Academics Apologize For Using The Word "Derpy" In Research Paper


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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Like it or loathe it, academia in the media age has to occasionally toe the line between staying relevant and being accessible to people outside the academic bubble. However, one innocent attempt to inject a bit of pop culture into their study has landed two researchers in a spot of trouble.

Angela Willey and Banu Subramaniam recently published an apology for using the word “derpy” in their commentary paper after other academics accused them of using “ableist slurs”.  


Their article "Fighting the Derpy Science of Sexuality," published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior in April 2016, was a commentary on biological research into sexuality, which stated “biological research marches on in its derpy ways.”

In a response to the commentary, fellow scholars Sari van Anders and Zach Schudson accused them of being derogatory towards disabled people: “These authors unfortunately use an ableist slur in their commentary title and content.”

Willey and Subramaniam responded with an apology on July 7: "The word 'derpy' was introduced to us as a pop-cultural term that meant believing in something despite the fact that it has been disproven… As it turns out, the term 'derpy' has also been appropriated as an ablist slur. We regret our negligence in not figuring that out before the Commentary was published. That in our reach to find pithy and accessible language that destabilizes automatic epistemic authority we grasped a term whose usage is deeply implicated in ablist white supremacist legacies of the science of intelligence oddly mirrors one point of our Commentary.”

Their original paper uses the definition of the word "derpy" from an article in The New York Times by economist Paul Krugman. Krugman explains: “Derp is a term borrowed from the cartoon “South Park” that has achieved wide currency among people I talk to, because it’s useful shorthand for an all-too-obvious feature of the modern intellectual landscape: people who keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong.”


While we’re not here to discuss the finer subtleties and social history of the word “derpy”, most consider the word a harmless 21st-century rehash of the 1990’s staple “duhhh”, although the term has also been used to mock people with intellectual disabilities. As the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior notes: “For the interested reader, I suggest that you GOOGLE 'Is the word derpy offensive?' and draw your own conclusions.”

[H/T: Discover Magazine]


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