残奥会在英文中的说法是Paralympics 或the Paralympic Games，对于Paralympic的来历，目前的解释说法不一。一种解释称，Paralympic 原是为“脊髓病患者”举行的运动会，而paralympic由希腊语词缀para-（在……一旁，在……旁边）和-（O）lympic（奥林匹克）合成而来，它延续了奥林匹克团结友爱、公平竞争的精神，同时又充分表达了奥运会和残奥会平等共存的关系。还有一种理解认为，Paralympics代表了与Olympics平行、同在（Parallel）。不过，著名的网络百科全书维基百科的解释是：The name derives from the Greek "para" （"beside" or "alongside"） and thus refers to a competition held in parallel with the Olympic Games. No relation with paralysis（瘫痪）or paraplegia（截瘫）is intended.不过，就残奥会来历来说，它还是与瘫痪患者密切相关的。资料记载如下：Sir Ludwig Guttmann organized a sports competition in 1948 which became known as the Stoke Mandeville Games, involving World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries; in 1952 competitors from the Netherlands took part in the competition, giving an international notion to the movement. The first Olympic-style games for athletes with a disability were held in Rome in 1960; officially called the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, these are considered to be the first Paralympic Games. The first Winter Paralympics were held in ?rnsk?ldsvik, Sweden in 1976.
残奥会顾名思义就是专门面向残疾人的奥运会，因此，其英文表达又可以为the Olympic Games for the disabled/handicapped，其通俗易懂性超过了the Paralympic Games，后者显得更为专业或专门。维基百科对残奥会有一个十分地道的解释：The Paralympic Games are a multi-sport event for athletes with physical, mental and sensorial disabilities. This includes mobility disabilities, amputees, visual disabilities and those with cerebral palsy. The Paralympic Games are held every four years, following the Olympic Games, and are governed by the International Paralympic Committee （IPC）. 由此可见，残奥会针对的主要是肢体和感官残疾者，智力残疾者也并非不可以参加。