19 responses to “Ableist Word Profile: Cretin”

  1. Anna

    “Mongoloid” is a word that just makes my skin crawl, fwiw.

    Didn’t they use that on Glee this week?

  2. Eli Shrinking

    YES. I am so glad to see this series. Ableism is so deeply ingrained in the English language that even anti-oppressionists might sometimes be surprised to find out a word’s oppressive roots. This is a great example. I’m excited to watch this blog.

  3. Amy

    I’m glad to see this series, as I was just thinking the other day that it would be great to not only have a list of words not to use, but also other words to replace them with.

    I hope this becomes a regular feature.

  4. Shiyiya

    ….are there actually any insulting words that aren’t demeaning to *something*? I mean this question seriously, I keep realizing that all these different words have messed up connotations and I’m running out of things to replace them with. (Still trying, but it’s kind of “ack is there and end or should I be avoiding half of the dictionary”)
    .-= Shiyiya´s last blog ..Wicked Girls =-.

  5. Matthew Smith

    I have the thyroid condition that leads to cretinism (and nearly did so in my case, until it was treated with thyroid supplements from the age of five onwards after it was noticed that I was about half the height of my schoolmates when I started school) and generally I haven’t heard the term used in relation to my condition except twice, once after the biology teacher at my special school told everyone what my condition was called and once recently on my blog by a commenter. I don’t find the term particularly offensive since I don’t really identify with it, unless someone uses it knowingly in reference to my condition, but I never use it because my mother does. Similarly, my aunt hates the term “paranoid” because her husband has had mental illness including paranoia, but it just goes to show that people will freely use these terms until the condition affects them or those close to them.

    The etymology of it also makes it a religiously derogatory term, akin to using “Jew” or whatever to mean stingy or any of the other Jewish stereotypes, regardless of how it acquired its meaning. As a Muslim, I’m well aware that some of us very readily insult others’ religions while being extremely sensitive about our own. Another reason to avoid using it.
    .-= Matthew Smith´s last blog ..The line between compassion and pity =-.

  6. abby jean

    this has struck me too – how many (most? all?) of the words we use to insult are based on comparisons to a marginalized or less powerful group. i’d be very interested to know if that’s common across all languages or especially prominent in english.

  7. Eli Shrinking


    I think that’s a good question. I can’t promise to answer it, but I have a post on my blog around the same question: http://shrinkingphallus.wordpress.com/2009/07/19/thats-stupid-saying-what-we-mean/

  8. belledame222

    Yeah, “mongoloid” is horrible, and yes, they used it on Glee (among others). They used it coming out of the mouth of a horrible character, but that…doesn’t really cover it, especially since the unremitting horribleness of that character is issue-riffic in itself. Anyway.

    I’ve tossed a lot of “crazy” and “stupid” language around a -lot-, I know. Ideally I suspect would be excising the need to diminish people altogether, but, well, I’m thinking I’m not real likely to stop flaming people altogether any time soon, realistically speaking.

    Generally speaking the insults that don’t depend on mocking a group of marginalized people seem to have some derisive/disgust-inducing/absurdist take on a body part (one or more), or something related to it. “toerag,” as someone mentioned. also: “asshat,” “assclown,” “jerkoff,” “dingleberry” (my personal favorite right now), “gobshite,” and so forth. I’ve also used “fuckwit” as a staple. that and “ratfucker.”
    .-= belledame222´s last blog ..Happy National Coming Out Day, y’all. =-.

  9. were_duck

    This post has been added to a link roundup! Thank you.

  10. Shiyiya

    meloukhia, I’m sorry about saying half the dictionary like that, really didn’t intend to be silencing. Just frustrated because I keep trying to fix my vocabulary to not be *-ist and finding new things that are wrong.
    .-= Shiyiya´s last blog ..Lost =-.

  11. EGhead

    Wow, I had no idea that was the real definition of the word. Probably because my definition was all ready way off– I used it as a synonym for creepy. As in, seriously scary creepy like the dude walking down the street behind you. Thanks for putting this up!

  12. Travis

    @EGhead Yeah, I’ve never used the word before, but I had vaguely thought it meant something more like creepy than anything to do with intelligence.

  13. amandaw

    This may be because people saw “unintelligent” people as creepy. (I don’t know the actual history. But, well, it’s not that hard to imagine.)

  14. Lea

    Wow. I really needed to read that. A lot of things are starting to crystalize in my mind. Thanks for writing.

  15. kitrona

    I know I’m way late on this, but I always thought it meant someone who came from Crete! Thanks for the addition to my knowledge. :)

  16. Kaitlyn

    kitrona – those are Cretans. (If you were serious. I couldn’t resist.)

    Crete’s really fascinating – both in ye olde tymes (the minotaur!) and today – I think it was divided in two and some recent book (I think the one about the world without people) talked about how it (or one side) was all resorts, but the wars left the classy hotels abandoned.