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20 March 2007
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Retard &

Window-licker &

Special &

Cripple &

Handicapped &

So now all the results are in, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the results? Share your views on Ouch's messageboard!

Mik Scarlet offers his forthright views on the results, and contributes a few choice Worst Words of his own.

Ouch's editor, Damon Rose, gives some background to the Worst Word Vote.

Worst Word Vote
We have been asking Ouch readers to vote for the disability-related words that they find most offensive.

A panel of disabled people created our diverse top ten list, which was then put to the public vote. It featured words that could be considered very deliberately offensive, as well as everyday words that grate just as badly.

We asked voters to identify whether they were disabled, not disabled or rather not say. We also asked for your comments as you voted.

The results are now in, giving a snapshot of how the general public view these words here and now in 2003.


2053 votes were cast in total. Of these, 73.9% were from non-disabled people. 18.3% were from disabled people and 7.6% said they would 'rather not say'. Interestingly, these percentages seem to reflect the population fairly well - we're often told that 18% of the UK is disabled.
Total votes cast: 2053
1. Retard 19.6%  (404 votes)
2. Spastic 18%  (373 votes)
3. Window-licker 17%  (350 votes)
4. Mong 13.4%  (276 votes)
5. Special 10.2%  (210 votes)
6. Brave 7.9%  (163 votes)
7. Cripple 5.5%  (113 votes)
8. Psycho 2.9%  (60 votes)
9. Handicapped 2.5%  (52 votes)
10. Wheelchair-bound 2%  (42 votes)
Click here to take a look at how the choice of top ten words differed between disabled and non-disabled people.

The No 1 Worst Word: RETARD
"I had an emotional reaction to all the words mentioned and found it really hard to choose just one. I chose Retard as I have heard it used so often as a description of everyone who is disabled or different. It makes me shudder. Words do hurt - they can annihilate your self-confidence and self-image, and they generally show the way the wider community feels by their acceptance. If I don't want to be called something, then that should be respected. Why are people so threatened by being asked to change their language?" (Disabled)

Your comments!
We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of comments you left when voting. You can find a selection of them, together with the results for each of the ten shortlisted words, on the following pages.

We asked a few famous disability names to tell us what they thought of the result:

Peter White, BBC Disability Affairs Correspondent - "It's interesting the extent to which some of the big differences are shown in the words lower down the vote - the fact that 'Window-licker', which was third in the poll, was actually the least offensive amongst disabled people. Looking at the results, it seems that disabled people are more forgiving if there's an element of humour to the word - whereas non-disabled people aren't. I'm always very sceptical when I get letters from people who aren't disabled telling me that they've been offended by a particular word - because where does the offence come from if they haven't been told what to be offended by? It must be a learned response."

Bert Massie, Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission - "I've been called a few words in my time, some of them on the list. Sometimes they come from ignorance, other times they're prompted by pure prejudice. Sometimes they hurt, sometimes they make me laugh. Words can help the way we view the human race. Maybe Ouch should poll readers on the best way we should describe ourselves as disabled people. But whatever words we as disabled people choose to use, we need to be careful that we don't use words or phrases so anodyne that we hide the reality of living in a disabling society. Our words must convey a strong message."

Julie Fernandez, disabled actress - "When I think of 'retard', I think of Blazing Saddles! Some words I find offensive, others I use myself in an ironic way amongst friends; I feel I can because I am disabled. We just don't need to be using the word 'cripple' any more, like we don't use words like 'negro' or 'kaffer' against black people - these words are only ever used in an offensive way. When I do interviews with the press I do so with the proviso that they do not use words like 'brave' or 'heroic' because they undermine me and I'm simply not either of those things. I'm just geting on and trying to work."

Mat Fraser, disabled actor - "The differences in reactions between disabled and non-disabled are less than I would have thought, and it's good to see that non disabled people are taking on board how offensive the words 'special' and 'brave' are, as well as the others ... we must be becoming more aware as a society generally. But I did find it interesting that non-disabled people find 'retard' the most offensive, as it's not really much used as a word in this country. For the record, my top three would be 'spastic', 'mong' and 'brave'. Sorry I can't give you a linguistic essay, but I'm a bit of a flid ..."

Dr Tom Shakespeare - "When I was growing up, my mum used to say that 'sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you'. Well, I think she was wrong. However confident we are as disabled people, when other people insult us or patronise us it can hurt like hell. 'spastic' and 'retard' are obvious insults, no debate about it. But I'm glad to see that non-disabled people are beginning to understand why less offensive words such as 'special', 'brave' and 'wheelchair-bound' are so irritating to many disabled people. Personally, I don't get called many of the words on this list, but every day I get called 'midget', 'shortarse', 'Mekon', and lots of similar terms. I think we should have disability equality classes as part of the National Curriculum."

Ouch's 'Disability Bitch' - "All my retarded spastic window-licking wheelchair-bound crippled chums had their vocabulary widened by this survey. Thanks, Ouch!" (Who is 'Disability Bitch'? Click here for more).


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