Lottery Post Journal

Political correctness hits a new low

The BBC News posted a story today about the word "spaz".  Apparently there are people out there who now get offended (!) when they hear the word "spaz".

I am here to tell people offended by that word that they themselves are "spazzes".

The word "spaz" means someone who is inept, said in a lighthearted manner.  How some people take the word to be a derogatory, mean-spirited slur is beyond my ability to comprehend.

The BBC even seems to do a full investigation on the word "spaz", as if there is some deep meaning to it.

They even criticize (or should I say, "criticise") Tiger Woods for his self-evaluation that he played like a "spaz".

Spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz, spaz.

(I just wanted to write it a bunch of times to show how ridiculous the whole thing is.)

Here's the story, enjoy!


The s-word

Golfer Tiger Woods has been criticised for saying he played like 'a spaz'. Can using the word ever be right?

Two years ago I was involved in a linguistic incident at work. I called a disabled colleague a spaz after hearing he'd spilt coffee over yet another expensive bit of computer kit.

My colleague laughed it off. It was a friendly bit of banter - spaz in this case meaning I thought he was being a bit of a stereotype like the helpless disabled people you used to see in telethons and charity posters.

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.

Bigger punch

There is a history of minority groups reclaiming words once used against them. Gay people refer to each other as queer or queens. Black people use nigger in a friendly way. It's about humour, irony and taking the sting out of once powerful and hurtful taunts. It ain't what you say, it's the way that you say it.

So what did Tiger Woods mean when he said: "I was so in control from tee to green, the best I've played for years... But as soon as I got on the green I was a spaz."

He was describing a poor performance. A flawed performance. An impaired performance. Many e-mails to the Ouch! website on Tuesday were from people wanting to point out that spaz means something different in America. "It just means idiot," one reader wrote. Idiot with an etymological nod towards spasticity though?

Is the fact that a nation has lost sight of the origins of the word a good or bad thing? Is it harmful or is it genuinely meaningless now?

ADAPT is America's biggest grassroots disability rights organisation. I rang round some of their members and found out that they didn't even know about the Woods story as it wasn't reported as widely over there. But they did have views on the s-word.

"When people say 'you're such a spaz' they're talking about someone with cerebral palsy," says Nancy Salandra from Philadelphia ADAPT. "People use it all the time but they are wrong. It's part of the language now, like retard, but it doesn't make it right."

"I would think that anybody in the disability community would see it as offensive," says Babs Johnson of National ADAPT. "It would be looked upon as someone having a fit or seizure or something like that. Body movements that you're not able to control."

Ugly

Tiger Woods used the word in a live TV interview. An article on Tuesday in online newspaper The Age tracked the reporting of Woods comments and found that spaz was edited out of subsequent news packages. They also say that an LA Times reporter got Tiger to re-word his sentence replacing spaz with wreck so he could report it with no problems.

In the UK, the words spaz and spastic seem to pack a bigger punch. I think we can firmly place the blame at the door of Blue Peter for this.

Never was its potency or currency so big as when the programme featured Joey Deacon in the early 1980s, believing the story of a 60-year-old man with cerebral palsy overcoming the odds would touch the hearts of under-12s.

Oh, how wrong. It unleashed a monster. Spaz, spastic, spacker, joey, spazmo - all became familiar phrases that year and were still being used years later by gurning children in the playground. Spaz became synonymous with useless incompetence - the type you see in disabled people portrayed badly on TV.

Joey even got a mention in a Human League song and on Minder. Not long after, The Spastics Society famously changed its name to Scope. They should have charged Blue Peter for the re-branding expenses.

Humour

Interestingly though, Scope were criticised by many younger disabled people last October after they came out against a new US brand of wheelchair, The Spazz, which started selling in Britain.

They said: "It may be a good chair but we can't accept the name. If it carries on, it won't be long before children are calling each other 'spazzo' in the playground again."

It was felt that Scope didn't appreciate the irony and humour, used empoweringly, by a company trying to associate something positive with a previously negative word.

Though this golfing incident has whipped up some interesting discussions around language, I'm convinced Tiger never meant to use the word offensively.

But has this whole debate just fanned the flames of those who rail against so-called political correctness or has it made people think about how they might subconsciously be putting disabled people down?

4 Comments:

  • Good story Todd. That story reminds me of Bugs Bunny. I learned, some years ago from a friend who told me that originaly Bugs Bunny was supposed to say "What a moron", but they found that too offensive, and decided that Bugs would say "What a maroon" instead.

    Funny.

    By pacattack05, at 1:29 PM

  • Political Correctness = Thought Police

    By konane, at 2:06 PM

  • i miss the good 'ol days when people could actually joke with each other without having to watch every word that comes out of their mouth.too much thought goes into everything these days.people go to a job these days knowing when they go they are going to trap someone into saying something offensive so they can sue that company for money and damages.its like you have to be real careful about every little thing now.what happened to good ol' fashion fun?

    By LOTTOMIKE, at 7:48 PM

  • Good posts by konane and LOTTOMIKE.
    I loved your responses, classic.
    This is one of the reasons I love this LP HERE!!! LOL

    By pacattack05, at 8:44 PM

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