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View Full Version : When did "the short bus" come to be associated with the mentally handicapped?


Spectre of Pithecanthropus
02-22-2008, 10:00 PM
It's understood by pretty much everyone nowadays that when somebody mentions the short bus in regard to someone, they are saying that person is not very bright. This presumably comes from the notion that a school district typically uses its shortest buses to ferry the handicapped kids around. Maybe it's always been that way, but I'm pretty sure that when I was in public school (graduated HS 1975) I never heard that. If you saw a short bus you just thought, "That's certainly a short bus", and you thought it was just short because not many kids lived on that route.

We did prefer the long, coach-type buses, for example Crown Coach, but that was mainly because they seemed to ride better for the most part.

Shagnasty
02-22-2008, 10:05 PM
I first heard the term in 1994. I know that because I remember the party and college year when I thought it was funny. Short buses have been around for quite a while though and their purpose is clear in most places. I have reference points in a few states.

Balthisar
02-22-2008, 10:08 PM
Gosh, I knew about the short busses back as a third grader. That'd be '80-'81. All of the busses were normal, large, "Bluebird" type of school busses, except for the ones that picked up the special needs kids. Of course "special needs" also included the physically handicapped in addition to the 'tards.

thirdname
02-22-2008, 10:10 PM
Where I grew up, it was associated with special-education students who had to be bussed to special centers outside of their normal school district. Since the rides were longer and they usually went to individual houses, they would have to have fewer students on a bus route and thus a smaller bus. They could either mentally handicapped, "emotionally disturbed," or sometimes physically handicapped. A lot of the buses with wheelchair lifts were short, though there were also long buses with lifts. So, riding the short bus usually meant you were either retarded, crazy or delinquent. You weren't quite right.

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
02-22-2008, 10:20 PM
Where I grew up, it was associated with special-education students who had to be bussed to special centers outside of their normal school district. Since the rides were longer and they usually went to individual houses, they would have to have fewer students on a bus route and thus a smaller bus. They could either mentally handicapped, "emotionally disturbed," or sometimes physically handicapped. A lot of the buses with wheelchair lifts were short, though there were also long buses with lifts. So, riding the short bus usually meant you were either retarded, crazy or delinquent. You weren't quite right.

If you don't mind, when were you in school?

In my district the buses went right to most kids' houses whether they were long or short, and our route included many narrow, curvy, and hilly roads.

Santo Rugger
02-22-2008, 10:27 PM
<snip> So, riding the short bus usually meant you were either retarded, crazy or delinquent. You weren't quite right.

Or were in the gifted program. I caught a lot of shit for it!!! I second the going to each person's house thing, though, because none of my other buses ever drove down my road, except the short bus.

Little Nemo
02-22-2008, 10:49 PM
Pretty much what riker wrote. When I was a student (all those years ago) the special ed students were driven to their program in a minivan which was in fact "shorter" than a regular schoolbus. I'll admit I don't know the specifics, but I assume that several rural school districts, including my own, had joined together and consolidated their special ed students into one central program.

TheLoadedDog
02-22-2008, 10:54 PM
I've never heard it in Australia, only on the SDMB. However, when I first saw it, I knew exactly what was meant, and if I'd first heard it in 1980, my reaction would have been the same.


Here, these buses were delightfully called "spaz buses". There is a local comedian called Steady Eddy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Widdows) who has cerebral palsy. He rode these buses as a kid, and used to do a gag about them in his shows: "The teachers always told us we were normal and we didn't stand out. Then they'd herd us onto a minibus with SPASTIC CENTRE OF NEW SOUTH WALES in two-foot high letters right down the side!"

Koxinga
02-23-2008, 02:00 AM
Or were in the gifted program. I caught a lot of shit for it!!! I second the going to each person's house thing, though, because none of my other buses ever drove down my road, except the short bus.

It's weird how gifted and special needs students were conflated at my school too. Not about buses; I suppose it might have been because both programs were housed in the same wing of the school.

Santo Rugger
02-23-2008, 02:19 AM
It's weird how gifted and special needs students were conflated at my school too. Not about buses; I suppose it might have been because both programs were housed in the same wing of the school.

Amongst other thing. Same wing of the school, it was obvious we were "different" than the rest of the students, I left class during math and science lectures. To an outside observer who's 10 and only knows that a peer is in "Special Education", I can see how they would think that way.

It was the most surreal thing, though, when we stopped one day to pick up a gal who needed a wheelchair, and her mom came out to the bus stop crying to tell us that her daughter had passed away over the weekend, so we didn't need to stop there any more. I never saw one of my bus drivers cry, it was a very odd situation. :(

brownsfan
02-23-2008, 02:41 AM
I looked through the posts hoping I could answer a question, because this is the field I work in, but, as usual, you all beat me to it.

I'm a tard-wrangler. I'm that guy that you see translating mentally-handicapped orders into English at Burger King. Oh, the stories I could tell.

Does this board still do the "Ask the (whatever)?

If so, where do I start the thread? MPSIMS? If not there, then IMHO?

If threads like this are no longer welcome, an answer to that is appreciated.

Ask the tard-wrangler. It's just brimming with possibilities.

Then again, it may have been done before. I've only been here a year, and won't be through the archives for several more.

I didn't do a search of this board, because ...

zuma
02-23-2008, 03:08 AM
I'm a little confused... Why would students in the gifted program need to use a special bus? Are you sure you were actually in the gifted program? :)

jayjay
02-23-2008, 03:16 AM
I don't want to be the one to have the Recreation Outrage post of the week here, but "tard"? Are people on this message board actually using this epithet non-ironically? What's the matter with you people?! Especially someone that actually works with these children! Do you call them that to their faces?

Darryl Lict
02-23-2008, 03:30 AM
I first heard of the term short bus in 2007 when someone was talking about a movie. Somehow it was mentioned that short bus was a term for the transportation for mentally handicapped people. Imagine my surprise when I saw the film Shortbus. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0367027/) I'm usually pretty savvy about movies, but this one wasn't quite what I expected.

brownsfan
02-23-2008, 04:29 AM
I don't want to be the one to have the Recreation Outrage post of the week here, but "tard"? Are people on this message board actually using this epithet non-ironically? What's the matter with you people?! Especially someone that actually works with these children! Do you call them that to their faces?

First, why do you assume I'm talking about children? The client I have in my home is 35 years old.

Second, she can't understand me, because she is profoundly retarded. Do you have a problem with that term as well? Yeah, she's a <gulp> retard.

Jesus Christ. She lives in my home, and I love her. Lighten up.

gwendee
02-23-2008, 07:40 AM
In our school district there was one short bus. We called it the mini-bus and it's passengers were students with physical limitations. There was one girl with a wheel chair who rode the mini-bus for all of our school years. Students with injuries would ride it to. If you got a cast or crutches Mr. R would pick you up at your door in the mini-bus.

Some years ago a friend of mine would talk about "riding the short bus in a hockey helmet". He'd say things like "if you don't wear a mask when you spray this suff your kids'll end up going to school on the short bus wearing hockey helmets."

Shortly after that it started to seem as if "short bus" was in pretty common usage.

Khadaji
02-23-2008, 08:29 AM
Not to highjack, but I'm not sure this deserves a separate thread: How common is the phrase outside the States?

11811
02-23-2008, 09:01 AM
Maybe it's always been that way, but I'm pretty sure that when I was in public school (graduated HS 1975) I never heard that.

I graduated in 1979 in suburban South Jersey. I think at the time we actually called it "the retard bus" rather than the short bus. That short style bus was well-known as carrying handicapped kids.

I remember hearing a story that the cheerleaders got dressed down once for complaining when they had to ride the retard bus to and from a football game.

j666
02-23-2008, 10:07 AM
Gosh, I knew about the short busses back as a third grader. That'd be '80-'81. ...
That's about the first time I heard it; people thought I lived in a cave for not knowing what it meant.

Si Amigo
02-23-2008, 10:40 AM
I've known of the term since at least 1970 when I actually met my friends retarded brother. The phrase was a common joke even before then I'm sure, probably from as far back as the 50's even.

What's really stuck with me over the years was the name of the school the retarded kids went to in my hometown, Antony Wayne Local. Whenever I hear his name I automatically think retard. Now Antony Wayne was a Revolutionary War general/hero and a master of Indian fighting who single handedly fought and won the Indian Wars in Ohio a very smart, tough and brave guy. Our town honored him by naming the Special Ed school after him, forever associating our local hero retarded children in our impressionable young minds. Now that was retarded.

pudytat72
02-23-2008, 10:42 AM
My oldest son played in a band as a high school student. (graduated in 2002)

Band name? Short Bus Refugees

KneadToKnow
02-23-2008, 11:18 AM
I first noticed this specialized nature of short bus usage sometime around middle school. That would've been 1980-82. This is also the earliest I remember seeing short busses.

Boy, I hope I managed to phrase that politically correctly enough.

fachverwirrt
02-23-2008, 11:24 AM
Wait a minute. I rode the short bus.



What? There were five kids on my route. Stop looking at me.

elmwood
02-23-2008, 11:44 AM
In the early 1980s, I attended a science/engineering magnet high school in the Buffalo Public School District. There were no school buses; most high school students were issued a pass to use public transit. Even though my school was fairly selective, and required an entrance exam, it still had to admit a certain number of "special" students. Since they couldn't attend most academic classes -- everything was honors-level -- they spend much of the day in wood shop. (They were shipped off to a "special" school for their academic classes.) The term "wood shop" for us carried the same meaning as "short bus" elsewhere.

(Looking through yearbook) "Who's this Timmy? I've never seen them in any classes."
"Oh, they're in wood shop (snicker)"

It wasn't until the 1990s that I began to hear "short bus" associated with special needs students. I've also seen short buses prominently labeled "HEAD START" or "SPECIAL NEEDS ACADEMY", as if to pound the point home.

An aside: when did the name "Timmy" become associated with the retarded? I've heard "little Timmy" used long before the Timmy character appeared in South Park.

Angel of the Lord
02-23-2008, 11:51 AM
I'm a little confused... Why would students in the gifted program need to use a special bus? Are you sure you were actually in the gifted program? :)


I was in the gifted program in my district (which involved taking 12 AP classes, so, yeah, it was actually the gifted program). This involved going to a school that was outside my attendance zone. As in, all the kids in my neighborhood went to one high school, but my best friend and I went to another. The bus picked up about seven-to-ten of us on this side of town as its route. There was no need for a long bus, so lots of times, we got a short one, which wasn't a big deal.

Catching the bus at 6:09 in the morning, however. . .that was certainly special. . .

Wendell Wagner
02-23-2008, 12:14 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus writes:

> It's understood by pretty much everyone nowadays that when somebody
> mentions the short bus in regard to someone, they are saying that person is
> not very bright.

No, it isn't. I never heard the term "short bus" being used as slang for "mentally handicapped." I have seen short buses for most of my life, but they were mostly being used for physically handicapped people, and it wasn't always for students. Sometimes they were used for physically handicapped adults as public transportation. It's an overgeneralization to say that nearly every English speaker, or even nearly every American English speaker, uses the term in that way.

TheLoadedDog writes:

> Here, these buses were delightfully called "spaz buses". There is a local
> comedian called Steady Eddy who has cerebral palsy. He rode these buses as a
> kid, and used to do a gag about them in his shows: "The teachers always told
> us we were normal and we didn't stand out. Then they'd herd us onto a
> minibus with SPASTIC CENTRE OF NEW SOUTH WALES in two-foot high letters
> right down the side!"

I don't know about Australia, but I've read that "spastic" only came to be considered as an insult in the U.K. more recently than in the U.S. In the U.S. "spastic" dropped out of clinical use by the 1960's or 1970's since it was used as an insult. In the U.K. it didn't drop out of clinical use till the 1990's.

Wee Bairn
02-23-2008, 12:27 PM
In my are late 70's early 80's the special needs, not bad or dumb, children rode a specially eqipped bus, which was shorter than the others, probably because there was only a handful of students who rode and it and a equipping a larger bus would be a waste.

Santo Rugger
02-23-2008, 12:36 PM
I'm a little confused... Why would students in the gifted program need to use a special bus? Are you sure you were actually in the gifted program? :)

Pretty much what Angel said. I'm pretty sure I was in the gifted program, since I was doing algebra and trig in the fourth grade. They could have just told me that to keep me from feeling bad about myself, though.

I was in the gifted program in my district (which involved taking 12 AP classes, so, yeah, it was actually the gifted program). This involved going to a school that was outside my attendance zone. As in, all the kids in my neighborhood went to one high school, but my best friend and I went to another. The bus picked up about seven-to-ten of us on this side of town as its route. There was no need for a long bus, so lots of times, we got a short one, which wasn't a big deal.

Catching the bus at 6:09 in the morning, however. . .that was certainly special. . .

engineer_comp_geek
02-23-2008, 12:53 PM
I first heard the term in the mid 1970's, starting when I was in the 4th grade (1975-1976). Up to the 3rd grade, I had gone to school in this ancient tiny schoolhouse. Our county built all new schools which opened in 1975. The elementary school I went to starting in the 4th grade consolidated three or four tiny elementary schools into one big school, and also had facilities for "special ed" students. Prior to this, these students had gone to their own school, but now they were to be "integrated" with the "normal" students. Of course, they were completely segregated from us, so it wasn't much of an integration other than the fact we were all under the same roof. Starting in 1975, being "special" or "riding the short bus" both became the insult equivalent of calling someone a "retard". The terms weren't common before then, because the "special" students had always gone to their own school before and we hadn't seen the short buses.

monstro
02-23-2008, 03:02 PM
My HS civics class had to take a field trip one day.

Everyone in the class groaned when we saw the short bus the teacher had reserved for us.

TheLoadedDog
02-23-2008, 05:00 PM
I don't know about Australia, but I've read that "spastic" only came to be considered as an insult in the U.K. more recently than in the U.S. In the U.S. "spastic" dropped out of clinical use by the 1960's or 1970's since it was used as an insult. In the U.K. it didn't drop out of clinical use till the 1990's.

It was used as a clinical term and also as an insult when I was at school in the late 70s and early 80s. But now that I think of it, I don't remember hearing the term in either usage since. I'm guessing its negative connotations made the charities etc stop using it, and probably that in turn actually killed off the word as an insult, as schoolkids wouldn't be familiar with it.

But adults of my generation will still sometimes say something like, "Don't chuck a spaz" if somebody is getting agitated.

Guinastasia
02-23-2008, 07:45 PM
When I was in fifth grade, we moved in the middle of the school year, and the district wasn't able to change my bus stop in the morning, so I ended up having to ride a short bus for a time.

In my case, there weren't any mentally retarded students so much as juvenile delinquents. I think one girl was just learning disabled, but not to the point where she was considered "retarded".

I only road it for about two weeks, because I ended up getting to school late, and my dad just drove me for the rest of the year. It was later that I ended up learning the association-I went to Catholic school, and we really didn't have any "short bus" kids.

dangermom
02-23-2008, 08:00 PM
I never actually heard the term until I was an adult, but as a kid in the early 80's (born '73) it was certainly the case that the special education kids rode in a short bus. I would have known exactly what anyone was talking about if I'd heard it.

chorpler
02-23-2008, 08:11 PM
Pretty much what Angel said. I'm pretty sure I was in the gifted program, since I was doing algebra and trig in the fourth grade. They could have just told me that to keep me from feeling bad about myself, though.

(bolding mine) (except for the bolded name)

My wife and I both laughed hysterically at this part.

"Yes, Santo, two plus five IS seven! You get an A on your *ahem* trigonometry test!"

MissGypsy
02-23-2008, 08:48 PM
It wasn't until the 1990s that I began to hear "short bus" associated with special needs students. I've also seen short buses prominently labeled "HEAD START" or "SPECIAL NEEDS ACADEMY", as if to pound the point home.

FYI, "Head Start" is a preschool program for children of low-income families, even those without mental retardation, physical or developmental disabilities.

elfkin477
02-23-2008, 09:12 PM
FYI, "Head Start" is a preschool program for children of low-income families, even those without mental retardation, physical or developmental disabilities.

Around here Headstart is for low-income kids, and Birth-To-Three then area SpEd preschools serve disabled kids.

pudytat72, this (http://www.shortbuslive.com/) band was popular with my college classmates back in the mid-to-late 90s.

Khampelf
02-23-2008, 09:27 PM
Just to round out the nomenclature, the special needs students in my school district in South Dakota in the late Seventies and early Eigties were called "Spedders". This was due to all their equipment being spray stenciled with an acronym for SPecial EDucation SP.ED.

rowrrbazzle
02-24-2008, 04:32 PM
Now Antony Wayne was a Revolutionary War general/hero and a master of Indian fighting who single handedly fought and won the Indian Wars in Ohio a very smart, tough and brave guy. Our town honored him by naming the Special Ed school after him, forever associating our local hero retarded children in our impressionable young minds. Now that was retarded.But he was known as "Mad Anthony". :D

Si Amigo
02-24-2008, 07:31 PM
Yah, the mad part was pretty confusing as well. All of the pictures that we saw of him showed him as being more pissed off than retarded. So I was actually sort of scared of retarded kids for a while.

ElvisL1ves
02-24-2008, 07:45 PM
"Mad Anthony" Wayne (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Wayne) had a quick temper, and was so intrepid a tactician and commander that his plans could seem mad to the more conventional-minded.

Insane (even if he were) does not equate to retarded anyway, but yeah, try explaining that to a 9-year-old.

rbroome
02-24-2008, 09:04 PM
It's weird how gifted and special needs students were conflated at my school too. Not about buses; I suppose it might have been because both programs were housed in the same wing of the school.
Probably a funding issue. That is how it is in Louisiana. The state provides additional funding to special needs students-which by law includes gifted. Take them out of special ed and the extra funding goes away. Not all US states do it that way, heck not all US states provide extra funding for gifted. But most do. Not very much though. Where the state stipend for a special ed student might be 50 to 100% of the standard state stipend, the gifted students bring in maybe 10%. But it is enough to get most districts to provide some form of services.

emrsdca
02-25-2008, 12:56 AM
Gosh, I knew about the short busses back as a third grader. That'd be '80-'81. All of the busses were normal, large, "Bluebird" type of school busses, except for the ones that picked up the special needs kids. Of course "special needs" also included the physically handicapped in addition to the 'tards.

I started reading this thread and maybe I am making mountains out of mole hills but I really took offense at the "tards" term. My 19yr old daughter rode a bus to school, and it was the same high school I went to and she is diagnosed as mentally retarded. It takes a minute for me to even use the term, but it is what it is. For years I have worked to minimize the STING we both feel when someone uses that term in a hurtful manner towards her, and then I read something like that and I wonder why I'm even trying.

Sure, before my daughter was born the stereotype of the "yellow bus" students wasn't as personal. I might have even laughed at reading it, but just as forums allows us to post response I am going to speak up and let my opinion fall where it may.

It has nothing to do with "lightening up"

Maybe it calls for a little compassion

Balthisar
02-25-2008, 01:42 PM
It has nothing to do with "lightening up"

Maybe it calls for a little compassion
Whah whah whah. The use of an apostrophe in English is a perfectly accepted indicator of contracting a word. For example, "I was workin' yesterday." So if you read in a logical, disassociated manner, "'tards" is shortening "retards" which is itself shortening "retarded persons" for which there is no single word noun form in English. "Retardation" is a perfectly accurate, consise description for all manner of physical and mental maladies, and as such my use of it is completely neutral and has nothing to do with compassion. If you're a literate person, then you'll find that deeper meanings are derived from context. If I were laughing and pointing as your daughter in a loud an obnoxious way ("Hey, look at that 'tard!") then I would would be begging for your foregiveness right now. But I defy you to spot a negative implication (not inference) in what I said. :rolleyes:

Critical1
02-25-2008, 01:50 PM
http://www.tard-blog.com/

believe it or not, people who deal with and care about "tards" use the term. sure its an insult when used intentionally that way. guess what, so are all the other terms that were once used to describe what we now call mentally handicapped (idiot and moron are 2 that come to mind plus the already mentioned spastic)

when you need a term to describe something or someone stupid you use one that people recognize. I frequently use the term "special" when describing someone doing something stupid.

Si Amigo
02-25-2008, 04:34 PM
And normal kids now find it insulting to be called special. Where does it end. :confused:

sqweels
02-25-2008, 04:51 PM
This reminds me of a piece they did in The Onion a few years back headlined "Very Special Forces Headed to Iraq". They flew in the short transport aircraft. :D

Will Repair
02-25-2008, 05:25 PM
Can't remember the name of the comedienne who when interacting with her audience would ask, "When you went to school did you ride the big or the short school bus?" This was about '97.

Askance
02-25-2008, 09:51 PM
Not to highjack, but I'm not sure this deserves a separate thread: How common is the phrase outside the States?I'll answer this and the OP in one. I went to a very small primary school here in Sydney for the years 1963-64 (I was their 27th pupil ever) and the school bus was indeed a short bus, as that's all we needed for the few pupils who didn't walk, take a government bus, or get driven by their parents. We didn't use that phrase per se (it was called the spastic bus), but the meme that small bus riders=mentally handicapped was very much alive here way back then.

Mister Rik
02-25-2008, 10:13 PM
From The Onion: Someday, I Will Drive This Short Bus Myself (http://www.theonion.com/content/node/33370)

samclem
02-25-2008, 10:27 PM
Since we can't seem to find a definitive answer for the OP, I'll close this before it gets out of hand.

But, I will make a comment:

Much as I warned a poster in a thread some time ago for using the word Jap, I would caution anyone using the word "tard."

While you may have a perfectly valid reason(to you) for using it, someone else might be offended. If you work in an institutional setting where you deal with retarded persons all day, and the nomenclature in your bailiwick is to call them "tards" then I have no comment.

But, on a public message board, much like speaking in a public gathering, using slang words which CAN be read as derogatory by some, is probably not a good idea.

samclem