Monday, October 24, 2011

Sticks and Stones

Almost everyone has heard the phrase "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"  - and almost everyone knows that it is a complete lie. Words can make wounds that take far longer to heal than the physical. 

For every difference, there is particular terminology that is considered "politically correct". There are phrases which society deems "appropriate" and other phrases that are less appropriate. Some of these phrases, it seems as though everyone is aware of (very few people use the "n" word for African American these days without knowing how offensive it is), others are moderately well known (most people would not call a child with Down syndrome "retarded", but many people still freely use the word "retard" and "retarded" to mean foolish, not realising that doing so is just as offensive), and there are some which are even less well known than this. 

The term "midget" is offensive to many people with dwarfism - many "LPs" (little people) and "POLPs" (parents of little people) get VERY upset when they hear this word used, even if it's in the context of a child sports league. Yet it seems as though very few people outside of the "dwarfism circle" are aware of this. I only learned that the word was offensive through contact with other people with dwarfism, and it wasn't until Bernard mentioned to me that he when I was pregnant with Maddy that he wasn't sure how to explain that Maddy had dwarfism to his colleague and he told me that he'd said "She'll be a midget" that I told him that the word was offensive.

Because I know that the word is offensive, I do not use it personally - (and neither does Bernard). But  in spite of this, I am very aware that very few people in society are aware that the term is offensive - so I try not to be offended by people using the word. If someone asked me "Is your daughter a midget?", I would reply "She has dwarfism - that is the preferred term", without being offended at their innocent usage of a word they were unaware could offend. However if we were walking and people started yelling out "MIDGET!!" at Maddy, I'd be very offended! I would be just as offended if they were yelling "DWARF!!" though, since it is the manner in which it is said which is most offensive. 

Sometimes I see people who seem to be always so offended by others, and I don't think that being so sensitive would be doing any favours at all to Maddy. Maddy is going to attract attention wherever she goes. She is going to have stares, questions, comments... some ignorant, some unwelcomed, some hurtful - and she will need to learn to deal with them. I remember reading Matt Roloff's biography and in it, he came home crying from school because some kids had called him "short", of all things. His dad responded something along the lines of, "But honestly, Matt - you ARE short. It's just a fact".

When it comes to the term "midget", when I hear it used, I do mention "are you aware that the term "midget" is considered offensive?" At the same time, I ask myself "was the word used in an offensive way?". If the answer is "no", I try not to get offended by it because I don't want to teach Maddy to be offended at things that people say innocently or in ignorance. (It's funny though, because one of the "preferred terms" for dwarfism is "Little People" - which I personally find very condescending, particularly when used for adults. I personally prefer using the terms "dwarfism" or "short statured".)

So I guess what I'm asking my friends, relatives and other readers - please be aware that the term "midget" is offensive to many people with dwarfism. And I'm not asking a one-sided thing here - I will try not to be offended by anything said or asked in ignorance, and I will try to teach my children the same.


  1. I think that it is very important to think about how the term is being used! I never gave a second thought about the term "midget" until Maddy was born. Now, I cringe when I hear someone use the term. Maddy will benefit GREATLY from learning to differentiate between ignorance and cruelty. Maddy is going to be one amazing person =)

  2. Hi Nicole, I agree wholeheartedly. Back in July I heard an Australian tv show use the term midget twice in what I thought was a condescending way. I actually emailed them to let them know some people find the use of the term offensive. All I heard back was crickets... Cheers, Prudie