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#4914 - 08/02/00 09:01 PM orphan
michaelo Offline

Registered: 08/02/00
Posts: 31
Loc: Long Beach, CA, USA
A search of the AWADTalk database and archives shows zero hits for word "orphan."

In addition to being burdened with my parents' death I also had to suffer the awful weight of being categorized as an orphan since I was five. Sadly, my parents committed suicide and it was the mid-60s and the orphan designation carried a lot of baggage and implications. I was so young but even then it seemed wretched to be called an orphan. Now the word still seems archaic and Dickensian. The worst threat to me as a child was to be sent to "the orphanage."

The word "orphan" doesn't seem to be in current usage and it seems that news reporters somehow can reveal family tragedies without using the word even when it's "appropriate." As much as I despise the word, my experience of being an orphan was every bit Dickensian as the word evokes. Now it seems like being an orphan is one of our last taboos and children with dead parents go on to live happily ever after with their favorite aunt, simple and done as that. I know that this can't be the case in reality. I suspect that orphans are still maligned by the public and aren't the topic of choice at cocktail parties. Also, one doesn't read about orphans in the news, there isn't a TV show about them, and Hollywood treats them as a relic from the 19th century.

So here are my questions: Is the term "orphan" being abandoned? or is it that the phenomenon of a child having both parents die just an extremely rare occurrence in western civilization? what word has replaced it? or, as I have mentioned, is this simply taboo territory?

michaelo (newbie)

#4915 - 08/02/00 09:44 PM Re: orphan
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11613
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
Welcome, mike-o. Good to have you aBoard.

Having spent most of my working life in Child Protective
Services, I'll offer kind of an insider's view. Though not from the perspective of a resident, fortunately for me.

I believe the term orphan has slipped from common use because the term orphanage is not used any more, or only
rarely. And this, I think, is because the word orphanage
developed a well-deserved pejorative connotation. (This puts me in mind of the political correctness thread.) I have very little information on this, but I know that in the
fifties, there was something in the U.S. called the Orphan
Train, which was well-known for dispatching children to all sorts of places, and not all of them were carefully scrutinized to ensure that they really were orphans.
In the first half of this century, there was very little
oversight of who was sent to live in orphanages, or of the treatment they received once they got there. There was also very little checking as to the quality of homes the orphanage children were adopted out to.

Today, orphanages are "children's homes". A bereft child is not generally called an orphan, but is spoken of as being in the custody of a relative, or having been placed at a children's home.

#4916 - 08/02/00 11:16 PM Re: orphan
michaelo Offline

Registered: 08/02/00
Posts: 31
Loc: Long Beach, CA, USA
Thanks, Jackie. I guess the point is that a single word has evolved into a phrase or even a sentence. The "custody" designation is more catch-all and includes children with living parents who may be in jail, addicted, irresponsible or stupid. In other words, the specific word for children with dead parents is (will be) lost to usage. This trend from the specific to the broad doesn't seem to follow the general trend of active language.

#4917 - 08/03/00 08:30 AM Re: orphan
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11613
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
michael, I think you're right--mostly, the trend is toward the ultra-specific.
I do have to say something about your use of word stupid, though. To me, that almost implies deliberately doing something well, stupid, by someone who at least ought to have known better. The word can also be used,
(here comes that political correctness thing again) pejoratively, to mean mentally deficient. In other words, a
person who is literally "stupid" cannot know better. In this case I really prefer the more politically correct terms. One time I had to testify in front of a set of parents that their children should be removed permanently because they were literally incapable of learning to care for the children adequately. It was one of the hardest things I ever did in that job.

#4918 - 08/03/00 10:14 AM Re: orphan
william Offline

Registered: 07/12/00
Posts: 200
i'm very interested that this was brought up. it seems to me that kids get the rough end of the pineapple in many things, including language. orphan seems to be being (is that a tense - please tell me!) replaced with sentences like "his parents have died", or even more oblique ones "he lives with his grandparents. but i think, with all respect to your situation, michaelo, it's not as common these days for both parents to die and leave children.
using the word orphan would seem to be a lead in to a sweeping saga, and perhaps there were so many of these, and too many parodies like G and S, that milked its pathos for effect, that the word can't be used without those connotations any more.
a junior high school boy killed himself in japan this week (not before writing "help" in english on the phone message pad at home). his principal suggested he was easily bullied and seemed not to take it seriously.
i really believe that children are one of the groups yet to be liberated. we use animal sounding words for them: kid, ankle biter; whereas words like bird, bunny are clearly seen as derogatory for women, pillow biter an insult to gays. adults think "kid" is cute, but no children like to be called that.
and we silence them with "when you're older" or "you're too young to understand", if they even try to use our own language against us.
not to mention forced congregation in "schools".
words can change but only after attitudes change. in fact words are probably a clear indication of our attitudes.
jackie, since you have some experience in this field, why is it we can still get away with treating children in ways we couldn't treat other people?

#4919 - 08/03/00 10:29 AM Re: orphan
jackiemw Offline

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 18
This is an interesting discussion. I teach in a school for incarcerated female adolescents, many of whom are "undomiciled." That's not a synonym for orphan, though. It may include girls who have no living parents but also those whose parents are unknown as well. Just thought I'd throw that in.

#4920 - 08/03/00 11:15 AM Re: orphan
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11613
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
>>, why is it we can still get away with treating children in ways we couldn't treat other people?

The ultimate answer is simple, william: Children are
dependent. They are dependent for their very lives. They are not physically or mentally capable of caring adequately for themselves. They are nowhere near to being on an equal power base with adults.

There is a lot more that could be said, but this is really the core, so I'll stop now. P'raps others would care to
put their views---

#4921 - 08/03/00 01:21 PM Re: orphan
Brandon Offline

Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 218
Loc: Mountain West, USA

Is the orphan of "orphan drug" related to the parentless definition of orphan? I can stretch the two definitions together, but I am interested in a more definitive answer.

excerpted Gurunet reference: Orphan drugs, developed under the U.S. Orphan Drug Act (1983), treat diseases that affects a relatively small number of people. The terms of the orphan drug law offer tax breaks and a seven-year monopoly on drug sales to induce companies to undertake development and manufacturing of such drugs, which otherwise might not be profitable.

#4922 - 08/03/00 04:29 PM Re: orphan
jmh Offline

Registered: 03/22/00
Posts: 1981
On the subject of other uses of the word - Printers and publishing software use the term "widows and orphans" for single lines left at the ends or beginnings of pages.

I always feel a little sad when I select the widows & orphans option!

#4923 - 08/04/00 12:04 AM Re: orphan
michaelo Offline

Registered: 08/02/00
Posts: 31
Loc: Long Beach, CA, USA
"Stupid" is worthy of attention. I'll bet there are plenty of mentally deficient parents doing an admirable job of raising children. I perhaps used the word "stupid" too casually for a text-based discussion. I was thinking of a news story where 2 supposedly "normal" parents left an 8-year-old to take care of a 2-year-old while they went on a weekend getaway skiing trip. These children ended up in family services.

I hear and read the word "stupid" so often I guess I have become numb to its core meaning. Also, being marginally trained in psychology/psychiatry nomenclature I am very specific when referring to mental conditions or states. Other words that come to mind are "idiot" "moron" and "cretin" but these too come from a rather clinical background.

It's difficult for me to think of a word, one with import and feeling, that describes those that are selfish, rude, discompassionate, one-sided, etc. "Unthoughtful" is way too nice; "jerk" a little childish; and the current usage of "vulgar" isn't accurate.

My initial post spawned from the "PC" discussion and I guess this is PC issue also. So what's the PC word preference for "stupid" one that's not demeaning to other groups but one that is forceful and shows disgust?


PS: This is a great group! I spent over 4 hours reading
way too many posts into the wee hours last night.

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