Driving from here to there this morning, it seemed to me that Charlie Sykes is all over this Tiger Woods thing. Tiger apparently said that he putted "like a spaz" at the Masters and has now been forced to apologize for using a term deemed by some to be offensive tho those with nuero-muscular disorders.
Charlie has made the two most important points: 1)truly empowering "disadvantaged" groups is better served by teaching them that words do not have the power to hurt them because 2)trying to find a set of nonoffensive words for characteristics that truly are a disadvantage is a game with no end.
As a case in point, think of the terms "moron" and "imbecile." Today, these are derogatory terms. But in the first part of the twentieth century, they were supposedly precise medical definitions of intellectual disability that were thought to carry clinical neutrality. They were not slurs.
One of the more infamous decisions of the United States Supreme Court is Buck v. Bell, in which the Court upheld the forced sterilization of a "mentally challenged" woman in Virginia. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes punctuated his opinion with the ringing declaration that "three generations of imbeciles are enough."
But the great Holmes was wrong. Carrie Buck had been diagnosed as a "moron" not an "imbecile." There was a difference. (You can read the whole story in this book. Today these words have evolved into interchangeable insults.
As words take on a negative connotation, we invent new ones that become increasingly opaque like "special needs" or "challenged." But these quickly become "negative" as well, so we need to invent still more. Wisdom lies in refusing to play a game that you can't win.
If we are really going to insist on never using words that might give someone offense, the left is going to have to change much of their current discourse. George Bush can no longer be an "idiot." He must be referred to as someone whose "intellectual capabilities are, perhaps, not what he'd like them to be." Jerry Falwell can no longer be called a "fundie," "bible-thumper" or "homophobe." He is a man whose "interpretation of the Scriptures requires development." F. James Sensenbrenner cannot be referred to as a "Nazi" or "bigot," but as someone "still seeking full appreciation of his undocumented brothers and sisters."