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letters about being little

Cecil Castellucci links to a fabulous set of letters between Roger Ebert and actor Daniel Woodburn on the preferred terminology for talking about people of particularly small stature. (It's little person or small-statured.) Woodburn sez:
The truth is Little People or Persons of Short Stature or Dwarfs do not have equal rights under the law. We are forbidden to join the military or police force based purely on size and not ability. Accessibility laws laid down by the ADA are not always accommodating to Little People. The ACLU, has not, in my experience acknowledged such issues as forcible eviction, denial of housing, or employment and education when it comes to people with Dwarfism. The response was "We don't recognize that there is any such race as the Dwarf race." True though it may be, in my opinion there needs to be a precedent set in support of Little People.

With regard to the term Little People, I suppose that until we can get the world at large not to describe someone as black or Jewish or disabled or Asian or Hispanic when we talk of their existence, we must include the term "People" in order to keep them in the one race that we all share -- the human race.
Cecil sez:
Some of you may know that I am little. I do not have dwarfism. But I am an adult of short stature (4'10"). I even joined the Little People of America. And I have gotten great tips on how to adjust the world to fit me. Like when I get a new car, I'm going to get blocks for the pedals. I have a seatbelt adjustor. I now know about Cinderella of Boston for the fancy tiny lady shoes. (I can only wear kids shoes, my feets are so tiny.)
On the various whys of the terminology, an excerpt from
Little person (as opposed to big person), and short-statured are currently preferred terms to refer to a person with extreme, disproportionate shortness. Dwarf is sometimes perceived as having negative connotations, although the term is often used by those affected. The plural is dwarfs — dwarves is used only for the imaginary creature. In the 19th century both dwarf and midget were ordinary medical terms referring to persons of disproportionate and proportionate shortness, respectively. Like many other older medical terms, they became primarily pejorative as they entered popular use. Midget is now considered offensive in all contexts to most, but not all little people.
On a note related only because I often write about books, years ago John Ney Rieber gave me The Dwarf by Par Lagerkvist and it's one of the only books I've ever had to stop reading. There's a scene close to the beginning where the court dwarf of the title, who is EEEVIL, kills the princess's kitten while she is asleep and holding it. The manner of death is especially awful. (Of course, Lagerkvist won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so what do I know?)

And on a closing note both related to this topic and books, I highly recommend John Richardson's In the Little World: A True Story of Dwarfs, Love, and Trouble, which came out in 2002.

Why did I read it in the first place? Some friends sent it to me because they know I possess a fierce admiration for little people -- it seems to me the world refuses to bend for them, so every day they bend it into the shape they need. Sometimes with great pain and trouble. Which is pretty amazing when the day to day business of life is so easy for most of the rest of us.


  • At 1:43 PM , Blogger cc said...

    it is an amazing exchange, those emails. so fascinating.

    just fyi, I edited my post to say that I don't have dwarfism and added my height.


    p.s. I love your blog.

  • At 1:47 PM , Blogger Dave said...

    Lagerkvist uses the "dwarf"'s outer appearance (which is deformed as well as being small) as a symbolic reflection of his twisted insides, which is of course problematic because of the appearance = worth perceptions that it activates. But as a political allegory the novel is fascinating. Later on in his life Lagerkvist went all Dickian and became obsessed with religious mysticism, in novels like Barabbas and The Sybil. Barabbas, in particular, is something of a masterpiece, in a despairing Scandinavian modernist sort of way.

    Oops, sorry. Rarely do I get to make use of my Scandinavian Studies degree . . .

  • At 1:52 PM , Blogger gwenda said...

    Altered -- I love your blog too and can't wait for The Queen of Cool!

    Dave: That cat killing scene is just beyond the pale. 's all I'm sayin'.

  • At 1:59 PM , Blogger Dave said...

    It is harsh.

  • At 7:27 AM , Blogger Tia O'Connor said...

    I read Par Lagerkvist and Gunter Grass's novels. I really like Lagerkvist for his narative talent. But you are right, his novel is quite "cruel". Gunter Grass's hero has another role in the novel, the book is very good, difficult to read though, since he keeps changing the narative style and uses tones of symbolism that is very challenging when it comes to interpretation.


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