Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tiger in a Trap

Tiger Woods has come under fire, mainly from the British press, for using the word "spaz" to describe his poor putting at the Masters. "I was so in control from tee to green," said Woods, "the best I've played for years... But as soon as I got on the green I was a spaz."

The word "spaz" derives, of course, from "spastic", a term once used to describe people with motor skills disorders such as cerebral palsy. In fact, the British charity set up to help people stricken with cerebral palsy was called the Spastic Society until the name was changed to Scope not too long ago (I remember seeing the Spastic Society in London in 1992).

The question is, how many people are really aware of the derivation of "spaz"? In the UK, it seems, everyone is. This is probably largely due to the fact that the Spastic Society made that connection explicit. In the US, however, it's not so clear-cut. I'm not arguing that the word is acceptable or benign, but it has never carried the weight it seems to in Britain. I'm only a couple of years older than Tiger (though my handicap, if you will, is much, much higher), and I remember that when I was a kid, the word "spaz" was used to describe someone who was explosively hyperactive. Sure there was the ineptitude and lack of coordination associated with it as well, but, at least in my childhood, this was not the central meaning.

This serves as a reminder that we may share a common language with our British cousins, but that doesn't mean we're all on the same page as far as vocabulary is concerned. A Brit might be plenty surprised to see what kind of reaction the words c**t and tw*t—both comparatively mild on the Emerald Isle—would get over here in the US.

The most troubling aspect of this incident is the behavior of the US media, who apparently realized Tiger's faux pas and sought to ameliorate it.
An article on Tuesday in online newspaper The Age tracked the reporting of Woods comments and found that spaz was edited out of subsequent news packages. They also say that an LA Times reporter got Tiger to re-word his sentence replacing spaz with wreck so he could report it with no problems.
It's quite apparent that Tiger was not trying to be offensive, so there's no reason for the media to try to cover up what is essentially a non-issue. At best, this incident will raise some awareness in the States. But, if people blow it all out of proportion, things are just going to get retarded. And that would be totally gay. (Forgive me.)
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