the C word 1

I still need to write that entry about the word cripple. It’s not as simple as it seems: the thing is, it’s what I call a reclaimed word – a word once used as a term of offence but is now used sort of as a badge of membership. My friends in the disability community use it, for the most part ironically, to refer to themselves. The thing is, as Ricardio points out in his comments, it’s like the word nigger; it’s used by black people to refer to themselves, but should anyone else use it, it is seen as extremely offensive. It might be more complicated than that, though, because I let some of my non-disabled friends use it to refer to me, and it’s sort of funny. Mind you, it all depends on when and where it’s used, and how it’s meant. In this way, I don’t think it can fully be explained: as with the N word, there are still instances when the word cripple can be highly offensive. Yet I still find it okay to use it to refer to myself. I suppose this is a case where Ferdinand de Sesseur’s observation that, in language, the relationship between sign and signified is arbitrary holds most sharply and takes on a new dimension.

More on this intriguing subject soon.

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