It may seem harmless, perfectly acceptable even, considering that the “R-word” is in the dictionary and even once was used to describe a medical condition.
As is often the case, language evolves, connotations change. And in this particular situation, the word “retard” now carries a pejorative meaning that reinforces painful stereotypes.
“Why am I hurt when I hear ‘retard?'” John Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics global ambassador, wrote in a blog for HuffPost. “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.
Military Special Needs Network, a group that supports military families, devised the helpful chart below to outline when — if ever — it’s OK to use the word “retard.”
Political Correctness Going Too Far?
I do have to agree that the word ‘retard’ does carry some negative connotations. However, the word does carry multiple meanings. If you are referring to someone as being retarded, that person could have a mental disability. Retarded could also mean dumb or stupid. Examples:
- Your idea is so retarded. It’ll never work.
- Bob is drunk and dancing on the table. He’s acting very retarded.
Other words have taken multiple meanings in our society. One such word is ‘gay’. The word gay can mean happy, homosexual, or stupid. Examples:
- I just passed my final exam. I’m feeling so gay right now.
- Bob has been dating Joe for quite some time. He finally told his parents that he is gay.
- Why would you even suggest that? That’s so gay.
Where does this end? Everyday words that carry negative connotations can become replaced. I’m not fat. I have a procrastination problem and an eating disorder. How dare you call me short! I’m suffering from height deficiency. We are not handicapped. We are handicapable or physically challenged. The oversensitivity of our society is making us become shells of our real selves. It’s time to embrace our faults and correct them, not mask them with fancy terminology.