Handicappers? Handicapable? No! Capihands!

Posted May 4th, 2012 by Anthony

I was reminded again the other day about the etymology of handicapped.

Last night I threw together a quick pasta sauce to put over Costco raviolis. Our neighbor has been kind enough to loan use freezer space for small, plastic bags of mooshed-up tomatoes from last summer. The defrosted tomatoes with a little added fresh garlic, oregano, and olive oil makes for a quick and easy sauce over whatever pasta product we have around.

Last night I went to my go-to cookbook, Mark Bittner’s “How to Cook Everything,” and found a recipe for tomato sauce puttanesca, or sugo alla puttanesca. It was quick, easy, and a hit with my wife, Lyndi, and our 16 year old regular dinner guest from next door. Of course, the etymology of the sauce came up. Did the name really come from the dish Neapolitan prostitutes made between tricks? Well, no one seems to know for sure. From my search it appears there are six to eight different theories.

OK, this is a roundabout way to get to my point. Etymology got me to thinking about the origin of the word handicap. Ed Roberts, like most of us disabled baby boomers, hated the term. He would say that the word came from when our only legitimate occupation was begging and that “cap in hand” got shortened to handicap. It turns out that the word handicap comes from an English pub game, hand in cap. I have yet to be able to figure out how one would win the game. It has something to do with a referee holding two items of dissimilar value hidden in a cap. But then, I can’t figure out how one wins Texas Hold Em or cribbage from reading the rules. Paul Longmore claimed that he knew how to play the game, but he never demonstrated his expertise.

Handicap then got applied to putting weights on racing horses to equalize their differing abilities. Sometime after that we got tagged with the word. Snopes, the website that debunks urban legends and other myths, has a nice article on the history of “handicap,” as does Ron Amundson. I’ve always disliked the word handicap as it represents to me the paternalistic, oppressive attitudes I encountered in the fifties when the word was universal.

Now that we’ve got all that straight, I have a proposal. How about those of us with disabilities reclaim our begging history. We have a long and somewhat proud tradition of surviving through the kindness of strangers. Thus, we should call ourselves Capihands! It has that too incredibly cute ring to it that we’ve shed since we became disabled people or crips. I know it doesn’t work too well for our brothers and sisters without hands—I’ll think of something to rectify that wrong. Ron Admunson, in his essay on handicap, coins the phrase but doesn’t go as far as I want.

Let’s all rally around being capihands, capihand brothers and sisters, capihand rights, the Americans with Capihands Act.

Oh, never mind, I think I’ll have to come up with something less cloying, but it’ll have to be tomorrow.

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