A dead distinction, if there ever was one?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Apr 9 13:31:22 UTC 2008

On Apr 9, 2008, at 6:11 AM, Wilson Gray wrote:

> I've long noticed that the PC term is "little people." However, as a
> child, I was taught that there are two kinds of abnormally-short
> people: well-proportioned ones known as "midgets" and mal-proportioned
> ones known as "dwarves" / "dwarfs."
> Was this ever true for sE speakers?

the wikipedia page for "midget":

In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, midget was
a medical term referring to an extremely short but normally
proportioned person, and was used in contrast to dwarf, which denoted
disproportionate shortness. Like many other older medical terms, as it
became part of popular language, it was usually used in a pejorative
sense. When applied to a person who is very short,midget is now often
considered offensive, an example of the euphemism treadmill.[1]

Midgets and dwarves are virtually the same thing, both terms meaning
someone who has been short in stature since birth. This is caused by
an inherited gene and can be diagnosed at birth by several telltale
signs (for instance hydrocephalus) or later when the child is a
toddler. The word dwarf has generally replaced midget even for
proportionally short people, though the term little person is
preferred. According to the Little People of America, dwarfism is "a
medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height
of 4 ft 10 in (145 cm) or shorter, among both men and women, although
in some cases a person with a dwarfing condition may be slightly
taller than that."[2]

Modern terminology now distinguishes between the two types of dwarfism
using the terms proportionate dwarfism, such as primordial dwarfism,
and disproportionate dwarfism, such as achondroplasia. Proportionate
dwarfism is often the result of a hormonal deficiency (such as growth
hormone deficiency), and it may be treated medically.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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