Origin of the Word Handicap
It is said that the word ‘handicap’ was originated from wounded and disabled veterans in England during the reign of King Henry VII. Since they were unable to make a living for themselves after the war, they were forced to take to the streets for begging with their “cap in hand.” King Henry VII legally allowed them to beg, because he did not think they could hold down jobs. Disabled individuals, therefore, became known as “handicapped” However, handicapped did not take on the “disabled” meaning until the early 20th century.
Long before the word meant “disability,” it was once referred to a method of securing a fair deal, popular among traders. In the Deal, two parties offering goods for exchange would call upon a neutral third party, the arbitrator or the umpire, to oversee the deal. He would assess the value of the goods involved, and give the owner of the less valuable goods a cash figure that they would have to add to the deal to make it fair. Both traders would then take a token amount of money in their hands, and put their hand inside a cap held by the arbitrator. If both agreed to the deal, they would drop the cash into the cap of the arbitrator, as his fee for securing a fair deal and the deal would be complete. If neither, or just one trader agreed, the umpire would get nothing and no deal would go ahead.
Soon the word gained a new meaning. Handicaps were imposed to the stronger players, meaning they were being penalized, or weakened, to be more on par with the other competitors to make the game fair.
The first known instance of this was in 1754 during horse races. Today. The handicap rule is also maintained in other sports too. In a footrace, the person with a better track record than the others might have to start further back than the other competitors. Golf, polo, bowling, and even pool games will sometimes assign handicaps to players, usually based on averages from previous games.
Since the word ‘handicap’ basically came to mean “put at a disadvantage,” it was only a short time before it started being applied to people with some sort of physical disability. However, “disabled” is categorized by some as a negative and sick word. In the 1980s, a new word, ‘differently abled’ was first proposed as an alternative to mean disabled, handicapped, etc. on the grounds that it gave a more positive message.