Ellie Simmonds, 4ft tall, is a British national treasure. In 2008, she captured the nation's heart when at the Beijing Paralympics she won two gold medals in the pool, at the age of 13. She has since won several more, gold, silver and bronze, in London and now in Rio. At the London games there was a wonderful moment when the Prime Minister, David Cameron (over 6ft tall) had to bend almost double to kiss her on both cheeks when he presented her with one of her medals.

Ellie suffers from achondroplasia, an inherited condition in which the growth of long bones by ossification of cartilage is retarded, resulting in very short limbs and sometimes a face which is small in relation to the skull (Oxford Dictionary Online)

The dictionary entry does not refer to dwarfism at all, and nor does the Wiki entry on Ellie Simmonds. But achondroplasia is such a mouthful of a word, and very few people know what it means, that it seems better to say she suffers from dwarfism.

Is there anything wrong with that?

  • 4
    There are more than a dozen causes for short stature (dwarfism) and achondroplasia is one of them. It's the kind of dwarfism where all four limbs are very short. Dwarfism can also be present in an individual who has all four limbs proportional to their trunk. That said, I believe the British Prime Minister just wanted to use the more specific and scientific term. The term "dwarfism" was in use through the 1970's and 80's in medical books but seems to have been replaced by "short stature". That's what we see these days. Is "dwarfism offensive", I don't know. That's why this is only a comment.
    – Centaurus
    Sep 16, 2016 at 1:18

1 Answer 1


I've never heard of the word dwarfism being considered offensive or objectionable, in and of itself. For example, WebMD has an article on "dwarfism" and it mentions that the term is officially used by an advocacy group, "Little People of America." When it comes to people with widely recognized medical conditions like achondroplasia, dwarfism seems like it would definitely fit and be appropriate. Aside from being more easily understood, in my opinion it's also useful to have a word that covers the general condition without specifying the cause (achondroplasia is only one type of dwarfism).

As far as I can tell, the term dwarf to describe an individual with dwarfism is also not considered offensive in general, although some people might prefer to be described with other terms. There were mixed answers about it on this Quora post: "Are both the terms "dwarf" and "midget" considered offensive?" The main term that I know of that is definitely advisable to avoid in this area is "midget." I have read that many little people/people with dwarfism consider it extremely offensive (and the Quora answers back that up).

  • +1 The Little People of America site use the term "dwarf" e.g., World Dwarf Games 2017 and their president uses the term dwarf.
    – Jim
    Sep 16, 2016 at 3:39
  • @Jim The Oxford Dictionary Online says: In the sense 'an abnormally small person' dwarf is normally considered offensive. However, there are no accepted alternatives in the general language, since terms such as 'a person of restricted growth' have gained little currency.
    – WS2
    Sep 16, 2016 at 8:11
  • @WS2 - Well ODO may not be current. At my daughter’s school there was a dwarf girl and they sent out a notice to everyone when she arrived that said explicitly that she was to be called a dwarf and not a midget. YMMV.
    – Jim
    Sep 16, 2016 at 19:06
  • And obviously there’s “little people”...
    – Jim
    Sep 16, 2016 at 19:07
  • @Jim Little people seems popular in America, but I have noticed one UK site counselling against, and putting it in the category of midget. Then again I have seen others actually preferring midget. My impression is that in Britain dwarf is the preferred term. There is of course the Dwarf Sports Association whose patron in chief is none other than Ellie Simmonds. I guess that with schools, like your daughter's, they take advice from the parents of the child.
    – WS2
    Sep 16, 2016 at 19:59

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