The M word…. in South Africa

Most in the little people community are aware that the word Midget is unacceptable, it’s a word that has a bad stigma attached to it. I will very briefly explain the history behind this word for those that don’t know… So here goes (I hope my facts are in order). In the 1860s Midget was the word used to describe a little person later on in the 1880s it was used in the freak show/ circus industry where little people were put on public display to tickle to curiosity of those who frequented such events. As time moved on by the 1930s the word progressed and was frequently used to describe small vehicles and aircraft.
Before you continue reading please note that this post is with reference to South Africa and the use of the word MIDGET in South Africa

The reason for me starting Raising Leah was to create awareness about dwarfism in South Africa. I remember when I was pregnant with Leah, we were not quite sure of her condition and I distinctly remember saying to my husband “what if our child is a Midget” at that time I had no idea that the word was frowned upon, it was only later when she was born and I started researching dwarfism that I realized that this term was a insult in the LP community. Due to a serious lack of information regarding dwarfism in South Africa I found most of my support online and today I realize how very different the way of thinking is in South Africa. I decided to be brave and I sent out this question to my LP friends living in South Africa.

” Do you find the term Midget offensive”

Surprisingly most that responded said they “didn’t really care”, One said he has no problems being called a Midget a few said its the WAY the word is used and the context in which it is placed that upsets them.

The most surprising response…a few said they prefer the reference of Midget to Dwarf.

I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure this whole thing out but I have decided what it boils down to in the end is “What is your PERSONAL preference” I personally am not in Favour of the “M” word, and I know there is a list of “acceptable reference terms for South Africans” but its really of no use as this list just gathers cyber dust and is not brought to light for public awareness. The big lesson for me is realizing that what bothers me does not necessarily present an issue for someone else. But when all is said and done the greatest lesson of all is respect. You have to Respect those around you, in order to gain respect for yourself.

From my own experience when I am out with Leah, people often approach us saying “ She is beautiful, is she a MIDGET” I have to remember these people have no association with dwarfism it does NOT affect their lives so it would not be fair to view this as disrespectful and offensive? And this is were most parents go wrong, you get you back up and that “M” word just makes you see RED and your answer might sound something like “OMG how dare you call my child a MIDGET” that’s just going to push this person away and all education is lost. The best approach for me thus far has been “This is Leah and yes she is a Little person / dwarf we don’t really like the word Midget its not a very friendly word in the little people community”

Please don’t misinterpret what I am trying to say, there are those that Hate the word. Sadly there is ABSOLUTELY NO education regarding this matter and South Africa is clearly slacking with creating awareness surrounding the use of acceptable terms regarding special needs and disability. The rest of the world is leap years ahead of us regarding this matter. Many new LP parents feel they want to avoid conflict so they just tolerate everything even when it’s bad, and eventually they become desensitized to discrimination.
In the end I guess it’s up to the individual they need to decide if they are okay with this word or not. We all talk about growing awareness but what’s the use if there is no action,  its no use hoping that some miraculous terminology awareness cloud will hit South Africa and educate the nation overnight lets take a stand and start ourselves.

3 thoughts on “The M word…. in South Africa

  1. I’m an old fart of an Achondroplasic Dwarf, but until this “Newspeak” (As in George Orwell’s 1984) came into existence a few years back; all my life I have ADMIRED what I thought was a Midget!

    A midget to me, was a perfectly proportioned dwarf! Nothing more, nothing less. A very very Dapper Dwarf! One to be admired, looked up to and yes, have a yearning to be.

    Then someone, somebody, some organisation, (nobody seems to take the responsibility), decided that Midges was/is a dirty word!

    The strange thing is, just like the people in George Orwell’s 1984, eventually, he who shouts the loudest gets heard! Now, now, because of pressure, because of mass indoctrination, I, who once admired the thought of a Midget, no longer dare use the word!

    THAT I find frightening! How long before even the word “Dwarf” is no longer acceptable and how long before all forms of dwarfism are eradicated from the Human Race by Genetic Engineering?

    The Human race ought to be extremely grateful to both Dwarfs and Midgets, since it is only by variety that any race survives! Purify a race and it becomes very very vulnerable to eradication by infection because of the lack of diversity! Yes, Dwarfs AND Midgets are the lifesaver of humanity and I am extremely proud to be in either classification!


    • All that upsets me is when people make derogatory jokes that’s when the word sounds ugly in the end its not the “word” that has a issue it those nasty few that made the word sound ugly.

  2. I’ve never had anyone use that term to describe PReston, but I agree with you, education is so important. Many people just don’t know the proper terminology. Although I am aghast that anyone would say anything about anyone’s child unless completely positive. I just don’t understand people having to be so darn nosey regarding any child. That being said, you are an amazing advocate for Leah. I am so ver proud of you friend.

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