Don’t have a S**Z attack, man!

One of my favourite expressions from my youth is “Don’t have a spaz attack!”   Imagine my surprise when I read this article today, which seems to indicate that “spastic” and the related “spaz” is a highly offensive word here in the UK.   Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation here, but I also asked around the office this afternoon. Everyone agreed that it’s not a word one would use around one’s mother. No one really was able to explain WHY the word was considered offensive, just that it was terribly rude.

The internet has explained to me that it’s because it was used as a derogatory term for the disabled, much the way “retard” developed etymologically in the US. And while some in the US would say that “retard” is inappropriate but many people still use it, the negative feelings about “spastic” here in the UK are much stronger.  “In 2007, Lynne Murphy, a linguist at the University of Sussex, described the term as being ‘one of the most taboo insults to a British ear‘”.

I had no idea!!  This is probably one of the first linguistic differences that has totally surprised me … most of the linguistic differences between American and English are quite subtle.   I’m quite glad I never used this word in converation, or if I did, I’d like to apologize!


Posted on 19/11/2010, in Exploring the UK, Silly British Things and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. As a UK national, though I’m sure this varies greatly by region, I’d disagree with Lynne Murphy about ‘spastic’ being one of the most taboo insults to a British ear. In my experience, ‘retard’ and ‘spastic’ are equally unpleasant in general conversation, but neither is as bad as using a swear-word. Particularly being young though, I hear and use the words ‘retard’ and ‘spastic’ fairly casually for comic effect. I think it works, but some would frown upon it!

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