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Spread the Word to End the Word
February 26, 2010 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Spread the Word to End the Word

Plus a message from Dr. Cox (SLYT)
posted by MustardTent (130 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
40 Times. That seems a little low in my experience. Of course if that just counts the front page...
posted by charred husk at 7:02 AM on February 26, 2010


It's a good cause, but it's a big example of the euphemism treadmill. I think instead of using an offensive word, people should learn to express themselves more eloquently, with words that don't insult people for a condition they were born into. Otherwise, we're going to find ourselves banning other formerly politically correct words in the future.

We need to learn phrases that clearly say a person is acting badly or unwisely, rather than words that compare them to people who simply can't help their condition. It's just plain offensive.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:03 AM on February 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


This pledge idea is so gay.
posted by salmacis at 7:09 AM on February 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


First and foremost, the site doesn't even define the "R-word." Sure, in the context, we know what they mean, but it's going to be tough to make the case to stop calling people "retarded" if you won't even use it in your own literature.

Secondly, the word "retarded" simply means "slow." Compare related words "tardy" or the French sentence, "Je suis en retard" (I am late). Is it offensive to refer to someone who is mentally handicapped as "mentally slow"? Perhaps. However, these words creep into the common vernacular, and there's simply no way to stop it. Moron and idiot were once clinical definitions as well. Maybe it's time to leave "retard" behind and futilely try to invent a new label that won't be co-opted by the public as a synonym for "stupid"?

This approach is just backwards. You're trying to convince folks to stop using a word that means "dumb" or "stupid" when they want to say just that. The word "retarded" literally means "slowed", and the problem is that it got applied to those with mental disabilities. It's as though in the 1950s they decided to call crippled people "weaklings" or "wimps" and now people are trying to wipe out use of "wimp" from the vernacular.
posted by explosion at 7:11 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like the part where he says you shouldn't use the word to make fun of someone because it makes people with intellectual disabilities feel like less valued members of humanity, as compared to using women's names to make fun of someone which is totally awesome and hilarious.
posted by Partial Law at 7:13 AM on February 26, 2010 [23 favorites]


One blog I follow quite closely is the blog maintained by Robert Rummel-Hudson, about his daughter. I started reading it a couple years before he got a book -- I think I even started at about the time his daughter was diagnosed with a congenital brain malformation which caused her difficulties with speech, and with other complications.

One of the things that comes up on his blog some is his language -- he makes no bones about how he feels about using euphemistic language -- he doesn't like it. It makes things sound a little too Pollyanna, he feels, or lets us look away:

"... in its own way, I find 'differently abled' or even 'special' to be far worse, because they minimize the struggle. They allow the rest of us to sigh and wipe away a tear while we watch some very touching report on the Today Show, and then say 'Wow, thank you Meredith, for showing me the story of that brave little trouper!' And then we go on with our lives, knowing that someone is watching out for that precious little angel."

But -- he also has a big problem with the "R word," which he recently blogged about in a different place.

Words are powerful, sure, and so is accurate language. But words and language can be much more complicated than we think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:16 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


This pledge idea is so gay.

You mean "gaytard", don't you? Because it's not the R-word, well, OK, it has an R in it but it doesn't begin with it, so it doesn't... wait, I've got my notes around here somewhere.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:17 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


D'oh. Above, that should read "I started reading [rob's blog] a couple years before he got a book DEAL."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:17 AM on February 26, 2010


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Hmm. I think their counting mechanism is off.
posted by charred husk at 7:17 AM on February 26, 2010


Oh for pity's sake.

The word describes a state of being. That state of being is considered less than optimal, so it is used as an insult by the type of person who does that sort of thing. Along come well-meaning but clueless people who try to change those type of people by making the word verboten.

Good luck with that.
posted by Pragmatica at 7:17 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the problem is with us not with the word. Homely used to mean something you would find at home, cozy. It started being used as a euphemism and the meaning changed to the concept people were trying to avoid. If we start using "Gods chosen" instead of the r-word, within a few years guess what kids are going to be calling each other on the playground.
posted by shothotbot at 7:19 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


On a more serious note, I was wondering about a local organization with the R-word in its name, and looked up its web site, where I found:
PARC was incorporated in 1957 as the Peoria Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc. In 2006 PARC made the move away from the use of the term "Retarded" and transitioned to People Advocating for Respect and Consideration of individuals with developmental disabilities. In 2009 the organization formally assumed the name PARC.
Creative solution, there.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:19 AM on February 26, 2010


explosion: While I see your point (kind of), the literal definition of "retarded" isn't what people really think of when that word is used. Regardless of etymology, what it signifies in our culture now is mental retardation/developmental disability.

If you want to call someone "dumb" or "stupid," there are already lots of words that mean exactly that. Like "dumb." And "stupid."
posted by the_bone at 7:21 AM on February 26, 2010


Like moron...oh wait.
posted by French Fry at 7:24 AM on February 26, 2010


Cuchulain fighting the tide...
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:29 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


A few sets ago, there was a Magic: the Gathering card called 'Delay'. For some reason, the French version of this card was much more sought after.
posted by salmacis at 7:32 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you want to call someone "dumb" or "stupid," there are already lots of words that mean exactly that. Like "dumb." And "stupid."
We don't just want to call them dumb or stupid, though. We want to compare them to a mentally disabled person. That's the whole point of calling someone "retarded"!
posted by planet at 7:32 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let's Get It Started
posted by hackly_fracture at 7:34 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This video is not particularly convincing, nor are most of them. The one with Johnny Knoxville though, that one is worth watching and very real feeling. If any one of them is going to change minds, it's that one.
posted by glider at 7:34 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


a friend of mine had a sister who was retarded.

they decided that retarded wouldn't be a "bad" word.

and it wasn't. they loved her and decided it was easier to love her than to get angry over a word all the time.
posted by sio42 at 7:34 AM on February 26, 2010


explosion: While I see your point (kind of), the literal definition of "retarded" isn't what people really think of when that word is used. Regardless of etymology, what it signifies in our culture now is mental retardation/developmental disability.

It might vary from place-to-place and use-to-use, but in my experience, it's exactly the opposite. So very infrequently are people implying that someone has Down Syndrome or any other literal mental impairments. Instead, it's imagery of bumpkin hillbillies like Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, absent-minded professors with no common-sense, or socially-inept nerds. As often as not, the word is used with a modifier, like "social retard," or "retarded with girls," which strongly implies it's closer to "stupid" or "slow" than implying any link to the congenitally mentally handicapped.
posted by explosion at 7:35 AM on February 26, 2010


Secondly, the word "retarded" simply means "slow."

I agree with you in principle, explosion, but as the_bone points out above, I think there's been a lexical drift where "mechanically slow" is not the first association people make with the word.

Language is fluid, and not always in the direction we like. When somebody calls somebody else a "faggot" and then proceeds to elaborately explain that the person in question reminds them of "a bundle of sticks," they're not acting as staunch guardians of the language, they're dicks looking for a loophole to say nasty things and feel clever about it.

It's as though in the 1950s they decided to call crippled people "weaklings" or "wimps" and now people are trying to wipe out use of "wimp" from the vernacular.


I've got some bad news for you about the word "cripples".
posted by Shepherd at 7:36 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Re: Euphemism treadmill, I've heard "special needs" being used by children, in a perjorative sense.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 7:37 AM on February 26, 2010


Cretinously idiotic.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 7:37 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Google site search on Fark.com = ~6990 results. On 4chan.org it caught a little over 9000. That's funny, I expected it to be in the low millions on both...
posted by caution live frogs at 7:40 AM on February 26, 2010


A la Dan Savage, I use "leotarded," because nobody gives a fig what gymnasts think anyway.
posted by ikahime at 7:42 AM on February 26, 2010


the problem with retarded, as i see it, is that it's been used by the culture at large to insult people in flame wars and arguments who are not retarded

i think it's probably too late to save the word - or eliminate it
posted by pyramid termite at 7:43 AM on February 26, 2010


R-word.org is retarded.

Most people use the word retarded to describe:
- stupid things and actions (common slang)
- things and actions that have been slowed down or delayed (proper usage)

Only a heartless animal would apply it to a human being...

...and this is exactly what R-word.org does! It never defines the r-word but prominently features a photo of a person who very likely lives with an extra 21st chromosome.

Personally, I find their website more offensive than the word itself.
posted by stringbean at 7:45 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've heard "special needs" being used by children, in a perjorative sense.

This is an excellent example. The words are not the problem.

People who hate are going to imbue the words they speak with hatred. I've heard the word "homosexual" pronounced with such venom that it wields as much force as any "Fagot"

Hate is the problem. And fixing that problem will not be solved one banned word at a time.
posted by French Fry at 7:48 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's retarded.

Oh wait..
posted by Malice at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2010


How is this different from pejorative uses of 'blind' or 'lame' or 'insane'?
posted by rocket88 at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


So very infrequently are people implying that someone has Down Syndrome or any other literal mental impairments.

You're too hung up on the literalness of it all. When someone says "You're a retard," they're not making a medical diagnosis, they're alluding to people with mental handicaps by comparing your intelligence to theirs.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I took my car to the mechanic a few years ago, I was very offended when they said the timing on my engine was retarded. I'm never going back to those bigots. True story.
posted by JMOZ at 7:51 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dag nabbit, explosion, replied without seeing your reply.

So very infrequently are people implying that someone has Down Syndrome or any other literal mental impairments. Instead, it's imagery of bumpkin hillbillies like Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, absent-minded professors with no common-sense, or socially-inept nerds. As often as not, the word is used with a modifier, like "social retard," or "retarded with girls," which strongly implies it's closer to "stupid" or "slow" than implying any link to the congenitally mentally handicapped.

I get it, but that's kind of the problem in the first place.

If you have brown eyes, and somehow the saying "he's so full of shit it's a wonder his eyes aren't brown" becomes crazy popular, and then "brown-eyed" becomes synonymous with "full of shit," and then every time somebody is caught lying or stealing they're called "brown-eyed," after a while you -- with your brown eyes -- might feel a bit weird about having brown eyes and hearing "brown eyes" used constantly around you as shorthand for "dishonest."

Similarly, "retarded" has become synonymous with "bad stupid" to the point that it's belittling to people that fill a certain set of mental disability criteria. It's used constantly by people as a common expression for "bad stupid", to the point that it belittles people that might fit the more technical criteria that the term was once used to describe.

Part of the problem is that mentally challenged people aren't in a position to really defend themselves. If you'd like to conduct a fun experiment, stand close to an intelligent, capable, argumentative blonde woman and say "oh, I forgot my keys, how totally blonde of me, I'm such a blonde to do such a dumb thing, I might as well dye my hair blonde because I am just so bloody blonde" and see how things roll out from there.
posted by Shepherd at 7:53 AM on February 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


How is this different from pejorative uses of 'blind' or 'lame' or 'insane'?
I'm not sure that it is. I've spent a fair amount of time with folks who have serious mental health issues, and, believe me, they don't much like casual references to someone's being crazy or insane, even in jest, even if there's no implied psychological diagnosis going on.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:57 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Shepherd, it's the other way around. Brown eyes and blonde hair are genetic traits. Trisomy-21 is a genetic trait. "Shit-eyed" "flaxen-haired" and "retarded" are words of questionable worth used to describe these genetic traits.

So yeah, it'd be offensive to refer to brown-eyed people as "shit-eyed." I'd be a lot more offended if people started using "Trisomy" as a way to insult* their friends. However, the medical community decided to use a word meaning "slowed" to describe the condition, and little surprise that it found its way as an insult, when calling someone "slow" was already an insult.

*Trisomy-21 is also called "Trisomy-G" or "tri-g." In their own fucked-up way, the Palins already have started down that path with their own little Trig Palin.
posted by explosion at 8:02 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't cuss!
posted by rollbiz at 8:03 AM on February 26, 2010


Why is that the only people who seem so completely offended by another's simple request not to be used as a pejorative comes from those who don't live with the conditions described?

I'm of Jewish descent. I take offense when people say "kike," and "jewed him down," (which, in case you haven't been spending time with teens, is coming back into fashion). It is insulting to my mom and her folks and really my whole family. If I had a sibling or another relative who lived with a cognitive disability, I would probably hate to hear the word "retard" used to compare a stupid person to my brother or sister. But it seems like the only people decrying political-correctness are those who aren't forced to live daily with the negative effects of another person's dumb language choices.

I mean, for Christ's sake, it's not so hard. Don't say retard. It makes people feel shitty. It makes you into a part of the daily pain of another human's life. Why are people having a hard time understanding this?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:08 AM on February 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


On 4chan.org it caught a little over 9000

OVER NINETHOUSAND!!!?!?!
posted by i'm offended you're offended at 8:11 AM on February 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Trisomy-21 is also called "Trisomy-G" or "tri-g."

Does anyone have a cite for it being referred to as "tri-g?" I've seen that a lot on outraged lefty blogs claiming that Palin named her son that on purpose, but I haven't been able to find anyone calling it that outside of said blog posts.
posted by EarBucket at 8:20 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Baby_Balrog, the difference is that Jews are Jews, have ever been Jews, and will ever be Jews. Jew is the literal, actual descriptor of the people.

"Retarded" is one of many on the euphemism treadmill, along with "moron" and "idiot." Essentially this site is saying, "Don't call your friends that act a little slow sometimes 'mentally slow', this word is reserved for these specific people we'd like to call 'mentally slow'."

Using Jew as a synonym for "greedy" or "miserly" is much different from using the word that means "slow" to describe any person who acts slow, rather than specific people.

That said, I do my best not to use offensive words, try to catch myself from ever slipping and using "retarded," but mostly because I do value precision and politeness in language. It's the approach that these people use that is annoying, and they'll have about as much success as if they tried to get people to stop using "dummy" or "moron."
posted by explosion at 8:24 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does it count as a SLYT when there's two links and one of them isn't to YouTube?
posted by Plutor at 8:27 AM on February 26, 2010


Why call out 'retarded' specifically? It seems to me that words like 'dumb' and 'stupid' could easily have the same argument leveled against them. When one calls another person dumb, one is implying that their intelligence is like unto a person born with low intelligence, perhaps even someone we would consider mentally retarded.

Virtually all words and phrases that express the view that an action was suboptimal or that the person doing the action is himself or herself suboptimal inevitably invite or imply comparison to people that are of below average or suboptimal intelligence. So why stop at 'retarded?' Who will speak out for the merely slow? the dumb? the stupid? And given that words like idiot, cretin, and moron were originally used to describe the mentally retarded, shouldn't we treat those words as just as verboten as retarded? And as others have pointed out, attempting to create a new euphemism is pointless as it will only be co-opted and used as an insult.

If you want to make the argument that we just shouldn't ever call something or someone any synonym or euphemism for "intellectually suboptimal" then go ahead. But dancing around some words while making an appeal for the vileness of the slang du jour is....and here I'm not sure what I can even say it is without offending someone. Not good, perhaps?
posted by jedicus at 8:38 AM on February 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Right, explosion, but what's at issue here is that a person with cognitive disabilities can no more escape that condition than can a Jewish person.
So when someone says to a non-Jew, "you dirty Jew," they are loading their pejorative with all the negative connotations associated with jewishness.
When someone says, "You retard," to a person who is acting foolishly, they are doing the same thing - only substituting cognitive disabilities for jewishness.
I read the link you posted regarding the "euphemism treadmill," and it makes sense, but I don't think it applies in this situation.
The point is not that it is somehow bad or wrong to describe an individual with cognitive difficulties as such, but that it is to associate them with an entire group of people who don't deserve to be used as a insult against others. Sure, cripple becomes handicapped becomes differently abled, and they all mean the same thing, but when my able-bodied friend trips on the sidewalk and I laugh and say, "you cripple!" it's not that I'm being un-pc, necessarily, in using the word cripple, it's that I'm saying, in essence, "You are like a disabled person, which is a bad thing, and you should feel bad for being like a disabled person."
Same goes with "retard." The word itself could be anything, but the implication when it's used as an insult toward a non-retarded person is, "Even though you're not retarded, you are like a retarded person, and you should feel bad for being like a retarded person." Or, "you jewed me down," equates to, "you are not a jew, necessarily, but you are acting like one and should feel bad about that, because no-one wants to be a jew."
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:42 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jedicus - words like "stupid," or "dumb," are far more universal in their application. "Retard" refers to a specific sort of person. You can make the argument that that's not the case, that it's a broader term and should be categorized with "stupid" or "dumb" but I went to high school in the 90s and remember the way kids would slap their arm limply against their chest while pretending to drool - it was a widespread thing - and it refers to a condition much more specifically than "dumb" or "stupid." I hate the word "retarded," because it is preventing our society from opening up to people with specific sorts of disabilities in the same way that "that's so gay" is preventing society from opening up to homosexuals. It's stupid. And by stupid I mean close-minded, narrow, ignorant, regressive, backward behavior. I think it's poison to a healthy society.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:48 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Dr. Cox" is proud that his character never uses the word retard or retarded because they're devaluing, yet he has no problem that his character using a variety of women's names as a derogatory term which devalues women as a whole. He goes to the point of reiterating the schtick in his ad.

I'm sorry, I think referring to your misogynist character to prove a point about treating people well is a terribly stupid thing to do.
posted by Hiker at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


his character *is* using.
posted by Hiker at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2010


If we ban the traditional epithets can we continue to treat them like shit?

It's worked with all the other minorities so I don't see why not.
posted by clarknova at 9:00 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


words like "stupid," or "dumb," are far more universal in their application

So it's okay if enough people do it in enough circumstances? Or maybe since there are a whole lot of merely stupid or dumb people and not so many mentally retarded people, then it's okay to insult someone based on those inherent, immutable characteristics. These are not compelling distinctions to me.

I honestly do not understand what legitimate distinction is to be made between the word retarded applied as an insult and words like dumb, stupid, moron, idiot, cretin, etc. They all refer to inherent, immutable characteristics, and they all refer to intelligence. What line does calling someone or some act retarded cross that using the other words does not?

I can understand calling out words like 'gay' and 'blonde,' as being homosexual or blonde has absolutely nothing to do with ones intelligence or how one behaves (with the obvious exception that homosexuals, by definition, tend to be attracted to people of the same sex). But how can there be any meaningful distinction between words that all refer directly to (below average) intelligence?

Let me run through some scenarios: Calling a typical person dumb. Calling a retarded person dumb. Calling a typical person dumb in the presence of a retarded person. It seems to me that if it would be wrong to use the word retarded in those scenarios then it would be just as wrong to use the word dumb. It is at most a difference of degree but not kind. And trying to delineate between degrees of badness is pointless because tone of voice, body language, etc can make a word that is ordinarily 'less bad' seem 'more bad' under the circumstances.

Like I said, I have a lot less trouble with the argument that we should stop insulting people by calling them or their actions anything like "intellectually suboptimal." Unlike the argument against a specific word it's internally consistent. And, really, resorting to a word like 'dumb' is lazy. One should instead point out exactly what was wrong with the act or the view. For example, the argument against this specific word isn't "dumb" but rather inconsistent and likely to prove counterproductive in the short run and ultimately ineffective in the long run. Similarly, Baby_Balrog called the use of "retard" as an insult "close-minded, narrow, ignorant, regressive, backward behavior."

So I would agree that we should endeavor to explain why an act or view is wrong rather than using the lazy shortcut of comparing it to something a person of suboptimal intellect would do. I would not agree that the use of this specific word is deserving of scorn when its synonyms are not.
posted by jedicus at 9:14 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's lazy.
If you think a point someone has made is "whatever" (insert one word retort that harks back to various oldschool prejudice examples)... then you might want to consider dissecting it and explaining why... or pass it by and let someone else try; but you AREN'T on the "good guy" side if you think you are cleverly dissecting an irrational argument by dismissing anything with a simple "thats ______"

Same with all of the various words that are used in that blank... they are all symbolic of a laziness to making an actual point, or ACTUALLY critiquing someone that you strongly disagree with...
It's Lazy, and pushes the overton window of hate into a place that sucks... It is Not Clever.

Defending it because historically a word has had different meanings is more akin to justifying something that is like the tip of the iceburg... when smart, educated people, making cogent and clever statements, who don't like Republicans, and dismiss them as all "R___".. .they are NOT helping the progressive cause (or any kind of greater societal cause)... they are saying that it's ok to use words and concepts that are KNOWN to be used to put actual people into boxes... But it's ok when we do it... because the Republicans are all racists, and we are trying to show how foolish they are in their racist beliefs. And we aren't talking about THOSE gay people, and we aren't talking about THOSE people with cognitive disabilities.. and we aren't talking about THOSE African American people... AmiRite?

See how foolish I look?
Why should you/we/I get to do it and call it "fighting stupid ideas"... but when racists and bigots do it... it's evil?

Is it because we have a bad history with coming up with clever witty retorts and new words?
Yeah, the new word of the decade "Blog" sucked... but I am sure we can think of clever and witty ripostes, without perpetuating a way of being ultra casual lazy with our thoughts and words; in a way that pushes people and ideas outside of somepeoples thoughts... The website likely understands that we all in the world won't suddenly go "WOAH... I am an arse!"... but it (and the people who get the message that it is sending) will likely inspire some people to THI NK before they use that word... Just think... Before using it. If you still think that it is the best way of saying what you are saying... then go for it... but I personally won't favorite that with my support... and that sucks, especially if otherwise you had a great point.

Thou paunchy idle-headed scullian!
Thou clouted lily-livered minnow!
Draw thy tool. My naked weapon is out.
via
Argue against the point... not the person... because it's ad hominem, so it's no good in any REAL arena of honest discourse.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:22 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This movement is all backward. "Retarded" isn't a mean or nasty word in itself and by fighting against it, you lend it more power. You also siphon off goodwill and effort that could go to more important problems, such as medical fundraising or education.

Consider the inverted history of the word "queer" which was reclaimed.
posted by chairface at 9:26 AM on February 26, 2010


Nigga, please!
posted by briank at 9:34 AM on February 26, 2010


Is there anyone who still calls developmentally challenged people "retarded"? In my neck of the woods, it has been decades since that offensive term was used in that way. For decades, the professional sectors (doctors, teachers, etc) have used exact diagnostic terms, words like "developmentally delayed", "consumers", and so on.

I suppose there might be areas on this continent where dumbasses are calling the mentally challenged "retards". Those dumbasses are the retards: really slow in catching up to modern use of language.

I suggest that if you overhear someone calling a developmentally-challenged person "retard", that you get all up in arms about it, and call them out for it, and scold and shame them, and whatever else you care to do to educate and encourage them to get their shit together.

Meanwhile, I also suggest that those of you who overhear someone using the word as it is meant to be used these days not get your socks in a knot. "Retard" is now no different than the word "moron" or "idiot" or "crazy".

Gahd. The word only has negative connotations and value if you insist that it remain locked-up in the 1950s. Unclench, and it loses that power.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:34 AM on February 26, 2010


Johnny Knoxville: "I don't use that word anymore, the r-word, not because I'm politically correct... I'm far from politically correct... I don't say it because it hurts my friend Eddie."

This is the entire point of the concept of political correctness- that words can easily be used to hurt, and that when we thoughtlessly use hurtful language, we hurt people we never intended to. By watching the language we use, we decrease the degree to which our careless speech excludes and hurts those around us, particularly those of us who are excluded, minimized, and devalued already.

That said, while I agree with their message, I think constantly calling it "the r-word" makes them sound like a group of sixth graders.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:39 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm of Jewish descent. I take offense when people say "kike," and "jewed him down,"…
I mean, for Christ's sake, it's not so hard. Don't say…


Some people take offense when their Lord's name is used in vain.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:41 AM on February 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes, it's good when words are "reclaimed"... like Queer but that doesn't "reverse" the billion times that it was used to make human people feel like trash BEFORE this shift.

It doesn't bring back people who killed themselves because of oppressive hateful environments.

And this isn't a particular example of a situation where the people who are the objects of the word can all just "decide" that they will take the reigns of that particular word... this is one example where the responsibility for fixing our lexicon lies in peoples hands who have the power of choose what kinds of things they will and will not say.

Ok, FFF, I see your point, but you recognize that even if WE aren't in the 1950s, that the 1950s (and 60's ,70's and 90's DID happen) and it's not like we can erase them, so those words DO have histories, they didn't just spring up... and there are people all over who still use that particular word meaning "like a person who is deeply Impaired by Nature".

Far cry if I will give that a pass... I am no troglodyte... but do you not think we could just as easily (without vigilance), slip BACK to our old (but not ANCIENT by any means) ways of thinking?

It is not THAT long between now and then really.
Couple decades, and every day people who lived through bigotry are dying... "we" don't know open bigotry today.

Also, consumers? What do they think? Like consuming resources, without ever producing? That sounds like a "drain" on the economy... something that "taxpayers" won't "accept"... only consuming "our" resources, while all those great "great" "normal" people do all the work of making society work... for the Consumers, who "feed" off the "productive" taxpaying "producers"... I can easily see these terms being used just like the old ones, and leading us back to Eugenics to "keep society healthy, and productive".... eugenics is not some mystical thing that OTHER societies did... that is US, the "enlightened" "western" "democracies"; I'm Not having it (personally anyway, as always, opinions are mine alone.)
posted by infinite intimation at 9:50 AM on February 26, 2010


For decades, the professional sectors (doctors, teachers, etc) have used exact diagnostic terms, words like "developmentally delayed", "consumers", and so on.

I know doctors who use the word "retarded" to describe mental disability to new parents. I know patients who prefer it, because they know what it means. "Cognitive handicap" "developmental delay" etc are all taken as sugar coating which carry zero additional information.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:53 AM on February 26, 2010


Some people take offense when their Lord's name is used in vain.

Then using "Christ" as an epithet should be perfectly OK, because it's not his name.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:55 AM on February 26, 2010


I'm of Jewish descent. I take offense when people say "kike," and "jewed him down,"…
I mean, for Christ's sake, it's not so hard. Don't say…

Some people take offense when their Lord's name is used in vain.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:41 PM on February 26 [+] [!]


I just want to make a record of the equivocation you're making here.

jedicus: I honestly do not understand what legitimate distinction is to be made between the word retarded applied as an insult and words like dumb, stupid, moron, idiot, cretin, etc. They all refer to inherent, immutable characteristics, and they all refer to intelligence. What line does calling someone or some act retarded cross that using the other words does not?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in this statement you seem to be implying that "retarded" people are "dumb." And this is the crux of the thing, for me. You can't just keep saying "suboptimal intelligence" like it means something in a vacuum! Retarded people aren't always dumb. They have some cognitive impairment, but I know plenty of people with Down's who are a joy to be around, who are wonderful human beings, who "get" me better than some of my closest friends. And I know people with IQs in the high 100s that I can't stand to share a dinner table with. I would never call my friend Paul "dumb," even though he is precisely what you would label, "retarded." I call him "awesome," "genuinely funny," and sometimes "hyper." But my friend "Mike" is a proud, card-carrying member of Mensa with one of the most aggressively irritating personalities I've ever encountered. And, yeah, I call him "dumb" sometimes because of how grating he can be in social situations. You can't equivocate "dumb" with "retarded" because they refer to two different things. And when you call someone who is acting "dumb" a "retard," in my presence, you are saying "You're like Balrog's friend Paul!" No, that's not o.k. You're using Paul as an example of a what not to be like. And frankly, I wish I could be more like Paul and less like Mike.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:04 AM on February 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


a robot made out of meat... that is a point that is very useful... it is not to say that we shouldn't try to help people medically who suffer from the difficulties you refer to... the thing that I am currently taking issue with is the Unthinking nature of how this particular word is used most often (and specifically not the scientific uses)... the second nature way of using it to mean "event/person/place/thing in the world that "I" do not like or disagree with."... rather than the medical, and international uses it Literally still has (like the slowing down of cells, and as you say, some doctors usage to explain and start discussion with parents, and also the "french word for slow".

Right, I don't think anyone needs or wants to change those uses... but someone is far from clever when they bring those uses up as if they justify me turning around and calling some person place or thing that word, as is the usage pattern being currently discussed.


See perceptual segregation.
Also see, Teaching the N word, by Emily Bernard (American Scholar)
Just because you have to teach people to say it so they can respect the POWER that the word once held... doesn't mean it doesn't still hold hurtful power every time you are in a situation where it is going to be said.
posted by infinite intimation at 10:10 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised by the number of people defending the use of the word "retarded" in common vocabulary. It's offensive. Words are only words until we use them to hurt other people. We give words power when we use them to insult people. If a campaign exists to eliminate or reduce the amount of pain caused by historic misuse of a word, it's worth examining why you feel the need to defend its use. If it's just symantics fueling your arguement, give it up. Symantics are not worth causing insult to others.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:24 AM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but in this statement you seem to be implying that "retarded" people are "dumb."

Then I shall correct you because the statement did not imply that the terms are equivalent, but rather "They all refer to inherent, immutable characteristics, and they all refer to intelligence." Later I noted "It is at most a difference of degree but not kind." So, while there may be some distinctions between the terms, they are, for purposes of this discussion, distinctions without a difference, at least as far as I can see. If it's wrong to call someone or some act retarded then it is wrong to call them dumb, stupid, idiotic, moronic, cretinous, etc.

Once again, if you want to advance the argument that we should discourage the use of all insults pertaining to (lack of) intelligence or cognitive abilities, then great, I'm right there with you. But singling out this one word as meaningfully different from the others is incoherent and unprincipled.
posted by jedicus at 10:25 AM on February 26, 2010


You imbue words with a power they don't have or deserve when you get this bent out of shape about them.

If you ban a word, culture will just come up with another offensive term. It's not the particular word, it's just that people wish to describe things offensively sometimes. Quite a bit, in fact

It's the meaning, not the vehicle conveying it that should or should not offend.

My personal experience seems to suggest that all the hoo-hah over 'gay' and 'retarded' has brought the terms to even more widespread use. So these sad little PC attempts to obliterate them are, well, gay and retarded. And I meant to offend, so what can you do?
posted by umberto at 10:27 AM on February 26, 2010


anyone who employs the word "retarded" on a regular basis is a cretin

or

ahhh, linguistic prescriptivism in the guise of "raising awareness" part 95879287312
posted by tehloki at 10:28 AM on February 26, 2010


And I meant to offend, so what can you do?

I can (and, thanks to the use of Firefox addons, will) remember that you're a deliberate jerk with no consideration for the feelings of others and use that information when evaluating your future actions and statements.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:39 AM on February 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Along come well-meaning but clueless people who try to change those type of people by making the word verboten.

Looks to me more like old and savvy non-profit taking advantage of a spate of recent publicity around the use of the word retarded as a pejorative to do a little fundraising. And more power to 'em, I say. Personally I've tried to excise the word in this usage from my vocabulary because it's lazy and about as clever as a 9th grade Xbox griefer at this stage of the game.
posted by nanojath at 10:40 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So here's the sequence of events:

1) The word "retarded" originally meant "slow" in the mechanical "velocity is impaired" sense.

2) Then medical professionals started using it as a term to refer to a group of people with mental disabilities. Over time, it came to be synonymous with that set of mental disabilities, and was the term of record for a subset of mentally disabled people.

3) Then assholes started using to refer to anything they thought was "bad stupid." Their use of the word meant "your actions are bad stupid, and so I am comparing you to people with mental disabilities, who are also bad stupid. Why do you want to be like people with mental disabilities? They are bad stupid and deserve our scorn."

4) Then people who fulfill the criteria defined in step (2), and their friends, started saying "hey, just because we have brains that function differently, doesn't mean we're bad stupid, and we don't deserve your scorn. Please stop using a word that was once commonly used to describe our condition as meaning 'bad stupid and deserving of scorn,' because it's a word that we are commonly associated with, is already enough of an inaccurate stigma with its own associated prejudices and evils, and we don't need to be piled on any more, thanks."

5) Then the assholes in (3) responded to say "yeah, but now the word means 'bad stupid' because we say so, and there are other terms out there to describe you, so suck it."

I, personally, stop at (4), and think that if a group of people that have spent much of their lives defined as "retarded" and even self-identify as "retarded" are politely asking me to stop using "retarded" as a synonym for "bad stupid and deserving of scorn" -- or even abandon ship on the word entirely, as that well's been pretty much permanently poisoned -- hell, I'll do it. There are other words.

Some of you are just pushing on through (5), and those people who are politely asking for your respect? Fuck those guys, I'm striking a blow for linguistic freedom.

Godspeed, noble language warriors! May your pedantry proudly crush people that can't fight back for many, many years to come.
posted by Shepherd at 10:49 AM on February 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


But singling out this one word as meaningfully different from the others is incoherent and unprincipled.

I think you're being willfully ignorant of the difference between "dumb" and "mentally retarded." They're not the same.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:50 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And what the hell do you mean by "unprincipled"? That I am the one who lacks principles for not using a hurtful pejorative to equate someone's disability with "dumb" and "stupid"? Look in a mirror.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:52 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


caution live frogs: "Google site search on Fark.com = ~6990 results. On 4chan.org it caught a little over 9000. That's funny, I expected it to be in the low millions on both..."

Well, to be fair to 4chan, their threads get auto-deleted every like, 12 hours or so. So that's only like half a day of retarded.
posted by graventy at 10:55 AM on February 26, 2010


That I am the one who lacks principles for not using a hurtful pejorative to equate someone's disability with "dumb" and "stupid"?

Whoa, not at all. I have said, over and over and over, that I am 100% behind not using words like retarded, dumb, and stupid as insults. What I think is unprincipled is the argument that the word retarded is somehow special amongst all other words that mean (or can be used to mean) "of suboptimal intelligence or cognitive abilities."

I think you're being willfully ignorant of the difference between "dumb" and "mentally retarded." They're not the same.

As I just explained, I never claimed that they were synonymous. What I have claimed is that they both refer to innate, immutable characteristics and both refer (or can be used to refer) to someone's (lack of) intelligence or cognitive abilities. Moreover, to the extent that a distinction can be drawn between the terms, one cannot draw from that distinction the conclusion that it is somehow okay to call someone 'dumb' but not okay to call them 'retarded.' Either neither term is acceptable or both are. I happen to feel that neither is.
posted by jedicus at 10:59 AM on February 26, 2010


charred husk: 40 Times. That seems a little low in my experience. Of course if that just counts the front page...

Site search: 28 posts, 3133 comments, 2 tags; Google: 3,290; Yahoo: 4,140.
posted by WCityMike at 11:00 AM on February 26, 2010


On 4chan.org it caught a little over 9000.

Hahahaha, perfect.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:01 AM on February 26, 2010


I think it's a case of being more mindful of what you say in general. Yeah, I have a hard time trying not to say things like "lame" or "idiot" because they're examples of words that, for most people, have lost their original meaning (the meaning linking them to people with disabilities). But I do it anyway, because some people have requested that they not be used in that way.

A while back, I was on the bus and some newly-minted-activist-girl was yammering on in a singsong way about how incredibly awful it was that our town's minimum wage was only $5.70, because, like, in Illinois it's 7 bucks. "That's so retarded," she said.

So this was the second time in three days that I hadn't spoken up when some ostensibly educated person near me had described something like that. (Describing injustice with that phrase? The irony just drrrrips.) The first was at knitting group, when this chick with a PhD in sociology, or something close, described herself as "such a retard" for missing a stitch somewhere.

Seriously, people? Seriously?

It's so much worse when smart, well-educated, "liberal" people say that. I KNOW that these people would never toss off the phrase "that's so gay" -- and yet here they are using the same sort of language, describing something in a way that puts down people who can't help the way that they were born.

The guy with the guitar in this picture (okay, it's basically a prop, because we do like to goof around with him :P) is my uncle Andy.

This picture was taken on his birthday; he's surrounded by five of his eight siblings, with another one taking the picture. (My mom, the eldest, is the one sitting next to him.) Outside of the frame are three spouses, one niece and one nephew. Everyone at the picnic drove between two and five hours to get there.

Andy is the eldest of six sons. Being born in 1952 meant that even having a doctor for a father (and grandfather), a live-in grandmother, and a mother with an advanced Ivy League degree in nursing and child development wasn't enough to keep him at home. He's lived in various institutions and group homes all his life. Still, that didn't mean that any of us have ever loved him any less. As far as I can tell, he's always had a good life; even though you can't always understand the few things he says, he's pretty independent and loves to help. He gets very excited at holidays, he loves the people around him, and he makes sure to let us know. He is unquestionably at the center of our family.

So when someone says, "Oh, that's so retarded," I think, "Okay, you're saying something is bad, or less than ideal, and that's just not how I think of people like Andy, so why use the wrong word?" I've known that that wasn't the right thing to say since I knew how to talk, so why are some people so careless?

My biggest problem now is figuring out how to sensitively bring it up to people I encounter in social settings but don't really know, like the woman at my yarn store who rails against the very IDEA (the "retarded" idea) that she would want to date a disabled man, when there is a woman with obvious disabilities RIGHT THERE. Some people are clueless. Sometimes that group includes me, but if I were doing that, I wouldn't want to do it anymore. I don't like hurting people, even if I don't really understand why it hurts them.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
posted by Madamina at 11:06 AM on February 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can (and, thanks to the use of Firefox addons, will) remember that you're a deliberate jerk with no consideration for the feelings of others and use that information when evaluating your future actions and statements.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:39 PM on February 26


Cool! I could use something like that for the religion threads.
posted by rocket88 at 11:24 AM on February 26, 2010


Yeah, Shepherd, it's my pedantry that causes language to evolve, and it's my pedantry that causes teenagers to be offensive assholes. Oh yeah, and just because I choose to recognize the way a word is used, I and people like me are responsible for that use and should out on the streets trying to prevent it instead of making comments on metafilter.
posted by tehloki at 11:24 AM on February 26, 2010


On 4chan.org it caught a little over 9000.

wow, only seven?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:25 AM on February 26, 2010


And "gay" has always meant "happy" and nothing but.
posted by tehloki at 11:26 AM on February 26, 2010


This is the entire point of the concept of political correctness- that words can easily be used to hurt, and that when we thoughtlessly use hurtful language, we hurt people we never intended to. By watching the language we use, we decrease the degree to which our careless speech excludes and hurts those around us, particularly those of us who are excluded, minimized, and devalued already.

A fair and noble goal -- but the problem with "political correctness" is that it's overlooking that it is CONTEXT that makes insult, not words. In other words: I'd be offended if someone sneered at me, "You micks are always drunk!" But I wouldn't feel any less offended if instead they said "you Irish-Americans are always drunk!"

As for this case: Shepherd has it on the nose. I don't think anyone on the site is advocating dropping the word from the language entirely. I think they're only saying "do not use it as a descriptor of someone unless you are actually referring to someone who has been clinically diagnosed thus. All we're asking is don't use it in place of a word like 'dickwad' or something".

It's kind of like something Dave Barry said: you should never assume a woman is pregnant unless you can see an actual baby coming out of her at that moment. Similarly, it's unwise and mean to call someone "retarded" unless you can see the actual clinical diagnosis from a certified doctor in front of you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


tehloki: Oh yeah, and just because I choose to recognize the way a word is used

Except, you're not. You are specifically and intentionally not recognizing the way the word is used and parading that deficiency here for all to see. And people are trying to tell you, "that word is incredibly painful," even going so far as to post personal stories, and you're presume to label them prescriptivist.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:40 AM on February 26, 2010


EmpressCallipygos,
The only problem with reserving the word "retarded" for people with mental disabilities is that the word has become so loaded now that even trying to use it for the proper meaning can be troublesome. Unlike some other loaded words where efforts have been made by the targeted community to regain ownership, like "gay", there has been no such effort on the behalf of retarded. Instead a new word was chosen to be used clinically - and even now the term, "What's his disability?" is beginning to make an appearance.

So I don't think trying to use the word properly will really work any more, all that can be done is to try and minimize people using it out of cruelty.
posted by charred husk at 11:44 AM on February 26, 2010


Baby_Balrog: The comments by charred husk and EmpressCallipygos express how I feel a lot more clearly than I do. There is a massive distinction between using the word to offend somebody ("You're such a retard, Billy!") and using it innocently ("Man that test was retarded"). To condemn both uses is to try and dictate how people use language, which has always proven pointless. To recognize the commonplace nature of both of these uses is not to condone the behaviour in the former instance, which would be offensive regardless of the language used ("you're of such deficient mental aptitude, billy!"). Essentially my point is that it's the intention that matters, not the language, and anything you do to curtail the language will either be ineffective or completely unreasonable.
posted by tehloki at 11:58 AM on February 26, 2010


Retard is a word like gay, bitch, whore, slut, etc. that I've been trying to weed out of my vocabulary. Once you get down to what each of these is saying by being used negatively it becomes something that I don't believe in, and don't want to have associated with myself. I don't preach to others, and I think this site isn't very effective, but I can see where it's coming from.
posted by codacorolla at 12:43 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I take offense when people say "kike,"
Some people take offense when their Lord's name is used in vain.
I just want to make a record of the equivocation you're making here.
What you quote is, indeed, a record of what I recorded. Are you heading anywhere with this? I don't get it. There it is, what I wrote.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:50 PM on February 26, 2010


Well, fff, one is a racial slur.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:58 PM on February 26, 2010


codacorolla, I'd nominate ghetto for inclusion on your list (exclusion?). Sure, ghetto can mean lots of different things, but we all know what folks usually mean when they use that word, right?
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:19 PM on February 26, 2010


I don't think anyone needs or wants to change those uses... [of the word "retard"]

I think you are mistaken. Or I think if you are correct, you are correct only in your locale. Where I live — BC — the various professions do not use the word "retard" in their practice. The expectation is to use proper clinical, diagnostic terms when discussing specific individuals or population groups; and to use the word "consumer" to describe the sector of the population that makes use of special needs assisstance, mental or physical. My wife works extensively in providing services to children with specific disabilities or disability classes; I have worked in schools and donated a contract to develop best practices with a local mental health services provider; I have inlaws that have also worked in similar school and healthcare fields.

In our experience the word "retard" is not used professionally in BC, and has not been for decades. Our service providers sectors, public and private, have deliberately chosen to do this. So I think it is fair to say many people need and want to change the "medical" uses of the term you are claiming need to be retained.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:20 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can (and, thanks to the use of Firefox addons, will) remember that you're a deliberate jerk with no consideration for the feelings of others and use that information when evaluating your future actions and statements.

Hey, that's a great idea! Carrying grudges from thread to thread builds community! Have a hamburger, buddy, it's on me!
posted by five fresh fish at 1:22 PM on February 26, 2010


So when someone says, "Oh, that's so retarded," I think, "Okay, you're saying something is bad, or less than ideal, and that's just not how I think of people like Andy, so why use the wrong word?" I've known that that wasn't the right thing to say since I knew how to talk, so why are some people so careless?

Whoa! YOU are the one that is using the term offensively. Andy is not retarded. There is a specific diagnostic medical term for his condition, whatever it is.

Guh. I'm getting offended by the number of people who are insisting that they need to use the word "retarded" to describe someone they know. That's just wrong.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:30 PM on February 26, 2010


Pope Guilty: And one is a religious slur. I still don't see where you are going with this. One is worse than the other on some sort of slur-weighing scale?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:38 PM on February 26, 2010


Uhm, fff, yes, they are different; one is saying HEY, YOU, SPECIFIC JEWISH PERSON i have no respect... etc., (I think, I don't know/haven't had experience with getting a full definition of that particular word, and am not particularly interested in seeking that specific definition out.)
While,
The other is generally described as a call by God as something you (a believer) should not do. (which some people, {believers} see as something they are called by God to personally not do.)

There isn't a command that NO ONE shall invoke the name of the Lord... only a call that one who believes must, as an element of their faith, not curse the name of God.
posted by infinite intimation at 1:46 PM on February 26, 2010


Yeah. One denigrates an ethnic group, while the other breaks a rule from a particular religion. You might as well compare the use of "kike" to adultery or not keeping the Sabbath.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:50 PM on February 26, 2010


Picking out magic words for special treatment is, in my opinion, unhelpful; it merely provides easy meat for the army of boofheads who delight in shouting "Politicial Correctness! Political Correctness!" in response to any attempt to persuade us to treat each other better.

To some extent, the boofheads have a point. Words can be used in all sorts of ways; it's not the words themselves that are the problem, it's their intended meaning. The desire and tendency to point and jeer and denigrate is the problem, not the words used to do that.

For example, consider the word "special". When I was a kid, "special" meant "different, distinct, rare, valuable, beautiful". These days, it can mean either those things or "slow, stupid, retarded, clumsy" depending on context. If we go all-out on a campaign to ban "retard", and the campaign works, all that will happen is that "special" will move in to fill the vacuum, and in ten years somebody will be campaigning against the S word.

Seems to me that the occasional gentle reminder that everyone needs a hug, or that we should all be excellent to each other, is about the best that we can do.
posted by flabdablet at 1:56 PM on February 26, 2010


I hate the word "retarded," because it is preventing our society from opening up to people with specific sorts of disabilities in the same way that "that's so gay" is preventing society from opening up to homosexuals. It's stupid. And by stupid I mean close-minded, narrow, ignorant, regressive, backward behavior. I think it's poison to a healthy society.

I think this is putting the cart before the horse. Society is indeed unhealthy in lots of ways; it often manifests closed-minded, narrow, ignorant, regressive, backward behavior, such as denigrating those who don't deserve it with whatever words are handy for that purpose at the time.

Naturally, given that every social effect is also a social cause, there will be some degree of self-reinforcement going on: those who are inclined to use "retarded" as an insult are probably not the most creative people in the world, so it may seem that the ready availability of an insulting word would make insults fly more often. The point to remember, though, is that there is no limit to the supply of insulting words, because any word can be used in an insulting way. Even "Christian".

Trying to cure the ills of society by persuading people to treat certain words as offensive is like trying to treat cancer by making lumps unfashionable. It simply won't work.
posted by flabdablet at 2:26 PM on February 26, 2010


No, tehloki; you aren't responsible for what others say... but if people are making the "discussion" (wheresoever it happens, Internet or IRL) be about determining if "we" (those gently arguing against Unthinkingly using this word to describe "bad stupid") are just loosey-goosy language people, or word police, or stereotypes of a concept called "pc"; bottom line being, it allows the discussion to be about how we (people who wouldn't cry if words of hate, that people have started using again as commonplace words meaning "dumb/stupid thing "I" don't like", were never used again) are trying to control you... which it isn't... it's about asking people speaking in a non-medical position (in a polite way) to stop and think about their words (if that is somehow considered domination of your mind.. I really dunno what to say, except you are dictating how I can perceive other peoples behavior; see how it works.)

it's their intended meaning.; If the intended meaning is "bad stupid"... then the intended meaning is intentionally excluding CERTAIN specific people from our society.

In this particular case it is about this particular word... I don't care if someone wants to look like a 9th grade xBox live'r calling everything that happens in their insulated little world "Whatever" (any of the examples of words that we all know what people mean, but they get to say, just jokin')... any of these appropriations of the words of a bigot (which they will every time say is "just a joke" or "being ironic".

Bottom line, I'm going to think Much less of someones opinion if they are so lazy as to express their displeasure at something by resorting to using phrases and ideas, conceptions and phrasings which put one group of people on the OUTSIDE of a discussion (from the start of the discussion)...

People with lighter impairments, who may likely have been called this R word we are discussing, many times growing up (even in Canadian society, using this word under discussion to mean "bad stupid" is TODAY still common), disabled people are not by any means all blissfully ignorant of words, connotations and meaning, and often actually TOTALLY understand the various connections that come WITH words, words are not existing in a lifeless vacuum (people with Impairments are not all blissfully oblivious to how people talk about them)... who says that the griefers usage gets to be the "new" usage of this word (and thus negating the prior decades of usage)... This "new" "improved" and "evolved" usages of the words seems exactly like the usage that has existed for the last 40 years ("bad stupid", history described above). The word hasn't changed... it's still a used as a slur when used in non-medical situations.

These words are so unspecific; not only are they making the language less specific, and arguments have less weight, they also work to exclude ( I can exclude you not only by force, but by creating a toxic environment; this is recognized as exampled by the Canadian government mentioned previously, certain and specific people can be excluded not by rules or regulations, but simply by the way things are discussed and thrown around in a place. (see sexual harassment laws.)

But like everyone here also speaking, I don't personally care to control individuals; if someone wants to wave their hands and say "but I still have this REALLLLLY clever joke about Jewish people to tell..." because I will likely ignore (or point out the ignorance of) that persons position anyway... and someone doing this will likely not be reachable... I am worried about the people I know and love, who are otherwise thinkers... but by habit use the words in question in such a lazily offensive manner.
(while we are here, can we talk about a way to stop using "politically correct" as if it's a bad word... and some monolithic singular way of thinking... people can oppose hurting others with powerful words, and not be as simplistic as the "pc" stereotype. But I guess quick snappy things like "PC people are teh idiots ruining our funny funny society- I'm not racist, I hate everyone equally"... work better as retorts, and are more popular than nuance.)


You are right, EmpressCallipygos (and others), in your statements that advocates of 'political correctness' need to take in the context as the prime factor (rather than words).. However; the conception of "P.C people" which ignores this... is the simplistic version of PC that has been put out through our Mass Media (usually people who are against the inclusion of us all in "their" society)... that simplistic version of "PC" (the argument that it's only the words are what is important, not the meaning, and intention of the phrase, and thus we are dictating what can and cannot be said and thought.) this is not how many (most?) of the real humans who identify with PC ideas think...

Seeing the prevalence of this word, even the (disturbingly) common, usage by well educated (otherwise)"liberal","progressive", widely read, "smart", and politically aware people... is so sad... so I try to nudge those people (who are in my own life) by occasionally making statement of the point of how thinking about ones word choices are actually of import (in a civil society which respects the authority of ALL people to participate in it). It isn't about me feeling I am better than them... it's about not wanting them to look like bigots and fools in the eyes of the rest of civil society.

But I guess some people will always ignore the importance of nuance (pedantry) and subtlety; like people to whom "Jihad" simply always means "holy war where someone comes to a western country, and has to kill enemy people who have too much freedom", rather than "holy struggle with ones personal troubles, and issues, personal reflection and interpretation of ones roles and needs and the ability to participate in a society of equals".

I am done, as others express thoughts similar enough to my own clearly, concisely and just plain better, but one last thought to maybe clarify my thoughts above and condense them into one tl';dr.
tl;dr; 'PC' doesn't have to mean an outside person "dictating" what another person may or may not say... but rather basically each of us influencing another human person to simply Think. about their words, and that not everyone HEARS the same thing another does. (sometimes all it takes to make someone think about the words they use by habit is just a simple nudge (usually these words are just used by HABIT, and not by any hatred, or malicious or bad intent, or feelings that it is a particularly "descriptive" word) in fact shifting how individuals see the power of their words is not impossible, nor something to be despised.) Using words like this, which hurt some, and are just words to others, is a habit, (similarly; would you resent me and call me a dictator to comment something like that your nails are missing because you chew them a lot, and to then tell you how I, for a long time unthinkingly did the same, but then discovered that I could manage stress and concern in different ways?) No one is dictating anything on anyone here.
more-tl;dr:
I personally dislike it when otherwise rational and critical thinker human person friends are so lazy and inconsiderate that they choose to use a word that offends (deeply) OTHER rational and critical thinker human person also-friends of mine, just to express a dislike of some outside person/event or concept.- You are not using that word to be more expressive and precise... you are pushing other people out of any kind of discussion we may have. Hugs. Free. Line up starts over there by that big green board with the ASK-Marquee
posted by infinite intimation at 3:00 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pro-tip: If you catch yourself starting to say "reeee-tarded" in a pejorative sense, switch it to "reeee-DICULOUS" and nobody will be the wiser.
posted by LordSludge at 3:11 PM on February 26, 2010


May those who use the r-word be hoisted by their own p-words by the crotch of their leo-words.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:46 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Trying to cure the ills of society by persuading people to treat certain words as offensive is like trying to treat cancer by making lumps unfashionable.
No--it's like trying to prevent skin cancer by making tans unfashionable, or lung cancer by making smoking unfashionable. Sure, it won't prevent all such cancers, but it will really, really help. You can choose to stay out of the sun, just as you can choose not to call someone retard, or kike, or nigger.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:12 PM on February 26, 2010


it's like trying to prevent skin cancer by making tans unfashionable

I really don't think this is right. If we were talking about trying to prevent harm to minority groups by making insults unfashionable, then sure. But we're not. What we're talking about here is making specific words that are sometimes used insultingly unfashionable.

The effect will not be to raise the social status of those of us with slower intellects, but simply to debase the word "special" which appears to be next in line after "retarded", "moron" and "idiot". Language, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and people who like to belittle other people by calling them "retards" (mainly our darling children, it must be said) will just start belittling them by calling them "special" instead. The intended and understood meaning ("you are a lesser being than myself") will remain completely unchanged.

Sticking with the skin cancer analogy, making selected words unfashionable in an attempt to reduce inadvertent exposure to insults is like working hard to change the scent people add to their coconut oil instead of promoting SPF30+ sunscreen.
posted by flabdablet at 7:48 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And just thinking about it: it's also a lot like Stephen Conroy attempting to keep the children of Australia safe from paedophiles by imposing a mandatory URL blacklist on all Australian internet service providers. I have no argument with the aims, which are noble; merely with the method, which is near enough to 100% ineffective.
posted by flabdablet at 7:51 PM on February 26, 2010


Mostly, though, it's like not calling people niggers.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:54 PM on February 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Me and my niggaz be down with that.
posted by flabdablet at 8:02 PM on February 26, 2010


How about we all work on not saying negative things about people? No words necessary and problem solved.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:17 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I actually thought the "r-word" was going to be Republican.

I'm not inclined much to use the word 'retard' to describe people. For those with the real issues, I tend to use more specific labels. For ordinary folks acting mindless, I prefer the word "dumbass". Old fashioned, I know. And maybe not nice to donkeys, but there you have it.
posted by Goofyy at 6:20 AM on February 27, 2010


I'm really surprised that many people here seem to believe "dumb" is and always has been a simple pejorative term, without any kind of "diagnostic" or neutral past. Dumb used to simply mean incapable of speech, in a non-pejorative sense, but, like many other neutral words describing a non-ideal state, became an insult, so much to the point that it is considered offensive when describing mute people.

I certainly understand that words can hurt, but declarations that "retarded" will always be to hurtful to use outside of a diagnostic context, and always will be, but words like "dumb" are perfectly ok, seems a little po faced.
posted by Snyder at 9:25 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


flabdablet, your quasi-ironic misspelling doesn't change the fact that you're using an ugly racial slur. My grandfather used nigra, but we knew what he meant.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:51 PM on February 27, 2010


My daughter is going on four. She watched a Bernstein Bears episode the other day about inappropriate words. The inappropriate word that one Bear Cub picked up from a movie was "furball", which obviously was supposed to reflect inappropriate real life counterparts. Humorously, instead of internalizing the lesson, my daughter picked this up as a word that she used when she was frustrated at someone; she called them a furball. So we told her that we didn't want her calling anyone a furball anymore. Soon after, we went over to a friend's house where the son had a hamster. And how about that, his name was Furball. This made for some initial confusion, but resulted in an interesting discussion with her regarding appropriate context and meaning when you use a word. We explained that it's an issue of the heart and the way that a word is used, more than the sounds that your mouth makes.

'Retarded' has a legitimate and appropriate meaning, also outside of a cognitive context, and it can be distorted to hurt people. But stamping out all usage, including the legitimate usage, doesn't help anyone. If you don't change people's internal motivations and simply legislate behavior, the behavior will simply move to a new word.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:22 PM on February 27, 2010


'Retarded' has a legitimate and appropriate meaning

One of the points that has come up repeatedly is that no, it doesn't. That word hasn't been used in that way in decades. The only use of it is in ignorance, malice, or callousness.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:24 PM on February 27, 2010


Retardos #1 Forever
posted by Eideteker at 5:59 AM on February 28, 2010


One of the points that has come up repeatedly is that no, it doesn't. That word hasn't been used in that way in decades. The only use of it is in ignorance, malice, or callousness.

"'Retarded' has a legitimate and appropriate meaning, also outside of a cognitive context,"

I think the bolded part is key there.
posted by Snyder at 10:33 AM on February 28, 2010


One of the points that has come up repeatedly is that no, it doesn't. That word hasn't been used in that way in decades. The only use of it is in ignorance, malice, or callousness.

I don't think that's true. But even if it's granted for the sake of argument, my main point is that stamping out the use of the word does not fix what is inherently a matter of internal disposition. I think we're all calling for consideration respect of those with disabilities, but there are some problems legislation cannot fix. It often just moves the problem in a new direction.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:54 AM on February 28, 2010


No one has a right to not be offended. People are offended by usage of a word that has quit being used for its original intent because it has been conscripted for another low purpose. On top of which I have heard from sensitive sorts that the word 'retarded' should not be applied to humans of diminished mental capacity because it has become an insulting term. Now it is being said that the insulting term shouldn't be used because it is co-opting a term that has been abandoned...because it's been co-opted.

On top of which, someone is probably offended at my use of 'humans of diminished capacity'. I can't imagine why, because as someone pointed out, I'm a dick who doesn't regard 'being offended' as a special state that I need to pay the slightest bit of attention to. It seems to me that the politically correct, easily-offended portion of the population doesn't know what it hates more: language to suggest that people are not different, that everyone isn't a special, blooming flower....or language to suggest there's anything not normal or the same about anyone.

So go be offended. Just freaking shut up about it. We're all unique, just like everyone else....

And here's one for the offended police: what if a mentally diminished human called his friend a retard? Is it like racial epithets? You can scream them all day long if you belong to the crowd? That's cool? What if you're half-diminished? Can you say, 'tard?'

Being offended over words and not meanings is stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. If you mean 'shit' then saying 'poo' doesn't change ANYTHING.

It's the thought that counts, as they say.....
posted by umberto at 9:58 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


And here's one for the offended police: what if a mentally diminished human called his friend a retard? Is it like racial epithets? You can scream them all day long if you belong to the crowd? That's cool? What if you're half-diminished? Can you say, 'tard?'

This is common. Although it's never friendly usage. And I think you're a jerk. If a person with Down's Syndrome or Autism was standing in front of you and asking you to stop using a word that "offends" them, would this be your argument? "I'll use whatever words I want because being offended over words is stupid stupid stupid?" Really? Dude.

A lot of the fuel for the argument against common usage of the word "retarded" comes straight from self advocacy groups, so that's basically what you're doing.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:13 AM on March 1, 2010


Obviously using "retarded" in a pejorative sense is clearly not on. I mean, people do it because they want to be transgressive and offensive. Why would you do that and then get your panties in a bunch because other people point out that you've transgressed and offended?

On the other hand, describing people with cognitive disabilities as "mentally retarded" as a catch-all term is different, to me. It's deprecated, and for good reason, but I don't think it's as actively offensive as using it pejoratively. I don't have anyone in my family who lives with a cognitive disability, though I am close to some people who do, but my impression is that using "retarded" in that way is wincingly inaccurate rather than boorish.

On the gripping hand, though -- It's never OK to call anyone a "retard," in-group slang excepted, as it is with EVERY group. (As an aside, why is that so hard to understand? Words don't exist in a vacuum; the context is important, and the speaker is important.) If you're using it to describe someone who isn't cognitively disabled, it falls into the "rude and assholish" category. And if you're using it to describe someone who IS, then it's reducing them to their disability, which is jerkish and dehumanizing.
posted by KathrynT at 10:56 AM on March 1, 2010



So, essentially, we have people clamoring to outright completely ban a word because they are so thin-skinned as to be offended by ANY of its possible uses. Sorry.,..but that's...not thinking like a normally mentally developed person. Is that better? I said the exact same thing as I would have meant by saying 'That's retarded', in the same sense of not quite-fully-intellectually-capable, a perfectly matched usage of the word and its meaning. But since I dressed the exact same thought up in different clothes, it's more acceptable. Essentially, you're offended by style.

So think I'm a jerk all you want. Words can contain multiple meanings. Just because I might have a condition that causes feces to ooze out of my forehead, does not mean I need to get my panties in a twist whenever anyone says, "I got shitfaced last night!" Or that I need to go around shouting at anyone who says that.

This whole thing reminds me of people who want to stamp out war because it's not good for children and other....blah blah blah. Never will happen. People WANT to war. They want to fight. If they don't have stuff they want to take other people's; if they have all they need, they get bored. They want to offend. If you take away their tools of offense, they will simply come up with new ones. You are feeding the trolls with this stuff. Human nature is not a nice thing, I understand. But it's real hard to stamp it out.
posted by umberto at 11:50 AM on March 1, 2010


So, essentially, we have people clamoring to outright completely ban a word because they are so thin-skinned as to be offended by ANY of its possible uses.

No. When you're drunk or extremely depressed, you experience psychomotor retardation. If your computer computer is all jammed up by a virus, it could technically be referred to a retarded (although that's awkward and probably not what someone means when they push away from their desk and curse at their office equipment).

But when two kids on the playground call each other "retards" they aren't referring to lagging mechanics or flat affects. They're saying, "you're like the kids who drool and talk funny in that classroom down by the cafeteria." That's not nice and those kids need to be corrected. But it'd be better if they didn't learn to use the word as an insult anyway.

not thinking like a normally mentally developed person. Is that better?

No, it really isn't. Don't you get that?

Look. The point is to reduce the stigma of experiencing a developmental disability. I've spent many years in social services working with folks who lived most of their lives in isolation, segregated from the rest of society in institutions and "training schools," as a result of this stigma. The stigma lead to isolation and segregation, the segregation lead to abuses and civil rights violations. There's currently an effort to correct some of these past sins against a very vulnerable population. When we use diagnostic (even out of date ones) labels to insult each other (or our office equipment), we're not doing anything to fix the problem.

You are feeding the trolls with this stuff.

Yes. I think you're right about this. How does it taste?
posted by dchrssyr at 12:28 PM on March 1, 2010


But when two kids on the playground call each other "retards" they aren't referring to lagging mechanics or flat affects. They're saying, "you're like the kids who drool and talk funny in that classroom down by the cafeteria."

That would be the special-ed classroom, I take it.

That's not nice and those kids need to be corrected.

If you tell kids that calling each other retards is unacceptable, then two things will happen: first, they will take great delight in calling each other retards behind your back, and the value of the word "retard" as a private, transgressive in-group bonding token will actually increase; second, their public speech will drift toward the use of a different word - probably "special" - exactly as they previously used the word "retard", to mean exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason.

For as long as the focus stays on the unacceptability of selected magic words, the kids who drool and talk funny in the classroom down by the cafeteria will continue to be the butt of other children's jokes. Children are even more intensely tribal than the rest of us, and one of the most effective ways that a child can secure its place in an in-group is to be conspicuously hostile to any handy out-group.

But it'd be better if they didn't learn to use the word as an insult anyway.

No, it would be better if it never even occurred to them that the kids down by the cafeteria could constitute an out-group. The only way this is ever even remotely likely to happen is by increasing the diversity of their in-group. Fiddling about with acceptable word usage is a sheer waste of everybody's time. Far, far better to find ways to increase the frequency of accidental human contact between those for whom the classroom down by the cafeteria was built and those in the other classes.
posted by flabdablet at 2:18 PM on March 1, 2010


But when two kids on the playground call each other "retards" they aren't referring to lagging mechanics or flat affects. They're saying, "you're like the kids who drool and talk funny in that classroom down by the cafeteria."

I'm curious: where would your two kids on the playground have ever heard the term "retard" used in reference to a peer? None of the teachers would be using the term. None of the classroom aides would use the term. They won't hear it on television, either.

I don't believe your hypothetical holds up in the real world: kids on the playground aren't learning to call handicapped peers "retards" at all. They're learning to use "retard" the same way they use "idiot" and "dumb."

Unless, of course, you live in some backwater town that's still operating as if it were the 1950s. Which I suppose some of you may be.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:02 PM on March 1, 2010


Jesus, thank you, FFF and flabdablet. Do people really think this inane policing of speech and etiquette is going to halt or change the behavior of human beings?

Do you not understand that from deep, animal, unteachable depths of childhood, the competitive and cooperative animal that is human wants to and will ostracize the weak and the different? This is not foisted on children by a cruel, unrelenting, and no doubt republican society. This is because for 99.99999999999999% of our evolutionary history that was the smartest thing to do for the common good.

We're not animals now, you say. Well, look around. I think you're wrong. We're animals with suits painted on.
posted by umberto at 7:07 PM on March 1, 2010


No one has a right to not be offended.

I have never seen this ever mean anything other than "I'm an asshole and I enjoy hurting people."
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:31 PM on March 1, 2010


No, it would be better if it never even occurred to them that the kids down by the cafeteria could constitute an out-group. The only way this is ever even remotely likely to happen is by increasing the diversity of their in-group. Fiddling about with acceptable word usage is a sheer waste of everybody's time. Far, far better to find ways to increase the frequency of accidental human contact between those for whom the classroom down by the cafeteria was built and those in the other classes.

I absolutely agree with this, flabdablet.

Unless, of course, you live in some backwater town that's still operating as if it were the 1950s. Which I suppose some of you may be.

Um...I live in Portland, OR. It's far from a backwater town and it's about as progressive as it gets. But kids call each other retards here and they know exactly what they're saying.
posted by dchrssyr at 8:09 PM on March 1, 2010


We're animals with suits painted on.

The approved phrase is "a virus with shoes". Please refrain from using the offensive term "animal".
posted by flabdablet at 8:33 PM on March 1, 2010


No one has a right to not be offended.

I have never seen this ever mean anything other than "I'm an asshole and I enjoy hurting people."


And I have rarely seen it take more than two or three exchanges before the touchy-feely don't-offend-anyone cadre starts calling people they don't like assholes. I work in a job where the public lets you know when they're offended. And they're offended by everything. And anything. That fact of A offends one bunch, while the lack of the fact of A would outrage another. After a while you start to think that being offended is just another way of being selfish and demanding everyone around you conform to whatever the hell you think they should conform to. Think like me. Act like me. Or you're an asshole.

But hey, they're just words. You torture them to do anything except say what they mean all you want. At heart you don't want people to change their words, you want them to change their nature. It's not just that you don't want the little evil boys to call each other retard...or spazz or looney or nutcase or cretin or anything else. You're altruistic and don't even want them to have the nasty, evil, bad, selfish, calling- people-names kinds of thoughts. Well, sorry. Have you ever spent five minutes with a group of children? I have a bunch and I'm afraid their nature runs counter to your purpose... So call me an asshole if you want; I'm human, so I probably am one a great deal of the time.

But here's the thing: I'll be an asshole if you call me one or not -- even if you call me a Beautiful Perfect Flower. Cause it ain't the words that matter.
posted by umberto at 9:38 PM on March 1, 2010


After a while you start to think that being offended is just another way of being selfish and demanding everyone around you conform to whatever the hell you think they should conform to. Think like me. Act like me. Or you're an asshole.

Christ, what a beautiful perfect flower.
posted by flabdablet at 10:12 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Umberto, I obviously disagree with you on a lot of levels. I don't even know where to look for even ground in this conversation. Words obviously have a different significance in my version of the world.

I am sorry that I called you a jerk and a troll, though. I'm not asking for forgiveness for being fighty with you because on some level I think you probably enjoy it.

I'm going to step out of this conversation now because this is the internet and I can do that. Have a good night.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:18 PM on March 1, 2010


Thank you. It's possible that we're even arguing about two different things. I'll stop being a Beautiful Perfect Flower as well.

And of course I enjoy arguing: what MeFi or BPF doesn't? :)
posted by umberto at 3:14 AM on March 2, 2010


And I have rarely seen it take more than two or three exchanges before the touchy-feely don't-offend-anyone cadre starts calling people they don't like assholes.

So yeah.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:34 AM on March 2, 2010


We are all beautiful perfect flowers.

Group hug, kumbaya, job done.
posted by flabdablet at 1:33 PM on March 2, 2010


It might be worth noting that bullying is down despite the use of the word "retard."

The other day I used the word "lame" for the first time in ages. And immediately thought "Hoo, boy, someone is sure to think that I'm being mean toward cripples now."
posted by five fresh fish at 1:09 PM on March 4, 2010


...before we order up the full colour version of the mission accomplished banner hailing the end of bullying and exclusionary behavior.


Suicide is third leading cause of mortality in children and adolescents in the United States of America and around the world.
This paper provides a systematic review of the previous 37 studies conducted in children and adolescents from communities, as well as in special populations that examined the association between bullying experiences and suicide, with an emphasis on the strengths and limitations of the study designs. Despite methodological and other differences and limitations, it is increasingly clear that any participation in bullying increases the risk of suicidal ideations and/or behaviors in a broad spectrum of youth.

My gut is screaming out that it's not the overpopulation of unicorns that lead to stats like these.

I would also wonder how much these "lower rates of bullying" are due to it now just being moved out of the hallways where teachers at schools may have previously had "SOME" idea of the ubiquity of the behaviors of exclusion... into cell phones/textmessages/instantmessaging/facespace and mybook.


From that CBC page.

"There is evidence these programs are effective," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we're seeing the fruits of that."



But I am going to stop quoting from it... because while I think the quality of CBC reporting (they gave up on 'journalism' long ago) has been declining steadily (last decade or so.), it is making the point being made by many others here... programs, and campaigns, and awareness raising, and criticizing sloppy usage of hurtful words and actions are needed to shift attitudes; also concerted efforts DO shift attitudes... it's not magic, but progress does occur when there is pressure to be aware of just how powerful ones words can be.

As has been said, bullying 'may' (debatable) be going down (*but importantly this is..) -DESPITE- defenders of it's usage as a cool trendy hip throwaway for "dumb thing (person/place/event) I don't like".


The 60's are calling to us, seems they are saying we should have payed more attention to the messages of the time: "Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There's no room for it on the bridge."
posted by infinite intimation at 7:22 PM on March 6, 2010


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