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(Regarding a poem)
Is it grammatically correct to say that someone did something "impaired"? In this case as a metaphor for something. For example, I didn't want to give a speech in front of everyone so I "spoke impaired". I spoke, but my mind was absent. I wasn't really there, it was against my will etc..

What worries me is that I don't want people with disabilities getting offended or thinking I'm talking about that kind of impairment. Does the word "impaired" instantly get people to think about human disabilities or could it work here as another meaning for speaking with no passion, absent minded, without expression etc?

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  • You can never guarantee that any given choice of wording will not cause anyone to be offended. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 19:51
  • No that's true, but as a Swede it's hard for me to hear how native english speakers hears a word. In this case, I wouldn't want to use it if the majority instantly thinks "disability".
    – poem
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 20:06

3 Answers 3

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The word "impair" is quite general and does not refer specifically to disabilities; see The Free Dictionary. When someone has a disability, we say that they have a speech impediment, not a speech impairment.

Your proposed use doesn't correspond very well to the usual meaning of the word "impair."

That said, this is poetry; words can mean (almost) whatever you want them to mean.

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  • Hm now I'm having a hard time deciding.. In the poem, it's meant to be "Sang impaired".
    – poem
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 20:04
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The term "impaired" does indeed have a technical usage in medicine and public health, alongside disability and handicap. You're not entirely wrong that people are becoming more sensitive about using medical descriptions of disability as pejorative. For example, Beyonce and Lizzoj recently used the word "spaz" in a song and later retracted and changed the lyrics. News article on Beyonce's capitulation

That said, impaired is a general word and as a native speaker, I don't think there are any negative connotations. I suppose a context that could cause offense is if you were suggesting someone was speaking as if they had a mental impairment or speech impediment.

Alternatives could include "addled" (eg, addled by alcohol, addled by indifference), or, even more directly, "absent-mindedly" or "vacantly" or "dissociated as I spoke" (the latter may run into the same concern!). Of course, poetry is about capturing a thought in a precise and expressive way, so I'm not sure if these alternatives would work, nor am I sure you even need to consider making a substitution in the first place!

(1) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S089543569900133X

(2) https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/08/02/beyonce-spaz-slur/

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Especially when associated with sight or speech, it is difficult to avoid a misunderstanding.

For starters, impaired is not an adverb but un adjective, so you cannot *speak impaired.

You could qualify your speech or discourse as subdued, restrained, unconfident, and the list can on.

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  • Oh yes, I meant "Spoke impaired", or as in the poem it actually was meant to be "Sang impaired".. Thank you for your help, I think I should avoid that word then.
    – poem
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 20:02
  • I find this misunderstanding unlikely. This word order is also fine; participles often occur separated from the nouns they modify.
    – alphabet
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 20:06

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