Word Up (and out)

By Jamie Neben and AC Smith


It seems like I’m in a constant struggle when it comes to using proper language these days.    The trouble isn’t due to having a limited vocabulary.  Instead, many words have changed over time, or they take on certain meanings that were not originally intended.   And every so often, words are used in such a negative context that to even be associated with them becomes hurtful and/or offensive to somebody.  We can add another entry to that category:  retarded.

Part of my trouble is that I’m not usually one to sugar-coat things.  If I’m overweight, I’d rather you just call me fat instead of “height-weight disproportionate.”  The late, great George Carlin would dedicate whole routines to his distaste for euphemisms.  But just because I don’t always go along with the growing politically correct culture doesn’t mean there’s any excuse for causing harm against other individuals through my words.  Whether intended maliciously or not, that’s exactly what’s happening in this case.

One key issue with the word “retarded” is that a whole group of people become denigrated.  This isn’t a situation where you tell them to just get over it.  Those who actually have intellectual disabilities were, not so long ago, treated as less than equal.  They were often neglected, abused, sterilized, unnecessarily committed to state hospitals, or made to live in horrible conditions.  I’m afraid there may still be instances of that still happening today here and there.  It’s no surprise when I heard that many disabled people and their families are deeply offended by “the R word.”  That’s a good enough reason for me to stop using it. 

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel recently got himself in hot water when he called some liberal activists “(f***ing) retarded.”   He has since apologized and vows to eliminate the R word from all federal language.  As a country, it might be difficult to do likewise in everyday speech, especially when it’s used so casually.  But we have to try.  Most of us wouldn’t purposefully belittle another person based on something like skin color.  Likewise, calling someone a retard is also greatly insensitive to people that have suffered in more ways than one.   Let’s demonstrate through our language that everyone deserves respect as human beings. 


I don’t want to deliberately offend anybody.  Some people use the word “retarded” to victimize, and that’s not right.  However, the word is in the dictionary, and as long as it’s used properly to identify a medical condition, I have no problem with it.  However, my feeling is that it’s not usually used that way.

I am actually much more offended by the first word that Rahm Emanuel used.  No one bothers to acknowledge that word.  If we are going to be sensitive about words that have true meaning, we should clean up the profanity before anything else.  I am 100% offended by the first word and 1% by the second.  Unfortunately, it’s all over television now.  It didn’t used to be that way.   Now it seems everyone talks like that. Some teenagers were at my house recently, and one of them let the “F word” slip.  My neck just about jerked off my head.  Thank goodness my daughter stepped in, and in a nice way, let them know it wasn’t appropriate. 

So, while we can try to make improvements in how we communicate, let’s clean up the bad language first.  It’s a hundred times worse.


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