Some people with disabilities call themselves “crips.” “Crip” used to be a mean word for disabled. It is short for “cripple.” But some disabled people call themselves “crips” on purpose. The word “crip” belongs to disabled people now.Disability Visibility anthology (Plain language summary) – Disability Visibility Project
- Selective use of “crip” or “crippled” by people with disabilities is a conscious act of empowerment through “reclaiming” a former slur as a badge of pride. “Selected use” means we don’t use it all the time, in every situation. We exercise judgment in when and where it’s appropriate to use.
- “Crip” and “cripple” are also used ironically, to convey a bit of edginess, humor, and confidence, from a community that people tend to assume will be sad, bitter, and boring.
- Disabled people who identify with “crip” or “cripple,” generally share a strong sense of disability pride and deep involvement in disability activism and culture. We know what the social model of disability is, we are familiar with “person first” language, and we take pride in our disability identities. Calling ourselves “cripples” isn’t a sign of self-hatred or ignorance of disability history … quite the contrary.
- “Crip” and “cripple” have been used this way by at least some disability activists for decades. It’s not a particularly new practice. It has, however, grown to be more inclusive, as the disability rights movement itself has gradually become more inclusive, both of people with all kinds of disabilities, and of people who have other important identities.
- “Cripple” as an actual label or insult is not just “politically incorrect,” it is archaic. It is a term from a bygone era, largely out of use even by ableists. That is not true of all negative disability terms. For instance, “handicapped” and “retarded” are both used much more often, and are therefore more risky to play around with than “cripple.” That’s why you won’t find many disability activists and proud disabled people using “handicapped” or “retarded” either as reclaimed terms or ironically.
- We chose to use #CripTheVote because it sounded more interesting, hard-edged, and likely to spark interest than safer, more “accurate” terms. It’s the difference between saying, “Rock The Vote!” and saying “Young People Really Should Register And Vote.”
- All that said, using “Crip” or “Cripple” this way isn’t to everyone’s taste. That’s fine. Some people have painful personal histories with the word. Some people despise irony and don’t like messing around with language. Some people feel it’s just too risky.
Crip: A term used historically to stigmatize and oppress disabled people. It has been reclaimed by some people disabled people. It should only be used with permission from the community or person who is being referred to, or regarding the theories noted below. There is discussion about whether crip refers only to the physical disability community, or other experiences as well.
“Crip theory” as an academic (sub)field that was first made popular by scholars like Robert McRuer and Carrie Sandahl. Crip theory is a blurring or merging of queer theory and critical disability studies. Crip theory explores how the social pressures and norms around ability intersect with the social pressures and norms around gender/sexuality.
Crip time: A concept arising from disabled experience that addresses the ways that disabled/chronically ill and neurodivergent people experience time (and space) differently than able-bodyminded folk. In her essay on Crip Time, Ellen Samuelsquotes her friends Alison Kafer, who says that crip times means: “rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.”Terminology | Critical Disability Studies Collective
Crip is used in a variety of ways. For some, it is a slur. For us and in disability activism, and in activist oriented disability studies, crip is a verb (Sandahl 2003). To crip is to disrupt the stable, transform the familiar, subvert the order of things, unsettle entrenched beliefs, and to make anew. In action, cripping linguistics is to uncloak ”mainstream representations or practices to reveal able-bodied assumptions and exclusionary effects” and “expose the arbitrary delineation between normal and defective and the negative social ramifications of attempts to homogenize humanity” (Sandahl: 37). Kusters and Hou (2020) point out that the overall pattern in linguistics is for linguists to treat language as separate from the people that produce language. While we have some linguists studying languages that are produced by disability ways of being and knowing in the world, a critical disability lens allows us to highlight problems with the status quo and possibilities for real transformation.
Crip linguistics means to critique language and language scholarship through the lens of disability, include disabled perspectives, elevate disabled scholars, center disabled voices in conversations about disabled languaging, dismantle the use of disorder and deficit rhetorics, and finally, welcome disabled languaging as a celebration of the infinite potential of the bodymind.
Crip linguistics resists compulsory abledness by celebrating disabled ways of languaging, the disabled knowledge that shapes language and communicative practices, and refusals to conform to “normal” language (speech). By heeding disabled people’s relationship with language, languaging, and world-making, we note that disabled people are “effective agents of world-building and dismantling toward more socially just relations” (Hamraie & Fritsch 2019).
Crip linguistics frames language as a form of care work where we work collectively to provide access and co-construct meaning.PsyArXiv Preprints | Unsettling Languages, Unruly Bodyminds: Imaging a Crip Linguistics
- A Crip Linguistics is necessary for analyzing human languaging, lest we reproduce inequities
- A Crip linguistics recognizes that languaging is multi-modal
- A Crip linguistics embraces disabled ways of being in producing language: sensory orientations, interdependence, mutual-aid and world-building, carework, and the ways that time interacts with the bodymind and language
A key distinction of crip is the term’s sonic, signed, and etymological history, outlined by Jay Dolmage:
The word “crippled” has impediment built into its consonants (in speech requiring the closure of the vocal tract and the use of the lips). See also the ASL sign for cripple, which utilizes the fingers to call up the slowed movement of the legs. The word is also related to the Old English creopan, or creep, a word with slowness built into its vowels, but also a word that locates bodies, literally, in the dirt—moving with the belly on the ground. But this is a word that has always been used to also connote the slowness of thoughts, as though the speed of thoughts could ever be clocked! The reclamation of the word crip, with its clipped sound, directly addresses the metaphor and the linguistic or rhetorical impact of the term. (Dolmage 2014, 103; amplification from Dolmage 2013)
Dolmage’s unpacking of the term shows that “crip theory” is not a simple merging of queer and disability studies (as is sometimes asserted). Rather, just as quare is part of the history of queer (Johnson 2001), crip and its precursor cripple developed along a distinct historical path.
In similarly twisted-together fashion, crip is surrounded by controversies, arising from some similar concerns as those that fuel controversies around queer (including race, class, and gender), but they play out differently. In a much-discussed article for The Feminist Wire, for example, Mark Sherry argued that “‘Crip’ is the new fashion- able term among disability studies academics,” but that certain groups, including those with “cognitive impairments,” homeless people, or survivors of violence, “won’t use such a trite, trendy cliche as ‘crip politics’” and are “offended” and “alienated” by the term (Sherry 2013). Not long before, a call had come out for a special issue of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies (Johnson and McRuer 2013), which took a much more optimistic—in fact, deliberately playful—stance. The call proposed the term cripistemologies and argued that such a conception was “poised on the tip of our tongues, called for, yearned for.” Crip is also racialized in specific ways: for example, although the term predates the emergence of the Los Angeles Crips, controversies about racist and classist appropriation regularly arise when it is used in predominantly white, middle-class, academic contexts. Finally, in an effort to reclaim the term’s apparent lean toward physical impairment, some scholar/activists, including Erick Fabris, use the term psychocrip to designate a resistant identity built around madness and psychiatric survivorship (Fabris 2011). My own use of crip politics aligns most closely with Kafer’s: it is an attempt to signal a belief in potentiality and flexi- bility, an effort to occupy a more “contestatory” space that merges activist and aca- demic work, as well as hope for coalition across disability categories (Kafer 2013, 15– 16).
Identity is fluid and complicated, much like disability. I proudly call myself as a crip because it makes me feel powerful. It takes a word previously hurled at me, making me feel ashamed, alienated, and unworthy and flips it on its axis. Crip gives me agency. Crip is my culture. Crip is my community filled with badass freaks and outcasts who are classified as abnormal by society and wear that designation as a badge of honor. Because we’re not trying to assimilate into a culture that doesn’t know what to do with us in the first place.
But crip isn’t for everyone. I have friends with disabilities who would never use that appellation. And I respect whatever label they choose to self-identify with because it’s up to each individual to figure out what descriptors are personally empowering and which ones are not. There will always be internal debate and disagreement on semantics, but ultimately we’re still part of the same community-the largest, and most beautifully unique community in the world.Tales From The Crip: Ready, Willing, and Disabled | Bitch Media
I say that “crip” is my favorite four-letter word in that it’s profane to some, but to me, I love it. And I think it’s a good descriptor for me personally. So language in disability is still a very hotly debated issue. So some people want to be called disabled, some people want to be called people with disabilities. It has been going on for decades, this debate. And there’s theoretical models behind why people want to be called what they want to be called and issues of identity wrapped up in that as well. And so then, when the word “crip” came along–I certainly did not come up with it–and I’m trying to remember when I first heard crip being used. It was when I got into disability studies and kind of learned about this whole other disability culture and these rebellious disabled people that were doing all these really rad things that I had never been taught in school and didn’t know anything about. And I really loved this idea of reclaiming this word. So crip obviously comes from “crippled,” which is, I hear the word crippled in relation to disability or anything, and I just cringe. But when I hear the word crip, to me, it’s such a signifier of identity and culture, and it is a bad word in a lot of ways, and it has an edge to it. But it’s also a really cool word, I would say, in that when someone I meet who’s disabled refers to themself as a crip, I kind of know that they’re down. It’s like a way of, to me, I just assume that we’re probably gonna be on the same wavelength in terms of politics and identity and disability culture.Let’s Talk About Crip Culture | Bitch Media