Word of the Day: Maim

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Maim means to cripple someone. It can also be used generally, where it means to damage something, making it defective.

Workers at drilling sites are surrounded by heavy machinery that can kill or maim in an instant. (USA Today)

Automakers Say Cuts in Duties Would Maim Industry (NY Times)

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7 thoughts on “Word of the Day: Maim”

  1. Actually, the word cripple is now referred to as the “C” word by the disabled community. We feel it carries too many negative connotations. I don’t preach on this subject, but I do try to point it out whenever there is an opportunity.

    Having said this, I can see that changing the definition of maim to “to disable someone” doesn’t quite have that sense of personal disaster. Conundrums abound…


  2. This is in response to “One Response to “Word of the day: Maim””

    I’m sorry, but to change the definition of a word simply because of a politically correct view on a specific subject is in my opinion ridiculous. Now on the other hand, if the majority of the population agrees that that is the new definition of the word, regardless of what it says in the dictionary, that’s a whole other idea altogether. I mean no disrespect, but definitions are worded a certain way as to be as specific in meaning as possible. Though synonyms, the words cripple and disable can each be used in their own way much more effectively than the other.

  3. Kai-bo. By the “C” word, are you referring to the noun or the verb “cripple”? Or both?

    I understand that calling someone a cripple (the noun) may be offensive. I can guess at its negative connotations inasmuch as it implies that the individual is less capable, less independent, less functional, than a person with a sound, completely functional body (which may be true), suggesting that such a person is less valuable to society (which I believe is not true).

    But wouldn’t these connotations also apply to the term “disabled”? I’m confused by the fact that a community that calls itself “disabled” would take offense at “cripple.” Why doesn’t “disabled” have the same negative connotations? A disabled person may still be functional, which is to say that he or she is not disabled. I could even make the case that “disabled” is a more negative term than “cripple.” For example, a person with only one leg may be crippled (by definition) but be fully able to perform his or her everyday activities, hence not disabled.

    I’m not saying that the disabled community is wrong to take offense at “cripple,” or that it should stop calling itself “the disabled community.” (I spent 4 years in and out of wheelchairs. The last thing I would do is downplay the struggles of those with physical challenges.) What I’m saying is that I am seeking enlightenment.

    What ARE the negative connotations of the “C” word? Truly, truly, truly I am trying to understand how the community perceives this word, how words are interpreted, and how readers react to them–not to stir up an argument about PC terminology.

    Ok, that’s the noun. But what about the verb, as it is used in the mini-post above? Part of the definition for the verb “to cripple” is “to disable,” though it carries the additional meaning of injuring someone or some animal in such a way that one or more limbs cannot be used. (Ex: A lumberjack hit on the head by a falling tree branch may be disabled until his concussion subsides, but the lumberjack who loses an arm in a sawmill accident is crippled.)

    (I’d rather have this discussion over a beer.)

  4. Yes, Precise Edit, the noun is the more offensive, but the verb implies the noun as a result. As to the difference between cripple and disable, I guess it is like the difference between African-American and the now infamous “N” word that was originally a description of the country of origin and/or a word whose root meant simply the colour black.

    As too hit on the head or losing a limb, the difference here is temporary or permanent, (By the way, we secretly call people who are not disabled TAB’s or Temporarily Able Bodied people.)

    Brandon, I wouldn’t presume to change the definition of a word by myself, but changing the definition of a word by the people who use it is what makes a language a living language. There is precedent for this, words that have acquired alternate meanings resulting in their definition changing. Casual used to mean accidental, there is a headstone in a graveyard somewhere that proclaims the cause of death of the graves occupant as having been “casually shot” by his hunting companion.

    So, what I am saying is that there is a segment of the population that finds the word ‘cripple’ offensive and you may use it or not as you see fit. As writers, there comes a time when we need to describe situations that are offensive. If you’re writing fiction then you would certainly use this word as a part of the speech of a person if you choose, but knowing that it offends some people, some of whom you are writing for, will be an advantage to you if you use this knowledge. Our job is not so much to inflict our opinions on the reader, but to offer our stories in an entertaining and believable way, we must paint the world we describe as a believable construct and that may mean describing the grit in the corners as well as the shiny parts.

    Thanks for the feedback to my feedback.

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