The ‘R’ word
“That’s so retarded.” “That girl is acting like a retard.” Have you ever heard someone utter those words in casual conversation, or even done so yourself? Well, as it turns out, people with intellectual disabilities really don’t like the term “retarded.”
Retarded is a term that has come to have a very negative connotation in our society. “Retarded” implies that something an individual is doing or participating in is stupid, immature, or asinine. In other words, the individual is capable of making better choices; he or she just is not making them– at least in your decidedly non-retarded opinion.
In fact, the term “retarded” has become such a negative term in our society that we no longer use “Mental Retardation” to define someone with an intellectual disability, except where it still applies to laws and legal proceedings.
“Retarded” is not in itself a negative term. In fact, the dictionary.com defines “retarded” as “to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action process, etc.); hinder or impede.”
So essentially, “retarded” just means slow. However, because of its excessive misuse people who do have mental disabilities are very hurt by the term, much in the same way that someone would be hurt at being called a “nigger” in the derogatory sense. Yes, I just went there. I am not over exaggerating to prove a point, and people who work with the mentally disabled can tell you that this is a very hurtful term.
I know it is never easy to remove words from one’s vocabulary. I had a very difficult time retraining myself to not use this word, but I am proof that it can be done and I am slowly (and hopefully tactfully) encouraging my friends to use other words as well.
So what prompted this tirade? I am a personal assistant to a woman with mental retardation.
We went to Target this past week and passed a woman in the parking lot loudly declaring to her companions “I know she [is] retarded but what else [is] wrong with her?” This statement was well within hearing range, and my boss was visibly upset.
We never talked about the incident, largely because I didn’t want to draw attention to the issue and rub salt in the wound, but the tension in the air was palpable. I am sure the woman who made this statement had no idea what the impact of her statement would be, but the moral of this story is to be careful what you say because you never know who may be listening.
Besides, the English language provides us with a plethora of other words to use instead; some of them are even big, impressive-sounding words. For instance, absurd, asinine, bird-brained, blundering, bone-headed, brainless, churlish, dense, doltish, dull, foolish, idiotic, imbecile, inane, indelicate, inelegant, insensate, lame-brained, loutish, ludicrous, lowbrow, lumpish, lunatic, mindless, moronic, oafish, obtuse, puerile, rude, silly, simple-minded, slow, stupid, uncouth, uneducated, unrefined, vacuous, vulgar and witless are all acceptable substitutes.
So improve your vocabulary, impress your friends and stop offending people. It only makes you look, well, you know.