A dead distinction, if there ever was one?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Apr 9 15:01:13 UTC 2008

At 9:11 AM -0400 4/9/08, 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?

For this speaker, it's true that I was taught the distinction in
exactly the same way, but I'm unclear on whether unguarded usage ever
actually corresponded to the carefully drawn distinction.

I believe the recurring character on Boston Legal, a very very short
attorney with whom (and with whose mother) the William Shatner
character has a recurring affair, corrects those who refer to her as
either "midget" or "dwarf", insisting on "little person".

>Little people seen on TV, all of
>whom appear to be, by the above-mentioned definition, dwarves, say
>that they don't like to be known as "midgets," preferring to be
>referred to as "dwarves," given a choice restricted to those two terms
>only. But "little people" is the correct term.
>"Midget," to the extent that it's used, seems to be merely another
>term for "dwarf."

That conforms to my perceptions too.


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

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