Language Matters: Disability and the Power of Taboo Words

Joanne Arciuli, Tom Shakespeare

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Disability related terms are powerful—so powerful that some have reached the status of taboo words. What do disabled people think of these words? Some choose to reclaim these words while others reject them. For example, the Twitter hashtag #CripTheVote was created by disability advocates to highlight issues affecting disabled people during election campaigns. Despite, or perhaps because of, the perceived offensiveness of the word cripple, these advocates have reclaimed a variant of it to suit their purposes. By contrast, campaigns against use of the ‘r-word’—in any form—have been instigated by individuals with disabilities, and their families and friends, all around the world. In this chapter, we discuss the nature of taboo words and provide some background on disability-related taboo words.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Disability and Communication
EditorsMichael S Jeffress, Joy M Cypher, Jim Ferris, Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock
Place of PublicationSwitzerland
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9783031144479
ISBN (Print)9783031144462
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • #cripthevote
  • Disability
  • Disability terminology
  • Identity first language
  • Person-first language
  • Taboo words


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