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Why Did ‘Disabled’ Replace ‘Handicapped’ As the Preferred Term?

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Handicapped, as used to describe people with disabilities, is a term that rose and fell with the 20th century. It arrived on the scene in the late 1800s as a way to talk about a range of disadvantages — one could be economically, socially or even morally handicapped by circumstances.

The term was borrowed from the racetrack, where a horse that was stronger, faster, or otherwise superior in some way could be given a handicap (a weight, a longer distance, a later start) to equalize the chances of the competitors. Initially, parties to such matches agreed to the conditions of the handicap by placing their hands into a cap and either pulling out or leaving cash stakes they had placed there. This idea of “hand in cap” is where the word first came from.

Handicap began to be applied to physical and mental differences in the early 1900s, when the new fields of sociology and social work started looking at people in terms of their place in society as a whole. What had been seen before as individual failings or flaws were recast as disadvantages with respect to larger contexts. If life was a horse race, a person with a physical disability couldn’t compete as well because of the burden they had been handed, not because they were defective by nature. Over the next decades, old words that cast disabilities as personal flaws—crippled, lame, imbecile, invalid etc.—became increasingly offensive sounding, and by the 1970s, handicapped had become the term of choice in social services and legislation.

Things started to change at just that time with the birth of the disability rights movement. A community of people fighting for more independence and self-determination rejected the term handicapped in favor of disabled. This seems counterintuitive, since, at first glance, handicapped looks like the more enlightened choice. It replaced other terms that had accumulated centuries’ worth of terrible connotations. And disabled might appear to be one of those terrible terms. Its etymological form means “rendered incapable,” not a very liberating sentiment, and it had a history of being used to describe disabled people going back 200 years before handicapped came on the scene. But for activists looking for a way to refer to their new campaigns and organizations, disability seemed the better choice.

For some, the word handicapped evoked the idea of a beggar with cap in hand, though this was not the original source of the word. And disabled at that time was attractive for its rather cold, clinical connotation, meaning that it lacked euphemism or patronizing attitude, things that were also a problem for terms like special or differently-abled. The main problem with handicapped, though, was simply that it had not been chosen by the people it was supposed to describe.

As journalist and disability scholar Jack A. Nelson wrote, though handicapped appeared to be “in keeping with the disability rights movement’s analysis of the situation—that the individual is okay but society has put him or her at a disadvantage—the term was nonetheless rejected when disabled people began wresting the power of the programs that controlled their lives from social workers and began to run their own programs…if for no other reason that it was a term imposed on them by agencies.”

By the time the American with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the term handicapped had already become fusty and awkward. It was the activists who had fought for the act, and decided for themselves what language to use, who ushered it off the stage as the century drew to a close.

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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