Why It’s Wrong To Use The Word ‘Retarded’

Why It's Wrong To Use The Word Retarded

We need to talk about the R-word.

How many of us have been in a conversation with someone — a friend, a coworker, or a new acquaintance — and he or she casually uses the word “retarded” or one of its variants? As a medical label for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the word was once considered to be neutral, clinical and incapable of offending. But, over time the word has been put to other uses and has become problematic and incredibly hurtful. The word now carries a pejorative meaning that reinforces painful stereotypes.

It has become a slur.

When people use the word ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ it isn’t to describe someone who has a disability. It is used to describe someone who they deem is inadequate or to describe something that doesn’t function correctly. When used in those contexts it becomes a word that hurts, it hurts people with disabilities and their families. In fact, using the R-word in this way is considered a slur and (to be blunt) a slur is considered hate speech. The definition of hate speech is, “attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation.”

In this, as in other cases of discrimination, it’s best to let those directly affected speak for themselves.

“Why am I hurt when I hear ‘retard?’” John Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics global ambassador once wrote in a blog for Huffington Post. “Let’s face it, nobody uses the word as a term of praise. At best, it is used as another way of saying ‘stupid’ or ‘loser.’ At worst, it is aimed directly at me as a way to label me as an outcast — a thing, not a person. I am not stupid. I am not a loser. I am not a thing. I am a person.”

As Mr. Stephens makes clear in this blog post, and other op-ed articles he’s penned, people can often be thoughtless and cruel, never fully understanding the damage that their words can have.

In the past few years, there have been several high profile campaigns that have launched encouraging people to make a pledge to end their use of the R-word. Campaigns like “Spread The Word To End The Word” serve as heartfelt pleas that encourage audiences to banish the word from their vocabularies. One of the most memorable was a 30 second PSA that hit airwaves back in 2011 featuring Glee stars Jane Lynch and Lauren Potter reminding viewers that it is not acceptable to use the R-word.

The one thing public awareness campaigns from organizations like R-word.org and similar organizations do is stress that you stop and think before using the R-word next time. Once you realize that it is never okay to use the word in a derogatory way, let your friend, coworker, or new acquaintances know that what they are doing is wrong and that their words can hurt someone.

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  1. Avatar
    • SNAFU
    • July 4, 2020

    Retard, Retarded, Moron, Imbecile, Mongoloid, Defective, Cripple, Fool, Idiot, Cretin, Gimp, Feeble Minded, Stupid, Nut, Crazy, Freak and Spaz are just a few of the words which have been stricken from the various diagnostic and statistical manuals of mental and physical disorders.
    Therefore these are just words now albeit pejoratives, they no longer represent any relation to mental or physical disability.
    If one were offended the hearing such terms then perhaps that’s a sign of a personal problem, which history has shown is best dealt with in relative privacy as opposed to airing it the general public.
    this way we can avoid drawing the ire of the big evil meanies who will no doubt offend your delicate sensibilities.
    Naturally for my part… no hurties intended.
    I am simply offering sound advice to the casually as well as perpetually offended people among us in the hopes that they may avoid a situation wherein the cold harsh reality & bad attitudes of the “F*** Your Feelings” generations may very purposefully inflict permanent emotional scars on the unsuspecting & naïve.
    Policing language goes against our constitutional guarantees of free speech & free expression, even and particularly if that speech or expression is unpopular and does not conform to some peoples views of the “politically correct” nerf bubble. Hate Speech is Nothing more than speech that some people hate. That standard is as slippery a slope as banning a flag or statue today and destroying our culture, history, heritage and any hope for a future tomorrow.
    As long as America exists, free speech will be the double edge sword that we so often love to hate.
    with that in mind it’s probably best not to entrust your feelings and vulnerabilities to a world of strangers, many of whom suffer with their own mental, physical & behavioral disabilities and who would relish an opportunity to share their deep dark misery with others.
    These people aren’t worth your time, effort or even a second thought.
    When the apes start throwing feces, it’s better to duck and run than to stop and get involved in world war poo. Just a thought… or two.

  2. Avatar
    • Santiago
    • July 4, 2020

    Absolutely NOT! Hate Speech Is Nothing More Than Speech That You Hate!! Stop Trying To Criminalize Words And Learn Some Coping Skills!!!
    The desire to label and criminalize words as “hate speech“ says more about your low self image or low opinion of another than it does about the person saying the words you find offensive. We need to instill coping skills in our kids rather than feeding them the BS notion that the world will change to suit their neurotic sensibilities. When I was young if someone called me a retard and I went to tell a teacher or parent, the response I got was “well are you a retard?” I said no and they said “then what are you getting all upset about?” It made me think and it forced me to cope with the fact that people are not always going to be nice to me, thus I learned to let other people’s petty crap pass by rather than splatter on me and soil my self image!!!!
    Instead of wasting your life pursuing the unreasonable and selfish goal of violating everyone’s right to free will, free speech and free expression because you hate their decisions, what they say and who they are, take a good objective look at yourself and see if you can find somethings you can improve upon because the hard truth is this:
    The Problem Isn’t Everyone Else, The Problem Is You, So Focus Your Energy On Fixing Yourself!!!!!
    If you succeed Then you will truly be FREE to master any art or passion that your heart desires no matter your natural inclination, because you won’t be weighed down with the immense baggage of hatred and resentment toward others for your own feelings of Inadequacy!!!!!!
    Truth is the Ultimate Power in this World of Lies And Truth Is The Only Path To Your Personal Freedom!!!!!!!

  3. Avatar
    • December 6, 2020

    Well, I come down somewhere in between Christopher Turner and the two comments posted in 2020 (SNAFU and SANTIAGO). Of course casual use of the term, “retarded”* (or variants such as retard, or the Trump-era, “libtard,”) can be unkind,
    hurtful land harmful. Context is important, but, as with some other “dicey” words and phrases, just because a person is “among friends,” doesn’t mean slurs or belittling labels about groups of people have no impact; they can and they do, simply by normalizing them. HOWEVER, like SNAFU , I am concerned that sensitivity to “pejorative” words can go too far, with self-appointed “word police” literally roving about in workplaces, in churches and community centers and in their homes amongst family, listening for a single slip or poor choice of words and then pouncing on an unsuspecting, basically decent person and “calling them out,” as the term goes nowadays. “Cancelling” well-known people via social media, or family across the dinner table stinks; it isn’t at all fair, it provides no context and no hearing and asks for no evidence, before going ahead and passing sentence, which is usually a total condemnation of the speaker. I also agree with SANTIAGO’s point about personal strength and the need for people to have thicker skin and better coping mechanisms in a varied society that prizes free speech and expression; it can be just another form of coddling (as has been happening in public schools for 15 years) to condition young people to feel the barbs of these insults and run and tell adults every time with the expectation that it will be made a big deal. The adult world, parents, community groups, media, etc. will often hype word-slinging events as crimes of the century- the bad or even evil name-caller is portrayed as degenerate and hopelessly cruel…this isn’t good for anyone, and I agree that the object of the slur or name-calling, while temporarily shielded from harm, may be even weaker and more vulnerable the next time…and there WILL be a next time. HOWEVER, this notion that words are just words is a ridiculous copout. This attitude (or idea) has a name: laziness. “I want to say what I want to say when I want to say it and to whomever I want to say it…because that’s my right here in America, that’s free-speech, that’s liberty.” No. Not true, legally, but more to the point, it’s a terrible attitude. No thought or speech police, please! But, why is it a bad thing, or a threatening thing to be aware of hurtful speech? I don’t mean we should be judged all the time or that there is one standard of which words or phrases are ok and which should make whistles and sirens go off, but, in your life, in your workplace, church, etc., community center and home, you KNOW that there are differences amongst all of those folks, differences that you can see and some you can’t see, some you approve of and some you find weird or wrong; the question is, on a day-to-day basis, do you want to at least try to get along, to make your neighbor or colleague feel relaxed around you, or do you want to stick with your small circle of likeminded peeps to the exclusion of others and not give a sh*t? Question: do you think that you will never become a victim of mean word-slinging, a loved one? If your answer is: “I’m tough and so’s my family, we would’t let that stuff bother us, I have to ask: are you sure your kid away at college will shrug off a bully, or that you won’t be in an accident or get sick one day and go back out into the world and be mercilessly bullied? Again, I am against snap judgments of people or the insane concept of “cancelling” a person and his or her life via social media, but we train our minds an discipline ourselves often in life -for school success, challenging job requirements, traveling abroad where English isn’t spoken…why (I ask again) is it a big deal or a threatening request, that we at least stay open-minded and flexible about the words we use and the “people-labels” that we carry around to stick on those we meet? I have been asked by my daughter not to use “retarded” in my conversations at home…I was very defensive about her request at first (“who are you to judge your father?..), but, you know what? I’m going to give it a shot.

  4. Avatar
    • Lane Anderton
    • December 31, 2020

    this article is biased of twitter tweets don’t decide what is and isn’t offensive for other people if the disabled community Asked you for help that’s when you speak out as a member of the retard community this is offensive.

  5. Avatar
    • King
    • March 11, 2022

    This sentiment regarding the word retarded is itself retarded. I feel bad for parents of retarded children, but censoring me for using a common insult isn’t going to make their son or daughter any smarter.

  6. Avatar
    • ashley aubel
    • December 12, 2022

    I very much dislike how our medical words are constantly attacked by people who choose to be overly sensitive about words. We are not using sticks and stones. We are saying words that mean diagnostic things. We cannot escape the constant self directed hate people have for their own conditions. Forcing us not to pay attention to a diagnosis will not make that diagnosis disappear. This constant demand to change the word of the moment will never change the story it tells. I am not affected by the words people say. I’m affected by how they act. If I’m describing something slow and use a definition that has been in use since the 15th century, then that should be acceptable. The limitation of my vocabulary is the fad. Pay attention to all the definitions we’ve thrown in the trash in just one century, as the political correctness movement has been damning would-be respectable folks. The “r-word” (ridiculous I’m not allowed to actually write what I’m saying! It’s a WORD!) was commonly used when I was in 3rd grade. I grew up told this is what this is. The next year, I was brutally shamed for knowing that word. At that age, it is difficult to change what you know to be. Life is so hard as a little one. And so confusing when adults switch lessons on us like this. Slow was seen as offensive next. Then special had a very short stay because even that was misused. It is not the word. It is how people feel about their condition. Eliminating words from our use will not change that they are uncomfortable with their condition. And there is absolutely nothing that we can do to change that for them. Just start using acronyms that are not at all catchy, and stop wasting perfectly good old-school words with traceable, useful and relevant definitions. We need to preserve our vocabulary here!

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