Why the Word “Retard” is Poison to our Vocabulary


There is a clear arrangement of derogatory words in the world we know we can’t use. We know we can’t use these words because they are aimed at a minority who was been plagued by discrimination. We know we can’t use these words because they suggest that having a certain shade of skin makes you lesser, that there can only be one sexual orientation or that being a certain age makes you insignificant. We know we can’t use these words because they are ridiculous, extremely dated and hurtful. These words reverse what we have fought for as a civilization, perpetuate prejudice and confuse the next generation. We know these words are offensive and if you’re not an asshole you don’t use them.

The word retard (or retarded) is no expectation to this; it is objectively offensive, regressive and derogatory. The word retard is a term that was barely acceptable thirty ears ago to describe people affected with an intellectual or physical disability. These people are often born with a disability and like skin colour, sexual orientation and age they have absolutely no control over it. People with disabilities are strong, interesting and often have different abilities that can absolutely astound us. People with disabilities  work extra hard to do things many of us take for granted. People with disabilities are extraordinary people that deserve respect and acceptance. People with disabilities are often bullied, misunderstood or made to feel like they are burdens to other’s in this world that can be cruel and exclusive.

Anne Coulter recently called President Obama a retard as an insult to suggest he wasn’t doing his job properly. Joseph Frankin, a special Olympic athlete wrote her back an open letter that featured:

”Dear Ann Coulter, Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult? I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night. I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have. Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next”

Sorren Palumbo, an advocate and brother to a sister with an intellectual disability shared:

“I don’t think you understand how much you hurt others when you hate.  And maybe you don’t realize that you hate.  But that’s what it is; your pre-emptive dismissal of them [people with intellectual disabilities], your dehumanization of them, your mockery of them, it’s nothing but another form of hate.  It’s more hateful than racism, more hateful than sexism, more hateful than anything.”

My friend with Autism Spectrum Disorder, lives independently, has a great job and is in a wonderful relationship shared with me:

“Saying the word retard is like saying “that’s so gay”, it’s going to seem really stupid in a few years”

What I find particularly troubling is that my peers often use the word retard or retarded to this day as a synonym for ridiculous, stupid or implausible. The moment this word is used I immediately lose interest in what is being said, I find it difficult to take the person using this word seriously and I know I’m not alone in this. You don’t need to use an offensive term to make your point stronger, to cause controversy or create a wider audience.  You can conduct a powerful discussion by using words that don’t negatively impact an amazing group of people who strive every single day. If you are using the word retarded to describe people with disabilities you can use extraordinary,amazing or simply just call them people like you would to anyone else. If you do use this word, you are completely forgiven-just stop, it makes you seem less intelligent than you are.

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