An Etymological Conundrum

Has anyone else ever wondered why “cripple” is a horrible thing to call someone, but “invalid” isn’t? Perhaps I should look up the etymology of cripple…. Thank goodness for Wordnik (if you haven’t tried it, you should!) – apparently it comes from the Old English crypel. Thanks…that clears it right up. Obviously, that is much more objectively offensive than being referred to as “lacking force, weight, or cogency.” I’m not advocating that we start calling people names that will offend them simply because I disagree with the way in which the language has evolved. In fact, it seems better not to call people names of any sort at all. I don’t want to be labeled based on a physical characteristic, and I don’t imagine anyone else does either. But. If we’re determined to be politically correct about everything, couldn’t we demonize a word that already has negative connotations? Or better yet, let’s not demonize words. What did they ever do to you anyway?


4 thoughts on “An Etymological Conundrum

  1. Val P. says:

    Actually, “invalid” normally refers to either a temporary or terminal condition. “Cripple” normally refers to an ongoing condition unlikely to change any time soon. Calling someone who is missing a leg a cripple means he is less capable of doing day to day tasks on a permanent basis. That may or may not be true, but polity tells us that we should count on it not being true, and therefore not use the word cripple as a descriptor. Someone with a bad case of flu, on the other hand, can certainly be called an invalid – the disease has basically made them incapable of doing their normal daily tasks. Similarly with many end of life conditions, the person in question is no longer able to do the things that make them independent.
    While agree with your premise on not demonizing words, in this case I think you chose the wrong pair. Cripple is still quite a good word when referring to a car with a broken shock absorber or to someone with a sprained ankle who is most likely not used to his changed condition and so may be coping poorly with it.

    • lydiatisdale says:

      My point was that I get why one would be bad, but it’s not; and that I don’t get why the other should be, but it is…not that two are interchangeable. Also…I was, seemingly unsuccessfully, trying for sarcastic whimsy… šŸ™‚

      • And I was trying to explain that neither one was bad. They just need to be applied to the appropriate subjects. Sometimes I get sarcasm. Sometimes it flies over my head, I’m afraid.

      • lydiatisdale says:

        I understand…and am too often sarcastic. And I think that what I like about words is the very ambiguity we’re exploring – that place between denotation and connotation that allows for both deeper communication and complete miscommunication!

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