Re-read Mairs article and find examples of the types of techniques she uses to define herself and the term “cripple.” For each category, briefly quote the part of the text that applies to each defining technique and describe how it fits in that particular category.
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From “On Being a Cripple”
by Nancy Mairs
The other day I was thinking of writing an essay on being a cripple. I was thinking hard in one of the stalls of the women’s room in my office building, as I was shoving my shirt into my jeans and tugging up my zipper. Preoccupied, I flushed, picked up my book bag, took my cane down from the hook, and unlatched the door. So many movements unbalanced me, and as I pulled the door open I fell over backward, landing fully clothed on the toilet seat with my legs splayed in front of me: the old beetle-on-its-back routine. Saturday afternoon, the building deserted, I was free to laugh aloud as I wriggled back to my feet, my voice bouncing off the yellowish tiles from all directions. Had anyone been there with me, I’d have been still and faint and hot with chagrin. I decided that it was high time to write the essay.
First, the matter of semantics. I am a cripple. I choose this word to name me. I choose from among several possibilities, the most common of which are “handicapped” and “disabled.” I made the choice a number of years ago, without thinking, unaware of my motives for doing so. Even now, I’m not sure what those motives are, but I recognize that they are complex and not entirely flattering.
People–crippled or not–wince at the word “cripple,” as they do not at “handicapped” or “disabled.” Perhaps I want them to wince. I want them to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates /gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger.
But, to be fair to myself, a certain amount of honesty underlies my choice. “Cripple” seems to me a clean word, straightforward and precise. It has an honorable history, having made its first appearance in the Lindisfarne Gospel in the tenth century. As a lover of words, I like the accuracy with which it describes my condition: I have lost the full use of my limbs. “Disabled,” by contrast, suggests any incapacity, physical or mental. And I certainly don’t like “handicapped,” which implies that I have deliberately been put at a disadvantage, by whom I can’t imagine (my God is not a Handicapper General), in order to equalize chances in the great race of life. These words seem to me to be moving away from my condition, to be widening the gap between word and reality. Most remote is the recently coined euphemism “differently abled,” which partakes of the same semantic hopefulness that transformed countries from “undeveloped” to “underdeveloped,” then to “less developed,” and finally to “developing” nations. People have continued to starve in those countries during the shift. Some realities do not obey the dictates of language.
Mine is one of them. Whatever you call me, I remain crippled. But I don’t care what you call me, so long as it isn’t “differently abled,” which strikes me as pure verbal garbage designed, by its ability to describe anyone, to describe no one. I subscribe to George Orwell’s thesis that “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” And I refuse to participate in the degeneration of the language to the extent that I deny that I have lost anything in the course of this calamitous disease; I refuse to pretend that the only differences between you and me are the various ordinary ones that distinguish any one person from another. But call me “disabled” or “handicapped” if you like. I have long since grown accustomed to them; and if they are vague, at least they hint at the truth. Moreover, I use them myself. Society is no more ready to accept crippledness than to accept death, war, sex, sweat, or wrinkles. I would never refer to another person as a cripple. It is the word I use to name only myself.