Disablist Language

4/29/2009 12:14:00 pm BenefitScroungingScum 15 Comments

I'm pretty relaxed about the language surrounding disability, feeling that whatever words people choose to describe themselves are to be respected. Even so, every so often I come across the use of a word in a context that appalls me.

Today's example is in a piece written by Paul Sagar over at Liberal Conspiracy. I think it's that which makes it so offensive. Liberal Conspiracy is a blog with an ethos of promoting equality for women, for homosexuals, for black people, brown people and one suspects even green people from the planet Zog.

So to read an article on such a platform which casually refers to 'brain drain mongers' both sickens and disappoints me. Some groups really are more equal than others, even amongst self describing liberals. The worst of it being, it's so ubiquitous that I'll wager Paul Sagar didn't realise he was being offensive and oppressive.


Anonymous said...


Paul Sagar here

I certainly did not realise I was being offensive and oppressive!

please explain...

Anonymous said...


That's a typo

it's supposed ot read moungers

as in fish moungers

i'll have this changed!!!

Hi Paul, Does the offensive language part make sense now? I was somewhat surprised when I saw you were the author! lol
I think it's fishmonger and ironmonger though, so perhaps it should be BrainDrainmongers?

Paul: I understand and accept you had no intention of using anti disability language, however many of the commenters on the article prove the point that language about disability is simply not considered as offensive as language about other minority groups.
All those other minority groups were once discriminated against in a widely accepted fashion. We've reached a point in history where people understand that is unacceptable. We're a very long way from reaching that understanding about disability.

Sarah said...

The original sentence didn't read well. I had to read it several times before I realised that he meant '...monger' as in one who peddles something.
I think it was the space between the words that threw me.

Anonymous said...

It's regrettable that it says more about those readers that found the word offensive than anything else. Within the context of the piece, the fact that you didn't read the word to mean "a purveyor of" is astounding. This is up there with suggesting that ordering a black coffee is offensive. I absolutely have, and will continue to argue that people should be considerate of others, and avoid using terminology that others find offensive, even where they personally do not. But please, don't spend so much energy seeking out, naming and shaming abusers, when the result appears to be wilful misinterpretation in the name of fighting for what is otherwise a worthwhile cause.

My hold on grammar has always been somewhat shaky, but seeing as no one else has mentioned it, would hyphenating it not have solved the problem? "Brain-Drain-mongers"

Sarah: Exactly, it was the space between the words which caused me to interpret it that way too.

Anon: As discussed above with Paul who is the author of the article, had it been written as brain-drain-mongers or brain drainmongers it would never have occurred to me that it was anything other than the intended context. It was the space between the words implied to me that it was 'monger' in a different context. It certainly wasn't wilful misinterpretation.
The wider point I'm trying to make is that this kind of language can be a major problem. I don't offend easily and as I said at the start of the post I'm in favour of whatever language people choose to describe themselves.
I read this as being similar to the Obama quip about the special olympics. Obama made a mistake, he was trying to be self deprecating, I don't think he was trying to say anything negative about the disabled community in any way. But, as a member of a historically oppressed minority himself I believe that the impact of his quip will have been that he realised how much negative and oppressive language there is about disability in day to day life and that it's an unintentional form of discrimination. Historically the expression 'nigger in the woodpile' was in common use and considered by many (white people) not to be offensive or derogatory. For my generation that seems shocking in a way that much of the language used about disability will feel to future generations.

Anonymous said...

Followed the link from the original Liberal Conspiracy article, because I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Having read what you have written here, and I have come to the conclusion that you are non-the wiser (sic). Having only glanced through the original blog, I knew instantly what it meant, and only after re-reading did I realise what you were going on about. It is obvious he intended the word to mean its traditional dictionary definition meaning of a seller of a particular item or someone who is trying to promote a discreditable idea (eg, warmonger) - google a definition of it, and those are the only definitions that appear (at least in the three I bothered to look at). Would you have preferred 'peddlers', or would you have found this as offensive to bicyclists?

Words have often have more than one meaning, and you as the reader only choosing to acknowledge one of those is unfair to the writer and to the language. Would you find the word 'niggardly' offensive, or talking of an 'ass'?

You deliberately looked for an offensive meaning, which leads me to question either your motives or your own prejudices.

You then claimed it was a mistype that confused you - the space or lack of a hyphen. I am sorry, but this is clearly disingenuous of you. The phrase 'brain drainmongers' looks clumsy and ugly, and I think more difficult to read, and 'brain-drain-mongers' almost as bad, especially as brain drain isn't hyphenated itself.

These kinds of attacks on people who would otherwise support your agenda is very much a case of shooting yourself in the foot and gives political correctness a bad name - and that amongst people who consider themselves to be supporters of pc.

Well, this got a lot longer than I intended, I do apologise!

Anonymous said...

This post more spastic than ten giant cretinous retarded niggers buttfucking each other

Working Class Hero said...

I had no idea the word you found offensive had a meaning other than that which Anonymous has detailed. Certainly, a shortened form of it was a term of abuse when I was young (the Cretaceous Period), derived from a then- extremely common alternative title for Down's Syndrome. I think this may be a simple idiomatic misunderstanding.

Oh, by the way: thank you for this blog. It often addresses matters that few others do, in an articulate manner that I would struggle to match. I have also found it a source of comfort to see someone with the strength to fight in a war that I feel ill-equipped to join.

Working Class Hero said...

I was referring to Anonymous 2:01pm, not Anonymous 2:20pm, obviously.

Dave the Dog said...

Anonymous 2:01. I have to assume from your comment that you either have no idea what it feels like to be the subject of inappropriate language personally or have no relatives or friends in the same situation.
As hinted at by WCH the way it looked could easily be mistaken. Having had several relatives with Downs etc. I well remember the term Monger, Mong, etc being used, and not that long ago. To accuse BG of 'deliberately looking for an offensive meaning' is crass to say the least.
I am not 'PC' by any means, but I do have an incling of how to be polite and fair.

Anonymous said...


Funniest post ever.

One wonders if you also object to the term "niggardly," for similarly misguided reasons.

Vulpine said...


I'm disabled *and* I can recognise & interpret context, too!

You should try it.

Vulpine: In that case I assume you cannot, ever, ever have made a mistake or misinterpreted anything?

Anon 1133am: Glad you are so well amused.

Dave the dog: Thank you. I'm amazed how many people commenting on this choose to attack me for making a mistake rather than seeing the wider point being made.

Working Class Hero: Thanks. It was a mistake, easy enough to make at the best of times, easier still when taking sedating opiate pain relief. Not that that's any excuse, I misinterpreted it, simple as that and have no issue with saying so. What's so incredibly depressing is how many people want to attack me for that rather than see that misinterpretation aside they are proving the point I was trying to make. Thanks anyway, I'm certainly not feeling strong or happy about tackling these issues atm

Anon 2:20pm Thanks for your contribution!

Anon 2:01pm Haven't you ever made a mistake, or misread something? It must be nice to be so perfect and always right. I'm not though, I do make mistakes, on a frequent basis. That's ok, happily there is no law saying people can't make mistakes.
It was a genuine misinterpretation, unlike you I don't believe the phrase was originally clear, I'm not the only person to have misread it, though misread it I did.
My original intention was to point out the way language can be oppressive or discriminatory, I didn't suggest any words be banned,or laws made, simply that I was personally disappointed and offended. What is so awful about that?