Scottish newspaper Daily Record jumped on Ricky Gervais’ case on May 23 for using the term “mong” in a bit onstage he did during his a recent UK tour stop. He was referring to Britain’s Got Talent champion singer Susan Boyle.
For those of you who, like myself, had no idea what “mong” meant and are now therefore confused as what the hubbub is about, it seems the term is a decidedly offensive way of referring to someone with Down Syndrome—short for “mongoloid.” Or, at least, it was a word used in that context.
I write “was” because, apparently, this is no longer the case.
Gervais responded to the article quickly, explaining on his official blog that he sent a letter to the Down Syndrome Association, who, had contacted his camp for some sort of explanation.
“I clearly explain that words change and that at no point am I referring to anyone with Down’s syndrome. Not only am I not referring to people with Down’s Syndrome I also explain that I am not associating the word with its old derogatory meaning. I also do it as part of a routine about comedians taking responsibility for everything they say. I hope this is acceptable.” the comedian wrote.
Even the Record’s article recognizes that words and their meanings can change over time, calling the term “outdated.” And the highest rated definition of the term on Urban Dictionary describes the meaning as “Lacking in physical and cerebral ability. General retardation. Generally: a total spastic.”
According to this publicly run dictionary, the term has nothing to do with Down Syndrome anymore; instead, it’s simply another way of calling somebody an idiot.
But based on the report, it doesn’t seem like this was what Gervais was going for.
When you look at what he said – “Well, she’s a mong, isn’t she? She looks like a mong, doesn’t she? – it’s a bit challenging to believe his usage fits into the new definition of the term, since the updated meaning mentions nothing of appearance. The old definition, however, referred to a group of people born with certain mental and physical characteristics.
It seems like Gervais is back-pedaling a bit to save face. And honestly, it seems the Down Syndrome Association wasn’t all that committed to their argument, seeing as, according to the comedian, they responded to his explanation like this: “Fully explained and acceptable reply. Please extend our thanks to Ricky for the prompt reply.”
Regardless of what Gervais was trying to say onstage, his “meaning-of-derogatory-words-change” is a theme common to stand-up comedy— so much so that both Louis CK and Marc Maron have opened entire albums with the concept.
On his 2006 album Tickets Still Available, Maron says he wants the word “retarded” back; he wants to be able to say it again without the guilt. (Start listening at the 1:55 mark).
Two years later, on his album and DVD, Chewed Up, Louis CK talks about his usage and the history (as he sees it) of the word “faggot.”
After listening to the Maron, C.K. and reading about Gervais, what do you think? Is it ok for comedians to use words like these when they aren’t using them to attack certain groups of people? Are they attacking those groups, whether its their intention or not? Let us know!