this is an international site, please have some respect'.

I see lots of people saying "Holy crap, I had no idea. I'm not using this word any more." Which is imho the appropriate response.
posted by KathrynT at 10:15 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ive been on this planet almost four decades and this is the first I've heard that "spaz" wasn't a made up word akin to "dork". You used to hear it all the time in the 80s to refer to stereotypical nerdy archetypes.

Same for me. I thought it was just something like "dweeb" that went out of fashion in the 80s.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:16 AM on October 20, 2011


I've been reading the comments with interest. I've also searched the comments and see that I'm the only person to have used the word 'cunt' in relation to Gervais.

1) I'm a woman. Therefore, if you are angry with the use of the word because you assumed I was a man, then hi *waves* go check my other posts - just because I'm not called Fairy Sparkleberry or whatever is not a good reason to assume I'm a man and therefore not entitled to use the Reviled Ladypartsword. I totally, totally am someone with a fanny (UK meaning).

2) If, however, you're someone who takes offence at the word no matter who uses it, I apologise for causing offence. I do use it as a reclaimed term - I work in media in Britain, and it's something I see shortly following my real name on a high proportion of the websites that bother to mention my work. So, I do delight at taking words like that and throwing them back out at people. But I acknowledge that bit of context is missing from this discussion and, again, sorry about that. I'll be certain not to do it again here.
posted by Cuppatea at 10:22 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the U.S., yes. [Spaz is] a highly innocuous, practically charming little schoolyard insult.

It wasn't when I was a U.S. kid in the 70s. The connection to "spastic" and the implied link to disability was very clear and very powerful. I always thought of it as an insult that had power to hurt.


When I were a lass (in the early 90s), we said either "spaz" or "spazmo". What's that even stand for, spasmodic? Don't even know. I was 8. I may also remember saying "spastic", and assuming it was just a longform of this little word, but I don't trust that memory. I've lived in the UK for 5 years and I've sort of absorbed vocabulary and I've already got hell of issues with that kind of memory anyway.

Anywho, spaz: I got called one all the time. I was exciteable and clumsy as hell.

We said spaz in the same breath as "tard" or, rather oddly "chimo" (child molester). My mother approved of none of these.

Still, I adopted it as self-deprication as a teenager. But then, I tended to laugh-off my dexterity, coordination and balance problems. I coped by consenting to be funny, and laughing along. I consider that a personal choice. I watched other kids shrink from the label. They didn't like looking funny.

As an adult? Well, I've got an appointment with a neurologist next month for a group of symptoms that are rather suspiciously similar to dyspraxia. Many of these, particularly the sensory processing, balance, and liguistic stuff do undoubtably interfere with my life on a daily basis.

U.S. kids may have grown up without the direct connection to a far more severe neurological condition (CP), but I'm pretty sure that we knew, on a fairly basic level, what we were laughing at, and despite the fact that I will still laugh at myself when I have my little "moments" (unless it really bastard hurts), it occurs to me that what we were laughing at as kids is not actually very funny.
posted by menialjoy at 10:23 AM on October 20, 2011


Context context context. How is this not obvious?

That's exactly the point I was trying to make. If I call a friend retarded, who cares, if I call a mentally retarded person retarded, I am obviously being a cruel ignorant fuck, if I use it in a public forum, I am just being insensitive. If I call my male friend a cunt, I'm just using vulgar language. If I call woman a bunch of cunts, I'm being borderline misogynist. Even silly, innocuous words can be offensive if used in the wrong context. If I call a bunch of people in a public forum crazy, I probably wouldn't get called out for it. If I called a bi-polar person crazy I would be an insensitive fuck. If I called someone who lost to me at chess a "loser" I'm either being technical or arrogant; if I call someone who just lost his house and family a loser, I'm being an insensitive fuck.

But, NO, words have universal meaning and if you a word in a different context it's still offensive and you should be ostracized because in another context it's offensive to someone.
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:24 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Or, as Ricky Gervais contends, the meaning of words can evolve over time.

So how has "mong" evolved then? Show your work.
posted by kmz at 10:25 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, why can't I say someone is a "retard"? I think it to mean "stupid," not mentally handicapped. In my circle of friends, they think it to mean the same. Who gets to be the arbiter of whether a word is offensive?

"Arbiter" is a strange word choice. There is no Supreme Court of Slurs that determines what words are universally OK and Not OK. The point is, is that while you and your friends feel fine with using this word, plenty of other people won't be. When these two groups meet, what is the best solution? That the offending people suck it up and not say anything about how the word hurts them? Or that you simply say "whoops" and not use this word around these people anymore?

Personally, I think that in the interests of harmony, we have to consider that not all of our favorite slurs and insults are going to be universally recognized as acceptable. I'm sure you're aware "retard" isn't OK with everyone. So keeping that in mind, if someone says, "Whoah, hey, not cool," what's wrong with just giving a nod, saying "My bad" and moving on? You can still continue to use this word with impunity among your friends, or continue to try it out in different social settings to see who's alright with it and who's not. Like in any other aspect of language, sometimes our word choices are going to rub people the wrong way. I find the best course of action is to simply acknowledge that this happened, and carry on.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:27 AM on October 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


That's exactly the point I was trying to make. If I call a friend retarded, who cares, if I call a mentally retarded person retarded, I am obviously being a cruel ignorant fuck, if I use it in a public forum, I am just being insensitive. If I call my male friend a cunt, I'm just using vulgar language. If I call woman a bunch of cunts, I'm being borderline misogynist. Even silly, innocuous words can be offensive if used in the wrong context. If I call a bunch of people in a public forum crazy, I probably wouldn't get called out for it. If I called a bi-polar person crazy I would be an insensitive fuck. If I called someone who lost to me at chess a "loser" I'm either being technical or arrogant; if I call someone who just lost his house and family a loser, I'm being an insensitive fuck.

But, NO, words have universal meaning and if you a word in a different context it's still offensive and you should be ostracized because in another context it's offensive to someone.


Well put.
posted by kafziel at 10:31 AM on October 20, 2011


But, NO, words have universal meaning and if you a word in a different context it's still offensive and you should be ostracized because in another context it's offensive to someone.

So you're claiming that Gervais using the word "mong" on his Twitter (which is not his living room or neighborhood pub) is hunky dory?

BTW, it's been briefly touched on, but not only is the word "mong" ableist, holy fuck it's incredibly racist too. A twofer!
posted by kmz at 10:32 AM on October 20, 2011


Yeah, innocuous, just like "faggot."

Not at all. People have covered the meaning of spaz above, and "spastic" would never be used as a noun where I live, either conversationally or to describe a medical condition. I'm still not 100% sure what it means in the uk- cerebral palsy?

People in north America are not using the word spaz unknowingly or uncaringly. We know what it means. It just happens to have a different meaning than the uk usage.

I can't remember the last time I called myself or anyone else a spaz, but if I have occasion to do it again, I'll make sure not to say it in front of a British person because I now know the word has a different and offensive meaning to them.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:34 AM on October 20, 2011


Growing up and being an adult means understanding your words affect others, and not wanting to do that

I hate when people do this, it's so condescending. There are plenty of adults who act like assholes, the words you use have nothing to do with "growing up."
posted by Hoopo at 10:34 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I call a friend retarded, who cares, if I call a mentally retarded person retarded, I am obviously being a cruel ignorant fuck

Ditto for "crazy".

So, you help ensure that the condition of the latter remains an insult for those not "afflicted" with their condition, but it's only "cruel and ignorant" to remind them that their condition is an insult if you do it to their *face*?
posted by menialjoy at 10:34 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


They turned "liberal" into a slur though, didn't they?
posted by Renoroc at 10:38 AM on October 20, 2011


I really wish I could work up enough spit to really care what some guy on the other side of the planet says, let alone a comedian I don't particularly like that much.
posted by crunchland at 10:40 AM on October 20, 2011


menialjoy,

We should all probably stop using the word motherfucker in the common vernacular then. We only perpetuate an insult that causes those who were raped by their mother to live that nightmare over and over.
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:41 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love (which is to say hate) how the USians here are all 'oh spaz is 100% innocuous, no baggage here, we're all just learning the root of the word today' (even though it's always been in the dictionary, as even its defenders here have observed)

If I understood 'spaz' to mean 'clumsy' all my life, and so did everyone around me, and its usage never caused so much as a raised eyebrow, why the hell would I look it up in the dictionary? Do you look up every word you use in the dictionary?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:41 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Spaz-- the original archetype of the taped-glasses-wearing nerd (Meatballs, 1979).
posted by obloquy at 10:44 AM on October 20, 2011


You see, there's another one! "Fag" is completely innocent here, and just refers to something you put in your mouth for a couple of minutes enjoyment.

When I miss your lips, I'll put a fig in my mouth and think of you.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:47 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even if Ricky Gervais is right that "mong" is no longer used to mean a mentally handicapped person (he isn't), shouldn't the fact that it's short for mongoloid and pretty racist also be a reason to phase the word out?

Down Syndrome was originally called Mongolian idiocy or Mongoloid idiocy because it was based on outdated 19th century ethnic theory.

"John Langdon Down, for whom the syndrome was named, said in his book Observations on the Ethnic Classification of Idiots (1866) that the Mongol-like features represented an evolutionary degeneration when manifested in Caucasoids."

Saying someone with a mental disability has devolved down to the level of your race, so we're naming it after you doesn't really fly today, does it? I haven't heard anyone mention the racist aspect of the word, but just because there isn't some Mongolian advocacy organization getting on this like Scope or the Down's Syndrome Association has doesn't mean it's not an issue.
posted by RotJ at 10:53 AM on October 20, 2011


In the U.S., yes. [Spaz is] a highly innocuous, practically charming little schoolyard insult.

Yeah, innocuous, just like "faggot."


No. Nothing like that. Really.

In North America, neither spaz nor spastic refer to disabled people at all, and therefore have none of the British baggage. In fact, the most common use of spastic over here is probably in the phrase spastic colon, and even that's an exceedingly rare occurrence.

These words quite simply mean different things on either side of the Atlantic, just like -- actually, much more than -- a word like mad does. Both are 100% innocuous on this side.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:57 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


You don't call retarded people retards. It's bad taste. You call your friends retards when they're acting retarded.
posted by Snyder at 10:57 AM on October 20, 2011


Here's a clue, you sad little fucker

What a sad little git.


As a person undergoing lifelong treatment for clinical depression, and who hears this often-disabling condition minimized almost daily as just "being sad", I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't throw around ableism-charged slurs so casually.
posted by kafziel at 10:58 AM on October 20, 2011


In North America, neither spaz nor spastic refer to disabled people at all

What? Of course they do. They are just older terms just like crip or, for the mentally retarded, moron and idiot.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:01 AM on October 20, 2011


I know this guy from the Northern Highlands of Vietnam and his friends keep calling him a Hmong. I don't know why he isn't more offended.
posted by longbaugh at 11:06 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


In North America, neither spaz nor spastic refer to disabled people at all

Thanks for speaking for all of us, no really, but when I was a boy of maybe 5 or 6, my parents taught me that "spaz" was impolite, because it made fun of physically disabled ("spastic") kids, and that mongoloid was similarly impolite because it manages to slur both people from Mongolia and Down Syndrome kids.

My parents were born in the 30's. I'm sure they're aware of much older pejorative meanings for words many of us toss around, which is why I asked people what their parents (or grandparents) think, because I somehow doubt that this simply skipped all of North America except for my neighbourhood or family.

But maybe I should take the same tac and declare that yes, North America did have this association, though it may have been unknown to you. But that would be dickish, wouldn't it?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:07 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know what is a good thing? The switching of the typical handicapped sign with the dude into the wheelchair with his stick arms outstretched, to the the one who is an obvious hip cat who is rolling along, muscular arms outstretched to give his chair a motherfuck of a push. Anybody seen these?
posted by angrycat at 11:07 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


burnmp3s: A noteworthy exception to this is Sarah Silverman. Pretty much her whole act is built around being offensive, and she has gotten called out for similar material such as her jury duty joke.

A relevant passage from the article:
Happy with her career as it is, Silverman has no interest in changing her name — or her act: She said she has rarely been “bullied” into taking a joke out of her repertoire because it is too offensive. But she won’t tell a joke — one, for example, that she has worked on that refers to real-life allegations that pharmaceutical giant Bayer performed experiments on concentration camp interns — until she believes she has found “the skeleton key that makes it worthwhile…. It has to be funny enough to counteract the pain,” she said.

Unlike some of her peers, Silverman’s stated modus operandi isn’t to offend everyone equally; it’s to make fun of her own — and everyone else’s — racist or self-hating impulses, and thereby deprive them of their power. “Relations between black and white would be greatly improved if we were more accepting of our fears and our feelings and more vocal about it.… When my comic friends who are black [and I] joke about race and say racist s–t to each other, it makes it silly, and easy to laugh at,” she said. Silverman’s genius, or her fatal flaw, depending on your point of view, is how far and how defiantly she pushes that idea. These days, when she relates the Guy Aoki-“chink” incident in her live shows, she explains penitently that she learned that racism is bad — then busts out a funky dance move, breaks into a wide grin and says, “And I mean bad, like in that black way.”


Silverman has an understanding of what it means to do "offensive" comedy that Gervais doesn't. If someone reads your comedy and can't tell whether it's coming from a comedian or a genuine white racist/conservative homophobe/13-year-old boy on Xbox live, then you're doing it wrong.
posted by RotJ at 11:09 AM on October 20, 2011


You call your friends retards when they're acting retarded.

*sigh*

I know this guy from the Northern Highlands of Vietnam and his friends keep calling him a Hmong. I don't know why he isn't more offended.

That's totally the same thing!
posted by kmz at 11:11 AM on October 20, 2011


Bronzefist, in your parents' day, idiot, moron, and cretin were medical terms. Was is not the same as is.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:12 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


we're all just learning the root of the word today' (even though it's always been in the dictionary, as even its defenders here have observed) and yet, when someone from the UK explains that the word cunt has a very different usage there than in the US, it's 'this is an international site, please have some respect'. posted by stinkycheese at 10:08 AM on 10/20

I know what spastic means in terms of medical definition with regards to muscular spasticity, but not in some outdated no longer used mental health term. That is my understanding of the word....regardless of the fact its in the dictionary, would you be able to give me every multiple meaning of a word both from a dictionary in addition to slang/regional?

Btw I love the word cunt, but the social interactions get a bit dicey after dropping it casually.
posted by handbanana at 11:16 AM on October 20, 2011


"Lame" is under review over here. I AM lame, I have a prosthetic leg, I walk with a limp. It never occurred to me that lame actually meant crippled until about 1993, when I had a lame (that is limping) English teacher who used it all the time. It's still one of my favorites.

BUT it's not like I have some sort of badge that says "It's OK, I Have A Real Disability" that puts my free use of lame into context. I don't think I'm doing disabled people any favors when I use it, even though I'm also probably not doing them much harm.

(I was lucky: the first time I heard harelip, in 2nd grade, I thought I was being called Hairlip, as in, having a moustache. This baffled me totally.)

Anecdata from the street: there was a big, tall, buff Dominican 14-year-old and his little, wimpy, pre-pubescent brother or younger friend ahead of me in line the other day. "I am not your nigga!" said the nerdy one, in his prepubescent voice. "Stop calling me that!"
posted by skbw at 11:22 AM on October 20, 2011


Angrycat: yes, the reworked wheelchair sign is DEFINITELY progress. That's probably a mad expensive wheelchair, though.
posted by skbw at 11:24 AM on October 20, 2011


I'm late to the game and have no real side in this discussion, but I've never heard anyone in the US use the word "Paki", but I have heard it used in the UK.

I lived in Scotland for a couple years when I was growing up [ages 11-13], before that I lived in Virginia, my parents were conservative but strongly opposed to racism. I was shocked culturally with the way Scottish people referred to minorities. Chinese restaurants were called "chinkies", convenience stores were called "Pakis". It didn't register with me that these were offensive terms until my older sister corrected me when I repeated the term. The people around me had used the words so casually. The one time I saw a black person in my town, Dumfries to be exact, a friend pointed to him and said, "Oh look, a nigger!" I quickly admonished him and said that word was completely unacceptable. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the US is a racist country to the core, but at least we've been trained to not sound racist. Our racism is more pernicious and concealed.

As for the word "spaz", it's always had an innocent connotation to me in the US, but I suppose that's just because I was raised to perceive the word as innocuous. I'm assuming my UK friends were raised similiarly with the words "Paki" and "Chinky" and "nigger", maybe not. But, in my mind if you know the word is offensive or racist and you continue to use it, then you're most likely a prick.

Upon further consideration, the US tends to normalize words that are derogatory towards mental/physical conditions... words like spaz, idiot, moron are said here without anyone batting an eye, retard is a bit more questionable, but ultimately one can say it without too many repercussions. What it all means, I don't know. I just know that I don't really like those words and the hurt they cause (spaz, retard, etc) so I choose to avoid them.
posted by cloeburner at 11:27 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had never heard the word "mong" till now. (So thanks to metafilter , now I have to add another word to my politically correct no-say word list.) If I had been chatting with Ricky Gervais and he used it in the context he did in the twitter, I would assume he meant lazing about, feigning illness. I would have added it to my great scrabble words list.
Spaz has always meant to me "blowing ones top", "reactionary to the least little thing": as when co-worker gets upset, "Don't spaz out!" So I guess the words meaning and content are in the receiver of that information. My intent by "don't spaz out ", has nothing to do with a disability nor did it ever.

If I used the word "cripple" as in "I am crippled with fear" in my writing, will I be ostracized? I know what cripple means yet I can think of no other metaphorical adjective to describe that fear. Are we going a little too far with these perjorative word games?

Comedians today say the most outrageous things (Sarah Silverman) for laughs and we secretly want them to. Wonder why Gervais centered out for his?
posted by smudgedlens at 11:32 AM on October 20, 2011


Sincere question (midwestern USA, FWIW): to what extent is crazy an offensive word these days? Not asking whether it should be, but where things happen to stand. I am intrigued that it could be construed as offensive to those afflicted with mental illness as it has (been? seemed?) innocuous for so long, even among otherwise thoughtful and sensitive people I know.

As with most of this, it's very offensive to the people who get off being outraged and superior on the internet, and not offensive to people with healthier pasttimes. I've seen plenty of people getting pissy because someone, say, called Michelle Bachmann "crazy" and this is a slur against people with mental disabilities and blah blah blah.
posted by kafziel at 11:34 AM on October 20, 2011


Angrycat: yes, the reworked wheelchair sign is DEFINITELY progress.

I know, right? It's gone from 'o help me please i can do nothing w/ my outstretched stick arms' to 'there's no curb cut here mofo? Screw that I'm FLYING over this thing. Get in my way I'll key your car!'
posted by angrycat at 11:35 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bronzefist, in your parents' day, idiot, moron, and cretin were medical terms. Was is not the same as is.

Yeah exactly, except MeFites at least have the circumspection not to say things like "'idiot' has never meant anything offensive in this country! Must be one of those wacky UK things!"

I wasn't the person attempting to speak for "North Americans".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:37 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seems that there will always be profanity. Once it focused on religious terms, but now you can probably say damn at a nursery school without any noticing. Then it was sexual terms, but most of us will probably say and hear fuck and think it just another word as long as our mother or children aren't in the room. Now the area of concern is identity. The f-word trips off our tongue, the n-word we hardly force ourselves to say, no matter the context. Once refereeing the fray was for the righteous, then the upstanding, now the educated. Transgression may have once got you a couple verses from the bible. Now it's a lecture on privilege. Maybe the new efforts will make for a better world or maybe they will just set new boundaries for determining who is worthy of being in the club.
posted by TimTypeZed at 11:37 AM on October 20, 2011


As with most of this, it's very offensive to the people who get off being outraged and superior on the internet

It's true, I am fapping all the time while reading these threads.

and not offensive to people with healthier pasttimes.

In other words, people with the privilege to not care.
posted by kmz at 11:41 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


The thing with mong, idiot, retard, etc. is that by the very nature of the disability, the target population is NOT GOING TO BE part of the discussion. Yes, there are exceptions. If you are working at an adult day program, as I have, you will be talking about the R in the official New York State OMRDD acronym (office of the mentally retarded/developmentally disabled) with your clients. But, as a rule, Down's will preclude someone from getting on metafilter and putting in their two cents. This is not the case with (god help us) crip, lame, dyke, nigga, Yid, what have you.

So err on the side of "none of our damn business" and avoid use of these words where possible! Not rocket science.
posted by skbw at 11:42 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, why can't I say someone is a "retard"? I think it to mean "stupid," not mentally handicapped. In my circle of friends, they think it to mean the same.

As soon as special ed kids stop having it shouted at them at lunch.

If a word is still hurled as an insult to hurt people then, even when used outside of that context, you are comparing the insultee to the target group. Anyone who hears that and has a mental disability or knows someone with one will feel sad, angry and/or uncomfortable, not least because they now have to either conceal their feelings, or tell you off and ruin the nice time you were having and likely get dismissed as 'too PC'. All because they want to be treated with respect, and want the same for their loved ones. The assholes.

Maybe the new efforts will make for a better world or maybe they will just set new boundaries for determining who is worthy of being in the club.

Better a club where only eligibility requirement is thinking about what you say, rather than, say, being a straight, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered male.
posted by Garm at 11:45 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember "spaz" being used jokingly by very nice, intelligent, well-educated girls who would never have intentionally hurt anyone.

Whoa. I don't think "spaz" is really part of my vocabulary but I've never known it to be anything but a synonym for "clumsy". I had no idea, until reading this thread, that anyone, anywhere, had any negative associations with it.

I hate this kind of thing. A few years ago I discovered - through a Metafilter thread, no less - that there is some Bad Thing about watermelons and black people. I don't actually know what that bad thing is, exactly, but now I know I have to be careful about talking about watermelons in any context that might have something to do with black people, because I might accidentally trip over some hidden trauma. Thanks a lot, asshole racists, whoever you were, way back when.

So, yay, Metafilter! Thanks for letting me know there are even more completely innocent things I can't say, because somebody, somewhere, might get offended, no matter what it was I actually meant.

I guess my point is that this idea that certain words can be inherently offensive makes no sense. Of course it is contextual.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:50 AM on October 20, 2011


For reference, here is the change in wheelchair sign that angrycat referenced. People, THAT's what it's about...ACCESS. Keep on using lame if you must, but make sure your new building has ramps.

By the same token, I would look the other way on spaz if continued use accompanied more and more people with, say, cerebral palsy in mainline office jobs AND front-of-the-house customer service jobs. Until then...don't be a dick! (Yes, I'm joking on my use of dick.)
posted by skbw at 11:51 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll also admit that I still struggle to not use ableist language. It was easy to not use racist/sexist/homophobic language, because I never used that shit anyway. But words like "lame" and "crazy" still pop into my head all the time. I'm not perfect, I'm never going to be perfect, but I'm also not going to say "fuck all of y'all, I got mine, I don't care that words have meanings, that words can hurt."
posted by kmz at 11:51 AM on October 20, 2011


Huh. Count me as another American who did not know the origin of the word 'spaz' and had never heard of 'mong' prior to this thread either.

Also: funny how quick so many are to call Gervais an asshole. As someone with an anus, this really offends me. Ok, joking aside: how about we just don't call each other names?

It's worth thinking of this philosophically. Of course the meanings of words change. In fact, some (c.f. Wittgenstein) would argue that they are never the same even from one conversation to another, let alone across years or generations. Certainly anyone who thinks that the original meaning of a word is its actual meaning, or anyone who argues the actual meaning of a word as being its dictionary definition, is just wrong. There is much more to a meaning of a word then whatever Webster's says - meanings are shaped perhaps by the evolution of meaning (including colloquialisms, slang, regionalism), intention, context, et al. Words can pass into being derogatory just as they can pass out of it (someone upthread has already mentioned 'faggot,' which is a great example. If we're getting all prescriptivist it would seem using this word should still be acceptable). I would be wont to argue that if you are not using a word in a derogatory manner, then it is not, in that context, derogatory (as Wittgenstein writes, 'the meaning of a word is its use'). The opposite is also true. Think, perhaps, of a word like 'woman.' You could utter the sentence 'you are a woman' in a matter of fact sort of way, an insulting way, perhaps even a praising way. The word 'woman' itself is not offensive per se. This can almost be applied to any word, though certain words like 'woman,' or 'hipster,' or some such thing are especially ripe.

Now, in this sense, Gervais is correct to say that the meanings of words change and that the context in which they are used (comedy, in this case), impacts their meaning. However, Gervais is seemingly still using the words in an offensive manner, and it isn't funny at all, so his argument, while there is truth in it in an abstract sense, does nothing to justify his actions. Someone upthread made the point that if he were truly using 'mong' to mean 'idiot' (historical definitions of idiot notwithstanding), then he should just use the word 'idiot.' In other words (heh), he knows what he's doing.

I will also say that I tend to be in the 'buck up' camp when it comes to getting really offended by a word; however, I am also a straight, white male, and I am willing to accept the fact that people with experiences not my own might be offended by words in a way in which I cannot really understand, and I am happy to not use certain words for that reason. There are plenty of words to use to express a concept without hurting anyone tangentially.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:52 AM on October 20, 2011


It's only okay to use spaz when you're talking about Rufus "Spaz" Leaking.
posted by Relay at 11:54 AM on October 20, 2011


Also: upthread the words 'handicapped' was listed under the UK's 10 worst words. Is this true? As an American, this is used as a pretty standard, non-offensive word for a person with a disability (e.g. 'handicapped parking,' etc.).
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:54 AM on October 20, 2011


Oh, hi, I was one person who thought it was *Unproductive*, and *Risky* to start throwing around the word crazy... just to get your rocks off and be a aggressive in kind to Bachmann's aggression. I think I explained why in that place (people were acting to "protect gay from her", using a misapplication of "crazy" labels... and ironically being ignorant of the application of "crazy" labels to Gay people, as a tool of oppression and discrimination... but hey, and would appreciate not having it suggested that there was an attempt to "ban" calling her crazy... having specifically noted that if you think that is your calling to be a pretend diagnostician based on Google Images of her... Go forth Joe. But remember, it's kinda crazy to take on the role of a medical practitioner if you are not one... and labels are easy to start flinging around, and more difficult to take off.

I had been wondering who was really popularizing this little gem of a turd... I'd been seeing it on the rise.

And that, in a nutshell, speaks to the shit of it, a whole LEGION of shits, who (giving those making apologia, and inventing 4D Chess explanations the benefit of a millions doubts, that he is "really" playing 37 dimension ironic chess, and that he is acutally leaping OVER prejudice, bigotry and ignorance, and is Truly Above all of us "humourless, mindless critics" [Yeah, having seen a bunch of parts of "an Idiot Abroad", Gervais Schtick these days is pretty much tantamount to laughing like a ridiculous HYENA, adding nothing of value but shrill laughter, and mocking of others, and his name and brand, and popularity, and audience, which includes many less than critical young people]) but all the uncritical, unthoughtful repetition of his lines (we still to this day have people bleat out "GEORGE CARLIN GEORGE CARLIN" when there is any sort of hint of someone suggesting that something someone is saying has some crap mixed in with it. So, yeah, I fully expect to hear people continue to act like "he is a comedian, you are humourless and evil, and criticizing him means that you are Word Police" so meh.

Dear "Free Speech Crusaders", it also means other people are free to think, say, and spread their words about how crappy what you are saying is. Two way street. Toughen up a little there precious Free-Speechers.

Guy's gotta platform, he is definitively not speaking to a circle of friends, it isn't private. People are copying him. Excuses like "I say X with my friends, who is the arbiter of words"; this situation is not that. This hurts kids when their peers see this shit, and start repetitiously bleating his lines, and then his pathetic (not backed up) bullshit defenses.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:59 AM on October 20, 2011


Some stores in Philly have markers that indicate 'accessible entrance.' I think that is pretty damn sweet and a getting away from invalid/disabled, the latter leading to differently-abled, a term I've found nonsensical. We are all differently-abled, I suppose, unless we are clones.
posted by angrycat at 12:01 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lutoslawski: although I am firmly in the "call me whatever as long as I get a ramp/elevator" camp, FWIW, handicapped is now being replaced by disabled. It is edging out. Personally it makes no difference to me, although some have strong opinions.
posted by skbw at 12:03 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


angrycat: the people I MOST hear using "differently abled" are samely abled white liberals who want to show how down with the struggle they are. Grrrr. Comparatively rare to hear a disabled person use it. QED, my friend.
posted by skbw at 12:04 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gervais just isn't making sense with the "changing meanings" thing. If it's a slur against people with cognitive disabilities, then using it to mean "stupid" isn't changing the meaning at all.
posted by moxiedoll at 12:08 PM on October 20, 2011


'm a woman. Therefore, if you are angry with the use of the word because you assumed I was a man, then hi *waves* go check my other posts

I made no assumption about gender -- I have heard women use cunt disparagingly in a way that is absolutely consistent with gendered, sexist uses of the word. And I should not be expected to click on somebody's profile and seek their other posts to know that, in fact, there is a broader context to what they were saying. If there is such a context, it is your obligation as the poster to provide it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:11 PM on October 20, 2011


jeez intimate intimation, save some commas for the rest of us.
posted by Hoopo at 12:11 PM on October 20, 2011


comma-ist.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:14 PM on October 20, 2011


Cunt is another good example. Consider the following:

A man says about a woman he doesn't particularly like: Fuck that cunt.

A woman says about another woman she doesn't particularly like: Fuck that cunt.

A British teenager says of his buddy who just beat him in a video game: Fuck that cunt.

A woman says to a man while having intercourse: Fuck that cunt.

Does 'cunt' not mean four rather distinct things in these aforementioned scenarios? Not only do meanings change over time, but also over place and utterer at the same time.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:16 PM on October 20, 2011


Lutoslawski: although I am firmly in the "call me whatever as long as I get a ramp/elevator" camp, FWIW, handicapped is now being replaced by disabled. It is edging out. Personally it makes no difference to me, although some have strong opinions.

Huh. Noted and thanks!
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:18 PM on October 20, 2011


Also, don't say you got 'gypped' it's as bad as saying you got 'Jewed'.

Likewise with 'paddy wagon.'
posted by ericb at 12:18 PM on October 20, 2011


The first three seem roughly the same to me. How do you see the meanings as changing? In all three, they are a slang word for female anatomy used as a term of disparagement.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:19 PM on October 20, 2011


In Canada, Paki is a slur for Indian/Pakistani people. It's not as offensive as e.g. the N-word but you would never say it unless you were Indian/Pakistani yourself. Or a racist.

If you said "Packie store" here people would think you were talking about the stereotypical Indian guy at the convenience store, and would think you were an asshole.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:21 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The first three seem roughly the same to me. How do you see the meanings as changing? In all three, they are a slang word for female anatomy used as a term of disparagement.

I think the meanings in each are much more nuanced than that. For example, the first I think would have a twinge of sexism not so present in the second, and the third I think would be fairly innocuous and sort of jaunty. I see the meanings in each context as forming a sort of Venn diagram.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:27 PM on October 20, 2011


That doesn't seem to me that the meaning of the word has changed, just the degree to which we tolerate it. And I think you'll find in each circumstance, tolerance is highly dependent on the people involved.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:28 PM on October 20, 2011


Lutoslawski: This argument though, doesn't exactly help Gervais, given that he's pulling a 'stupid' face, calling it a mong face, and providing no further context or joke.
posted by Grimgrin at 12:29 PM on October 20, 2011


(I grew up in New England, mostly, and although "packie" was (perhaps still is) a common term for the convenience store where you bought your beer, mostly we just said "Let's go get more beer.")


That's exactly the point I was trying to make. If I call a friend retarded, who cares, if I call a mentally retarded person retarded, I am obviously being a cruel ignorant fuck, if I use it in a public forum, I am just being insensitive.

Clearly, you understand that words like these are particularly context-sensitive, so I don't quite understand why you'd think that something like "queer" is neutral. It isn't.
posted by rtha at 12:29 PM on October 20, 2011


People get butthurt over the strangest things.
posted by themanwho at 12:36 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lutoslawski: This argument though, doesn't exactly help Gervais, given that he's pulling a 'stupid' face, calling it a mong face, and providing no further context or joke.

Yeah, as I said earlier, while there is truth in what he's saying in an abstract sense, it isn't helping him at all in this particular case. He's just being mean and not funny. I don't really get it.

That doesn't seem to me that the meaning of the word has changed, just the degree to which we tolerate it. And I think you'll find in each circumstance, tolerance is highly dependent on the people involved.

See, I think the meaning has changed. And insofar as, as I argued earlier, the meanings of words lie in how they are used, toleration, or the way in which the receiver of an utterance receives a word, is also a significant part of what meaning we assign to the word. You are right to say that 'tolerance' is highly dependent on the context - but that is because the people involved 'tolerate' the word because it has some slightly different meaning to it/them in that particular context, to those particular people. Not to dive into the idiolect/sociolect debate, but there is a sense in which a word's meaning is comprised of the set of its individual meanings in each of the instances it is used.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:37 PM on October 20, 2011


If there is such a context, it is your obligation as the poster to provide it.

So now a man is telling a woman that she is obliged to justify her use of a word that can be misogynistic.

Tell me, do you walk up to black teenagers on the street and tell them to justify their use of the word nigga to you as well?
posted by Reggie Knoble at 12:37 PM on October 20, 2011


People get butthurt over the strangest things.

And people ask for a little respect over completely unsurprising things.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:37 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


So now a man is telling a woman that she is obliged to justify her use of a word that can be misogynistic.

No, I'm telling you that you failed to communicate your point.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:37 PM on October 20, 2011


People get butthurt over the strangest things.

Look, we at NAAAH* take non-inclusive and offensive language very seriously!

*North American Association of Ass Hats
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:41 PM on October 20, 2011


Well, this clears everything up.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:00 PM on October 20, 2011


There's a lot of people here making - I'm sorry - really disingenuous statements in this thread; does anyone debate the linguistic root of the word spaz coming from spastic? I have seen someone suggest it comes from spasm. If no one debates that etymological link, then what we're talking about is simple understanding of where the word comes from.

It doesn't matter if your childhood experience is that spaz = goofy kid. All that really means is that you are divorced from the root of the word. Believe it or not, I grew up (in Canada) understanding both meanings (goofy and uncoordinated, as well as spastic) simultaneously. I knew that many if not most people meant no harm when they used it, but again, that has zero effect on the actual meaning of the word.

Gypping someone was a fairly common term when I was a kid too. We didn't know it had racist origins or referred to the Roma, but it still did, even though we didn't mean it that way.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:04 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I had a feeling this was going to be my breaking point with this site. Sorry, MeFi, ya lost me.
posted by Cuppatea at 1:15 PM on October 20, 2011


Gypping someone was a fairly common term when I was a kid too. We didn't know it had racist origins or referred to the Roma, but it still did, even though we didn't mean it that way.

Good example, in that it's a clear case (for me) of a term that I had no idea had racist overtones/origins. So I might argue that, when I used it, it didn't. But when I found out, I stopped using it. I didn't claim some common understanding of my countrymen, or that there were no Roma within earshot. It wasn't a big deal. It isn't a big deal. It's just making a conscious choice not to be a dickhead.

Can I (or you) choose differently? Of course. But prepare for noses to get out of joint.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:26 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


People stop using terms like gypped because once you learn the meaning, it's pretty clear it's racist, and nobody wants to be racist. It's also a negative word, a synonym for 'ripped off'.

You'll probably have a more difficult time stopping people from saying 'spaz' because it's not really negative. As people above have pointed out, you say it about yourself with a laugh when you or someone else is acting like a klutz. You have to change the meaning of the word to some archaic definition (on this side of the Atlantic) to make it offensive.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:42 PM on October 20, 2011


save some commas for the rest of us.
No, thank you, gervais is among the one percent in the ideas economy. And he is using shitty logic, and infantile tantrum throwing for some sort of attention gathering campaign ( all the while useful people are making arguments that it is peoplesimply pointing to the paucity of logic in his statements, rather than using their words to ask what his point is... They attack imaginary 'pc police'--show me the word police.

He has power, influence, and a platform.
As a member of the 99%, whose ignorant splutterings, like the rest of the 99%, which in a democratic world, would both be performed in the same venue, may as well be disbursed to the emptiness of the wind. I am not a member of the class of opinion deciders and talking heads, I am among the 99%. I am occupying commas.
posted by infinite intimation at 1:46 PM on October 20, 2011


You have to change the meaning of the word to some archaic definition (on this side of the Atlantic) to make it offensive.

Again with this, but I remember kids in grade school doing the "Timmy's such a spaz, UGGGHHHHHH" *developmentally-handicapped-face* thing. The parental warning came before it, but it was no mystery, and while I'm getting up there in years, it's hardly archaic just because it became a favourite tv buzz word through the 80's. That "ripped off" is negative and this isn't... is pretty much typical argument-torture from the mefi crowd, to whom anything already offensive is intrinsically so and anything not must be the realm of special snowflake thin-skinned professional indignity sufferers. cf: "cunt".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:54 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


stinkycheese: "Gypping someone was a fairly common term when I was a kid too. We didn't know it had racist origins or referred to the Roma, but it still did, even though we didn't mean it that way."

The main difference I can think between "gypped" and "spaz" is that gypped refers to a term that is still in active use. In the U.S., spaz refers to a term that has been significantly depreciated for its original use, like "idiot". It is also why "retarded" is still frowned upon, because the original usage is still active.

And it is a transition thing - I imagine the internet makes it harder for things to just fade away like they used to. It probably took a long time for "idiot" to fade into near harmlessness - disappearing in clumps at a time around the country and being formalized by usage in the one-way mass communication of television. But the internet does not forget and it is multi-directional, so one group can't let "retarded" fade away for themselves - they've got people from all over the world to remind them of the original meaning. "Spaz" is right on the cusp. I don't think the evolution of words that people tend to think about will flow the same way it has in the past.
posted by charred husk at 2:13 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, I'm telling you that you failed to communicate your point.

It wasn't my point, it was Cuppatea's.

And I should not be expected to click on somebody's profile and seek their other posts to know that, in fact, there is a broader context to what they were saying.

She didn't expect anyone to look at her posting history to determine her view on the usage of the C word. Just her gender, for anyone who felt that mattered.

And it isn't really a stretch to guess that maybe there is a broader context to language usage. This thread is pretty much full of examples of just that.

But stopping to think about that gets in the way of axe grindy derails.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 2:23 PM on October 20, 2011


There's a lot of people here making - I'm sorry - really disingenuous statements in this thread; does anyone debate the linguistic root of the word spaz coming from spastic?

I don't think anyone's denying that.... the difference is that in the U.S., people with cerebral palsy aren't called spastics as, apparently, they are (or were until recently) in the UK. Obviously we're all just accumulating personal anecdotes, but I had never heard that word applied officially or as slang to a set of disabled people.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:23 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Each time another term is identified as hurtful and inappropriate, the range of human discourse shrinks further, like one of those balloons that also does the whole shrinking bit. Soon we will all just stare at one another and recite pre-screened platitudes, or mouth the word "pony," as in the distance bookstores burn and the truncheons descend.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:44 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I knew that many if not most people meant no harm when they used it, but again, that has zero effect on the actual meaning of the word.

I'm pretty sure the meanings of words change over time and the way in which the words are used, understood, and intended is a large part of that change.
posted by Hoopo at 2:47 PM on October 20, 2011


I'm pretty sure you're missing the point.
posted by stinkycheese at 2:54 PM on October 20, 2011


Each time another term is identified as hurtful and inappropriate, the range of human discourse shrinks further, like one of those balloons that also does the whole shrinking bit. Soon we will all just stare at one another and recite pre-screened platitudes, or mouth the word "pony," as in the distance bookstores burn and the truncheons descend.

It's rare to see the slippery slope fallacy so perfectly illustrated.
posted by kmz at 2:56 PM on October 20, 2011


Each time another term is identified as hurtful and inappropriate, the range of human discourse shrinks further, like one of those balloons that also does the whole shrinking bit. Soon we will all just stare at one another and recite pre-screened platitudes, or mouth the word "pony," as in the distance bookstores burn and the truncheons descend.

Most of most human discourse consists of more than just terms identified as hurtful and inappropriate. If this seems like a valid argument to you, perhaps you should try to expand your range.
posted by tel3path at 3:04 PM on October 20, 2011


What range. Wtf. Really? You think gervais was drawing forth a great truth that is beyond question, beyond the realm of being acceptable to discuss, and even, yes, 'condemn', personally speaking, as shit? Again, I influence nothing, can anyone show the work on how wwe are killing humanity by attempting a project of inclusivity.

See, I actually agree with broad expressive freedom... But I refuse to align with the shitty arguments that are absolutist and nihilistic, quoting doom, and some atavistic societal downfall.

It is sophistry, I could just as easily point out that if we could talk without gratuitous uses of slurs and words that say, 'you' person with a disability, are not welcome at this table of discussion as actually leading to a deeper, a broader, wider thinking society. That by creating less toxic social environments, we are better able to tap the intellect of all people. It's all future precious, no one is right, until they are. When we return to the baboons, I'll gladly eat my hat.
Or do you think that laying down terminology like that is actually welcoming all people? Should we not have fought the pure racism of the us south? Where does the 'opposition to PC' go, when did it become a grand evil destroying society?
posted by infinite intimation at 3:07 PM on October 20, 2011


Each time another term is identified as hurtful and inappropriate,

I use my brain to come up with other ways to say what I want to say. I've never yet been prevented from fully expressing my feelings, opinions, or ideas because [word or phrase] would be offensive to people I do not intend to offend.
posted by rtha at 3:10 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was kind of banking on the "like one of those balloons that also does the whole shrinking bit," or something intervening, and thought the "as in the distance bookstores burn and truncheons descend" bit might short out the sarcasmeters. But never fear!
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:14 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poe's Law proves itself again. Sorry.
posted by kmz at 3:18 PM on October 20, 2011


In other words, my skin is thick enough thank you very much, and I'm sick of people telling me to hush, or that atavism is my fault, because they want unfettered ability to make a toxic environment. Honestly, people saying that it is 'thin skin' to TALK about injustice, and by the pale shadow of intimation, the possibility of True Justice...
I think it's a sign of pathetically thin skin to be unable to take critique of your shitty sense of humor, and to resort to decrying the downfall of all... And to ominously, yet laconically lament the 'word police', at least worry about a real threat, as in the jazz police.

You wanna be a bigot, go nuts. Here is a medal of freedom. You are bringing about the downfall of society in the process though, soon, we will all be silverbacks, grunting, and only speaking in slurs and antiquated bigotry.
posted by infinite intimation at 3:19 PM on October 20, 2011


I was kind of banking on the "like one of those balloons that also does the whole shrinking bit," or something intervening, and thought the "as in the distance bookstores burn and truncheons descend" bit might short out the sarcasmeters. But never fear!

Well, it would have, except that successfully getting sarcasm across is context-dependent.

Oops, I should have written:

[poe] Well, it would have, except that successfully getting sarcasm across is context-dependent. [/poe]
posted by tel3path at 3:23 PM on October 20, 2011


xetere: "Growing up (70s era New York) spaz meant something more specialized than clumsy, but rather uncoordinated and specifically bad at sports. The kids who couldn't play (American) handball, or baseball were spazzes, if they spilled coffee, not necessarily, but possibly."

My nickname in high school was Spaz. Puke, Spaz, and Frog were the names of the troika of devilish prankitude that was my two best friends and I. I didn't see it as bad as I was neither terribly well coordinated nor athletic. Besides, I learned a long time ago that if you want to take the fangs out of something then embrace it and make it your own. So, I copped to being a geek, a nerd, a dork years before geeks, nerds and dorks became chic.

Call me a hipster though and them's fightin' words.
posted by Samizdata at 3:28 PM on October 20, 2011


kmz: "'Tard is my go-to weapon of choice.

Well bless your heart!
"

It's a good thing you don't say "retard", because every body knows you never go full retard.
posted by Samizdata at 3:35 PM on October 20, 2011


A friend of mine sometimes uses the word "mo-mo" to mean stupid (as in, "Damn, I forgot that bishop was still on the board. I'm such a mo-mo.").
Thanks to this thread, I now know the origin of that word.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:40 PM on October 20, 2011


Each time another term is identified as hurtful and inappropriate, the range of human discourse shrinks further, like one of those balloons that also does the whole shrinking bit. Soon we will all just stare at one another and recite pre-screened platitudes, or mouth the word "pony," as in the distance bookstores burn and the truncheons descend.

I love these two sentences, for their ridiculous slippery-slope fascist imagery hyperbole, and the incorrect assumption that "words deemed hurtful" are not replaced with new words; that our vocabulary is just being insidiously reduced. Bravo.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:56 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


But stopping to think about that gets in the way of axe grindy derails.

Listen, we had a massive blow up a few years back where we lost a lot of members because women felt alienated by casual sexism -- even jokey sexism -- on this site. If somebody is going to toss around the word cunt, and expect us to know that they mean it in a "I'm a woman reclaiming the word, somehow, by using it as an insult the exact way it's always been used, but this is changed, somehow, by the fact that I am a woman hurtling the insult, and the only way you can know that is by clicking through the my profile," then I ask that this be clarified without asking posters to do additional work to find out that, oh, apparently this is intended differently somehow.

If requesting -- and it was a civil request -- that people be sensitive on this site is grinding aces, then I will keep grinding that ax. Because that's what this thread is about -- trying to respect other people's sensitivity when tossing out insults. And cunt, in this circumstance, was certainly meant as an insult.

Also, twat was used in this thread. My comment was not intended at anybody specifically, but just at the usage of these terms.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:05 PM on October 20, 2011


When we return to the baboons, I'll gladly eat my hat.

NO CAUSE BABOONS DON'T WEAR HATS
posted by Hoopo at 4:50 PM on October 20, 2011


Wow, the link to Neil Kennedy's takedown of Gervais on this issue (and other issues, and other comics) is a real gem, worth reading in full and following all the links: Ricky Gervais: Comedy Punching Down. Thanks, Abiezer.
posted by mediareport at 5:11 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Musical Interlude: Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
posted by ovvl at 6:01 PM on October 20, 2011




And I still say people need to toughen the fuck up a bit. You shriek and tut and whine about how offended you are by a word and you give it more power, and the people who'll thank you for that are those who like to use the word to hurt in the first place.


But you know, wouldn't it just be easier to be nice and not hurt people's feelings? Does it really cost me anything not to use those words? My feelings certainly aren't hurt by not using them. Is it really equitable to ask people who - for whatever reason - are already having a hard time, to be "harder", to shoulder another burden? Is a little bit of empathy really that hard to summon up?

I don't want people to "toughen up a bit", I want people to feel comfortable expressing their discomfort - or their hurt, anguish whatever. And if I can make them feel a little bit better about their day, I'm gonna give it a crack because I think it's incumbent on me, as a human being, a citizen, and part of the common weal, to do so. When I'm having a conversation with someone and they say, "Hey, that offends me", I don't say "harden the fuck up, milquetoast", I say, "I'm sorry." - whether I agree or not because it's the right thing to do, and I don't want to be a person that hurts other people, I've done enough of that in my life already.

Shit, man, not using a few words is really not a big deal.

I feel comments like the above are bitter, lonely, and edging into selfish and misanthropic. I'm sure you're "tough" enough not to want it - indeed, it may infuriate you - but you get my sympathies. Whatever made you so callous must have been rough.
posted by smoke at 6:30 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


wouldn't it just be easier to be nice and not hurt people's feelings? --- Do you suppose that basically saying "the words you are using are wrong, and you're a bad person for using them" is exactly the opposite of not wanting to hurt people's feelings? And if not using a few words is not a big deal, then why make such a big deal about someone who does use them?

I mean, I get YOU not wanting to use them. And I even get you making a mental notation about how you feel about people who do use them and acting accordingly. What I have a little trouble with is the part about YOU telling ME not to use them.
posted by crunchland at 7:01 PM on October 20, 2011


And if not using a few words is not a big deal, then why make such a big deal about someone who does use them?

Because they're not the same thing. That's the whole point of my comment, dude. Every time I think "privilege" conversations are overplayed and overdone, comments like this make me rethink my boredom with the term. Let me spell it out:

1. Using an offensive term hurts does not hurt the person using it; it hurts the people it's used against.

2. Not using it doesn't hurt anyone.

No one is telling anybody anything, but if you're gonna throw around offensive comments, be prepared to be called on it, and asked to stop.

Are someone's feelings really more important than your right to call people Mongs/Spazzes/etc? Why are your rights so much more important? There's a worthwhile answer hiding out there.
posted by smoke at 7:21 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do you suppose that basically saying "the words you are using are wrong, and you're a bad person for using them" is exactly the opposite of not wanting to hurt people's feelings?

There is a difference between criticizing somebody for something they do volitionally -- like use language that mocks or denigrates somebody -- and something they have no volition over, such as being disabled.

I don't mind hurting somebody's feelings for something they have control over, like being mean. I think there's a real problem when you hurt somebody for something they have no control over.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:45 PM on October 20, 2011


Further, I'm not actually looking to hurt somebody when I say "Maybe we could have a little more sensitivity when using abusive language." But everything described here, in the context we're using it, is intended to be insulting. The act of hurting somebody, in this case, may be unconscious or unintentional, but it's what the language was intended for.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:48 PM on October 20, 2011


Do you suppose that basically saying "the words you are using are wrong, and you're a bad person for using them" is exactly the opposite of not wanting to hurt people's feelings?

Well yeah, if someone were to archly put it like that in that tone of moral superiority, yes.

Now if the person who said the objectionable word is deliberately being an asshole - like the original subject of this thread probably, then yeah, moral superiority away! Because, well that person *is* a bad person for using them. At least in that instance.

One can say, however, "Dude, you know you probably didn't even realize where mong* comes from, but it is actually making fun of people who have Down's syndrome. You know, it came from Mongoloid and everything, Maybe we ought not to say that."

You see, no tone of moral superiority there, no judgment, just a polite informing the person, who probably never even realized it, that his word actually has offensive origins.

Now people might say, "Oh toughen up and stop being so politically correct, " but consider the phrase "That's so gay." It is my contention that a lot of young people use it not intending it to be a slur and that when they do it has been decoupled. But the gay kid in school, perhaps the kid other kids pick on, when that kid hears it, how is that kid to know whether or not it has been decoupled? If someone says to him, "oh you're so gay," or "that's so gay," maybe it is decoupling, or maybe not. And maybe the bully to fuck with this poor kid's head, says, "Oh come on, I didn't mean it in *that* way!" when the bully most certainly did. So even though I am not really in a group to be on the receiving end of this, I can appreciate how and why people can be so sensitive about this.


* I had never "heard" the term 'mong' until this thread.
posted by xetere at 8:58 PM on October 20, 2011


hey like what terms can i use to hurt people that aren't, you know, hurtful

i need to cause someone pain by insulting them but it's weird because every time i look for an insult to use, it's some kind of insult

who is it okay to hate, what is the exact minimum of human decency and empathy i can get away with
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:45 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Serious hat on, now... where I grew up, a regular sight near my school was a guy with a motorised wheelchair with a large CAUTION SPASTIC sign at head rest level. He wasn't a mook or anything, there were some shops near the school.

Even though most of us would have used the word "spastic" as a put down in the playground, we all knew this poor guy's situation, and we knew the real meaning. I never once saw this guy even close to being teased. Hundreds of kids would walk past him each week. Never really felt the need for a Beavis and Butthead type snigger.

At the improv theatre I work at, a member of the ensemble is in a wheelchair. He often wears shirts that mock his own handicap, for example a cartoon of a gingerbread cookie with broken legs or a shirt that has "CAUTION: NO BRAKES" written on the back, etc.


I know yours was a humorous aside, but I just want to point out that this guy's sign wasn't meant in any kind of HONK IF YOU'RE HORNY! bumper sticker jest. I'm pretty sure it came with the wheelchair.

Electric wheelchairs were an expensive novelty back in dem days. Given the demographic, I wouldn't be surprised if he got his via a community fund raising drive. I can just see someone along the chain of command deciding that a fuck-off big warning sign was necessary.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:46 PM on October 20, 2011


Each time another term is identified as hurtful and inappropriate, the range of human discourse shrinks further, like one of those balloons that also does the whole shrinking bit. Soon we will all just stare at one another and recite pre-screened platitudes, or mouth the word "pony," as in the distance bookstores burn and the truncheons descend.

It's nice that you have such a rich fantasy life.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:57 PM on October 20, 2011


You can always say spaz.
posted by schlichtm at 11:23 PM on October 20, 2011


This may be one of many such situations where, if the speaker KNEW an actual spaz or an actual mong, s/he would have less of an interest in a pseudo-civil-libertarian defense of using these words NO MATTER WHAT AT ANY PRICE. To quote that great sage Bruce "Not a Yid" Springsteen:

But sometimes, when it's your brother,
You look the other way.


Except here, if it's your brother who has Down's or CP, you'll be considerably less inclined to look the other way. Is that such a hard leap of empathy to make? Does it have to be so complex?
posted by skbw at 11:36 PM on October 20, 2011


Listen, we had a massive blow up a few years back where we lost a lot of members because women felt alienated by casual sexism -- even jokey sexism -- on this site.

And now we have apparently lost one at least in part because of your need to jump in and scold people for their word choices without stopping to consider how that word was actually being used.

If requesting -- and it was a civil request -- that people be sensitive on this site is grinding aces, then I will keep grinding that ax. Because that's what this thread is about -- trying to respect other people's sensitivity when tossing out insults. And cunt, in this circumstance, was certainly meant as an insult.

You haven't made any requests in this thread. You just gave everyone a telling off about a particular hobby horse of yours and then presumed to tell a woman how she is obliged to justify her use of a gendered term that only you seem to have taken offence to on this occasion. Talk about mansplaining!

Regardless, if you have a problem with peoples language you are able to flag it, contact a mod or take it to MeTa where those type of discussions belong.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 12:34 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


[Yes, please; further remarks on this issue need to go to Metatalk]
posted by taz at 12:42 AM on October 21, 2011


hey like what terms can i use to hurt people that aren't, you know, hurtful

i need to cause someone pain by insulting them but it's weird because every time i look for an insult to use, it's some kind of insult

who is it okay to hate, what is the exact minimum of human decency and empathy i can get away with


If you want to be a dick, you're can use whatever words you like. Just expect that sometimes people will have issue with it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:12 AM on October 21, 2011


I love these two sentences, for their ridiculous slippery-slope fascist imagery hyperbole, and the incorrect assumption that "words deemed hurtful" are not replaced with new words; that our vocabulary is just being insidiously reduced. Bravo.

* * *

It's nice that you have such a rich fantasy life.

Gotta say, I'm now completely unsure of what reading of my comment motivated these reactions, and whether these comments are intended genuinely or double down on insincerity, but I should err on the side of apparent good manners:

Thanks awfully!
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:14 AM on October 21, 2011


Ricky has apologised, poor lamb. When he was pulling all those faces, he wasn't mocking the disabled at all. He just didn't understand. I'm glad that's all sorted then.
posted by Mellon Udrigle at 12:19 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be fair, it's easy to understand why he didn't realise how offensive the word still is.

After all it's not like the the Downs Syndrome Association wrote to him in May 2010 to explain how offensive the word was and to ask him to stop using it.

Oh.
posted by reynir at 1:49 PM on October 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


You start seeming less like a champion of free speech and a lot more like a bully when you reduce a mother of disabled children to tears no the radio (about 1:45:00)

Robin Ince, a friend of Gervais's, writes about him:

Ricky started using [the word mong] in tweets. Some people picked him up on that declaring it was an offensive word due its history of being used to bully and demean people with Down’s syndrome . Ricky then declared that such people were fools as the dictionary definition of ‘mong’ means idiot, then it really kicked off creating the kind of storm the media love; very little research to be done, many morally forthright opinions to be spouted. I felt Ricky was bullish and cocksure in his position, and as Bertrand Russell warned us, “the idiots are cocksure, the intelligent are full of doubt”. To make it worse, he received some tweets that hoped he got cancer. Sometimes cruel jibes can make you feell you are even more right and that perhaps you have the moral high ground. Then some of his followers decided it was their duty to the illustrious leader to be as uncouth and bullying to anyone who disagreed with his dictionary definition. Richard Herring, a comedian who has spoken out about bullying language in the past, took him to task with a tweet which Ricky then RTed and it all became rather unpleasant for Herring for 48 hours. I hadn’t spoken to Ricky for a few days and frankly, I thought he was being a right arrogant bastard. On Thursday night I was in a dressing room with Richard Herring and Francesca Martinez (who appeared in Extras and has cerebral palsy) and the general feeling was that Hollywood had gone to his head and anyone who disagreed with him was a ‘hater’ who must be crushed.

Nicky Clark, the woman from the radio show, offers two Guardian articles. In the first, she praises Gervais (and Steven Merchant) from creating roles for disabled people on television:

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produce projects which tackle our culture of discrimination and ignorance about difference, and they should receive more credit for highlighting these issues than they do. They projects are imbued with a light touch and a sense of humour which stems from a positive place.

She offers a second asking Gervais to stop using language that is traditionally derogatory to people with disabilities:

Many people are of the opinion that unless the word is directed at someone with a disability, it isn't abuse. This is misguided for two reasons. First, it doesn't appreciate how the word is being used. If a word referencing disability is applied to mean something ugly, foolish, unpleasant or weird, then it is an abusive epithet promoting a stereotype.

Second, reclaiming a word to lessen its power is a right only available to those to whom the abuse is directed. Disabled people can reclaim the word but a non-disabled man using the word in an abusive way will not be reaping the whirlwind of hatred.


Apparently, it was a conversation with Ms. Clark that caused Gervais to reverse his opinion. And I find his apology to be a little short of a full mea culpa, and a little disingenuous, but we don't always get ideal apologies. Besides, the wording of the apology doesn't matter -- without action, the prettiest apology means nothing. If Gervais is more sensitive to how he uses the word, it doesn't matter to me how he apologized. Better behavior is the best apology. It's the only real one.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:37 PM on October 21, 2011


There's such a difference between words used in the first person and words used in the second person or third person.

I think that's why it's weird for a certain generation of Americans to think of spaz as really bad. Because they would say, "I'm such a spaz." Even among those Americans, "I totally gypped him." That was me at least. Even though it had to be pointed out to me that gypped is an ethnic slur, it was still easier to wrap my head around because it was always a third or second person word.

Which is no reason to keep using the word spaz in any way, and I did stop. But I wish people would just in general be more considerate about 2nd and 3rd person words.

(My impression is that cunt in the UK is not really first person word, is it?)
posted by Salamandrous at 8:18 AM on October 23, 2011


> And I still say people need to toughen the fuck up a bit. You shriek and tut and whine about how offended you are by a word and you give it more power, and the people who'll thank you for that are those who like to use the word to hurt in the first place. Well done for handing them a bigger weapon, genius. You show them you don't give a shit about the word and it loses at least some of its attraction.

I'd like to hope, in particular, that any members of racial minorities, gay men, lesbians, transgendered people or women reading MetaFilter will take this message on board. Never complain about harassment, or you will just give the harassers more power. That's especially true if stout, moral people in the harasser's peer group will dismiss any complaint you make as "shrieking, tutting and whining".

Just keep your head down, keep quiet, and if you're lucky it won't get any worse. Eventually, maybe those stout, moral people will even reward you for being so well-behaved by having a friendly word with the people who are harassing you, suggesting that they could turn it down a bit, since you have shown you can take a joke.

That's how women got the vote. That's how segregation ended. That's what jump-started Gay Rights. Just keep quiet and try to impress the people who are abusing you with how good you are at not complaining about it, and eventually they might get bored of harassing you and let you be almost one of the guys.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:42 AM on October 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Harden Up? Something tells me that this position is either not thought through, or disingenuous bluster. I keep reading of your fears, and frequently the fear is of those who actually are 'hardened'. Why is it hip to insinuate that "some people go out of their way to be offended"

Honestly, I wish some of the numerous "Free Speech all the way" advocates would speak up, and defend my (but mostly others') right to speak against abuse, particularly abuse coming from a platform as vast, and wide reaching as Mr. Gervais... numerous times in this very thread, people have accused, and insinuated that, by using MY speech, I am hurting "freedom"... and "perpetuating bigotry", and "trying to stop free thinking"; why do you fall all over yourselves to back up, and defend the rights of Him, who HAS a platform, and money, and a venue, and a place of prominence, and respect in society... a person with an AUDIENCE already... versus (proverbial) me, as I noted, essentially speaking to a void. This isn't about "fighting to protect my ears from hearing a meanie", and yes, like angrycat noted, for disabilities of a physical nature, signs, and equal access absolutely are extremely, even centrally important. I am not choosing to "fight for" one or the other, I speak here, now, but also value, seek, and fight for signage, access, and equality in the arenas of accessibility, as others have noted as being deficient. In the arena of "developmental impairments", "access" can be very much a product of the social environment, so yes, to a person who uses a wheelchair for mobility, a ramp is vital... to a person trying to navigate a world of confusing signs, signals, and messages, a non-toxic, non-judgemental, non-hostile environment can be the "ramp" to being able to access services, and facilitate full, and equal participation in the same regular society that everyone else gets to take part in (like a ramp can mean the difference between a capable person taking or not taking a job, a hostile, violent social environment can be the difference between a hard, terrifying and unfulfilling life, and a life as a full member of a society.

I am emphatically not trying to "silence" him, merely, like a mouse, trying to SQUEAK up a little message to someone who is powerfully hovering above us all in the "getting heard" herd hierarchy, defining his own terms, using his own lexicon, and not only that, but he is publicly defining (and maligning [simply as whining]) people who are trying to speak to him.

Several people have tried to posit a "reclaiming" of the word... no thank you. Just because it worked as a good way to make it "ok" to bring a bunch of other things back into the vernacular doesn't mean it will work best for everything.
Others have suggested he didn't "know"... no thank you (see letter from last year to him; I do like that he apologized, and appreciate it, as any further abusive crap will clearly be done "with eyes wide open").

But most importantly, there were several suggestions that "the targets of his abuse don't actually understand it, or have to face it (one suggested that because someone with downs isn't on MEFI, it's 'all good'; he abused a woman who had oxygen deprivation at birth, and subsequent deep learning disabilities, and great difficulties in society, fitting in, and understanding people, Mr. Gervais abusing her using the same form of abuse... I would politely like to suggest that people matching the singers life emphatically ARE on MEFI), and, goes the narrative, since he isn't using the words directly at or against a person who the bigotry has always (in a contiguous way) been used against, that it is ok."

No; no, just no. Suggestions here that people with such disability wouldn't be "here", so it was also ok ('you' lot repeat his punchlines, and those trickle to the schoolyard, and snickering at the workplace, and sorry, no, this is false, people "get" a lot more than 'you' (one) might think. Yes, you might be able to squeeze off the use of some term of abuse, and not have a target of the abuse catch it... but the pervasive, negative implications, the shift in society, the callous, coldness, and indifference to people who don't have as easy a time as you, or you, and fallout of it absoulutely are recognized.

Kitch, who I worked with in the preparation for his participation in the Swimming event of the Special Olympics might not have "caught" someone slyly, or quietly, being hateful, but I can tell you, with certainty that he knew about bigotry, he had personally experienced it, and he knew that people hurled insults and abuse at him, and though he didn't understand WHY people would be hateful towards him... It HURT him.

Why does the "I don't agree with Neo-Nazis but I will speak up, and defend their rights till my own death" position not include speaking up, and responding to accusations that have been leveled at people taking meek and mild positions like I and other in this thread have taken?

Worse, than no defenders of our speech, we get labeled by those same people who will defend a nazis' right to speak from a platform... as though anyone here was trying (or even had a hope in Atlantis of "stopping" or "shutting down" Mr. Gervais' speech). We must be worse than Nazis'.

There is literally ZERO conceivable way that members of this thread could "silence" Mr. Gervais... even in some twisted reality where he were booted by a corporation who pays him by popular demand... he then gets press and platform to respond to any accusations (as he has had in the wake of this mild situation). Yet HE is paraded around as a "defender", and people simply "not liking his funny", or worse "not finding him funny", get titles like Word Police, and vague insinuations of destroying society altogether (yes, I know that the one was joking, and parodying, but again, Poe's Law, and seriously, indistinguishable from the fundamentalist positions [which have been raised right here] used to attack those even saying a few mild words, like, "It isn't actually funny, and it is spreading, and being copied by everyone who fancies themselves a third rate comic, cut out the bullying please".


So we want people hardened... how much? Enough to be callous and ready to fight to protect their rights and liberties? To kill? Why not? Where is the "hardness" line? Do you believe in welfare? Why or why not? Speaking to you about issues clearly is not convincing, and doesn't raise your sympathy... merely gets mocking and eloquent ire; so, in this new harder society, why should I care about 'your' freedoms, 'your' liberties? If not a social contract, what is the social glue binding 'your' society? It is to be a "hard" society, right?
Ought 'hardened' people be prepared to punch a person in the face for talking shit. Will we change the laws about violence, so we can really get down to settling whose values to appreciate, and whose we shall deprecate?

Do you truly want this? Or just for those who have little voice in our shared society? Those whose voices are already twisted, and mocked, and spoken for. Will you accept having those with the fists, or the stamina, or the size, or the weapons be the ones to rule you?

Or do you want to just keep saying “toughen up WIMP, until someone strikes you, as the bully you are being, then, like a long and grand history of bullies behind you, you can hide behind some authority, like the law, and claim how 'Vile' they are, them uncontrollable brutes... using Brutish Violence (presumably as opposed to the civilized abuse currently being dished out). Or do only people who are "tough", "calm", dispassioned, care-free, worriless, or worried, but coldly calculating; those with proper, and eloquent speech capabilities, who is to get heard in your new society.
And I still say people need to toughen the fuck up a bit. You shriek and tut and whine about how offended you are by a word and you give it more power, and the people who'll thank you for that are those who like to use the word to hurt in the first place.
Beyond how disingenuous, and unrealistic (and pretty much unexamined your line of 'reason' seems to be) this is some serious magical realism thinking, especially for someone who spits on people who express faith values so much. Yes, words have power, but that relates to the platforms from which those words are spoken, saying it “empowers the word” to criticize a person. Really? So you are empowering bigotry too, right? When you talk about it, and defend it? Right? Here, let me just set my Word Empowerment Teleprompter Morpher to Go.
srsly beans/

But I am cold, and let's say that to me this isn't even about something as low as compassion (foolish dogs show compassion for Passions' sake), more like, are you paying attention at all? You always try to suggest that your “western enlightenment” is the ultimate good... that it must be clutched at, guarded zealously from Foreign-exchange. What is it that is of value if not a social contract, protection of those most disadvantage and under attack.

We read that your society has something which others do not... And You frequently FEAR the ones who are hardened... cold, calculating, unequal, by the derivation of power by force; even advocating that combat must be done wantonly and zealously against those who have hardened to the point of using despicable tactics like murder. How do you reconcile this;
Disability hate crimes rose by more than a fifth last year, figures showed today.

Police recorded 1,569 incidents where the victim thought the alleged crime was motivated by their disability in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, compared with just 1,294 in 2009.

But the overall number of hate crimes dropped by 7% from 51,920 to 48,127 in 2010.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said disability hate crimes had been "significantly under-reported in the past".

Chief Constable Stephen Otter, the ACPO lead on equality, diversity and human rights, said officers were committed to "building victims' confidence and improving our recording practices so that more victims can access the service they deserve".

Iqbal Bhana, deputy chairman of the Government's hate crime advisory group, added: "It is good to see progress but there is still a long way to go before we can be satisfied that hate crime victims are properly protected."

The latest figures also showed there were 39,311 race-related hate crimes last year, 4,883 motivated by sexual orientation, 2,007 crimes by religion or faith, and 357 by transgender issues.

Toughen the fuck up? Really? No. Open Your Closed Eyes! We have a culture of violence, and cold indifference being propagated.

It is the Culture of blind repetition, mixed with a culture of violent indifference which worries me, I have seem ostensibly liberal people suggest that people with disabilities 'drain' society especially in "tough economies"... this (besides being utter ignorance) worries me greatly. The first people to suffer will not be those who chide, and tell us all to toughen up, it will be those who are facing this same shit and abuse day in and out. Much as 'rape culture' is not "men=rape", but rather a far subtler, more complex interaction of interpersonal choices. The dissemination of norms and acceptable behavior by those with the power of a platform...

And, just like in that situation about comic makers gathering a roaming pack of, people ready to 'do battle', like a horribly post-ironic legion, unleashed upon innocent people who happened to disagree with the more powerful interlocutor, or worse, just happened to read one of those sites, and to get attacked merely for association with someone who dared to disagree with another Extra. Which, I guess as being mean is the order of day, toughness, I suppose a more critical prowess must be applied.

Again, he has influence, and, most centrally, a platform, definite, definitive power, and that platform, like it or not, comes with responsibilities (legal, social, contractual).

In this thread earlier, I tried being cold and hard, and mostly an ass, I hated it, it sucks, my point didn't get made, I felt worse than when I started, what I was trying to say got lost in snark, and the foam of my own sarcasm, no one listened, and I didn't even want to continue thinking about it; I do not like being hard, Sam I am; I think I will posit a corollary to the "Harden the Fuck Up" theory... Start Growing a Flower Garden!

I have no counter to the "talking about how words have power, and can influence people is actually the source of the power of words to impact and influence people". I actually can't think of any words to say about that theory.
posted by infinite intimation at 5:28 PM on October 23, 2011


Is this what it's come to, "dig it...or don't?" Glad we could sort that one out.

I'd have a lot more solid vote on Gervais' side in all this if he ever made fun of formerly-fat bully-targets.
posted by rhizome at 10:21 PM on November 13, 2011




Forgive me if someone already addressed this- I had to stop reading the comments before I got completely stabby- but all you hypocritical ninnies who are decrying Gervais' for using a word some people might find offensive by calling him a "twat" and a "cunt" need to step back and look at the shit canvas you have made. Or, do people with cerebral palsy count and women don't? I really don't like my genitalia being the new "asshole". Oh, and are we still allowed to say "ninny", or is that offensive to Nine Inch Nails fans?

Sincerely,
Someone with an actual neurological deficit who who has more important things to worry about than what some damn comedian says.
posted by evilcupcakes at 11:29 PM on November 14, 2011


No need to be such a dick about it.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:55 PM on November 15, 2011


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