Dear Mr. Yankovic (may we call you Weird Al?),
Thanks for your catchy summer hit “Word Crimes.” We were having a lot of fun bopping to the beat of this parody of “Blurred Lines” and laughing along with your clever lyrics. That is until we reached the final chorus, where you sang “cause you write like a spastic.”
You may not be aware, but “spastic” can carry a very un-funny meaning for people born with cerebral palsy (CP) and other disabilities and their families. We understand you were poking fun at people who don’t use proper grammar by implying that they lack intelligence. There are only so many ways you can say that – “moron,” “clown,” “stupid” – so we understand you have to reach a little for more examples.
But, you should know that “spastic” is a term that describes certain aspects of CP and it has no bearing at all on a person’s intelligence. The term is far too often used to insult people with disabilities, instead of simply describing a condition. Similarly, the word “retarded” long ago moved from the realm of clinical jargon to disrespectful slang for someone with an intellectual disability. It is now rejected as being not only outdated, but also incredibly offensive. When you go on to say “get out of the gene pool, try not to drool” in your song, you are portraying people with disabilities (inaccurately) as somehow less intelligent and less valuable than other human beings.
Here are some facts about CP that you might want to know: there are 17 million people in the world who have CP; it is estimated that 1 in 323 children is born with CP (that’s a pretty big fan base); CP results when an injury to the brain occurs before, during or after birth; and CP can affect mobility, speech and other functions specific to which part of the brain was injured. While people with CP sometimes have other co-occurring disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, it doesn’t automatically mean that they lack intelligence (or a good grasp of the English language). And, it certainly doesn’t mean that they are not deserving of your respect.
Weird Al, we hope you will take this into consideration when you’re writing. We all love a good laugh,but not at the expense of people with disabilities and their families and friends.
United Cerebral Palsy