When referring to someone for whom it is difficult or impossible to walk or move without some kind of external aid like crutches or a wheelchair, sensitivity is called for. The words cripple
are no longer considered appropriate. Although these terms have been in use since before the year 950, since the mid-1900s they have become increasingly uncommon and are now regarded as insulting. Since the late 20th century, the terms handicapped
and the handicapped,
once thought to be acceptable alternatives, have also become somewhat offensive. (Handicapped
remains acceptable, however, in certain set phrases like handicapped parking.
) Attempts to replace crippled
with the milder euphemistic term physically challenged
were sidetracked by a virtual explosion of satirical imitations like economically challenged
(poor), ethically challenged
(immoral), and vertically challenged
(short). The currently acceptable terms are disabled
and, when referring to groups, the phrase people with disabilities,
or somewhat less commonly, the disabled.
These terms are not only less likely to offend, they are more useful. While cripple
traditionally denoted permanent impairments of one or more limbs, disabled
is a broader, more comprehensive word that can refer to many different kinds of physical or mental impairments, whether temporary or permanent. cripple
are not deemed offensive when referring to an inanimate object or an animal. And cripple
can be used freely as a verb, especially metaphorically, as in Failing to upgrade the computer system will cripple our business.
See also retarded