A history of the word 'handicap' (extended) by keith armstrong


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Updated with additions could be of interest to those interested in sport history.

Key Words: Linguistics, Etymology, Disability Studies, history, US & UK English, biology, Oxford English Dictionary, eugenics, euthanasia, 1915, The Atlantic Monthly,history of sport

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A history of the word 'handicap' (extended) by keith armstrong

  1. 1. A history of the word 'handicap' (extended) by Keith Armstrong by Keith Armstrong 2013 London
  2. 2. Acknowledgments I am grateful to Dr. Ron Adamson, Ms Julie Bowles, Miss Cecile Mairat, Miss Rachel O'Dowd, Miss Eva Skoulariki and Mrs Liz Taylor for transcribing from the original text. I would also like to thank the many people who have helped me to live and given me the energy and encouragement to complete this article. This includes the people of Camden and my late mother Mrs. Nina Armstrong. I am particularly grateful to the kind members of staff at all levels within the British Library in London. ----------- I must point out that any factual errors or sentiment unwittingly suggested are my responsibility alone. The punctuation and typeface of the authors quoted have at times been modified. All rights are reserved. The author's moral rights are asserted. No part of this paper may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the author. © Copyright 2013 Keith Armstrong, London.
  3. 3. There are a number of reasons to challenge the dictionary's use of the word "handicap". As a word it has a long history, but not as a term to describe someone who has an impairment. That is much more recent. Walter William Skeat (21 November 1835 – 6 October 1912) was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge. He completed an edition of the Anglo-Saxon Gospels and worked on both Anglo- Saxon and Medieval texts, including his standard editions of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Langland's Piers Plowman. Another of his accomplishments was the editing of An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language from 1879 - 1882. His dictionary entry for the word "handicap" states: A race for horses of all ages. (English) In a handicap, horses carry different weights according to their ages, &c, with a view to equalising their chances. The word was formerly the name of a game. 'To the Miter Taverne in Woodstreete . . . Here some of us fell to handycapp, a sport that I never knew before ;' Pepys' Diary, Sept. 18, 1660. Origin of the same as the Newe Feire, described in Piers Plowman, B. v. 327; which shows that it was a custom to barter articles, and to settle by arbitration which of the articles was more valuable, and how much (by way of amends') was to be given to the holder of the inferior one. From this settlement of ' amends' arose the system known as handicapping. The etymology is from hand i cap (= hand in cap) ; from the mode of drawing lots.
  4. 4. The bible of UK English is the much quoted Oxford English Dictionary (OED), published by the Oxford University Press. It is currently only in its second edition, although it plays a central part in any British reference library and beyond. It was first published in 1933 and the second edition was brought out between 1972 and 1986. The entry for the word 'handicap' takes up almost a whole column divided on two pages. Some of the most significant references are listed below: The word Handicap as a noun ‘hand i' cap’ or ‘hand in the cap’ : A word of obscure history. Two examples of the noun, and one of the verb, are known in 17th century; its connexion with horse-racing appears in the 18th; its transferred general use, especially in the verb, since 1850. It appears to have originated in the phrase ‘hand i' cap’, or ‘hand in the cap’, with reference to the drawing mentioned in sense. 1. The name of a kind of sport having an element of chance in it, in which one person challenged some article belonging to another, for which he offered something of his own in exchange. On the challenge being entertained, an umpire was chosen to decree the difference of value between the two articles, and all three parties deposited forfeit-money in a cap or hat. The umpire then pronounced his award as to the ‘boot’ or odds to be given with the inferior article, on hearing which the two other parties drew out full or empty hands to denote their acceptance or non-acceptance of the match in terms of the award. If the two were found to agree in holding the match either ‘on’ or ‘off’, the whole of the money deposited was taken by the umpire; but if not, by the party who was willing that the match should stand. (See Notes & Queries 23 June, 1855). This sport is described under the name of Newe Faire, in Piers Plowman (A. v. 171, B. v. 328, C. vii. 377), where ‘Clement þe cobelere caste of his cloke’, for which ‘Hikke þe hakeneyman’ wagered his hood, and ‘Robyn þe ropere’ was named for ‘a noumpere’, to ordain how much ‘who~so haueth the hood shuld haue amendes of the cloke’. For reference to a similar sport in Scandinavia and Germany (where they are called Freimarkt). Samuel Pepys' (1633 –1703) Diary 18 September 1660: Here some of us fell to handicap, a sport that I never knew before, which was very good. 1754 Pond's Racing Calendar p. xxxii, Rules concerning Racing in general, with a Description of a Post and Handy-Cap Match+A Handy-Cap Match, if for A. B. and C. to put an equal Sum into a Hat, C, which is the HandyCapper, makes a Match for A. and B. which when perused by them, they put their Hands into their Pockets and draw them out closed, then they open them together, and if both have Money in their Hands, the Match is confirm'd; if neither have Money, it is no Match: In both Cases the Hand-Capper draws all the Money out of the Hat; but if one has Money in his Hand, and the other none, then it is no Match; and he that has the Money in his Hand is intitled to the Deposit in the Hat. If a Match is made without the Weight being mentioned, each Horse must carry ten Stone. [So in ‘Rules of Racing’ in Racing Calendar 1826, and Blaine Encyclopaedia of Rural Sports ed. 1832.] handicap race (shortened handicap): a horse-race in which an umpire (the handicapper) decrees what weights have to be carried by the various horses entered, according to his judgement of their merits, in order to equalize their chances. So handicap plate, sweepstakes, etc. 1862 Times 2 Jan., The most prolific source of mischief, perhaps, on the Turf, is the increase and magnitude of the handicaps. There is no beast so miserable, but that he may possibly succeed in a handicap.
  5. 5. Rules of Racing in J. Rice History of British Turf (1879) II. 367 A ‘handicap’ is a race in which the weights which the horses are to carry are to be adjusted after the time limited for entering or naming, according to the handicapper's judgement of the merits of the horses, for the purpose of equalizing their chances of winning+A free handicap is one in which no liability for stake or forfeit is incurred until acceptance, and no entry need be made. Any race or competition in which the chances of the competitors are sought to be equalized by giving an advantage to the less efficient or imposing a disadvantage upon the more efficient. Besides the method of weighting, as in 2, this may be done in various ways, according to the nature of the game, as by requiring the superior competitor to accomplish a greater distance (i.e. giving a start to the inferior), to do it in a shorter time, to play with fewer men or pieces, etc. 1868 Brewer Phase. & Fable, Handicap, a game at cards not unlike Loo, but with this difference— the winner of one trick has to put in a double stake, the winner of two tricks a triple stake, and so on. Thus: if six persons are playing, and the general stake is 1s., and A gains three tricks, he gains 6s., and has to ‘hand i' the cap’ or pool, 3s. for the next deal. Suppose A gains two tricks and B one, then A gains 4s. and B 2s., and A has to stake 3s. and B 2s. for the next deal. [No confirmation has been found.] 1856 H. H. Dixon Post & Paddock x. 175 At York about 10,000 [cards] are sold on the Handicap day. 1897 Whitaker's Alm. 633/2 The A.A.A. rules fixed a limit of ten guineas for handicap prizes [in foot races]. Mrs Elizabeth Taylor (from Oxford) tells me that the rules of a similar to a game which she played when she was a child living in Hull (also known as Kingston upon Hull, the city of Humberside, England) in the 1970's, the game was then known as 'Down on one knee'. It involved a forfeit each time you drop the ball. The players starts standing in a circle (sometimes randomly and sometimes in rotation) if the player catches the ball next time you would go back to standing from being down on one knee but if dropped you go down on two, one arm etc. until out of the course it gets progressively harder to regain your position. The word Handicap as a verb: [feminine, proceeding noun, or of same origin.] Figuratively speaking: To equalize the chances of competing or contrasted things. 1865 Daily Telegraph. 17 Oct. 5/3 You can't handicap Paris and London as to vice+Paris can still give two stone of iniquity. Transitive. To weight race-horses in proportion to their known or assumed powers, in order to equalize their chances. 1856 H. H. Dixon Post & Paddock xii. 198 The present system of handicapping we believe to be vicious in the extreme; and our impression of a true English handicap is, that no horse should carry more than 9st. 9lbs., or less than 5st. 5lbs. Transitive. To weight, hamper, or otherwise ‘penalize’ a superior competitor in any match or contest, so as to reduce his chances in favour of inferior competitors. More generally, To place any one at a disadvantage by the imposition of any embarrassment, impediment, or disability; to weight unduly. 1864 Reader 9 July 57 He is handicapped with the weight of his own reputation. 1865 Saturday Review 4 Feb. 132/2 A man of real mathematical ability must be very heavily handicapped to allow competitors of inferior talent to meet him with any chance of success.
  6. 6. 1880 Standard 15 Dec., The British farmer is so severely handicapped that he cannot possibly compete with the American farmer. 1884 Lillywhite's Cricket Annual: They were handicapped in their out-play by the absence of their best bowler. So far nothing contentious, however the dictionary entry continues with the phrase below. Hence "handicapping" verbal substantive noun and participial adjective; "handicapped" participial adjective, of persons, especially children, physically or mentally defective. Also absolute as a noun. "of persons, especially children, physically or mentally defective"? A child or adult who is defective? Does this mean the child is defective as a human? Now where have I read this type of description before? This is the language and the negative attitudes to humanity spread by the ideologies of eugenics. Eugenics is the deadly non-science that has caused a dirty stain on the real science of genetics. Eugenics although discredited, has a powerful support from a significant number of people amongst the academic elite. Eugenics was founded by Francis Galton (1822 – 1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin, who took a misinterpretation of Herbert Spencer's "Survival of the fittest". Of course "fittest" in current biological terms means those who can survive, such as having an adaptable diet and an ability to procreate. If you see a person walking down the street using a walking stick, that person could have survived an incident where all others have died and therefore the fittest person could in this context be a person with a physical impairment. The OED continues: "1856: H. H. Dixon Post & Paddock ii. 46 Dr. Bellyse, whose love of handicapping and cock- fighting was so [great]." 1889: W. T. Linskill Golf iii. (1895) 15 "Another form of odds is 'so many holes up". This is handicapping by holes and not by strokes." "1915 L. D. Wald House on Henry St. 117 (caption) The Handicapped Child." The last reference of 1915 is the first mention of the use of this word in connection with impairment according to the OED.
  7. 7. The reference can be translated thus: 1915 (date of publication) L. D. Wald (author) The House on Henry Street (book title) 117 (page) "(caption)" (chapter title) "The Handicapped Child." The word 'handicap' does not appear in the text, it is only used in the title. In her chapter "The Handicapped Child" Wald wrote: The time comes when the child's own interests and those of the community demand the wisest, least selfish, and most statesman like action. Society must state in definite terms its right to be protected from the hopelessly defective and the moral pervert, wherever found. This constitutes the real problem of the abnormal. At the adolescent period those unfit for parenthood should be guarded—girls and boys—and society should be vested with authority and power to accomplish segregation, the conditions of which should attract and not repel. While the First World War raged on in Europe, in the USA in 1915 the Ku Klux Klan lynched many Black people; it was a very bad year for equality. Also in that year, Dr Harry Haiselden of the then German-American Hospital in Chicago promoted his campaign to eliminate those infants that he termed hereditary "unfit". He displayed the dying babies and their mothers to journalists and he also made a film about his ideas called "The Black Stork". His ideas were well received in Nazi Germany and eventually led to the gas chambers. Lillian D. Wald publicly supported Dr Haiselden's killing of disabled children. Writing about eugenicists in his book The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915.
  8. 8. Martin S. Pernick considers that: [they] ...simply asserted their desire to terminate what Lillian Wald called both the "misery" and the "menace" of defectives, without making any effort at all to distinguish or prioritize between the two motives. "By the weeding out of our undesirables," Haiselden explained, "we decrease their burden and ours." Historians and philosophers who have studied the developing early-twentieth-century link between eugenics and euthanasia have pointed to this blurring of social and individual goals, benevolent and utilitarian values, as a critical logical error in ethical reasoning. Historian Robert Proctor criticizes German race hygienists of the 1920s and 1930s for their tendency "to confuse these two very different senses of euthanasia: . . . the one based on relieving suffering, the other based on minimizing medical costs." "The logic in each case is different: in the first, the goal is to provide individual happiness in the final moments of life; in the second, the goal is ... to relieve society of the financial burden of caring for lives considered useless to the community." In many respects Lillian D. Wald was a pioneer. She was a nurse who set up a welfare group in a very poor area of New York. She was also a Jewish lesbian, socialist and feminist, whose views on many subjects were advanced for her time, however, from reading her book it is very clear she was phobic about people with physical and mental impairments including those with learning difficulties. Her book reflected her phobia. 1915 was a busy year for Lillian D. Wald. She wrote a number of articles for The Atlantic Monthly, a liberal arts magazine that had campaigned to abolish slavery. The Nazi killing machine of disabled people known as T4 was led by Herman Hess. It resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 disabled people including Richard Jenne, just four years old, who became the last victim of the euthanasia killers. This happened on 29 May, 1945, in the children's ward of the Kaufbeuren-Irsee state hospital in Bavaria, Germany. Hess was never charged with this war crime of the murder of disabled people. Sadly, Haiselden's and Wald's ideas are not dead and are still rattling around the academic world. In 2012, Dr Francesca Minerva, a philosopher and medical ethicist, had an article published by the British Medical Journal that argued that a young baby is not a real person and so killing it in the first days after birth is little different to aborting it in the womb. Dr Minerva also claimed that doctors should have the right to kill newborn babies because they are disabled, too expensive or simply unwanted by their mothers.
  9. 9. So the word 'handicap' had a very bad start in life. We could assume from the OED that it was first used by abusers who wanted to murder their victims, or was it? After further research it turns out that the OED is incorrect in suggesting Wald as the originator for the use of the word "handicapped" in the context of impairment/disability. However, I have discovered two slightly earlier references for the word “"The Handicapped -- By One of Them" in The Atlantic Monthly (September), in 1911. It is currently available on-line at http://www.ragged-edge- mag.com/0501/0501ft2-1.htm The second reference as a chapter title in 'Youth & Life' by Randolph Silliman Bourne (1886 – 1918) in 1913. A copy can be found in the British Library in London. They were both made by a disabled person and imply disadvantage however neither is abusive. Earlier, The Atlantic Monthly had regularly used 'handicap' in many articles in opposition to slavery and racist attitudes. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, a leading black intellectual who gave a voice to the aspirations of black Americans after the U.S. Civil War wrote in his article "Strivings of the Negro People" published in August 1897 that: To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance,—not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of filth from white whoremongers and adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.
  10. 10. A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems. But alas! while sociologists gleefully count his bastards and his prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as the natural defense of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the “higher” against the “lower” races. To which the Negro cries Amen! There is no such thing as right or wrong in the use of most words, nor is there any such thing as 'politically correct'. The term 'politically correct' was first used by bigots who wanted to continue using abusive language in an abusive linguistic context. In one to one communication we ask a person's name. If the reply we receive is "John", we don't say "Hello Fred" if we expect a reply or even an acknowledgement. Likewise, if we refer to a group of people that we are not a member of, we should use a term that the group uses that acknowledges respect and dignity. This is especially so when the group has suffered historical indignity and discrimination. This is not because it is 'politically correct', it is because it is just good manners. Many years ago, I was talking about language with an African friend. He told me that he had met people "who used all the right words", however, their hostility to him because he was black was revealed in the way they conducted themselves. Likewise, if a poorly educated person who was good natured referred to him as 'coloured', he did not take offence. The Anglo-Saxon words 'cripple' (crypel) and 'lame' (lam) can be dated back to the early 9th century. Neither words were used abusively until the 17th century in the so-called age of enlightenment, when the UK led the world in slavery. It was stated repeatedly at 'Disability Equality Awareness Training' sessions in the UK during the 1980s and 90s that the origin of the term 'handicap' was related to begging, as in the phrase 'cap in hand', however I have found no evidence to support this claim. One last reference in the OED in the context of 'impairment' dated 1958, is that of Peter Townsend, who wrote in N. Mackenzie et al., 'Conviction' on page 118, "The handicapped+still are treated too often as second-class citizens." Sadly, in 2013, I think that people with impairments are treated too often as third-class citizens in western Europe.
  11. 11. References Barnhart, Robert K., (Ed.), (1988: 463 - 464), Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, (Edinburgh and New York: Chambers). Bourne, Randolph, article "The Handicapped By Randolph Bourne". http://www.ragged-edge-mag.com/0501/0501ft2-1.htm retrieved 3rd June 2013 Bourne, Randolph, (1913: 337 - 365), Youth & Life, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin). Burghardt Du Bois, W. E., (1897),"Strivings of the Negro People by W. E. Burghardt Du Bois" article in The Atlantic Monthly No. 80. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/02/strivings-of-the-negro-people/308810/ retrieved 4th June 2013 Friedlander, Henry, (1995:163), Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution, (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press). Pernick, Martin S., (1996: 6, 32, 94, 104, 192n - 11), The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures since 1915 (New York: Oxford University Press). Skeat, Walter W., (Ed.), (1879 - 1882, 1974: 159, 259), AN Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, (Oxford: Clarendon Press). Skeat, Walter W., (Ed.), (1886, 1969: 161) The Vision of William concerning Piers The Plowman, in three parallel texts, together with Richard The Redelesss by William Langland (About 1362-1399 A.D.). Oxford: Oxford University Press). Simpson John A., & Weiner Edmund S.C., (Ed.), (1989, 2004: 1073-1074), Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition, Vol. VI., (Oxford : Clarendon Press). Article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2108433/Doctors-right-kill-unwanted-disabled- babies-birth-real-person-claims-Oxford-academic.html Wald, Lillian D., (1915: 117, 121 - 122) The House on Henry Street (New York: Henry Holt & Company). Illustrations Bourne, Randolph, (1913: front), Youth & Life, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin). Quinn, Gerard, (Ed.), (1990, 1992: 114, 119) The Encyclopaedia of Illustration: A Compilation of More Than 5,000 Illustrations and Designs, (London: Studio Editions). Wald, Lillian D., (1915: front) The House on Henry Street, (New York: Henry Holt & Company).