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There is a great deal of disagreement as to what should be considered offensive. Views vary with geography and culture, over time, and among individuals. Many terms that some people view as offensive are not viewed as offensive by others, and even where some people are offended by certain terms, others may be offended by the replacement of such terms with what they consider to be euphemisms (e.g., "differently abled" or "special needs"). Some people believe that terms should be avoided if they might offend people; others hold the listener responsible for misinterpreting terms used with non-offensive intent.
"Batshit", a term that some people with mental illnesses consider offensive.[who?]
"Brain problems" A term that implies the person lacks a fully functioning brain and is incapable of acting rationally. Offensive because the term is too general and is used to describe an illness that is beyond the individual's control.
"Derp(y)". Consider by some to be refer to those with intellectual disabilities.
"Differently abled". While it may have been originally intended to draw the attention away from the person's disability to an area where he or she excels (music, or math, as two examples), the phrase can come across as being patronizing or condescending toward that person.
"Diseased". Can be construed as an insult when referring to a non-transmittable disability.
"Downy". Refers to someone with Down syndrome. Often used to insult a non-affected person by implying that the person has the disability. Also "Downz" in internet parlance.
"Dimwit". Used as an insult toward someone without a very high intelligence.
Hysterical used to be a blanket term for many conditions affecting women; it is derived from the Greek word hysteria which means "womb". It is now generally considered to be offensive when applied to a woman, because it implies her health problems are psychiatric in origin. The term mass hysteria is considered by some not to carry the same connotations.
"Mad". Derogatory term for a mentally ill person, which has been reclaimed by some, e.g. in the mad pride movement.
Midget. The word is used to mean "someone who has dwarfism" and is widely considered offensive.
"Mongol," "Mongoloid," "Mong," or "Mongolism" for Down syndrome originated from the perception that facial features of people with Down syndrome were similar to those of people from Mongolia. The term is widely considered offensive.
Moron was formerly a formal term used for persons with an IQ of 50-75. It is no longer used in a medical context and has generally acquired negative implications.
Pinhead is a vulgar term denoting a person afflicted with the congenital deformity microcephaly. Microcephalics have been exhibited in freak shows billed as "human pinheads"; Zip the Pinhead was famously exhibited by P. T. Barnum for many years. Microcephalics are characterized by a small, tapering cranium and often, though not always, impaired mental faculty, which is the basis for the disparaging attribution of the term pinhead to others with whom the speaker disagrees or believes to be illogical.
"Retard" literally means slow. It is used to describe someone with a learning disability, mental retardation, a significantly low IQ, or some other learning or developmental disability); this term "retard" is used as a vulgar term and is not used, unless it is deliberately used as a term of offense. It is considered by many to be offensive.
"Retarded" is prefaced by indicators such as Mild, Moderate, Severe or Profound. Retarded as a description of one's cognitive and adaptive functioning is a clinical diagnosis. In that respect, the term is not generally considered offensive and can be used to convey a great deal of information very quickly such as: IQ range, adaptive skills, level of care needs, etc. Increasing levels of mental retardation are associated with increasing degrees of brain damage. There has been at least some movement to replace the term 'retardation' with other terms such as 'developmentally disabled' or 'learning disabled' in both medical and educational settings. However, in the UK the term is as offensive as the above entry and the term 'Learning Difficulties' (LD) is used.
"Schizo" or "Schizoid" for schizophrenia is still in wide use among the general population, but has generally negative connotations.
"Schizophrenic" as an adjective, meaning "erratic" or "unpredictable". This usage is misapplied, as well as offensive to those who have been diagnosed as schizophrenic.
"Slow" or Slow learner as used to describe someone with a learning disability has generally acquired negative connotations.
Spazz (or "Spaz," "Spazzy," "Spazzer", "Spack," "Spacker," "Spastic," or "Spackhead") as used to describe someone with cerebral palsy is highly offensive, especially in the UK and Ireland. The term has a very different usage in the US—it is not used to describe disabled people or their condition, but instead refers to clumsiness, hyperactivity, or excessive nervous reactions. As a result, the term is largely inoffensive in the US.
Special Ed or special needs is sometimes used to patronize, but is also still fairly commonly used as an official term in the educational system, although this use is sometimes considered controversial. Offensive when abbreviated to "Sped" and used as a noun to refer to a person.
"Sperg". Derogatory term to refer to someone with Asperger Syndrome, primarily used on the internet.
"Window licker", used as an insulting term for people with a variety of learning difficulties and mental illnesses, based on the stereotyped idea of such people licking or placing their lips on windows, particularly those of a bus.
^Frumkin, Howard; Packard, Randall M.; Brown, Peter G.; Ruth L. Berkelman (2004). Emerging illnesses and society: negotiating the public health agenda. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN0-8018-7942-6.
^Will Cuppy, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, (New York: Henry Holt, 1950), p. 30, fn. 2: "We have cone-headed people today, but we do not call them Squill Heads. We call them Zips."