Am I wrong here? I am open to hearing that I am, but I am vexed by this situation!

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Posted 11/26/2012 by Shih Tzu Mommy in NSBR Board
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PeaNut 464,263
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Posted: 11/26/2012 11:33:39 AM

it's comparing a person who is clumsy/crazy/awkward with someone who has a disability - no different to calling someone who does something stupid a 'retard' or something you don't like 'gay'.

I totally agree. (CP reference)

If it's not okay to call someone a retard/tard, or gay, whether it's in a hateful way or not, why would it be okay to call some one a spaz?

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PeaNut 9,462
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Posted: 11/26/2012 11:39:49 AM
NZ Pea here and I would certainly have pulled him up on it too, as the term "spastic" refers to cerebral palsy type disabilities here, and using it in any other way is very offensive to me.
I had no idea before reading this thread, that it does not necessarily have the same connotations in America.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 11:43:00 AM
I think you handled it well. I hate hearing people use spaz and retarded and find it offensive.

I think I'd show him all the different opinions here and have a discussion next time he's over!~ He sounds like a good kid.



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Posted: 11/26/2012 11:46:30 AM
I'd say you overreacted, it's not hate speech. I've only heard/used it when referring to someone who is hyper.

I'm also one who believes we need to chill out in general & not be so easily offended. Too often people like to throw out words like, "hate, intolerance, bullying" when that's clearly not what the intent is nor the severity of a situation.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 11:52:29 AM

I also think you overreacted, and would hesitate to correct a child of that age in the manner you did. I don't think you taught him anything except that you are hypersensitive to words for no apparent reason. While people know what a 'retarded' person in the clinical sense is, as well as the connotations of calling someone 'gay', I would be very surprised if a person under a certain age without the kind of professional connections you have would have a clue that people with cerebral palsy were once called 'spastic'.

I think you were unduly harsh in calling it 'hateful language' if you felt you absolutely had to call him out at all. 'Hate' is a ridiculously overused and hyperbolic term in our society these days.

I completely agree with Nightowl on this. Telling a guest in your house that they are using "hateful language" is VERY strong and something I would never do unless I was absolutely certain they were using a word in a hateful manner. Definitely not the way I would have handled it at all.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 12:00:14 PM
I use the word spastic and never ever thought it hateful, or any other version of mean. I am not using it to make fun of anyone with disabilities, at all.

I was called out on it one day and was totally mortified. And to be honest, always wondered from that day forth what else I said that I felt was benign and innocent that this person judged me for and what this individual really thought of me.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 12:19:09 PM
I agree with Lauren

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Posted: 11/26/2012 12:27:37 PM
would not have been a blip on my radar.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 12:35:06 PM
I would have said nothing.

I agree this is YOUR button. I would not put spastic in the same category as the R word. Coming from teenage boys that was very tame in language for senior boys to be talking. I have heard way worse.To me it means A clutz, acting crazy, class clown etc.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 12:35:10 PM
The poor kid probably didn't know the negative connotations to the word or that it can be used derogatorily toward people with disabilities. So yes, you probably overreacted. There is nothing wrong with explaining, in a kind way, your take on the word's usage.

As a teacher, I am constantly talking to kids about language. The younger generation tends to throw around words like "gay," "retarded," "spaz," and "Christ" without thinking about the meaning of the words or how those words will affect others. I don't let kids use "fricking" or other words like it in my class either. They are pretty confused until I tell them that those words are substitutions for other inappropriate words, and as such, they conjure the other words.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:08:03 PM

I've never heard the term used in connection with someone with a disability. So I wouldn't have reacted the way you did. It wouldn't even register to me. The term spaz has always been used to describe someone hyper or overly dramatic in my little world. But maybe it's usage has changed.

Same here.

By the way he reacted, he sounds like a really nice kid.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:15:05 PM
It might have caught my ear, as do idiot, imbecile and moron (once classifications for those with developmental disabilities), but only because I've worked with developmentally disabled adults and have a background in special education.

I do not view it as hate speech.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:17:39 PM
I'd err on the side of caution and choose to not use the words. Someone suggested showing the boys this thread so they can see all the different opinions and I think that's a great idea.

You are probably more sensitive to those words, OP, due to your job. They really are words that can easily be dropped from anyone's language.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:19:47 PM
You overreacted IMO.
I probably would have said something to my son later if it really bothered me, and asked him if this was a common phrase, if my son used it and asked him to refrain from it and why.

Then when they got to be better friends, I'd pull the kid aside one day and *lovingly* tell him that some people find that phrase offensive - the reason why and assure him that you know he probably didn't think anything of it, and you think no less of him.

The next time he came around, I'd probably do that.

Because right now, the kid thinks you're a spaz.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:24:32 PM
Definitely offensive here in the UK and not something I've even heard in that context since the late 70s/early 80s - it was a derogatory term even then (unless used to describe a medical condition).

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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:35:12 PM

Telling a guest in your house that they are using "hateful language" is VERY strong and something I would never do unless I was absolutely certain they were using a word in a hateful manner. Definitely not the way I would have handled it at all.

Just to clarify, I am a 20+ year resident of the South. Hateful is ENTIRELY different than hate filled here. My older son was written up by his 4th grade teacher for using 'hateful' language because he had said it was stupid that the overnight field trip was cancelled. Did not call any person stupid, just used that word and she let us know in no uncertain terms that hateful language was not going to ever be tolerated. And to be fully transparent, I would have heard it quite differently if I were still in CA. So I can see how it would ring harsh on non-Southern ears.

I equate it to 'wicked' in England. I was shocked when our nanny told our son he was a wicked little boy for taking a cookie after he'd been told not to, but meant naughty. And he WAS being naughty, but I was like when wicked was said.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:36:38 PM
It would be an offensive word here too, for all the reasons the UK peas have already listed. I would rank it on the same level as using the word "retard". Just asked my 18yo DD and she knew where the word originated, and that it's not a nice word.


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PeaNut 32,283
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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:38:18 PM
Yeah, I'd say you overreacted.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:42:50 PM
Aussie Pea chiming in to say that I agree with the Poms () who say it is a derogatory term here.

Well it was at least when I was growing up. I think my kids would probably equate it more now to how the US peas use the term.

That being said - I probably wouldn't have said anything either but it is your house and your rules.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:45:43 PM
I think you over reacted.



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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:45:57 PM
Because of your life experience, you find this term offensive and you are not alone. I think it was fair to inform him that his use of the word has the potential to hurt and offend. The origin of "spaz" does lie in a disability. Just because it now also has a casual meaning of hyper or clumsy does not mean there won't be people who are hurt by its usage.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 1:54:12 PM
you overreacted, and the kid graciously apologized for offending you, so I honestly don't understand why you are 'vexed'.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:00:11 PM
Here spaz it short for "spastic". The cerebral palsy centres here used to be called 'spastic centres', so everyone knows what it means. The big no-no here is "Sped" (special ed). As the mother of two special ed kids, I know that it's a huge insult, unless one special ed kid is using it with another, apparantly. Then it's some sort of inside joke. My 17 yo tells me, I earnt the right to use it, because I live it. When he and his mates (also special ed) use it with each other, it's a term of affection, so I don't say anything.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:00:46 PM

I equate it to 'wicked' in England. I was shocked when our nanny told our son he was a wicked little boy for taking a cookie after he'd been told not to, but meant naughty. And he WAS being naughty, but I was like when wicked was said.

Wicked now means 'cool' over here. If I tell you "You're wearing wicked trainers" that means I really like your footwear

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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:12:11 PM
If he was referring to someone with a disability, then, yes, it was appropriate to say something. If it was a general thing, then I would say you overreacted.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:18:03 PM
To me spaz stopped meaning spastic over 25 years ago. It evolved into meaning spinner or dizzy like Lucy. Or Hyper and uncoordinated.

If the teen had walked in and said spastic then I would have reacted.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:20:46 PM
Honestly, when I was a kid, "retard" and "spaz" were synonyms. Spaz was typically accompanied by the pantomime for a spastic movement with the hand/arm. I don't use either one and wouldn't.

I typically don't correct other people's children when it comes to that kind of thing though. They probably learned it from their parents.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:23:26 PM

I had no idea before reading this thread, that it does not necessarily have the same connotations in America.


My school Jazz club had a person who was notoriously uncoordinated so it was renamed the spaz club. That was 87 88?

His nickname was spaz. Very very bright young man. So much fun to be around.

It's all just nonsense anyway!

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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:28:10 PM
I wouldn't have called it 'hateful' but I would have called him on it...but then again, I was...

...born in New Zealand

...went to school in the UK the mother of two special needs children

I see no reason to use disability related slang in any situation. I don't find it acceptable when there are plenty of other words that would be descriptive. Just because some folks can shrug their shoulders and say it OK, doesn't always make it so. For eons, in the South, it was perfectly acceptable to use the 'N' word. It was not done with malice, it was just a descriptive, and if you'd called folks on it, they would have shrugged their shoulders and wondered what you were talking about. It wasn't until enough people stood up and said 'this isn't OK, and we don't like it' that things changed. So I'm OK with calling folks out who use disability related slang too. Just because the boy didn't mean it as derogatory, doesn't make it so.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:31:00 PM
I think you are wrong. I can tell you that my son wouldn't see anything wrong with those words, and that kids that age do not consider them equivalent to "retarded". And quite frankly, neither do I.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:44:30 PM
I take my son to the spasticity clinic every month for treatment. We live in the US, by the way. Spasticity is my son's primary diagnosis -- it's most certainly not a term that is archaic or out of medical usage.

When people use "spaz" or "spastic" as a synonym for stupid, annoying, uncoordinated and clumsy, it is hurtful.

I don't consider it to be hate speech. I do consider the people who use the word that way to be ignorant.

People who persist on using a term that is hurtful even after they are informed (ie. when they are no longer ignorant) are hurtful.

I generally prefer not to associate with thoughtless, hurtful, and ignorant people. I think that the OP showed consideration for her guest in giving him a clue that he was using language that will affect how a good portion of the population reacts to him. Evidently he was not aware. After being made aware, it's his choice if that's how he would like to come across.

I know that Peas historically don't care to be informed when their word choices are offensive, so generally I refrain from engaging in this type of thread, but I continue to find it strange and sad that people are so adamant about their right to use words that are hurtful when the English language has a wealth of word choices that don't denigrate whole groups of people.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:46:58 PM
Ha, I call my own children a spazz as they can get so spun up and hyper I don't mean anything by it, they are just being super silly, spun up, hyper and off the charts in giddiness. Nothing bad meant by it!

I'd say it was an over reaction. But, if it is your family rules -- it can also be respected.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:52:03 PM
I'm Australian and I know what the word 'really' means and where it came from.

But to me it's moved on and I wouldn't hesitate to use it amongst friends. I'm only three years out of high school but in class we'd call each other 'spaz', 'retard' (or just 'tard'), 'gay', all that.

My mum used to make a big deal about 'gay' but not the others. I don't see it nor do I use it as an insult. I'd say 'gay' is now a synonym for 'lame'.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 2:58:00 PM
Using that term would be very 'politically incorrect' in Australia. You would just about silence a room if you used it in a big group of people. Some people may find it inoffensive in the US, but its pretty clear from what it's common use describes, the origins of the word. It's pretty clear it comes from 'spastic'.

Reminds me of a time in primary school when we would throw lollies/sweets in the air for our friends to catch and we would all yell 'dew jump'. I had no idea what the term meant. It was only later I found out it was in fact 'Jew jump', and the whole process was supposedly a joke about the frugality of Jewish people. I was very embarrassed and you can bet I never used the term again.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 3:13:37 PM
My nephew has cerebral palsy. I have and do ask people not to use the word spaz/spastic around me for that reason.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 3:18:11 PM
I am so confused by the double standard here. So spaz is OK, but retard is not? Why? Is it because mental retardation is more special somehow??? You either think both words are offensive or neither.
And it's interesting to see that those who use the word spaz are using the same justifications that those who use retard, and yet the latter would be torn to shreds for this.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 3:24:42 PM
Because I work with people with spinal cord injuries, spasticity is common, but I didn't know that before I started working in this arena. I would have made the correlation that spasms may refer to maybe people with seizures.

At my house I hear teens saying every possible word, and when I 'redirect them,' I say, for example, 'Hey, can you think of another word to use besides 'spaz?' It's really bugging me. It makes me think of someone with a disability." They would say, "Sure, no problem."

It's only different from what you said because I am not lecturing them about how others may feel, except for me.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 3:37:15 PM
I agree with the poster at the top of this page who said there seems to be an "awareness lag" in the use of the "spaz/spastic" word.

And I agree with lovely that there is a double standard here.

To me, it is exactly like the use of retard, which few here would agree is acceptable.

And those who are saying that it would only have been unacceptable to use the word spaz if addressing a disabled person....I totally don't get that. It is actually MORE acceptable to use the word spastic in describing a person with a certain disability. Just as it is MORE acceptable to use the word retarded in describing an actual developmental delay.

What is not acceptable in both cases, is using those words in a pejorative sense to describe what are perceived as negative characteristics in non afflicted persons. And though I don't regard either word to be hate speech, I do think both are nasty and should be curbed.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 4:10:43 PM
Personally, I don't like the word. And I couldn't even tell you the last time it left my lips. BUT, I doubt I would have said anything about it.

The R word being used over & over again in my home would have brought me in to the room to say something, though.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 4:35:13 PM
Growing up (80's) it was a derogatory term used for people who had a physical or cerebral palsy type disability, usually with a mental handicap componant. Back then they had spastic centres so the word spastic was shortened to spaz. As pennyring mentioned, when you called someone spastic or spaz you used hand movements too.

Basically, it's on the same level as retard in the present day. For those that have loved ones with these disabilities, I'm not saying this is how I personally feel or think, just what the term meant and how it was used when I was growing up.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 4:41:06 PM
I wouldn't say you were wrong, as it's your house and if there's something you don't want to hear in your own home you shouldn't have to. That said, I wouldn't have said anything. Spaz is a word I used growing up (often in reference to myself!) and not one I ever associated with a disability. My kids use the word and I don't correct them. To me, it means hyper or clutzy while being hyper. There are words (including retarded) that have meaning outside of a disability, and I don't find them to be necessarily hateful - it all depends on the context.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 4:42:37 PM
My mom has MS and suffers from spasticity, but still uses the word as a substitute for "hyper", so I have never thought of it any differently. We use it as well, with no derogatory connotations. However, if someone felt that it was derogatory then I would refrain around them out of respect.
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Posted: 11/26/2012 4:46:28 PM

I'll probably be in the minority knowing how the peas fly but I would not have said anything about this to the kid. I don't believe saying someone is a spaz is "hate" language.

I agree with this... You totally over reacted there. Do you personally know the kid to which he was referring? Is he really disabled? That's the kind of language kids refer to forgetful goofy kids. I don't see anything wrong with it. Now if the referenced child had issues, then yeah they shouldn't make fun of him.

You're too much in your own circle there.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 4:47:50 PM
It would bother me, but I'm not sure I would have been brave enough to say what you did. Probably not.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 4:53:32 PM
I would have said something, and I would have explained that, working in the field you do, you're well acquainted with people who actually do have disabilities and some of them have physical handicaps. I'd explain what the word he was using actually meant in medical terms/to the world at large, and told him it was inappropriate, - just as using the "r" word casually or "gay" to mean stupid/bad - those words hurt people, even if he wasn't thinking about it that way or meaning to hurt anyone.

Expand his vocabulary. Instead of spaz, try odd, wierd, hyper, intense, touchy, whatever it is you ACTUALLY mean, instead of some "cool" word that means nothing.

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Posted: 11/26/2012 4:54:44 PM
I have no problem with the word spaz.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 4:55:30 PM

At my house I hear teens saying every possible word, and when I 'redirect them,' I say, for example, 'Hey, can you think of another word to use besides 'spaz?' It's really bugging me. It makes me think of someone with a disability." They would say, "Sure, no problem."

That's a perfect way to say it. I'd probably never think of it if I was in that situation though.

I've never thought of it as referring to someone with a disability, and it's not in my vocabulary anyway, but I'll be more aware of the meaning in the future.

My son is special needs, and has kids in his class with spastic movement due to their disabilities. I would never want to use any word that could be construed as derogatory towards them!


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Posted: 11/26/2012 5:10:57 PM
I've never heard the word used in a derogatory way.


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Posted: 11/26/2012 5:23:01 PM
Ouch. As a UK pea that word would be the same as the R one, totally unacceptable.

I remember when I was about 7 and the kids tv show Blue Peter were running sections about a fascinating man who had cerebal palsy called Joey Deacon....lots of kids at school would be calling each other spaz and doing the hand gestures

The wiki article on him is pretty interesting I haven't done a proper link as they always go wrong for me lol

Even the Spastic Society charity changed their name to Scope a few years ago.

Good for you for pulling him up on it and kudos to him for the way he handled it


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Posted: 11/26/2012 5:54:24 PM
Another UK pea here who thinks it is a horrible thing to use a term for a disability to describe someone being clumsy or hyper. I think it is one of those things where, as Oprah would say, once you know better you do better. Many peas here clearly did not know the origin of the word so did not intend to cause offence, but the US peas who have kids with spasticity are unhappy with the use of the term and it clearly is offensive to many.

It reminds me of the time my poor mum used the term tw@t in front of my young children when someone pulled out in front of us in the car. I gave a bit of a gasp, my DH burst out laughing, and I explained to the children that the word Granny just used must never be said by them. When I explained to Mum what the word she thought was a cross between twit and prat, really meant, she was mortified, and truly didn't believe me till she'd looked it up in the dictionary to see for herself!

As for calling the friend out for using the term, I probably would have asked him not to say it, and explained that the term referred to someone with a disability so you didn't like it being used. I would have been nice about it, as it would seem to be in pretty widespread usage in the US and he's one of many who don't understand its background. I'm old enough to remember when people with Downs Syndrome were called Mongols, and that term too was used in my primary school to describe someone who was behaving stupidly. I'm so glad we've moved on a bit.

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