Learn English – Mongoloid with reference to Down’s syndrome


Could we use mongoloid with reference to Down's syndrome in informal English?

Best Answer

No, don't use use mongoloid to refer to Down's syndrome in any form of English, it's offensive.

The Downs Syndrome Association advise the media of What To Say / Not Say, including:

Don't Say: Mongol
Do Say: person/baby/child with Down's syndrome

Down's Syndrome Scotland recently issued a statement, this is much more relevant to informal English, and I'll quote it in full:

Statement regarding Ricky Gervais' use of "Mong" on Twitter

(24 October 2011) Last week Ricky Gervais, a well known comedian as well as writer and actor in The Office, tweeted his followers using “Good monging” and “Goodnight twongols”. Since these tweets and others last week appeared, the media and Twitter followers have been voicing their various viewpoints.

Ricky Gervais defends his use of the word, saying that the word has changed its meaning.He tweeted:“Just to clarify for uptight people stuck in the past. The word Mong means Down’s syndrome about as much as the word Gay means happy. i.e. I never use the word Mong to mean anything to do with Down’s syndrome.”

However, the comedian continued to post photos similar to this one. The tweet above reads: “Goodnight tweetmonglers…This face is for you guys….” These photos do little to prove that the meaning has changed from a derogatory term used to refer to people with Down’s syndrome who have some form of learning disability.

Where did “mong” come from?

The word “mong” derives from the word “mongol” and “mongoloid”. Dr. John Langdon Down, who discovered Down’s syndrome in the 1860s, used “mongolism” and “mongoloid” to describe the syndrome as he stated that there were similar physical characteristics of people with Down’s syndrome to people from Mongolia and Mongoloid race (those of Asian ethnicity). This phrase was used until the 1960s, when scientists petitioned to use “Down’s syndrome” instead of “Mongolism” or “Mongoloid” as they were embarrassing terms for Chinese and Japanese scientists and academics to use this word to refer to the syndrome.

Mongolia delegates from the World Health Organisation later requested that the use of “mongolism” and “mongol” be dropped from WHO publications.

Why is “mong” such an issue?

Today, the word “mong” is used quite frequently. However, have you ever heard it used in a positive way? Have you used it to mean “idiot”, “slow” or “stupid”? These words have been used throughout history and today to refer to people with learning disabilities and people with Down’s syndrome. Has the word really changed?

We have seen words like the “N word”, which referred to black slaves in America change its meaning as some black people have taken back the word and refer to their black friends as “nigga”. However, this word is generally not used by white people as there is a respect and understanding that the origins of the word represent oppression to black people.

People with learning disabilities cannot reclaim the word “mong”. People with learning disabilities are often left out of society. Due to disproportionate cuts to their services, it's harder to secure jobs and college places leaving people with learning disabilities stuck at home.

We know many people with Down’s syndrome face abuse on the street every day including having the word “mong” shouted at them. When Ricky Gervais or others with similar prominence use this word, people hear it and think it’s alright to use this word how they see fit. Words hit hard and punch you whether you’re up or down.

Not only is the word offensive to people with Down’s syndrome but it is also offensive to Mongolians. If you were a Mongol, how would you like to hear your nationality used as a word that meant “slow”, “stupid” or “idiot”? In an age where people are seeing the consequences bullying has on its victims, why would you promote a negative word with negative pictures? This word is not only harmful to people with Down’s syndrome but to Mongolians.

We encourage Ricky Gervais to speak to his local Down’s syndrome organisation or phone us on 0131 313 4225 for more information. We are happy to put him in contact with people with Down’s syndrome who can explain what the word “mong” means to them. While you may not have known that “mong” refers to Down’s syndrome, will you stop using it now that you know? We hope to erase ignorance over the potency of this word. By educating others on the harm this word does, we hope you and others choose not to use it in the future. By doing so, you are supporting a group in society that is often disregarded.

Read more about disablist language from Richard Herring.

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