The s-word

I called a disabled colleague a spaz after hearing he’d spilt coffee over yet another expensive bit of computer kit…. I use the term with irony as someone who was regularly called a “spaz” in the school playground, though I’m visually impaired and not what we once called “a spastic”.

To confuse the issue, a non-disabled colleague had overheard and told me that she found that term offensive and thanked me not to use it in front of her. I was offended that she was offended because I didn’t feel it was her place to be offended… after all, it’s not her word and she wouldn’t have been taunted with it. —Damon RoseThe s-word (BBC News)

Because I regularly teach Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and because this year I’m teaching a collection of Flannery O’Connor short stories, I’ve had plenty of class discussions about racially charged language.

Lately I’ve been spending time in each literature class introducing the concept of disability studies, in part because physical characteristics such as missing limbs or scars are often used by authors as a short of shortcut to characterization.

But hearing that a company recently marketed a wheelchair called the “Spazzo” makes me completely confused. Perhaps I shouldn’t be.

At any rate, this article reminds me that language is power, and that terms used by mainstream society to label subgroups, and terms used by subgroups to refer to themselves are often points of conflict.