Why a charity changed its name


The euphemism treadmill can be brutal. Or, rather, what it tells us about humans isn’t pretty.

History is littered with formerly neutral (or even chosen for positive connotations, like ‘special’ vs. ‘differentiated’) terms that have absorbed the cruel contempt that whoever being talked about were subject to, and had to be abandoned for a new set of terms.

I can’t think of a single term we’ve yet found that carries such intrinsic virtue that it can’t be said in just the right tone to suggest what you really think of the group using it.

Give it maybe 10 years, 15 if the charity is fairly obscure, and "Haha, what a scope!’ will be understood in any schoolyard.


Meatballs had a character named Spaz in 1979. I’m going to assume it was used in a derogatory way before that.

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“Scoper” is a playground insult. As was “Rem” in my neck of the woods thanks to a charity named Remploy. We even had a school football team named The Remploy Rejects.


In the…fine institution… of local middle schoolers the existence of ‘Special education’ programs took about 45 seconds to lead to the coinage of ‘SPED Monkey’ as a term for anybody not capable of concealing their enrollment in these courses.

And, of course, ‘Retard’ was also a neutral technical term in its day, an exciting advance when ‘cretins’, also a neutral technical term, were a distinct flavor of patient, unlike ‘mongoloids’ (ditto) and the less well understood general category of developmentally retarded cases.

Of those, ‘mongoloid’ has the distinction of being the only one I’ve ever known to have been dropped largely because of the objections of somebody unrelated to the condition or advocacy for it (shockingly enough, Mongolia has a history of objecting to the term ‘mongoloid’ and would show up to register their displeasure at any international ‘hey, let’s standardize some diagnostic criteria!’ events).

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So. . . “Spastics Society” is available for a new band name then?

Ahem, I think you mean the ongoing effort of non-victimizing language?

I think “idiot”, “moron” and “imbecile” were also technical medical terms, although their insulting use may have come first.

“Idiot” originally meant a private person (the adjective still has that meaning in Greece when used to refer to property or organisations), then someone who chose not to take part in politics, then an unskilled or uneducated person. “Moron” simply means “foolish”, and “imbecile” means “feeble”.

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In the mid-60’s, when I was in early high school. the nickname for one of the other guys in my PE class was “Joe Spaz”, due to his lack of coordination. (I don’t know if it was an actual medical condition, or if he was just one of those guys growing into an adult body too quickly to be able to use it well.) He was always the next-to-last guy to be picked for any team effort.

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They were used as psychological categories by Goddard, but dictionaries give the word “idiot” in English since before 1300 and “imbecile” since before 1600, so it is safe to say they were never neutral terms.

An interesting one is “cretin”, which is usually thought to trace its origin from a French form of “Christian” - so starting as a compliment, then as a reminder of one’s humanity or need of charity, until settling as an insult.

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Agree with you on ‘scoper’ although ‘remmer’ was an insult long before Remploy - referring to ‘remedial’ classes.

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I think that cretin is an ex-medical term referring to the physically and developmentally stunted.

I should have read the article I posted, as the ‘Christian’ etymology you described is given there, although I still find the justification rather forced. the explanation linking it to ‘cretine’ - alluvial deposits, makes more sense - particularly as iodine levels in the soil are linked to the prevalence of the condition.

Mental illness was scary and misunderstood by the populace at large back then. Spaz, tard and flid were popular derogatory terms at my school.

I always wondered if it was because people with these conditions (cerebral palsy, learning difficulties and Thalidomide Syndrome reapectively) were always hidden away and educated in special facilities and so ‘normal kids’ could never identify with a real person behind the disability.

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I think it’s pretty common for people to find such conditions disquieting now. Anything that interferes with the complexities of communication and understanding will make people feel uneasy.

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Perhaps because the term ‘mongoloid’ is intimately connected with long-since discredited theories of racial superiority(that it somehow out-lived). Anyone who thought that the mongols were developmentally inferior knows nothing of history.

Funny how many areas of science are only one crackpot interpretation away from the Nazis. It’s like the Kevin Bacon game, but with genocide.

Couldn’t they have renamed themselves “The Cerebral Palsy Association” or something? Here in the U.S. I haven’t been aware of any significant derogatory meaning having been attached to those words, even though it’s been the standard term for as long as I can remember.

Perhaps someday in the future we can just simply classify people as Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas or Epsilons…



It’s getting to be a crowded field:

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Check your connotation privilege.

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