"Midget" (etymology from midge, Old English mygg, mycg "gnat," a small biting sand fly) 1. (noun) Term for a person of unusually short stature that is considered by some to be pejorative. 2. (adjective) Used affectionately to describe small / compact things, including several brands of automobiles, classes of sailing boats, animals, appliances as well as household items.
It may also refer to anything of much smaller than normal size, as a synonym for "miniature", such as a midget cell, a midget crabapple, a midget submarine, MG's Midget, Daihatsu's Midget, and the Midget Mustang airplane; or to anything that regularly uses anything that is smaller than normal (other than a person), such as midget car racing and quarter midget racing; or a smaller version of play or participation, such as midget golf; or to anything designed for very young (i.e., small) participants—in many cases children—such as Disneyland's Midget Autopia, Midget hockey, and Midget football.
Merriam-Webster dictionary states that the first use of the term "midget" was in 1816.
Midgets have always been popular entertainers, but were often regarded with disgust and revulsion in society. In the early 19th century, however, midgets were romanticized by the middle class and regarded with the same affectionate condescension extended to children, as creatures of innocence. The term "midget" came into prominence in the mid-19th century after Harriet Beecher Stowe used it in her novels Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands and Old Town Folks where she described children and an extremely short man, respectively. P. T. Barnum indirectly helped popularize the term "midget" when he began featuring General Tom Thumb, Lavinia Warren and Commodore Nutt in his circus. "Midget" became linked to referencing short people put on public display for curiosity and sport. Barnum's midgets, however, were elevated to a position of high society, given fantasy military titles, introduced to dignitaries and royalty, and showered with gifts.
Such performances continued to be widespread through the mid part of the twentieth century, with Hermines Midgets brought from their performances in Paris to appear at the 1939 New York World's Fair, the same year that MGM released The Wizard of Oz, which featured 124 midgets in its cast, most of whom were from the Singer's Midgets troupe.
When interviewed for a 1999 piece, performers engaged in ongoing "Midget Wrestling" events stated that they did not view the term "Midget Wrestling" as derogatory, but merely descriptive of their small size; however, others responding to the piece disagreed, with one stating that the performances themselves perpetuated an outdated and demeaning image.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, the word became to be considered as a pejorative term when in reference to people with dwarfism. One notable exception, though, was accomplished actor Hervé Villechaize who preferred the term "midget".
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- Adelson 2005, p. ??.
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- "midget". Webster's II New Collegiate Dictionary (2nd expanded ed.). Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. p. 693. ISBN 0395962145.
1. An extremely small person who is otherwise normally proportioned.
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- Merriam-Webster Dictionary Entry for midget: sometimes offensive: a very small person; specifically: a person of unusually small size who is physically well-proportioned.
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- GoogleBooks Image for The Making of the Wizard of Oz Page 193
- Adelson 2005, p. 295.
- Adelson 2005, p. 6.
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