What are some good verbs to described walking with crutches?
June 14, 2018 2:49 AM   Subscribe

I have a character who uses crutches temporarily while her broken leg is healing. She puts no weight (for medical reasons) on the leg while walking. 'Limping' might be the obvious one, but I worry that I'm entering some ableist territory.

The worry that limping is ableist has to do with that one definition of 'to limp' is to walk with difficulty, and I've seen some people operate with crutches quite speedily. OTOH, given that her use of the crutches is temporary, she's probably not going to be a virtuoso with them.


posted by angrycat to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by watercarrier at 2:57 AM on June 14, 2018

I think it depends on the sentence/situation you are describing. I would assume that in most of the exposition, she could just: walk, go, arrive, leave, came, went, sat, got up, approached, departed, etc just like someone without the aid of crutches...

Perhaps the crutches are only brought up when relevant to the action or plot. She'd still sit or walk, but the crutches play a role in the action.

For example, "She sat down and noticed there was nowhere to place her crutches and ended up doing an awkward side embrace with them. How does one sit gracefully with crutches? All of a sudden she couldn't ever remember seeing anyone using crutches in real life and for a fleeting moment was convinced she was the first person to use them in public."


"As she was walking down the stairs, she fumbled with her crutches and one slipped from her grasp. She flailed her arms to try and grab them but it was too late and she watched in horror as it bounced down, step by step, only to come to a final stop when it smacked an old lady coming up the stairs."
posted by like_neon at 2:59 AM on June 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

I would just call it 'walking'. Once you've established that your character uses crutches to walk, from then on that's just a property of her walking. We don't have separate words for walking while wearing shoes of a certain size or what have you... there are just different ways to walk and they all fall under walking. Her using crutches doesn't need to be mentioned every time she moves.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:11 AM on June 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

'like a ship tacking into a gale'

"..when it smacked an old lady coming up the stairs." Yes crutches can make great weapons ... and conceal them too - as in The Day of the Jackal - have you watched films with a range of characters using crutches?, you may find watching filmed actions leads to seeing verbs.
posted by unearthed at 3:12 AM on June 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

If the character is moving slowly and with difficulty (i.e. not the speedy movement you refer to), I'd say hobbling ("to proceed irregularly and haltingly") fits, e.g. "She was hobbling along on crutches".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:24 AM on June 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

She was grumbling along on crutches
She was syncopating along on crutches
She was cantering along on crutches
She was mastering her (style on/with) crutches
She was navigating her way on crutches
posted by Thella at 3:52 AM on June 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think this is less about a specific word and more about how and when the word is used.

I’d say it’s OK to use ‘limping’ (or ‘hobbling’, or any other word that makes clear she’s moving with difficulty) if you want to emphasise times when she is, in fact, walking with difficulty (i.e. if it’s referring to how she’s walking with crutches, not that she’s walking with crutches). Those words aren’t (to me) inherently ableist, but they could become ableist if you’re using them as defaults to describe any movement on crutches.

If there are points when she’s not walking with difficulty, or when her walking with difficulty doesn’t need to be emphasised (probably most of the time, unless it’s a focus of your story?), then a neutral word like ‘walking’ seems more appropriate.
posted by inire at 3:57 AM on June 14, 2018 [10 favorites]

If they're bad at using crutches:


Good at it:
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:57 AM on June 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

People who use crutches will also:

Seek out an accessible path
Take an elevator or even an escalator
Conserve the distance of pedestrian travel, especially if the occasion for crutches is recent
Stop and rest their arms if the distance is long
Lean on their hands more than their armpits
Avoid puddles and ice patches as routine crutches are built for interiors and slip like crazy on those surfaces. Long-term users switch out the tips.
Go to at least one physical therapy appointment, if they can afford it to try to heal well.
posted by childofTethys at 4:31 AM on June 14, 2018 [8 favorites]

Relavent because I'm on crutches:
posted by starlybri at 4:41 AM on June 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

When I was temporarily using crutches while a badly sprained ankle was healing, I always thought of the motion as “swinging.”

It can be pretty intense cardio if you try to swing along at speed for any length of time! I had to navigate multiple airports while on crutches. The airline staff offered a wheelchair, and I foolishly refused. Rushing through the airport on crutches felt like a flat-out sprint on the rowing machine.

I picked up the swinging motion pretty quickly, to be honest — within a day. What I struggled with, as a new/temporary crutches user, was using my hands while staying upright, like opening doors, dealing with my bags/shoes/coat at the TSA checkpoint, etc. Stairs were also tough for me to figure out at first — had to think consciously about the sequence of events and where to put my weight so that I didn’t just topple over. Basically, to seasoned users of crutches, I’m sure I looked like a baby just learning to walk!
posted by snowmentality at 5:16 AM on June 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Too-Ticky is right. I’ve spent my whole adult life as a writer, editor, writing teacher, and serious student of literature (MA, all coursework for PhD). Using a lot of different words for “walking” is going to sound amateurish. It’s like using a bunch of different words for “said.” Writers who use exclaimed, interjected, etc. just sound like they don’t know what they’re doing. (The exception is the brilliant Ring Lardner line, “Shut up, he explained.”)
posted by FencingGal at 5:39 AM on June 14, 2018 [13 favorites]

Hobbling and Swinging were the two verbs that came to mind, depending on how things happen to be going. "Walked" is fine, if it's important, but I'd actually downplay the means of transport unless it's relevant, especially if the transit verbs are likely to get out of hand or awkward. "She saw a bird on our way to the coffeeshop" is an excellent sidestep if "she saw a bird as she was walking to the coffeeshop" feels like some nitpicky reader will accuse you of forgetting about her ankle, and introducing specific "swinging along on her crutches" language too many times gets unwieldy.
posted by aimedwander at 6:13 AM on June 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Adding my vote for "hobbling".
posted by orrnyereg at 6:44 AM on June 14, 2018

On a flat surface, once I got a good pace up, "loping" or "swinging" along definitely felt like a good way of describing the motion. "Hobbling" was for awkward confined spaces, "wobbling" for uneven surfaces, and the occasional bout of "lurching" when things really went awry. The way I moved at the start of the day was also very different from how I was managing after crutching about for several hours: spent a lot of time pausing and sagging into my crutches or, when I could, leaning on things to take a breather. There's a shocking lack of benches to rest on in public spaces, and when you can find them it can be difficult to get up from them one-legged when you're fatigued. My hands would start to go numb from the unaccustomed pressure of my body-weight. Stairs were often scary (3rd floor walk-up apartment with a below waist-level railing around the well that went all the way down to the basement) - in private I often just scooched up or down them on my bottom. "Hopping" is how I moved over short distances without my crutches (say from the kitchen counter to the table).

"Hobbling" also felt like the right term for the awkward transition phase where I could move about without crutches but it was still Very Difficult.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:03 AM on June 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don't know if "limping" is ableist or not, but it's not descriptive of crutch locomotion. I've spent a fair amount of time on crutches. Your word choice should be informed by the effect you want to suggest. So, for example, I dabbed around for my first few steps on crutches, I clopped up and down stairs, and in tight quarters. I agree that for the most part, "walking" is fine.

"Limping" is definitely what I was doing when I got off of crutches with one leg stronger than the other.
posted by adamrice at 7:16 AM on June 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, I should add, crutching quickly down a steep hill gives a curious sensation of flying - you spend longer than normal airborne and you have to really have faith in yourself that you're going to land well and cross your fingers that you won't have to brake suddenly. Doing the above with a heavy backpack giving you momentum (because how else are you going to carry anything with you?) adds an extra thrill.

I found the transition from crutches back to walking frustrating because suddenly I was SO much slower. Also, strangers can be very chatty and empathetic when you're on crutches but when once I was apparently able bodied but walking funny I found people became almost wary of me. The change in attitude towards me was actually somewhat emotionally difficult at the time.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:24 AM on June 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Akin to a toddler just getting the hang of walking upright.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:32 AM on June 14, 2018

Hitching? You are hitching up and over something, or jerking your body along, especially if tired. But maybe I'm thinking of something that sounds like 'hitching'
posted by Enid Lareg at 8:16 AM on June 14, 2018

posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 8:38 AM on June 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Describing someone as limping is not necessarily ableist, not any more or less than the many other verbs people have been suggesting. The general rule of thumb is to consider whether in the context of your description you are mocking someone for putting more effort into something than you would, or mocking someone for using a labour-saving device or technique which you regard as weak, demeaning or cheating.

Consider someone with an immobile knee running down the street. They would be quite capable of doing so, but would have to put exaggerated amount of effort into their gait compared to an able-bodied person. This could accurately be described as limping, but only through the context of the description could we be sure whether saying so it ableist or not. The context could be a child in a school exercise who knows how silly it looks but runs anyway, or could be an old veteran dashing to confront a teenager standing on their lawn. Either situation could be funny or dramatic or tragic, but if you assume that they are pathetic for merely putting in the effort then you've probably crossed the line.

This is my opinion from my personal experience, but the opinions of other disabled people are as diverse and varied as the people themselves, and so I can't be entirely sure how applicable my opinion is.
posted by Eleven at 8:47 AM on June 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by Iris Gambol at 9:24 AM on June 14, 2018

Hmmm. We just say 'crutching along' short and descriptive.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:30 AM on June 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Clopping along.

My memory of months on crutches is that you get pretty good at them. They're mostly a pain in transition - filling your hands, and your one-legged balance while sitting and standing - but walking is fine. It's noisier though. Ca-clop, ca-clop.
posted by entropone at 10:54 AM on June 14, 2018

Similarly to BlueHorse, I just say "crutching'or "crutched" as a verb. As a person who uses a wheelchair, or a cane for short distances, I don't feel that limping is unacceptable language at all. As a sample group of one, I'm a proud limper.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:13 PM on June 14, 2018

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