18 responses to “Ableist Word Profile: Hysterical”

  1. Matthew Smith

    Are we going to have a profile on the word retard or its derivatives soon?

    While I’m on that subject, perhaps the issue of ableism among those with disabilities might come up, as in people with one sort of disability using derogatory language about those with another? I recently saw a blog badge which said “RAP: Retards Attempting Poetry”, and that was on the MySpace of a guy with muscular dystrophy married to a quadriplegic woman! I guess neither of these conditions is anything like as socially stigmatised as mental impairment or, indeed, some other physical disabilities such as CP, but this guy either thought he had a right to use it as a disabled person himself, or thought as much as an able-bodied person about using it as an insult.

    Also, what about the ethics of using ableist terms in marketing, such as naming a wheelchair Spazz? I’m not sure if the people behind that product have any disability or not, but it’s a lightweight manual chair and it crossed my mind that many of those who’d use it would be paraplegics or low-level quads rather than anyone with cerebral palsy, and maybe someone knows otherwise, but I’ve never heard of words relating to spinal cord injuries being used as playground insults because there’s nothing to mock about people with SCIs – they don’t walk or talk funny but just look like anyone else, only sitting down.

  2. meloukhia

    Yup, “retarded/retard/etc” are in the queue of Ableist Language Profiles to be done, we’re just a bit backed up at the moment.

  3. Elizabeth Kissling

    I don’t see a “trackback” option here, so just letting you know that I’ve just linked this very smart analysis at re:Cycling.
    .-= Elizabeth Kissling´s last blog ..Of the womb: That’s hysterical =-.

  4. Lauren

    Interesting. As far as I know, the “positive” connotations, as in “hysterically funny” don’t exist in German, or are extremely uncommon.

    In German, it always describes a loss of emotional control, which is seen as typically a womans problem. And we have the same history of “hystria” as a medical diagnosis of women who are emotianal to a “socially acceptable” degree. Very ableist and sexist.

  5. Felicity

    Thanks for this post. I find I usually have to explain to people why that word is offensive, and now I can just link them here!

    I also find myself using and hearing ‘hysterical’ in the gender-neutral humor sense without a qualm. And I seem to be the most attuned to the denigratory, hateful use of ‘hysterical’ of anyone I know.

    I’ll probably be linking back soon, because I recently watched an old episode of Star Trek that exemplifies the use of ‘hysterical’ to wrap femaleness and mental illness up in a ball together and throw them on the rhetorical trash-heap.
    .-= Felicity´s last blog ..Random thought: zombies =-.

  6. Tera

    Have I mentioned how much I’m enjoying this series? Oh, wait. Yes I have :)

    If “duh” isn’t already slated for an Ableist Word Profile, it would be a good candidate.

    Also–completely tangential, but:

    “’I was hoping Zombieland would be as hysterical as Shaun of the Dead but it totally wasn’t.’”

    Ah, dang it all. I was hoping that, too. (Woody Harrelson vs. zombies…should be a recipe for hilarity right there).

    Ah, darnit!.
    .-= Tera´s last blog ..New blog of awesomeness =-.

  7. geek anachronism

    I was once told (by a very proper, very old, very ‘masculine’) psychologist that I am histrionic. With father issues. He then went on to explain, since my poor little brain obviously couldn’t know, that histrionic is the new word for hysterical. I asked him what part of my brain he though my womb had become attached to. He then said I had anger issues. I started to cry and left.
    .-= geek anachronism´s last blog ..day 123 =-.

  8. Chally

    What a nasty experience, geek anachronism. I’m sorry that happened to you.

  9. ModernWizard

    I appreciate this series on Ableist Words. I am glad that others are propagating thoughtful and inclusive use of language. I can’t wait for the entry on “retarded.”

    Tera, can you elaborate on why “duh” is ableist? I have never thought of it as ableist, so clearly I’m missing something!
    .-= ModernWizard´s last blog ..7.1: “Inheritance” =-.

  10. were_duck

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

  11. Matthew Smith

    Well, I do know that it’s a commonly cited excuse to slap someone’s face. I remember when I was at school and got slapped in the face repeatedly by the thug of a deputy head because I was supposedly ‘hysterical’, i.e. because I was angry with him. And no, I don’t have a womb.

  12. Tera

    Hi, ModernWizard,

    can you elaborate on why “duh” is ableist?

    Sure can :) As the American Heritage Dictionary says, duh is “imitative of an utterance attributed to slow-witted people.”
    .-= Tera´s last blog ..New blog of awesomeness =-.

  13. Sarah

    Thanks to all of you for starting this blog. I’ve been really enjoying it the past few days, and look forward to reading more, both of the ableist word profiles and other posts. I particularly appreciate this excellent dissection of “hysterical,” given how often I–an autistic woman with various mental issues–have been called that and treated as such. It really is such an insidious way to discount someone’s feelings and ideas.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Blog Rec: Feminism & Disability =-.

  14. Arwyn

    I think the only thing missing from this analysis (which is great, by the way) is acknowledgment that “womanhood” and “having a uterus” are largely overlapping but not exactly the same states of being. That is, it’s cissexist, appearing to ignore the men with uteruses and the women without.

    I’m not sure how much or whether it would change the analysis, but I wanted to point that out.
    .-= Arwyn´s last blog ..Why I say I’m OK =-.

  15. Holly Grigg-Spall

    I recently wrote a post on the connected topic of the historical association between femininity and sickness:


    Thanks for your blog!


  16. zapparina

    Firstly, I love this series, it is amazing and helpful.
    Secondly, thank you for this entry, this is a “criticism” that has been levelled at me repeatedly throughout my life, pretty much any time I get upset/angry.
    Just because I get upset doesn’t mean I’m “hysterical” and just because I’m female doesn’t mean my emotions are not valid.
    I was sexually harassed on the bus the other day by a bully who wanted to take up more than her fair share of the seat. When I confronted her and told her what she did was not ok, and was actually sexual assault she called me “psycho” (another ableist term), and when I got upset he, and others on the bus called me hysterical and proceeded to laugh at me.
    This still boggles my mind and is yet another example of how the majority will let people suffer rather than a) get involved, or b) challenge their own thinking as to what “normal” or “acceptable” is.
    Apparently it is acceptable for someone to sexually harass a stranger on a bus, but not for that person to get upset.
    I also wonder if it would have been different if my harasser was not a female?

    So thank you.