12 responses to “Ableist Word Profile: -wit”

  1. Personal Failure

    Nominal aphasia: not fun. Being made fun of because nouns frequently escape me: infuriating.

    (Note to those not familiar with aphasia: It affects only spoken communication. I can write just fine, and is why I much prefer blogging or emailing to speaking.)

  2. Sophie

    This is all absolutely true, but I think it’s worth mentioning that making fun of people for lack of knowledge is frequently classist, so it’s not necessarily ok either.

  3. Caitlin

    I’ve never used “nitwit” or “halfwit”, though I have to admit I have used “f*ckwit”. “Halfwit” is one of those words that I learnt when I was quite young and I didn’t like it then and still don’t, but I never made the connection between “halfwit” and “f*ckwit”. Thank you.

  4. gudbuytjane

    Thank you for this post. A few years ago I began making a concerted effort at being aware of the history and implications of the language I use, especially when I’m using language to express frustration or dissatisfaction with someone (cursing without marginalizing might seem like an odd thing to think about, but I curse a lot!). I was shocked to discover so many of the words I grew up using without a second thought turned out to be from eugenics and IQ scales.

    I have never used -wit words, but I am glad they’re on my radar now.

  5. Kezmoo

    Not really adding anything substantial, but I’d like to suggest an alternative origin for the phrase ‘nitwit’…

    Here in the UK, ‘Nits’ are a term for head lice. Given that those suffering from lice are generally characterised as dirty, poor, and “too stupid to get rid of them” ( I quote a friend of mine here), I think it’s possible that this phrase has a double insult attached – one being that the person has the intelligence of a louse (or ‘bugs in the brain” as a relative puts it), and the other being that the person is also dirty and ‘infested’.

    Neither being a particularly nice thing to say.

  6. Cee

    “problems expressing themselves”

    My child when in school would cry and say “I know it in my brain but I can’t get it out of my mouth or on to the paper” and I know that feeling……

  7. Kowalski

    “…and since being witty is usually associated with being “clever,” there are actually some ableist overtones to this sense of the word as well, like the idea that you need to be “clever” to be funny, and that some types of humour are more valuable than others.”

    You sure? I’ve always loved the quick witted denizens of the Algonquin Round Table -especially Dorothy Parker- and I’m the complete opposite, extremely slow witted for the reasons you explained in your post (I’m autistic and have trouble speaking and it takes me much longer to process language, getting jokes, and sarcasm, etc.)
    I’m not the least bit ashamed of that, (and why should I?) and I can still appreciate people for being quick witted.
    And speaking of slow-witted, it’s possible that I’ve missed the point. (Please correct me if I didn’t get it.)
    .-= Kowalski´s last blog ..NaNoWriMo: Harold and Maude =-.

  8. almandite

    I really don’t mean to be difficult. (And, as of today, this is the only other addition to the Ableist Word Profile where I’ve found myself frowning and muttering “that doesn’t add up”. The others make a lot of sense, and I hope you do one of “fool” soon!) I found the analysis fascinating, but I reached a different conclusion. Mainly, I don’t see any evidence that –wit was used to refer primarily to someone with a disability. It is an insult having to do with thought and knowledge, and there are implications of inferiority and expressions of frustration, but I don’t see that this word has been used to oppress and discriminate against whole populations, as is claimed.

    It does, clearly, imply that people who reach the same conclusion as the speaker are superior. But that’s not intrinsically ableist. It can absolutely be used to refer to people with disabilities, but so can any insult. Does that make the word intrinsically ableist?

    Literal meaning, I find, is of little help here. Words are not constrained to their dictionary definitions. You do a great job of looking at how the word is used and how society thinks about intelligence–the last being very definitely ableist! And so I can see how the word could be used in an ableist manner. But…

    Well here, let me see if I can say it this way.

    ““Nitwit” appeared around the 1920s, and appears to have Yiddish origins, with “nit” meaning “nothing,” so a “nitwit” is literally someone who is deemed lacking in intelligence or thought processing abilities.”

    It can certainly be used to say just that. But I think that if we look at the word’s actual usage, we’ll find that it refers to a nondisabled person who has certain mental facilities available but doesn’t use them. Someone who can add, but is careless or hurried and writes down 2 + 2 = 5. Someone who is acting thoughtless or stupid. And I think that’s a crucial difference.

    I don’t buy that just because a word has to do with intelligence, it is ableist. Because I find the same condition that you reference–people confounding different concepts with this idea of “intelligence”, and not actually referring to any disability.

    So that’s my defense of the insult. Which is a weird thing to do.

    BUT. I wanted to say “hear, hear!” a few times as I was reading this and the comments, so I figure now is a good time?

    Mainly, I too hate jokes where someone’s lack of intelligence–not problem solving skills, not knowledge, but intelligence, whatever that is–is the butt of the joke. That’s ableist. Society’s attitudes about intelligence in general? Are ableist. Insulting someone because you consider them less intelligent? Is ableist. Absolutely. I question whether or not the words one uses in these situations are intrinsically ableist, but I have no such quibbles about the context itself. Which makes living in this society rather difficult.

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