The ‘R’ word

Retarded. That’s the “R” word. I have to confess that I use it sometimes and have used it in the past. However, it’s not in the way you probably think.

If someone says something stupid I would usually ask: “Are you retarded?”

If they do something I view as unbelievable or juvenile I would say: “How retarded!”

I’m sure many of you do the same as well and find it quite humorous as it indeed evokes the response we’re really looking for. The word seems to take on a whole life of its own when we say it and it is even used to describe how people sound, walk or even dress; but while we do this all in “innocence”, the word itself is viewed as ugly and offensive to another group in society.

Disabled people have been trying to rid the world of this word and shake the stigma which is attached to it since they’ve suffered greatly by it. While I was searching the Internet for more information on this topic, I was appalled at some of the sites that use the word and do so while laughing at the disabled.

You have “A Gallery of Retarded People” which shows you pictures of persons with Down Syndrome and a few others which shows you some persons with other disabilities in a most degrading way.

While you may argue that you also see many sites using the word which shows people doing foolish and idiotic things, I have to admit that knowing how much the disabled abhor the word makes me uncomfortable even though I’ve said it and it had absolutely nothing to do with them.

I liken it to the word “dumb”. The deaf still fight this word in 2012 and no matter how hard you try to tell people that although it is found in the dictionary and means “lacking the human power of speech” it also means “showing a lack of intelligence” which is how many people refer to the deaf.

And while no one is disputing the fact that the word dumb does have relevance; if it is offensive to a group of people who have been and are still called “dummies” why use it in reference to them? It’s funny how we throw words around but seldom take time to realise the impact it would have on the receiver. You never know how people internalise things even though we are quick to defend ourselves by saying “it was only a joke”.

I read where a mother who had a special needs son tried to get a group of people who were using the word retarded to stop as her son had overheard them using it. They got very defensive, cussed the woman out and said they could use the word as much as they want and didn’t really care who heard or not.

Now although it wasn’t directed at this woman’s son, the stigma attached to the word was enough to have a negative effect on someone to whom the word wasn’t intended, but who lives daily with the ignorance of people who say it to him in a derogatory manner.

There really is no need – with so many words available to us – to continue to use those which cause harm to others or which gives a negative response. In this world of political correctness there are those who say “to each his own” and people need to suck it up and move on with their lives, but if you know something saddens, makes someone depressed and is taken as an insult, I see no need to walk the road of “freedom of speech” when you can just use a different adjective.

I have to admit that I hadn’t used it for a very long time and said it in anger about someone’s behaviour recently and one of my sons called me on it! He asked what the word really meant and why I was using it, and I have to tell you that the more I explained the more I realised that this word was totally unnecessary.

Last week when US conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted: “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard,” in reference to President Obama, she drew the ire of not only the country but the disabled community as well; and although she tried to defend her use of the word she just kept digging a deeper hole.

One cannot ignore the fact that when you use words like retarded it gives people the idea that the intended target is slow or even a loser, which brings it right back to how people have for years been describing the disabled.

We need to change our way of thinking and choose our language carefully so that unnecessary harm isn’t done regardless of context; because at the end of the day, it just isn’t worth it.

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