The One Word I Hate Reading

I'm not going to lie - writing this post is going to hurt, because it's really important to me, and I'm actually terrified of getting this message wrong. If I don't quite say what I mean, it won't have the effect it needs to.
But I'm going to write it anyway, because I feel it's my responsibility. To try and get that oh-so-important information across. And it might not have everything to do with books, but it definitely has its place here. The story begins with me telling you I have Cerebral Palsy, usually called CP.

CP is a disability which affects the brain, usually due to a complication at birth. I've had it ever since I was born, and it means that although my brain is trying to tell my muscles what to do, the message doesn't always get across. It's important to remember that CP affects everyone differently, but the worst part of my condition is most definitely the spasms.

I'm not really sure how to explain spasms to people who haven't experienced them, but they're a little bit like cramp - muscles, usually leg ones in my case, clench so hard it hurts. I can't control them, no-one can, but they usually happen when I stand up after sitting down for a while. I'm used to it, so I can get past them, but I feel like I suffer enough just having them.
That's why I hate it when the word spaz turns up in books, TV shows or films. It's often used to describe someone stupid or clumsy, and I think that's unfair. Just because spasms cause our bodies to move in odd ways doesn't mean we don't have control over ourselves, and it also doesn't mean that we're any less smart than anyone else. I hate it even more when the word spastic is used, because it's a vital medical term - the type of CP I have is called Spastic Diplegia - but it's been turned into an insult. I hate it when the stigma of that word makes me wince at the doctor's, because frankly, they're just telling me the truth about my condition.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate any book or show which uses that word on sight. Friends is one of my favourite programmes, despite Rachel calling herself a 'laundry spaz' in one episode. And I understand that authors and scriptwriters aren't trying to insult me or anyone else - I just think we need to share the knowledge that these words aren't okay. Maybe a character needs to be picked up on saying it, or apologise for it. Because the fact is that I've not experienced being called a spaz, but I know a lot of people aren't so lucky, and whenever someone says it near me, it feels like a punch to the stomach, even if they're talking about themselves. What makes me really sad is that some people use it without knowing the implications. That they hurt others without realising it.
So this is what I'd like to say. Authors, editors, agents, bloggers, scriptwriters, screenwriters, actors, directors and anyone else who broadcasts their work to people: you have a powerful weapon at your disposal. You can change our culture for worse or for better.

Please don't endorse the word spaz, or spastic, or - while we're at it - any other discriminatory term in your work. I would be honoured if you used it and then picked up on it, maybe telling a character that's not okay, or even explaining to them what it means, but if you don't want to, don't. Just - please - use your weapon for good.
***
If anyone wants some more information about Cerebral Palsy or disability in general, check out the Scope website. Coincidentally, they used to be called The Spastic Society, but that changed when it became an insult.
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2 comments:

  1. I feel this on such a high level. There are so many disability/mental illness/other illness terms I hate. I hate retard/retarded. I hate schizo. So many others. I especially hate 'diabeetus', because I feel like it just adds to the stigma. Also, I personally think words like 'cripple' and 'invalid' are some of the worst words in the English language. I hate it when people use these terms lightly. It's like calling people 'Grammar Nazis'—I just want to slap people who use those words. Okay, sorry, I like ranting about this.

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    Replies
    1. No! Rant ahead! I completely agree with you! To be honest, this is as good a place to vent as any ... I'm glad this post could be a release for you as well as me, at least to some degree.

      Hang on a second, "diabeetus" is a word? That's horrible. I actually shuddered when I read it. The thing about these words is that it's just generally hard to get people to understand why they're so offensive sometimes, and if they don't understand they'll often think the person calling them out is being precious or overly politically-correct. GRRR!

      Mind you, the look on someone's face when you walk them through it and make them see exactly how hurtful they've been - especially since they often know the word they're using isn't great and thought they'd get away with it - is kind of priceless. Maybe it's bad to get a little bit of joy out of that, but sometimes it's just nice to make the best out of a bad situation.

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