This 'spastic' debacle (redux)

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This 'spastic' debacle (redux)

Post by Jack Cade » Tue Nov 30, 2010 8:01 pm

I got involved in a heated discussion about this on the Seibertron forums about this. I didn't mean it to get heated, but a fairly simple and (to me) obvious point seemed to go right over their heads, and I got pretty fed up with spending the whole conversation at cross purposes.

So let's take it as read that 'spastic' is much less potent as a derogatory term in the US, roughly equivalent to 'clumsy'. That doesn't make its use as a derogatory term harmless, does it? You're still using a word that relates to a particular group of people in a derogatory way. You're still pushing the idea that to be 'spastic' is something negative - klutzy or foolish. Just because everyone thinks it's an 'every day' word doesn't mean it doesn't effectively marginalise.

So why do some people have such a hard time grasping this? Why, whenever I tried to point this out, do I get 'CULTURAL DIFFERENCES' bawled back at me? Is it because the Seibertron forums are full of twats, or am I missing something here?
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Post by bumblemusprime » Tue Nov 30, 2010 8:24 pm

Fwhoa! I was just asked to change the use of the phrase "spastic" in a column--asked in a very nice way, pointing out that some people took it offensively. The woman asking me to do so lives in North Carolina, so if the South don't like it, it is not to be liked.

"Spaz" is a pretty common term in the US and typically calls up images of Taz, the Looney-Tunes Tasmanian devil, rather than cerebral palsy. I can see the problem, though. But I dunno. Even when you've called someone out in a relatively harmless, polite way, some people flip out. Alternately, sometimes people will call me out in a way that makes me feel like they've used my arsehole as a c*nt because they are so thoroughly determined that SPRUNK MUST FEEL LIKE SH*T WHENEVER HE SAYS SH*T. Which we all do.

So, I guess I'm saying... word?
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Post by Obfleur » Tue Nov 30, 2010 8:25 pm

I personally believe that words can have two (and more) different meanings.
If I was gay, "spastic", or whatever, I would not take offense if one of my friends said "That's so gay" or "You spastic ****", 'cause I know that they are cool people and they don't mean it like "You are acting like a homosexual/spastic man or woman, and therefor you are a piece of ****".
And if some person were to use the word "gay" as in "You are homosexual = a piece of ****" I would ignore it, 'cause who gives a **** what an asshole thinks?
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Re: This 'spastic' debacle (redux)

Post by Hot Shot » Tue Nov 30, 2010 8:44 pm

Jack Cade wrote: Is it because the Seibertron forums are full of twats, or am I missing something here?
The former. Maybe both.

I'm going to throw out a few "Cultural Differences" arguments. You've probably already been over these, but whatever.


The fact is "Spastic" is not a well known derogatory term over here, and from my understanding, isn't in most places. Spastic was never going to be released in the UK anyway, so no harm done. The only people who were ever going to know were Transformers fans and easily enraged people.

Should we stop using the word "wiener" because some classy folks turned that into another word for penis?

All the rage over this seems hypocritical to me. Slag and Slapper are dirty words in the UK as well, but I've never heard any outrage over those names.
Merriam Webster's Dictionary wrote:1spas·tic adj \ˈspas-tik\
Definition of SPASTIC
1a : of, relating to, characterized by, or affected with or as if with spasm <a spastic patient> b : characterized by hypertonic muscles <spastic cerebral palsy>
2: spasmodic 2 <a spastic influx of data>
— spas·ti·cal·ly\-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb
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Post by Jack Cade » Tue Nov 30, 2010 9:04 pm

Hot Shot wrote:The fact is "Spastic" is not a well known derogatory term over here, and from my understanding, isn't in most places. Spastic was never going to be released in the UK anyway, so no harm done. The only people who were ever going to know were Transformers fans and easily enraged people.

Should we stop using the word "wiener" because some classy folks turned that into another word for penis?

All the rage over this seems hypocritical to me. Slag and Slapper are dirty words in the UK as well, but I've never heard any outrage over those names.
The difference is that 'weiner', 'slag' and 'slapper' are all slang words. 'Spastic' is a proper technical term that many people may feel applies to them, like 'epileptic' or 'American'. So using it as a derogatory word is adding a negative charge to a facet of some people's identity.

Think of it this way: it would be bizarre to say, "Hey, don't use 'slapper' in that derogatory way. I happen to be a slapper and I don't take kindly to it being used as some kind of put-down."

The problem isn't enraging people. It's creating a cultural norm where people who are, properly speaking, spastic are associated with clumsiness and stupidity.

Imagine if we started using 'American' to mean 'a bit slow on the uptake' and people around the world went round saying stuff like: "Wow, I came in last. I'm pretty American at this game", "This guy is so smart he makes the rest of us look American", "My son's falling behind at school - to be honest, he's kind of American" , "I've already explained this, like, five times! What are you, American?"

You see, it seems to me that if that were the case, Americans might feel, rightly, pretty fed up with it.
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Post by Shanti418 » Tue Nov 30, 2010 9:41 pm

So the argument you're making is that once a group of people claim a word as an identity, it should then be fenced off from the rest of the world in terms of meaning?

I mean, I see what you're saying, I just don't think we can draw a moralistic line through the argument. I think fag is a derogatory term for gay men, but I'm certainly not going to cause a ruckus is someone wants to talk about a cigarette or a bundle of sticks. I wouldn't say, "Man, that guy really Jewed me," and if someone said that around me, I would object, but I personally still say, "Hey, can I bum a lighter?," showing disrespect towards the homeless population.

The only success the English language has faced in areas like this is when it comes to racial epithets. Otherwise, it's just too malleable and chock full of double meanings. In sum: We can't even agree on bitch or fag, so with no disrespect to people with disabilities (of course, a camp would say even that word is loaded), "spastic" is a bit down on the to do list.
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Post by Kaylee » Tue Nov 30, 2010 9:56 pm

I think the 'sticks and stones' line of thought is flawed, words can carry a huge amount of meaning and hurt. I despise the term gay used in a derogatory way: I remember how it started in schools in the early 90s and it meant homosexual. Anything equated to homosexual was bad.

However my landing point is one of understanding between speaker and listener. If the listener is happy with a term and the speaker happy to use it then it is acceptable.

When applied to publishing this means using your noodle, being empathetic and trying to see the other guy's point of view.

No real point in there, just my 0.02 pence.

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Post by Jack Cade » Tue Nov 30, 2010 10:09 pm

Shanti418 wrote:So the argument you're making is that once a group of people claim a word as an identity, it should then be fenced off from the rest of the world in terms of meaning?

I mean, I see what you're saying, I just don't think we can draw a moralistic line through the argument. I think fag is a derogatory term for gay men, but I'm certainly not going to cause a ruckus is someone wants to talk about a cigarette or a bundle of sticks.
I don't go that far. First of all, the word shouldn't be 'fenced off' merely because it refers to anything else on the planet, like a cigarette. The important thing is that it is used in a derogatory way. If Americans used 'spastic' to mean a spanner or hamburger, I wouldn't have gone down this line of argument.

But the point is that using a word to mean 'clumsy' isn't using it in that neutral way. It's using it as an admonishment - also in a way that is also blatantly related to stereotypes about people who are spastic.

Secondly, the technical definition came first. If a group had come along and said, "Right, we're going to use this word that means 'clumsy' to define ourselves", that's rather different.

Thirdly, I don't say 'fenced off' at all, but rather, we need to have extra awareness of the impact of using the word in that way.
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Post by Yaya » Wed Dec 01, 2010 12:55 am

Jack Cade wrote: But the point is that using a word to mean 'clumsy' isn't using it in that neutral way.
I'm pretty sure "spaz" here in the U.S. doesn't refer to a clumsy person but to a person who is always anxious and worried, always focusing on their anxiety.

At least, that's what I thought it meant.
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Re: This 'spastic' debacle (redux)

Post by Warcry » Wed Dec 01, 2010 4:10 am

Jack Cade wrote:You're still using a word that relates to a particular group of people in a derogatory way.
I think this is where the wires get crossed a bit. Very, very few people on this side of the Atlantic consider 'spastic' a word that relates to a particular group of people at all. The original meaning is practically obsolete, and has been for decades.

Originally, 'hysteria' meant that a woman's uterus is wandering through her body strangling her -- something extremely patronizing and distasteful. Likewise, people with a thyroid problem should get up in arms whenever the word 'cretin' is used as an insult, and (IIRC) 'dunce' should get the Scottish riled up. None of those words are really all that offensive now though, because none of them mean the same things as they used to.

'Spastic' is in a funny position because the definition has drifted on one side of the Atlantic but remained fixed on the other. When someone over here calls someone else a "spaz", they're not saying "you've got Cerebral Palsy, LOL". Since the technical term has fallen so completely out of use the only meaning the word has for us anymore is "generic mild insult".

Since 'spastic' still has a clinical meaning in the UK, the context is different to the point where you're almost talking about two entirely different words.

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Post by Hot Shot » Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:44 am

Jack Cade wrote:The difference is that 'weiner', 'slag' and 'slapper' are all slang words. 'Spastic' is a proper technical term that many people may feel applies to them, like 'epileptic' or 'American'. So using it as a derogatory word is adding a negative charge to a facet of some people's identity.
But it doesn't generally carry that negative charge where it was planned for release. A similar hypothetical incident would be American parents becoming enraged over Takara's Kiss Players line, or if Takara named a car-bot Honkey. Most of the parties enraged would've never seen the toy outside of imports.


As for the word itself, I believe this is "our" general understanding of it:
1a : of, relating to, characterized by, or affected with or as if with spasm
If we look at the word "spasm":
: an involuntary and abnormal muscular contraction
2: a sudden violent and temporary effort, emotion, or sensation

In short, our definition(and probably Hasbro's) is to be jittery, twitchy, and by assumption, nervous. As Yaya mentioned, a "Spaz".
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Post by Obfleur » Wed Dec 01, 2010 8:19 am

What about words like penis ("You cock!") and vagina ("You lousy ****!")?
And idiot?

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Re: This 'spastic' debacle (redux)

Post by inflatable dalek » Wed Dec 01, 2010 8:54 am

Hot Shot wrote: All the rage over this seems hypocritical to me. Slag and Slapper are dirty words in the UK as well, but I've never heard any outrage over those names.
Though every single instance of "Slag" in dialogue was cut out of Beast Wars by ITV back in the day. Though oddly not by Five a few years later, but what would you expect from the home of the late night erotic thriller? :)
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Post by Metal Vendetta » Wed Dec 01, 2010 9:01 am

I particularly love the way playground insults keep pace with the times...when the Spastics Society changed their name to Scope in order to avoid the negative connotations of the word, kids started caling each other "Scopers" instead. I remember when Newman & Baddiel did a piece about the "school spanner" - so named because they wanted to avoid the word "spazmo" - spanner became a popular playground insult too.

I think there's an element of cultural differences in there though - for example most Septics wouldn't shy away from using the word "Paki" to describle someone from Pakistan (I think Jay from Jay and Silent Bob describes someone as a "wacky Paki" in the comics), indeed some Pakistanis use it to describe themselves, but that doesn't mean it's not on the BBC's list of words that will get you fired if you say them on the air - I'm sure Spidey knows more about that than I do.
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Post by bumblemusprime » Wed Dec 01, 2010 1:46 pm

Obfleur wrote:What about words like penis ("You cock!") and vagina ("You lousy ****!")?
And idiot?

The list could go on forever.
My penis is offended by this post.
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Post by Jack Cade » Wed Dec 01, 2010 6:58 pm

Warcry wrote:I think this is where the wires get crossed a bit. Very, very few people on this side of the Atlantic consider 'spastic' a word that relates to a particular group of people at all. The original meaning is practically obsolete, and has been for decades.
The NYTimes website still lists several variations of 'spastic [something]' as alternative names for cerebral palsy. So is it really obsolete, or is it just that most Americans have limited medical knowledge and don't know the connotations of what they're saying?

Point being: if the people who suffer from cerebral palsy, or some other serious motor function problem, recognise 'spastic' as relating in some way to them, the problem doesn't go away just because the wider population doesn't realise it.
Warcry wrote:Originally, 'hysteria' meant that a woman's uterus is wandering through her body strangling her -- something extremely patronizing and distasteful. Likewise, people with a thyroid problem should get up in arms whenever the word 'cretin' is used as an insult, and (IIRC) 'dunce' should get the Scottish riled up. None of those words are really all that offensive now though, because none of them mean the same things as they used to.
I agree that the technical meaning still needs to be in professional use, not consigned to the dustbin, but that would seem to be the case with 'spastic':

http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides ... rview.html

Under 'alternative names'.
Hot Shot wrote:But it doesn't generally carry that negative charge where it was planned for release.
Let's forget about Britain, and the fact that here 'spastic' is a stronger insult and a derogatory word that is widely understood to refer to people with cerebral palsy.

For this purpose, I want to concentrate on the US, and I think it comes down to these questions:

1) Is the word still a 'negative' word in America? ie. if someone told you the way you did something was 'spastic', would you take that as a criticism?

2) Is the word still used by medical professionals to refer to certain conditions, and thereby understood by people with these conditions to be related to them?

3) If the answers to 1) and 2) are 'yes', then how do you escape the consequence that people who suffer these conditions grow up with the impression that something they cannot change about themselves is regarded by society as incorrect/mockable?

I understand what you guys are saying about it relating to spasms and jitteriness, but is it also the case that is never used to admonish people? You don't call each other 'spastic' as a substitute for, say, 'oaf' or 'buffoon'? You don't describe something as 'spastic' when it's basically gone rather wrong? Tiger Woods' use of the word seems to suggest that this colloquial usage is still in existence.
Obfleur wrote:What about words like penis ("You cock!") and vagina ("You lousy ****!")?
And idiot?
No one understands themselves to be, technically/medically/properly speaking, a cock, **** or an idiot. So these are just generic insults. Not the same kettle of fish.
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Post by Optimus Prime Rib » Wed Dec 01, 2010 11:10 pm

This is a thread about not offending people based on a word that has different meanings and connotations depending on where you are located.

It is extremely amusing to me that the people who go out of their way to be as offensive as possible to anyone even remotely religious are the ones who are crying "youre beng insensitive", while the ones who are forced to defend their religious doctrines are saying "it does not mean the same thing here and it wont be released there. How is this a problem?"


Bottom line, were all a bunch of twats right about now.

I chose to use twats because it is offensive in every part of the world, except snarls brain.

odd.. apparently its not offensive to our swearing filter. This was not planned yet I am amused.
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Post by Jack Cade » Wed Dec 01, 2010 11:51 pm

Optimus Prime Rib wrote:This is a thread about not offending people ...
No. There's a very important distinction I'm drawing here. This isn't about words that are taboo and make people go, "Oo! How rude!" and stalk off in a fluster.

This is a thread about how casual use of a word deemed to be harmless or playful can function as an alienating force on a fraction of society too small and sidelined for most people to properly consider. That's much more important, in my opinion, than simple cussing and slang.

'Spastic' may be a taboo word in Britain, but I'd suggest that we still use words like 'schizo' and 'mental' in the same very casual, but possibly harmful way. Expressions like "Stop going mental at me!" are arguably part of an ingrained and systemic alienation of people with psychological problems.

Don't fall for the tabloid line and think that all discussion about appropriate language is tied up with whether or not people are 'offended' or not. In many ways, I don't really give a crap if anyone's 'offended'; I'm only worried about whether they're being marginalised or persecuted.
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Post by bumblemusprime » Wed Dec 01, 2010 11:55 pm

Karl wrote:I think the 'sticks and stones' line of thought is flawed, words can carry a huge amount of meaning and hurt. I despise the term gay used in a derogatory way: I remember how it started in schools in the early 90s and it meant homosexual. Anything equated to homosexual was bad.

However my landing point is one of understanding between speaker and listener. If the listener is happy with a term and the speaker happy to use it then it is acceptable.

When applied to publishing this means using your noodle, being empathetic and trying to see the other guy's point of view.

No real point in there, just my 0.02 pence.
I remember that. "Gaaaaay!" My dad would always come back with, "Would you say 'that's so blaaaaack?'" We would get all huffy because he was completely right and we were stupid f*cking pre-teenagers.
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Post by Optimus Prime Rib » Thu Dec 02, 2010 12:13 am

Taking a stand for those who can take a stand for themselves comes across as a pedantic and almost patronizing gesture.

It almost feels like Lancelot vowing to avenge Patsy
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Post by Jack Cade » Thu Dec 02, 2010 1:02 am

Optimus Prime Rib wrote:Taking a stand for those who can take a stand for themselves comes across as a pedantic and almost patronizing gesture.
Um... really?? So it's every man for himself?

I dunno - it seems to me that trying to stick up for people more vulnerable than you is near enough a duty for those of us who're in the most socially advantaged groups (ie. white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied).

Also, look how difficult it is for even someone like me - a member of said dominant group, educated, pushy, in friendly territory - to convince you and others of the case for avoiding the use of a particular word. Imagine how much harder it is for someone in a more marginalised group to try and make the point. I'm not saying that disabled people are too bashful to kick up a stink - but any minority group taking on a majority group is at a disadvantage. They do need conscientious people within that majority group to take a stand alongside them.
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Post by Hot Shot » Thu Dec 02, 2010 1:08 am

Jack Cade wrote:1) Is the word still a 'negative' word in America? ie. if someone told you the way you did something was 'spastic', would you take that as a criticism?

2) Is the word still used by medical professionals to refer to certain conditions, and thereby understood by people with these conditions to be related to them?

3) If the answers to 1) and 2) are 'yes', then how do you escape the consequence that people who suffer these conditions grow up with the impression that something they cannot change about themselves is regarded by society as incorrect/mockable?
1) I've never been called that, but I don't think I'd be offended. Mildly annoyed, maybe, but I'd forget about it fairly quickly.

2) I wouldn't know.
I understand what you guys are saying about it relating to spasms and jitteriness, but is it also the case that is never used to admonish people? You don't call each other 'spastic' as a substitute for, say, 'oaf' or 'buffoon'? You don't describe something as 'spastic' when it's basically gone rather wrong?
No and I've never heard it used that way. What is used that way is the word "retard".
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Post by saysadie » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:32 am

They should do up a "Squaw" transformers figure. It could come in a two-pack with Spastic, and be a Toys R Us special in the US (since at that point, no-one else will carry it).
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Post by Optimus Prime Rib » Thu Dec 02, 2010 4:59 am

Jack Cade wrote:
Optimus Prime Rib wrote:Taking a stand for those who can take a stand for themselves comes across as a pedantic and almost patronizing gesture.
Um... really?? So it's every man for himself?

I dunno - it seems to me that trying to stick up for people more vulnerable than you is near enough a duty for those of us who're in the most socially advantaged groups (ie. white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied).

Also, look how difficult it is for even someone like me - a member of said dominant group, educated, pushy, in friendly territory - to convince you and others of the case for avoiding the use of a particular word. Imagine how much harder it is for someone in a more marginalised group to try and make the point. I'm not saying that disabled people are too bashful to kick up a stink - but any minority group taking on a majority group is at a disadvantage. They do need conscientious people within that majority group to take a stand alongside them.
In a way, it is every man for himself.
It is aggravating that people feel the need to rush to the aid of those who can speak for themselves. I actually felt the need to call a friend of the family who has cerebral palsy and ask him how he felt about this issue. Then I asked him how he felt that this has turned into a useless debate while "able bodied" people talk about how helpless he is and we should feel bad for him.

He replied with "tell those who feel the need to feel sorry for me to help me out of my wheelchair and kiss my doctorate earning ass. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but its not like I really needed them anyway." Bless you Roy... never cease to make me laugh uncomfortably.

Socially advantageous because I am white and male? That does not apply anymore. "White guilt" is rapidly disappearing in the US. The ethnic dynamic is changing, and I personally will be happy when the human race just starts spitting out gray babies. But thats another issue all together.

Back to the issue at hand: It has become our nature to coddle those who dont necessarily need it in a selfish need to make ourselves feel better. You know what most people with some kind of handicap want? Its not "name sensitivity", it is simply treat them like a regular human being. That means the occasional taunt or name calling.

But the original problem was that a transformer is being called Spastic in the US where this is not a derogatory term. It is NOT being released in the UK where it IS.

why has this created multiple threads?
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Post by Warcry » Thu Dec 02, 2010 5:34 am

Jack Cade wrote:The NYTimes website still lists several variations of 'spastic [something]' as alternative names for cerebral palsy. So is it really obsolete, or is it just that most Americans have limited medical knowledge and don't know the connotations of what they're saying?
I fail to see a distinction, to be honest. If enough people use the word without knowing what it's 'meant' to mean, that's the very definition of the old usage being obsolete. Languages aren't static and the meaning of words change over time precisely because of people who ignorantly change/extend/what have you the meaning of words. Saying "oh, they're just ignorant" doesn't really change anything when that very ignorance is the reason why the meaning of the word changed in the US/Canada in the first place.
Jack Cade wrote:I dunno - it seems to me that trying to stick up for people more vulnerable than you is near enough a duty for those of us who're in the most socially advantaged groups (ie. white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied).
I know your heart is in the right place when you say that, but it comes off as a tad patronizing. Right now, you're trying to stick up for people who aren't offended (disabled folk in the US/Canada) and thus don't need sticking up for, even when people who have a lot more experience with North American language and North American disabled folk are telling you that there's really no issue here to get worked up over. Being a straight, middle-class white guy doesn't give you a license to callously offend minorities, true. But it also doesn't give you the right to decide for them when they should be offended.

And honestly, when it comes right down to it...shouldn't we all be happy that there's one less thing in the world for people to get upset over? :)

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Post by Kaylee » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:19 pm

As a minor aside: I don't and have never bought the line of reasoning 'language is defined by usage'.

Language isn't defined by usage. It is defined by an agreed set of rules for exchange of information. Using a word in a new way does not redefine the word unless the new definition is accepted by the vast majority of people, i e it becomes an agreed rule for the exchange of information.

Hence why the meaning of a word in a context can be ambiguous and might cause harm. Particularly when the word is used by some in a way different to its original, but still valid, meaning. Again, speaking in generic terms.

So I return to my point about offense being a condition of interaction between speaker/writer and listener/reader.

For example it is acceptable in some groups of black men to call each other by the n-word. It is acceptable in some groups of homosexual men to call each other queen.

That does not mean that I, as a small white guy, would be able to call a black man whom I don't know very well by the n-word, regardless of my intention. Similarly somebody I don't know calling me a queen is likely to upset me, regardless of their intention. Somebody with a physical or mental disability may or may not take offence to a particular term in a particular context.

Hence the issue is a miscommunication of intent between people who don't know each other very well.

When applied to the written word this would imply to me that you either attempt to build a raport with your readers to the point they will accept things which otherwise might be hurtful , because they understand the context and the intent, or you do your research and avoid it.

Hasbro would probably fall into the second camp, in which case the easiest thing to do is to issue a short, sweet press statement clarifying their intention and resolving the potential miscommunication, regardless of whether the product is never launched in the UK or that the majority of Americans think 'spastic' is not a hurtful word.

Again, my tuppence haypenny.

Most of my intent and understanding here comes from my experience in IT. Most of the problems in business (probably the world) come down to an inability of human beings to accurately and clearly understand others and make themselves understood. Communication is the root of so many problems.

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Re: This 'spastic' debacle (redux)

Post by Brendocon » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:29 pm

Hot Shot wrote: All the rage over this seems hypocritical to me. Slag and Slapper are dirty words in the UK as well, but I've never heard any outrage over those names.
That's because Slag and Slapper aren't dirty words. They're mild insults that you'll commonly hear thrown about on television pre-watershed.

Spastic in the UK is generally on about a par with Nigger in the States. Saying that we weren't bothered about Slag is like saying you can call somebody a c*nt on tv because you've already let the word bastard through.

Irrespective, though - wouldn't be surprised if Hasbro did this intentionally (with no intent of releasing it in the UK) just to stir up some press interest in another godawful repaint of another godawful toy.

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Re: This 'spastic' debacle (redux)

Post by Metal Vendetta » Thu Dec 02, 2010 5:17 pm

Brendocon wrote:Spastic in the UK is generally on about a par with Nigger in the States.
You really can't be serious.
I would have waited a ******* eternity for this!!!!
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Post by Brendocon » Thu Dec 02, 2010 5:25 pm

I'm never serious.

And don't call me really.

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Post by Metal Vendetta » Thu Dec 02, 2010 5:35 pm

Oh thank **** for that, I thought you were actually suggesting that there was some sort of parity between the two words for a second there.

Of course, being as loose-tongued as Zaphod Beeblebrox I say both anyway, but I think there should definitely be some sort of standards here.
I would have waited a ******* eternity for this!!!!
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