You all may have heard the term “spaz” before. Perhaps you may have heard or used the word spaz in a phrase or sentence to describe a person or situation. You may or may not have had any intentions of offending anyone. But a considerable number of U.S. citizens familiar with the slang terminology have become accustomed to adopting it in their vocabulary and are learning that it has a derogatory meaning in other territories. As a result, celebrities like Lizzo and Beyonce, the latest, have included the term in their songs and have removed the word from their most recent projects.
“I’m about to spaz out” could have double meanings. In some cases, a person using that statement could be eluding to a potentially great time, like dancing or drinking (perhaps exceeding their limits). Other instances could include fighting or other forms of violence. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a spaz as “one who is inept” or a “klutz.” They also include that the term is “often offensive” when used. In addition, they provide a brief history that the word is shortened and altered from the word spastic and that it was first used in 1965.
Although the word appears to be freely used in the United States, spaz is considered significantly insulting and derogatory in the United Kingdom, where it’s regarded as an “ableist” slur by disability activists. Not only is the word used for persons described as awkward or clumsy, but the British Dictionary also defines spaz as “an old-fashioned and now offensive name for a person who has cerebral palsy.”
For this reason, a few prominent figures in entertainment have received backlash for using the word. According to The Guardian, Tiger Woods faced repercussions when he used it in a sentence to describe his game during a postgame interview following a loss in 2006. The golf champion apologized for the offensive remark and stated he “meant nothing derogatory to any person or persons.” Then in July of 2022 – fresh off of the release of her latest chart-topping album, Special, Lizzo was bombarded with adverse reactions for using the word on the track “Grrrls.” Many disability activists came forward attempting to cancel Lizzo.
One, in particular, Hannah Diviney, addressed Lizzo on Twitter with attempts to educate the singer on the word spaz. She claimed that her use of the word made her feel “angry [and] sad” and further expressed that she “do better.” Lizzo offered an explanation in response and stated that she had no harmful intentions for using the word as a lyric in the song. She included that the track has been updated on the album, with the word having since been removed. “As an influential artist I’m dedicated to being part of the change I’ve been waiting to see in the world,” said Lizzo.
Beyonce is the latest to feel the wrath of disability activists. Her song “Heated” from Renaissance also includes the term in a lyric. The song, co-written by Drake, also caught the attention of Diviney. She headed to Twitter to address Beyonce, saying that the inclusion of the word felt like a “slap in the face” to her. Others on social media joined in on the backlash. Diviney expanded on her thoughts with an extensive piece written for The Guardian. This prompted Beyonce and her team to address social media by offering a statement to her fans. The multi-Grammy Award-winning singer’s team provided a statement obtained by Variety clarifying that the word was not meant to be used offensively and promised it would be removed from the song.
However, this trend of removing song lyrics due to backlash is not sitting well with many. Some on social media are describing it as dangerous. One of those arguing against this new trend is rapper and actor Joey Bada$$. Taking to Twitter, the rapper spoke against the backlash that Lizzo faced and said that white people wait for the slightest thing that people of color say for them to deem offensive. “I ain’t never apologizing to white America,” he wrote. For context, in 2011, when Betty White declared herself a “technological spaz” during an interview, she never faced backlash. Multiple reports claim that the late actress called herself that while referring to an unused joke written for her about Facebook during her SNL hosting duties.