Back when I was a wee little child, nearly all of the federal, state, and private charity organizations which provided services to kids like me had the word "Handicapped" in their title.
And then, at some point (and I can't remember exactly when
this happened -- mid-'70s or '80s, perhaps?), there was a cultural paradigm shift, and "Handicapped" became a word to avoid at all costs, because it was offensive and derogatory. The idea sprang up, and became widely accepted, that the word "handicapped" had its origins in crippled people sitting on the corner, 'cap in hand,' begging for their livelihood.
Well, around that time, there was a debate about whether The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA)
should change its name to The North American Riding for the Disabled Association
. If I recall correctly, it was someone on the board of the NARHA-affliated riding school I went to who remembered that I was a wordy sort of person, and that I could write, who asked me to look into it and write up an editorial-type piece for the school's therapeutic riding newsletter.
So I did. I don't remember my sources, exactly (This was before
Google, or even the Internet -- OMG!!), but I what I discovered was pretty much the same information that's discussed here:Take Our Word for It: Spotlight on "Handicapped"
Namely: that the word has nothing to do with begging; it first appeared in use around the middle of the 17th Century, as the name for a game
called "Hand in the Cap." The link above gives detailed rules for the game, but it was basically a way to swap items of unequal value, with an umpire, whose job was to decide which item was worth more, and by how much. By the middle of the 18th Century, the same basic idea of the swapping game was applied to races between horses of unequal strength, with an umpire to decide which of the horses was stronger, and how much extra weight he should carry in order to even the odds for the weaker horse. It wasn't long before that same idea was brought over to golf. "Handicapped" didn't get referred to individual people until the start of the 20th century.
So, in my opinion piece, I argued that NARHA should keep its name; "handicapped" was a term to take pride
in, since it implied that I was stronger
than the average Joe, and that I had just as much chance to "win the race" as anyone else. Also, I said, the word had a longer history with horses than with charity. And, frankly, the acronym "NARDA" sounds bad.
Being young, full of myself, and a Word Nerd purist, I also insisted<
, for a while, on continuing to use "handicapped" when everyone else was using "disabled." Or at least, I tried. I got tired of interupting conversations in order to give a mini lecture on etymology every
time I saw the other person flinch (and they flinched almost every time).
My personal pride of "I know more-better than you, so there!" means diddly-squat. It doesn't matter what the real
history of "handicap" is. The simple arrangement of those three syllables reminds
people of beggars, and no one wants to associate themselves with that, even if it is just an inkblot for the ear. So I've decided to just use "Disabled," like everyone else. Because language should make communicating easier, not provide unnecessary blocks.
think an organized day of "Hand-in-the-cap" would be a great way for charity organizations to raise money, though. If the name is too offensive, we could call it by its pre-17th Century name: "Newe Faire") ;-)