It's just a word, right?
May 7, 2011 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Just a word. The father of a special-needs kid ponders the word "retard."

Rob Rummel-Hudson is the father of Schuyler, an 11-year-old girl who suffers from a very rare neural disorder called Congenital Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome (CBPS), which renders Schuyler unable to speak and greatly affects her finer motor skills, as well as some of her cognitive abilities. He is also the author of Schuyler's Monster, a memoir of the early years of Schuyler's life, from first realizing that she was not neurotypical through the long, arduous quest to uncover the "monster" that would affect her the rest of her life. Rob has eloquently chronicled Schuyler's fight over the last several years on his blog Fighting Monsters With Rubber Swords.

(Previously on the blue; related AskMe).
posted by shiu mai baby (208 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
He lost me as soon as he used the word 'idiot' to describe someone else and then dismissed it as acceptable simply because it's older terminology.
posted by Malice at 9:30 AM on May 7, 2011 [23 favorites]


Next up: why drowning kittens is bad.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:34 AM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


He lost me as soon as he used the word 'idiot' to describe someone else and then dismissed it as acceptable simply because it's older terminology.

is that really a fair objection, though? I do not know if tu quoque applies here precisely because language is such a fluid thing and so contextual.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:36 AM on May 7, 2011


I am outraged because idiots were people who declined to participate in Athenian democracy, and there is NO WAY IN HELL I am going to let that definition go.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:39 AM on May 7, 2011 [63 favorites]


I recently watched Eddie Murphy's stand up special from the mid 1980s, "Raw." He does this long bit on faggots. And this isn't like some gamer/4chan appropriation of the word (this meritocracy debatable itself) but this is straight, "homosexuals are stupid" humor. He goes on and on with faggot, faggot, faggot, faggot, faggot. It is so cringe inducing I almost vomited.

Maybe one day retard will bring about the same sort of gag reflex, and this father's circumstance is remarkably sad - but railing against it in anger will never affect change.

Just tell your story and let human empathy sort it out - we'll get mad for you when your day comes.
posted by four panels at 9:40 AM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


He lost me as soon as he used the word 'idiot' to describe someone else and then dismissed it as acceptable simply because it's older terminology.

That's come up in MeTa conversations re: usage of retard' a few times. It's sort of an interesting thing - if 'idiot' is an acceptable pejorative because it's so removed from its clinical definition, then, the argument usually goes, 'retard' should be as well since it is being used outside of a clinical context. I can see where they're coming from, but I still don't like the word.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:47 AM on May 7, 2011


Yeah, this is a beautiful example of the dysphemism treadmill.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:47 AM on May 7, 2011 [20 favorites]


Okay, so he doesn't like "retard" being used as an insult, fair enough. But he seems to dislike any use at all. An IQ test in which his child would score as "mentally retarded" is something he wouldn't allow: "We chose not to allow that test, and I think I can say with absolute certainty that we never will." The word is now so bad that a new synonym has to be invented for clinical use? Seems to be a bit of an overreaction.
posted by bjrn at 9:47 AM on May 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


I recently watched Eddie Murphy's stand up special from the mid 1980s, "Raw." He does this long bit on faggots. And this isn't like some gamer/4chan appropriation of the word (this meritocracy debatable itself) but this is straight, "homosexuals are stupid" humor. He goes on and on with faggot, faggot, faggot, faggot, faggot.

While wearing a bright red leather jumpsuit unzipped down to the belly button. Later he was arrested while propositioning a transvestite prostitute. So while I completely understand what you're saying about how the societal acceptability of that word has changed from the 80s to now, the fact is, Eddie Murphy is probably not a man who hates gay people but who hates himself for hating gay people. See also: Gallagher.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:50 AM on May 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


While wearing a bright red leather jumpsuit unzipped down to the belly button.

The one with the earrings and the makeup? Back when he had his own hair. He's got his own jet airplane. And he's a millionaire.
posted by hal9k at 9:54 AM on May 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Maybe one day retard will bring about the same sort of gag reflex, and this father's circumstance is remarkably sad - but railing against it in anger will never affect change.

Just tell your story and let human empathy sort it out - we'll get mad for you when your day comes.


But I don't think that one day the world woke up and decided that "faggot" wasn't a nice thing to say any more, because the empathy wave had reached homosexuality. People were educated, talked to and in some cases shouted at, until in these enlightened times it is unacceptable or at least socially awkward to use it to insult gay men in certain situations.

The Mattachine Society and the Stonewall Riots weren't mutually exclusive, to extend the metaphor a tad further back.

...if 'idiot' is an acceptable pejorative because it's so removed from its clinical definition, then, the argument usually goes, 'retard' should be as well since it is being used outside of a clinical context.

Is "idiot" still used in a clinical context, though? I don't think it is, at least in modern American medicine. It was an existing word for a stupid person, coopted for a time to describe a particular level of profound mental impairment. Calling someone an idiot doesn't reference the obsolete medical classification - doctors calling patients idiots referenced the common and existing term for a stupid person.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:57 AM on May 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I recently watched Eddie Murphy's stand up special from the mid 1980s, "Raw." He does this long bit on faggots. And this isn't like some gamer/4chan appropriation of the word (this meritocracy debatable itself) but this is straight, "homosexuals are stupid" humor. He goes on and on with faggot, faggot, faggot, faggot, faggot. It is so cringe inducing I almost vomited.

Louis CK's brilliant bit on "faggot" also seems relevant here. The point being that people do, by and large, for better or for worse, "get to decide."

Leaving aside the obvious cases like "nigger" (my aversion to which word is so deeply ingrained that I had trouble typing it out), what terminology becomes offensive can be mystifying. "Retarded" is not okay, but "moronic" seems to be, etc. I try not to be hurtful, but at a certain point I like the English language too much to stress out about people hectoring me on the internet.
posted by eugenen at 9:58 AM on May 7, 2011


The problem is the euphemism treadmill. An acceptable term for a sensitive topic is made, and then the term becomes pejorative or uncomfortable, and then a new term is created. Repeat. The old words become slurs, the new words become politically correct, and soon the older generations become acceptable insults to direct towards normal people now that they've lost their sting.

About 100-150 years ago, phrases like "idiot" and "moron" were acceptable terms for the cognitively impaired. IIRC, they were actually labeled ranges on the IQ test, idiot meaning a person most likely would have to be institutionalized, moron meaning a person could do simple manual labor at best. Unfortunately, people like to insult others by calling them un-smart, especially when they make bad decisions, hence why you hear people say stuff like "George W. Bush is an idiot!" But when we use that term, we're usually implying that a cognitively typical person is not using their intelligence, rather than that person has had to struggle with the difficulties of being born with special needs.

Unfortunately, we don't seem to have a good word for distinguishing a person who is refusing to make intelligent decisions, and who simply lacks cognitive abilities. They're very different things.

I know it shouldn't matter, but I hope I'm not coming across as privileged or insensitive. My sister was born with autism, and while she is probably towards the line between regular autism and Asperger's now, she would probably have been declared "retarded" in her younger years just a few decades ago before we had new terminology and before autism was a more widely recognized diagnosis.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:10 AM on May 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


I recently watched Eddie Murphy's stand up special from the mid 1980s, "Raw." He does this long bit on faggots. And this isn't like some gamer/4chan appropriation of the word

Maybe you weren't around at the time, but in the mid-80s Eddie Murphy was 4chan. It's fairer to say that the chans appropriated the attitude from Eddie Murphy (who himself was continuing a long line of blue comedy) than to say they have nothing to do with each other.

As for the word, even if I can't say "redonkutarded" anymore, I'll be dead in the cold, cold ground before they take "dumbfuck" away from me.
posted by rhizome at 10:10 AM on May 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm with mccarty.tim on the "euphemism treadmill". "Retard" now has meaning mostly related to cyclical timing issues, and now I say "DD" while rolling my eyes and smirking.
posted by straw at 10:12 AM on May 7, 2011


For me, it just boils down to what others have said about words like niggardly or cunt or fag*: the word, in this case, "retard," is simply not worth using because of the pain it can cause. It's just not that vital a part of my vocabulary that I must use it and damn the torpedoes.
posted by shiu mai baby at 10:13 AM on May 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Eddie Murphy's 'Raw' showed up as a 'gay/lesbian' film recommendation on Netflix for me yesterday. Weird.

And I found Louis CK's "faggots" bit pretty annoying. The guy is pretty much the walking definition of white, straight privilege.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:19 AM on May 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Eddie Murphy is probably not a man who hates gay people but who hates himself for hating gay people. See also: Gallagher.

Er, hates himself for loving gay people. You know what I'm saying. Maybe. Do I know what I'm saying? Lemonade. That cool, refreshing drink.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:25 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


hal9k: "While wearing a bright red leather jumpsuit unzipped down to the belly button.

The one with the earrings and the makeup? Back when he had his own hair. He's got his own jet airplane. And he's a millionaire.
"

Wait, so Eddie Murphy was the first Executive Transvestite?
posted by gilrain at 10:28 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The guy is pretty much the walking definition of white, straight privilege.

He has repeatedly addressed that in his work.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:29 AM on May 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


I found Louis CK's "faggots" bit pretty annoying. The guy is pretty much the walking definition of white, straight privilege.

So you dislike the guy for who he is? Well. THAT'S a step in the right direction! Keep fighting the good fight!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:30 AM on May 7, 2011 [30 favorites]


When will this happen to "special needs"? On second thought, I kind of flinch at any non-ironic use of the word "special," and I am not a hipster, either.
posted by emhutchinson at 10:32 AM on May 7, 2011


When will this happen to "special needs"? On second thought, I kind of flinch at any non-ironic use of the word "special," and I am not a hipster, either.

I do, too, and I work at a nonprofit that incorporates a non-ironic use of the word "special" in its title. I've also heard anecdotal reports that "special needs" is already used on some playgrounds as a taunt, so who knows?
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:39 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


So you dislike the guy for who he is? Well. THAT'S a step in the right direction! Keep fighting the good fight!

No, I just don't think he's very funny and I don't think his use of "faggot" is particularly subversive. Anyway, we're derailing so never mind.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:42 AM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Spend a few minutes with a DD student crying because for the 90th time this week they were called retard by fellow students and let me know how that word feels.

New words will replace it, perhaps. But just because new diseases arise doesn't mean we shouldn't look for cures.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:56 AM on May 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


I don't think the issue is the word.

Rather, I think the issue is that insults fly at all. You can't keep putting band-aids on particular words, because the words aren't the problem. The problem is that one person is insulting another.

We're humans though, and that's never going to change. After retard came mentally challenged. After that came special needs. All of these are now insults. If you have a word to describe someone whose intelligence is not what we consider to be normal, no matter if that word is "Wooldoor Sockbat" or "Retard", it's going to become an insult.

So I reiterate: The word is not the problem. The problem runs much deeper, and IMHO you're never going to remove that part of humanity from itself.
posted by Malice at 11:04 AM on May 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


Okay, so he doesn't like "retard" being used as an insult, fair enough. But he seems to dislike any use at all. An IQ test in which his child would score as "mentally retarded" is something he wouldn't allow: "We chose not to allow that test, and I think I can say with absolute certainty that we never will." The word is now so bad that a new synonym has to be invented for clinical use? Seems to be a bit of an overreaction.

Rob has written extensively (here's one example) about their reasons for not allowing testing of Schuyler's IQ, and it has nothing to do with the word itself, but rather that a) they don't think the tests work well for non-verbal children like Schuyler, because the tests pretty much assume that being able to talk is a mark of intelligence but they won't allow Schuyler to use the machine that talks for her in the test and b) that Schuyler is already receiving all the services she needs and placing that label upon her would serve no real purpose.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:04 AM on May 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'm sorry, I like you, but you don't get to decide who is offended by a term like "retard". You don't get to decide if that awful word and the associations that accompany it are acceptable in a public discourse, about politics or anything else

Sure. And you don't get to decide whether I should care about your offence or not, or whether I get to disagree with you about a word's acceptability. Freedom of speech, son. The clue is in the first word. That's not funny, my brother died that way.
posted by Decani at 11:06 AM on May 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


What about in the mechanical sense? Does it freak people out to say "when the clamp engages, the friction retards the forward momentum of the device"?

Or is it still always better to come up with more convoluted ways to explain a system? (Not suggesting the above example is an elegant or unconvoluted, just that sometimes "retard" is the perfect word to elegantly convoy a meaning, but there is that question of whether people will be bringing their social baggage.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:07 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


inre: dysphemism, LAME is another. allegedly, it is still used in the US to reference people who are disabled. i had no idea. i thought that was only used within the context of horses (fwiw, english is my second language).
posted by liza at 11:12 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've also heard anecdotal reports that "special needs" is already used on some playgrounds as a taunt

?!?!

WTF? It was already a taunt when I was a kid, and that was (what seems like) three geological eras ago.

Any word that adults use to describe kids that aren't the brightest ones, is already in use as a taunt.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:13 AM on May 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


hydropsyche: Rob has written extensively about their reasons for not allowing testing of Schuyler's IQ, and it has nothing to do with the word itself

The post linked to in the FPP the reason for not allowing the test seemed to be because of the word "retard" (because that was the only thing mentioned about the test). And then I read the post you linked to, and it still reads to me that it's mainly because of the word "retard" that he/they didn't want to allow that testing. To quote from the end of that post "This is a word, a very bad word, that I will fight, rightly or wrongly, from ever being associated publicly with my sweet and ferocious and clever little girl."

Worrying about whether the label "retard" will negatively affect his daughter is understandable, but he doesn't seem to make much distinction between the word as an insult and as a clinical term.
posted by bjrn at 11:15 AM on May 7, 2011


I fall in the camp of saying "retard" is much more unacceptable than "idiot", regardless of history.

Today, calling someone retard (or, at least in Appalachia REE-tard") is using shorthand to say "you are weird, unacceptable, unacceptable and worthless." It is solely a taunt full of meanness.

Whereas, calling someone idiot is shorthand for saying "quit doing stupid things like you just did." It's a taunt too, I guess, but a commentary on a person's current behavior, not his or her essence.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 11:16 AM on May 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


So I reiterate: The word is not the problem. The problem runs much deeper, and IMHO you're never going to remove that part of humanity from itself.

I'm always struck by these discussions where we conclude that the problem with humanity is that we act human. To ere.. and all that. Is there a way off this treadmill?
posted by meinvt at 11:18 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had a similar moment of pause listening to an archive recording of my grandfather's CBC radio series. He used these and other (dated in retrospect) terms within a circa 1962 psychiatric framework, but I imagine that listeners today - and even in 1962 - might not have been comfortable with the labels that were applied to people with illnesses. Normal, subnormal, mental defective, mental retardation, etc.
posted by HLD at 11:20 AM on May 7, 2011


I just realized that another thing that never occurred to me to avoid is "fire retardant". Damnit, the more I look, the more instances I'm finding of innocuous things where I might unknowingly get judged to be asshole. It's actually making me pretty annoyed at the sensitivities of people.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:21 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


A few years ago, I had just taken a job as a caregiver to adults with developmental disabilities. The first phase involved reading up on my new clients, reviewing their medical histories, diagnoses, educational goals and so on. In one of the first files I read, I came across a document explaining a client's disabilities which described the man in question as "profoundly retarded." My reflex, gut reaction was, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, what the fuck?" and it took a second to remember that this document was a doctor making a diagnosis, not some Facebook dipshit engaged in ablist mocking. Up until that point, I hadn't been aware that "retarded" was tagged in my head as a pure insult - that I didn't think of it as a medical diagnostic term at all.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:23 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I tend to think that fighting to keep 'retard' off the euphemism treadmill is a hopeless battle. Racial and homophobic slurs left the common usage when it became unacceptable to openly denigrate other races or sexual orientations. On the other hand, as long as insults exist, it will never be unacceptable to call someone stupid.

I tend to think the best strategy we could use to have terms for developmental disorders that don't become insults is to make them long, technical terms. Developmentally disabled, for instance, is just too long to ever become a snappy insult. Retarded suffers from the disadvantage of being short, sounding rather appropriate, and having already become an insult for over 15 years (it was already in common use as an insult when I was growing up.) To take that one back as a real medical term is totally hopeless.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:25 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


How many people here who are defending the use of the word Retard have completed his experiment? If you did, and it really had no effect on you, do the same experiment and use the N-word instead of Retard. THAT is the level of offense that this kid will face for the rest of her life: something she was born with - she works differently - it has some visible manifestations - and culturally she does not take the same cues as you do.

After you line up all the people ahead of you that have said the same offensive thing as the last - yeah, as a number you are insignificant - but that doesn't mean that you are in the right - that your share is any less hateful and hurtful. I mean seriously are we really that much of a wolf pack that we still need to prey on those that we find weaker than us? Can we seriously show them no respect? Do we seriously think that we can just "will" a word to be no longer offensive and that it suddenly isn't offensive. I return to the N-word. If you feel Retard is not offensive because it has been recaptured by 14 year old juvenile x-box 360 junkies, recognize that they'll throw the words: Gay, Fag, and Nigger around with almost as much impunity - though they generally avoid the latter because for some strange reason game developers only seem to pull out the banhammer for racial discrimination and not mental ability nor sexual orientation. And seriously - you are basing your defense on the usage of a 14 year old's mentality who - while they may not know as to why the word is truly offensive - they know it gets a rise out of adults...

How about if I make fun of you because your mom has breast cancer, or your dad has an enlarged prostate and realistically - you now have a predisposition to either of those. I find it un-fucking-believable that people can't wrap their head around this being one of the most offensive labels and statements that you could make.

Full disclosure: To my knowledge, I know no one in any immediate family or friend sense that is a person with a mental disability. The last time this came up on the blue though, I had a major "come to the possibly fictitious man in the sky" moment. Seriously, I sat back, thought about this and bam... my head did mental flips for the next week and a half... Honestly, I hope that some other folks get to experience the same thing this time around.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:25 AM on May 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


I think this is a poweful piece that made me think long and hard about some of my own "joking" behavior. Friend of mine whose daughter has Downs syndrome made the same point recently. I guess I see it this way: I'm not gay or black, so I don't get to decide that "faggot" or "nigger" isn't offensive. Similarly, I'm not diagnosed as mentally retarded and neither are my kids-I need to listen to those closer to the issue. Yeah, it's a free country, and I can say anything I want to. But why would I want to be hurtful to those who already have very little power in our society?
posted by purenitrous at 11:26 AM on May 7, 2011 [21 favorites]


The response here is typically schizophrenic. On the one hand you've people blind to the facts. All attempts to explain fall on deaf ears. On the other hand you've people who are cripples to political correctness. Maybe I'm paranoid, but there's something sick about how often this conversation comes up and how OCD we are about it.

But anyway. The reason I made this comment was to see how many "retard" like insults I could cram into one paragraph. If you're of the mind that "retard" is wrong as an insult, then there should be at least half a dozen other words I used above that make your blood boil.
posted by seanyboy at 11:28 AM on May 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


I just realized that another thing that never occurred to me to avoid is "fire retardant". Damnit, the more I look, the more instances I'm finding of innocuous things where I might unknowingly get judged to be asshole.

Using specific technical language to correctly describe an object or chemical reaction, its properties, or how it moves (or doesn't) isn't a problem. Or did you think your snark was making a valid point?
posted by rtha at 11:29 AM on May 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


Also, one reason why faggot may be wrong as an insult when retard is less so, is that there's nothing wrong with gayness. Being gay is not a disability. We need to differentiate between the things we want to fix and those we don't.
posted by seanyboy at 11:31 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now, sit in front of a picture of Stevie Wonder and say "are you blind?" Feels wrong, doesn't it. Makes you wonder if you should use the B- word jokingly.
posted by seanyboy at 11:34 AM on May 7, 2011


Given that words like "moron" and "idiot" became generic insults over time and with popular use, should the use of "retard" then be encouraged as an insult? In a way, wouldn't it be best to do all we can to speed up the treadmill, since I'm pretty sure the horses are long out of the barn on this one anyway?
posted by Pants McCracky at 11:34 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


An IQ test in which his child would score as "mentally retarded" is something he wouldn't allow

Retardation was recently removed from the DSM in part because of the social stigma attached to it. It shouldn't be a part of any official diagnosis any more.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:35 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, one reason why faggot may be wrong as an insult when retard is less so

no... no, no no, I'm sorry Seanyboy but that is kind of fucked up.

Having a disability is no more grounds for making the words describing it pejorative then doing the same with words describing sexuality orientation.
posted by edgeways at 11:36 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, this is as good a place as any to mention that I have absolutely zero patience for privileged people who complain about "political correctness" or who put forward their lack of it as some kind of virtue, like they're some sort of brave iconoclast of revolutionary rudeness. Fuck. That. Noise. Sideways. A person who proudly declares they don't want to be "politically correct" is generally just saying, "I have no tact, I don't care who I hurt and I have no interest in changing. Fuck you and your struggles."

See also: "brutally honest"
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:37 AM on May 7, 2011 [83 favorites]


Seanyboy But anyway. The reason I made this comment was to see how many "retard" like insults I could cram into one paragraph. If you're of the mind that "retard" is wrong as an insult, then there should be at least half a dozen other words I used above that make your blood boil.

That... was... really... nice... of... you? What reaction are you looking for here?
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:39 AM on May 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


You miss my point edgeways. Gayness is not a disability. Saying someone is teh gay makes the social assumption that being gay is bad. Its not. Being disabled sucks balls. If they had a pill to cure this persons daughter, should he give it to her.
posted by seanyboy at 11:40 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


a) they don't think the tests work well for non-verbal children like Schuyler, because the tests pretty much assume that being able to talk is a mark of intelligence but they won't allow Schuyler to use the machine that talks for her in the test and b) that Schuyler is already receiving all the services she needs and placing that label upon her would serve no real purpose.

I just don't get that. Sure, IQ tests aren't perfect. They're demonstrably biased in some ways. But it is at least some kind of somewhat reliable metric that does quantitatively measure certain cognitive abilities (Plus some other stuff. With Caveats.) I am guessing other children in her situation taking these tests don't get to use whatever the assistive technology he was denied (I couldn't find the blog post on this part. Just where he says IQ tests on non-verbal subjects are "subjective" and require skillful administrators), but that consistency should help her doctors take at least something away from the results.

There are probably good reasons not to institutionally IQ-test every kid out there and then do things based on those numbers. But with a child such as his? Why not allow yourself as much data as possible? It's not like he wouldn't know to take it with a grain of salt. He goes on to state that he has a gut feeling that her cognitive impairment is "mild", and seems to assume that going forward. Why not try to get a better handle on it, certainly just about anything is better than your gut? It might even validate his hunch.
posted by floam at 11:41 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, one reason why faggot may be wrong as an insult when retard is less so, is that there's nothing wrong with gayness.

You've come as near to the point as you can while still completely missing it. The point of pejoratives is to make the person feel small and unworthy of you. Homosexuality may not be something to fix, but that doesn't make some shouting RETARD at a disabled person any less wrong. It's wanton cruelty towards someone for something that isn't their fault.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:41 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Retardation was recently removed from the DSM in part because of the social stigma attached to it. It shouldn't be a part of any official diagnosis any more.

Mental retardation might be removed in the DSM-V, it's still part of the current DSM as well as the ICD.
posted by bjrn at 11:41 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Given that words like "moron" and "idiot" became generic insults over time and with popular use, should the use of "retard" then be encouraged as an insult? In a way, wouldn't it be best to do all we can to speed up the treadmill, since I'm pretty sure the horses are long out of the barn on this one anyway?

More specifically, words like "moron" and "idiot" began as generic insults, and then in the 1910s some guy decided to assign various words for calling someone stupid to different IQ ranges. Certain people on the internet have decided this makes them evil words forever, akin to actual derived-from-the-medical words like the noun form of "retard". This is absurd. Not all pejoratives are created equal, and someone who takes offense at the use of the word "idiot" is someone who is just looking for an excuse to be offended and play the victim.
posted by kafziel at 11:41 AM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have friends who are active in disability rights, and as a result, I've made the effort to remove "idiot" and "stupid" and "moron" from my speech. (I never used "retard" as an insult -- that was always as much beyond the pale to me as "gay" or any racial slur.)

It's just words, but it has had two important effects for me. One, it shifts my attention to the fact that when I get angry at people -- the same people I would ordinarily have used "idiot" to describe -- it usually has nothing to do with their cognitive capacity. If a person is making bad decisions, or using specious reasoning, or just has really terrible political convictions, I want to get mad at them on that basis, and not a different one!

And two, it helps me redirect when I want to use those words for myself. Forget my MetroCard at home? I'm not an idiot. I was being hurried and careless, but I'm not an idiot (which is an awfully permanent label for a moment's carelessness). I'm nicer to myself now. Which may be a selfish reason to prefer it, but no less valid.
posted by Jeanne at 11:42 AM on May 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


seanyboy: Now, sit in front of a picture of Stevie Wonder and say "are you blind?" Feels wrong, doesn't it. Makes you wonder if you should use the B- word jokingly.

Well, I think a lot of people are missing the bigger picture that it's always an asshole maneuver to insult people for things that aren't their fault. So, of course it is inappropriate to call a developmentally disabled person a retard - but would it really be any better to call them an idiot or a moron? However, I don't think that affects whether or not it is inappropriate to call someone a retard because they are an ignorant fool.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:42 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, I think a lot of people are missing the bigger picture that it's always an asshole maneuver

What about those of us born assholes?
posted by floam at 11:45 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I disagree with Malice - I don't think this is an attempt to remove all pejorative terms from the language (which I'd agree is foolish).

I think the offensiveness of retard as well as faggot and nigger are not merely due to the euphemism treadmill, but because their usage can be interpreted as an attack not only on the intended target, but at every member of a certain group or class of people who have been historically marginalized. Moreover, membership in that class or group is beyond the individual's control. In other words, they're words that cause collateral damage to innocent folks and deepen negative associations (that being a person of color, or gay, or disabled equates to 'bad').

The reason idiot doesn't seem to have the same effect for many people is that it's so far removed from being a clinical descriptor. People tend to associate 'being an idiot' with being willfully stupid or deliberately ignorant. Because that is associated with choice, the words cause collateral damage only to others whose own choices offer them up for disdain or ridicule. For some, I suppose, idiot still retains power as clinical word (and thus is as problematic as retard), but for most it's lost that connection.
posted by Chanther at 11:47 AM on May 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Mental retardation might be removed in the DSM-V, it's still part of the current DSM as well as the ICD.

You are correct. It is recommended for removal from DSM-V. I misspoke, thanks for the correction.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:48 AM on May 7, 2011


You miss my point edgeways. Gayness is not a disability. Saying someone is teh gay makes the social assumption that being gay is bad. Its not. Being disabled sucks balls.

So...it's okay to call someone a retard because being a retard is bad? This guy's daughter is bad? What?
posted by rtha at 11:48 AM on May 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


it's always an asshole maneuver to insult people for things that aren't their fault.

I agree with this. Of course I do. But I'm still going to describe George Bush as a retard. I'm still going to use the word as a pejoritive for people who do stupid things. That's the difference.
posted by seanyboy at 11:49 AM on May 7, 2011


Seanyboy: Gayness is not a disability. Saying someone is teh gay makes the social assumption that being gay is bad. Its not. Being disabled sucks balls. If they had a pill to cure this persons daughter, should he give it to her.

So... essentially, you're about forty years back on disabiliity from where you are on gay, right? Because lots of people still think being gay is a disability, and lots of people want to cure it, or claim to be able to cure it, but that's not something you as an educated man believe. Whereas a few decades ago, it was accepted wisdom almost universally that being gay was a disability - both in terms of it being a congenital or psychological fault, and in terms of it being something people either had to try to cure or to cope with as best they could.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:50 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


So...it's okay to call someone a retard because being a retard is bad? This guy's daughter is bad? What?
That's an English Fail 101. I never said that.

There's a difference between saying you're bad if your disabled, and saying have a disability is bad.
posted by seanyboy at 11:52 AM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


running order squabble fest :

You raise an interesting point. For the record, I am squicked by those deaf parents that *want* their child to be deaf. "Because there's nothing wrong with being deaf."

I really hope that doesn't make me 40 years behind the times.
posted by seanyboy at 11:54 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, I think a lot of people are missing the bigger picture that it's always an asshole maneuver to insult people for things that aren't their fault. So, of course it is inappropriate to call a developmentally disabled person a retard - but would it really be any better to call them an idiot or a moron? However, I don't think that affects whether or not it is inappropriate to call someone a retard because they are an ignorant fool.

I think this is right. The response, obviously, is that calling someone a retard because they are an ignorant fool stigmatizes mental retardation on a larger scale.

I am not entirely unsympathetic to this argument. But I also think it's impossible to run away from the fact that mental retardation (unlike blackness or homosexuality) is undesirable and bad. So there will always be some degree of stigma. It would be nice if we could keep it isolated to the condition, rather than the innocent people afflicted. But "retard" is still markedly and meaningfully different from "faggot" and "nigger." At worst, it's a manifestation of insensitivity, which remains a lesser offense than bigotry.
posted by eugenen at 11:56 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


it's always an asshole maneuver to insult people for things that aren't their fault.

I agree with this. Of course I do. But I'm still going to describe George Bush as a retard. I'm still going to use the word as a pejoritive for people who do stupid things. That's the difference.


How heroic of you. And iconoclastic. You are an inspiration to us all.
posted by Existential Dread at 11:56 AM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I'm still going to describe George Bush as a retard. I'm still going to use the word as a pejoritive for people who do stupid things.

Uhm, ok? Good for you and have fun being so awesome all the time, I guess?
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:59 AM on May 7, 2011


There's a difference between saying you're bad if your disabled, and saying have a disability is bad.

Except that's what you said when you said (or implied) that being gay isn't "wrong" but being disabled is.

Being gay is not a disability.

40 years ago, it is officially classified as a mental illness. Most fundies say it still is. The Catholic Church still officially considers gayness "objectively disordered." Actual honest-to-God laws on the books in my state and at the federal level currently deny me (as a gay man) rights based on the presumption that I'm disordered or at the minimum abnormal. So what's your point?
posted by blucevalo at 12:01 PM on May 7, 2011


For the record, I am squicked by those deaf parents that *want* their child to be deaf. "Because there's nothing wrong with being deaf."

To do the time-shifting thing, this would be like wanting a gay son, or a mixed-race child in 1960, right? It would be perverse. You'd be wishing a horrible disadvantage on your child, something that would stop them every being as happy or successful as they might otherwise be, right?
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:02 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


40 years ago it was
posted by blucevalo at 12:02 PM on May 7, 2011


How heroic of you. And iconoclastic.
Good for you and have fun being so awesome all the time, I guess?
What? Not sure what to make of this particular trope. It's fucking annoying, and irratatingly difficult to reply to..

Anyway. Going to step away from this argument. Too many bad words floating round this thread from me to comfortably read it whilst sitting next to the g/f.
posted by seanyboy at 12:03 PM on May 7, 2011


eugenen: I think this is right. The response, obviously, is that calling someone a retard because they are an ignorant fool stigmatizes mental retardation on a larger scale.

I can understand that. The problem is, mental retardation fell off the truck of acceptable medical terminology at least 15 years ago. It has been an insult for as long as those '14 year old xbox junkies' that were mentioned above have been alive. It would be better to just leave it to be an insult, like idiot, imbecile, and moron, and go with something less stigmatized.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:03 PM on May 7, 2011


There's a difference between saying you're bad if your disabled, and saying have a disability is bad.

But I'm still going to describe George Bush as a retard. I'm still going to use the word as a pejoritive for people who do stupid things. That's the difference.


See, I don't understand this. You're going to call Bush a retard; people with mental retardation can't actually help their cognitive disabilities, and deserve no cruelty or insult from those of us who are neurotypical - they cannot help how they are. Do you believe that Bush cannot help the way he is? Do you believe that he was born with a condition that makes him unable to learn well or easily? If so, why would you insult him? If not, why use a word that describes people who are born mentally retarded as a way to insult a person who, in your view, chooses to be ignorant/stupid/unteachable?
posted by rtha at 12:04 PM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's fucking annoying, and irratatingly difficult to reply to..

Whereas calling somebody a retard is an act of pure pleasantness, and simple to respond to.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:04 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


running order squabble fest :

Yes, that's right. Because being deaf has no downsides other than the stigma? Right?
posted by seanyboy at 12:04 PM on May 7, 2011


So...it's okay to call someone a retard because being a retard is bad?

It may not be "okay" insofar as you think that the common usage of the word in that context decreases quality of life for the mentally retarded. But it is not inherently offensive or hateful. It means something definite and largely uncontroversial.
posted by eugenen at 12:05 PM on May 7, 2011


What? Not sure what to make of this particular trope. It's fucking annoying, and irratatingly difficult to reply to..

Basically, it's this: it's not particularly impressive to hurl petty insults at people. If you disagree with GWB's policies, then say so, and say why. But don't act like it's a profound moral struggle to unapologetically use words that offend other people and accomplish little to promote your argument.
posted by Existential Dread at 12:05 PM on May 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


irratatingly difficult to reply to

Really? Because your irratating!
posted by found missing at 12:06 PM on May 7, 2011


It's fucking annoying, and irratatingly difficult to reply to.

Yeah, how bout that?
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:06 PM on May 7, 2011


I think plinth's MeTa post is worth a re-read.
posted by theora55 at 12:08 PM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Seanyboy: Yes, that's right. Because being deaf has no downsides other than the stigma? Right?

Dude, people used to say that being gay or being mixed-race were clear markers of real physiological inferiority, and that these conditions led to madness, moral depravity and criminality. Our mother in 1960 isn't just not wanting their child to be gay because of the stigma.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:09 PM on May 7, 2011


But it is not inherently offensive or hateful. It means something definite and largely uncontroversial.

How so?
posted by rtha at 12:09 PM on May 7, 2011


Because being deaf has no downsides other than the stigma?

If you're really interested in this, it's a complicated discussion. Many deaf people don't consider themselves to be disabled. I guess there might be the circumstance where a piano is about to fall on them and they can't hear it whistling down toward them, but, in general, when deaf people are around other deaf people, they can easily do pretty much anything non-deaf people can do. It's only when they come into contact with non-deaf people that there is a disruption, and it's almost entirely one of communication. So to deaf people, the issue isn't so much that they are disabled than that they are a language minority, and the problem is one of communication.

Not all deaf people share this viewpoint, and I have grotesquely simplified the discussion. But the experience of the deaf is quite a bit different that that of other people who are qualified as disabled, and lumping them all together into a discussion like this complicates and distracts, rather than clarifying anything.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:12 PM on May 7, 2011 [22 favorites]


Retard is a useful technical term I wish wasn't now lost to us. When you time an engine you retard the spark. A chemical reaction can be retarded with a buffer. To retard is to put behind, like in "tardy". It is (or was) a useful word.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 12:18 PM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it gets used in various fields. In the Netherlands you can get medicine which says retard on it, as in [medicine name] retard, indicating that it's a slowed release (in English speaking medicines it's usually called sustained or extended release). I guess Dutch pharmacy is historically influenced by the French, because retard isn't otherwise part of the Dutch language.

I had another example in mind as I started typing this comment, but I've lost it.
posted by bjrn at 12:26 PM on May 7, 2011


Dude, people used to say that being gay or being mixed-race were clear markers of real physiological inferiority,

And they were wrong. There may be arguments that lack of hearing is not a disability, but it's going to be a lot more complicated than these weak analogies.
posted by floam at 12:27 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am squicked by those deaf parents that *want* their child to be deaf. "Because there's nothing wrong with being deaf."

But there is a whole culture and even a whole language built up around deafness, and your privilege makes it impossible for you to fairly consider its value. And really, how different is that than moms who openly talk about how they hope their son turns out to be gay, because of their appreciation for gay people and gay culture?

We can't help imagining lives for our children, at least until they're old enough to imagine their own.

On another topic, I think the people who trot out words like "idiot" and "lame" as examples of why "retard" or "that's gay" should be fair game are clearly stuck inside some sort of reasoning loop that (perhaps conveniently) keeps them from having to consider how people really feel.
posted by hermitosis at 12:31 PM on May 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


40 years ago, it is officially classified as a mental illness. Most fundies say it still is. The Catholic Church still officially considers gayness "objectively disordered." Actual honest-to-God laws on the books in my state and at the federal level currently deny me (as a gay man) rights based on the presumption that I'm disordered or at the minimum abnormal. So what's your point?

I can't speak for seanyboy, but I presume that the point is that the people who believe that being gay is a mental disorder were wrong 40 years ago and are wrong today. Maybe the same is true for what we currently regard as mental disabilities, but not obviously so.

I have bipolar disorder, for example. Even if there were no stigma attached to it, my life without medication would still be miserable. Stigma is a problem, but not the problem, or even the most important problem. The same couldn't be said about LGBT issues where the stigma is paramount. The upshot of that is that if someone said (as some do) that we are wrong to consider mental illnesses as illnesses, disorders, or disabilities, I'd say they were wrong rather than progressive and enlightened.

Some of that is peculiar to mental disorders where there is a great struggle to have them taken seriously as medical conditions rather than moral failings, but the point is that the fact that what we consider to be a disability changes does not entail that there are no disabilities (or that everyone wants to do away with the designation); we may just have been wrong about some cases.

That said, the hurt that using 'retard' as a pejorative is reason enough to not use it, given how easy it is to use other words.
posted by Marty Marx at 12:32 PM on May 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Retard is a useful technical term I wish wasn't now lost to us.

How is it lost to us? It's still perfectly cromulent when it's being used to describe a balky engine or a chemical reaction. It's only lost to us - or should be - when it's used to insult a person.
posted by rtha at 12:34 PM on May 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


"The response here is typically schizophrenic. On the one hand you've people blind to the facts. All attempts to explain fall on deaf ears. On the other hand you've people who are cripples to political correctness. Maybe I'm paranoid, but there's something sick about how often this conversation comes up and how OCD we are about it."

A lot of people do get pissed when people use terms for mental illness in this way and would call you out on your ablism (which I happily will). Maybe that blows your mind because you don't hang around people who think through this kind of stuff but that doesn't mean that everyone is a super hypocrite just because you personally haven't been exposed to their disapproval.

(Which you would dismiss as PC nonsense anyway)
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:40 PM on May 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


> How is it lost to us?

Well, middleclasstool says it's getting removed from the DSM due to the social stigma. So it's lost in that way. I wouldn't be surprised if people in other fields might be a bit hesitant to use the term as well.
posted by bjrn at 12:40 PM on May 7, 2011


How so?

Calling someone a retard asserts that he or she has a diminished mental capacity, which is insulting to that person. As it should be.

This obviously suggests that being a "retard" is a bad thing. Which it is -- objectively, in my view.

The relevant question is whether this sort of usage should be discouraged because it makes life worse for those to whom the targets of the insults are being facetiously compared. That is fair enough. But it puts the word on a different plane than terminology which inherently exhibits and perpetuates bigotry and bias.

This is an important distinction. It's the difference between attitudes that are genuinely hateful (a legitimate target of ostracism and scorn) and ones that are debatably accurate but insensitive, distasteful and "un-PC" (possibly also legitimate targets, but less so, and for different reasons).
posted by eugenen at 12:41 PM on May 7, 2011


Also, what Marty Marx just said.
posted by eugenen at 12:42 PM on May 7, 2011


But there is a whole culture and even a whole language built up around deafness, and your privilege makes it impossible for you to fairly consider its value.

This is really important. I know I can't appreciate it fully, so I defer to assuming it's real darned important. On the other hand, these kids' parents haven't heard. As great as the culture and community might be, I don't believe it's ethical to deny your kids all the sensors us humans get to observe our universe. Ideally this could be the child's choice, but waiting does damage.

I also can't help but not find aspects of cultures that exclude and ostracize people for choices as personal and huge as this most admirable.
posted by floam at 12:44 PM on May 7, 2011


"The upshot of that is that if someone said (as some do) that we are wrong to consider mental illnesses as illnesses, disorders, or disabilities, I'd say they were wrong rather than progressive and enlightened."

The issue is using disabilities as perjoratives. The thought is "oh, it sucks to have a disability, so it's cool to insult people with that". Which makes no sense, because it's not like you're wishing the disability on that person (I hope your legs fall off), you're comparing them to people who already exist because you don't like their behavior. The implication is not that they're unlucky. The implication is that people with disabilities are less valuable, and so comparing someone to someone with a disability is an insult.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:45 PM on May 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


Well, middleclasstool says it's getting removed from the DSM due to the social stigma. So it's lost in that way.

"Mental retardation" is not used to describe engines or chemical reactions.
posted by rtha at 12:47 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


No, but it's a technical term (of sorts) that's getting lost.
posted by bjrn at 12:50 PM on May 7, 2011


I think I'm just going to stick with "asshat" going forward. Unless there's a group out there that has buttocks attached to their craniums who would be offended by this.
posted by Pants McCracky at 12:52 PM on May 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


The implication is not that they're unlucky. The implication is that people with disabilities are less valuable, and so comparing someone to someone with a disability is an insult.

No. The implication is that the disabilities are undesirable. "Less valuable" is a deliberately twisted reading.

What about insulting people using characteristics that people with disabilities may also share, like "unintelligent." That unquestionably derides the unintelligent, which includes, by most conventional definitions, the mentally retarded. Better? Why?
posted by eugenen at 12:53 PM on May 7, 2011


I don't believe it's ethical to deny your kids all the sensors us humans get to observe our universe.

Wait, is the "denial" you're talking about keeping babies born deaf from having cochlear implants? Because frankly the cochlear implant does not really fix their hearing, it just approximates the hearing experience, often with very mixed results.

But very often, what cochlear implants do deny children is full access to either hearing OR deaf culture -- they aren't necessarily taught sign language from birth, but are still at a disadvantage in hearing culture and don't fit in there either. This means they aren't able to communicate freely and openly to anyone. But if it makes hearing people feel better about how much of the universe is getting observed, then by all means I suppose go for it.
posted by hermitosis at 12:54 PM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Incidentally, I have never seen an adult human display offense at, nor be shy about using, terms like "flame retardant." Personally I would not think twice about using this term. Grownups know exactly what it means.
posted by hermitosis at 1:00 PM on May 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thank you nanukthedog. I thought that the experiment was the best part of the FPP as well.
posted by salishsea at 1:09 PM on May 7, 2011


Yeah, outside of this thread I've never heard anyone say that phrases like "flame retardant" are seen as unacceptable.

Also, I use a brace and cane to get around. Whenever I hear someone use "lame" as a pejorative, my brain can't help but complete the sentence with "just like you." I know that might not be intended, but that's how it works.
posted by jtron at 1:11 PM on May 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


Unfortunately, we don't seem to have a good word for distinguishing a person who is refusing to make intelligent decisions, and who simply lacks cognitive abilities. They're very different things.

I think "ignoramus" may be the word you're looking for, actually.

...I've followed Rob's blog for a while; I admit I haven't read this particular post, but I have read similar ones of his. I think the reason he's reluctant to go ahead and attach "the R word" to his daughter isn't one of "feelings" -- it's more a matter of, "if we let the school write her off as retarded, then they will downshift the quality of her education dramatically, and we think that would be a mistake."

He's been struggling with this for a couple years now. He admits he may be too Pollyanna about this -- but it's part of the balance he's trying to find between "being the best advocate for my daughter" and "accepting what's going on". He knows that there is a not-insignificant chance that retarded is, clinically, what she is; but he wants to err on the side of faith for as long as he possibly can, because he fears that as soon as his daughter gets labelled 'retarded,' the school system itself will alter the way she is treated and educated. And they were ready to alter the way she was educated from the very get-go; Schuyler was diagnosed with her disease about five years ago, and in many ways has far exceeded expectations for what is possible for those with her condition. One doctor, who saw her X-ray, was expecting to see a child in a wheelchair incapable of communication of any kind; when Schuyler walked in and was able to carry on a conversation using both sign language and her speaking device, he was stunned.

I've gotten the sense from other posts that Rob knows he's fighting a losing battle here, and he wrestles with whether he's doing harm by clinging to false hope. But ultimately he has always chosen to err on the side of "trying as hard as we can for as long as we can." And that is why he is trying to avoid the use of the word "retarded" as long as possible, so that the rest of the world will at least try to fight with him for a bit longer.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:14 PM on May 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Isn't "dumb" also a product of the treadmill?
posted by rhizome at 1:22 PM on May 7, 2011


And now that I have read the post -- yeah, this is striking me as "more of the same" from Rob. He's trod this ground before, and it sounds like it was just a fresh experience that prompted it.

And the person who he was arguing with in the blog does sound like an ignoramus, one of those prissy former-snot-queen-in-High-School types that piss people off all the time anyway.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:29 PM on May 7, 2011


The implication is that people with disabilities are less valuable, and so comparing someone to someone with a disability is an insult.

This, this, this.

Yes, insulting people by saying they have some sort of physical or mental disability is deeply ingrained in our culture. So is fear of and discrimination against disabled people.

This is not a coincidence.

You know, it's not really that difficult to imagine wanting to cure or mitigate disabilities without also holding a disgusted or repulsed attitude towards a life lived with a disability. Which is what we're talking about; you don't use something as an insult unless it squicks you out; and however handwavy you get about "but of course the disabled would prefer not to be disabled!" it doesn't change the fact that you are declaring their lived experience to be bad, and yes, that is hurtful and wrong.

Because surprisingly enough, most people with disabilities don't tend to view their own existence as a negative. Though dealing with the fear and hatred and disgust of non-disabled sure isn't fun.
posted by emjaybee at 1:31 PM on May 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


The upshot of that is that if someone said (as some do) that we are wrong to consider mental illnesses as illnesses, disorders, or disabilities, I'd say they were wrong rather than progressive and enlightened.

So would I. But I don't think that the stigma is paramount in the case of gayness. What's paramount are the laws and the classifications that the stigma creates. I'd say that a current (not 40-year-old) classification of homosexuality by the Vatican as inseparable from mental illness/disorder and deserving of legal and moral restriction and circumscription is a fairly big strike against gay people, no matter the validity of the classification, or whether it's "wrong" in my or your opinion or not. Same with laws that imply or presume the same thing in order to deprive gay people of rights that "normal" people have. Those laws don't go away because I think they're wrong. It doesn't matter what I think. It does matter that the majority of legislators in my state believe that gayness is wrong and/or abnormal enough to justify codifying in law that the word "gay" (or anything related to it) can't be mentioned in public schools before the 9th grade. The stigma isn't paramount in that instance. The deprivation of rights based on a flawed presumption that homosexuality is abnormal is paramount. Whether that deprivation stems from stigma or not isn't the point. The stigma has been encoded and systematized into law. That's what matters.
posted by blucevalo at 1:32 PM on May 7, 2011


floam: And they were wrong.

Well, thank God we're right. Can't imagine that attitudes will change at all when it comes to the stuff we think. (There are people addressing the question of deafness in particular - notably hermitosis and Astro Zombie, but I'm afraid I am having too much fun with this idea that attitudes at this point have stopped, and we are now right about everything.)

Retard is a useful technical term I wish wasn't now lost to us. When you time an engine you retard the spark. A chemical reaction can be retarded with a buffer.

Do you really think nobody can ever use "retard" in any context, now? Is there any evidence to suggest that? At all? Doctors already do not call patients "retards". "Mental retardation" may cease to be used as a diagnostic term for certain cognitive impairments. I don't think that's going to affect the way people talk about chemical reactions, including flammability.

I guess that if you were to find a person with, say, Down syndrome, surround him or her and keep loudly talkng about flame retardance, and how a reaction was retarded in chem class last week, that would be bad, but bad because of intent. Like if a gang of people started repeatedly working the word "niggardly" into their conversation in front of an African-American. But again, that wouldn't be about the general usage of the term. It would be the intent to communicate something very different. Otherwise, I have no idea where this is coming from.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:41 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Edited to add: Yes, I know. "Idiot" is kind of the same thing, from like a hundred years ago. I would no doubt be considered quite the scandalous cur in 19th century parlors and sanitoriums.)

That seems like quite a stupid addition to the article. (*hoping I don't have to add an addendum myself when I find out the hidden charged history of 'stupid'*)
posted by robself at 1:42 PM on May 7, 2011


bluecevalo: I'd say that a current (not 40-year-old) classification of homosexuality by the Vatican as inseparable from mental illness/disorder and deserving of legal and moral restriction and circumscription is a fairly big strike against gay people, no matter the validity of the classification, or whether it's "wrong" in my or your opinion or not.

Absolutely. I am often very envious of people in these discussions who appear to live in a world where all of these arguments have been totally won - where the future has arrived everywhere in the same consistency at the same time. Outside certain enclaves, unofficial or official persecution of LGBT people continues pretty much same as it ever was. For that matter, within the last few years a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana refused to marry a couple because they were of different skin colors, and it wouldn't be fair to the children. He was out of touch, and he would (probably) have lost his job if he hadn't retired, but he didn't parachute in from the Burning Times. He clearly thought he was taking a reasonable position to protect unborn children from what he saw as a disability.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:45 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's retarded.


Why does he think he owns the word because he has a mentally challenged son? The word came first, then it was used to describe many things, only one of which is a person with limited mental faculties, THEN people decided that ANY use of the word is in poor taste. That doesn't change the definition.

as a verb: "to delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment" ie: "his progress was retarded by his limp."

Is that offensive? If you are offended, you are doing it to yourself, and I can't help how you misinterpret a word. Only intent matters. If there was malice involved, feel free to be offended. If not, keep your retarded interpretation to yourself.
posted by Leisure_Muffin at 1:47 PM on May 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Retarded, gay, and whining like a girl are terms I wish were not deeply ingrained in my speech patterns. I don't say them anymore, but they still come into my head. I see something vaguely un-macho and I think well that's fucking gay. Or someone says an idea so utter thoughtless and illogical that your brain says, that's a retarded idea. This is not how I want to think. Any suggestions for purging these patterns from the brain?
posted by humanfont at 1:54 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Leisure_Muffin:
as a verb: "to delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment" ie: "his progress was retarded by his limp."

Is that offensive? If you are offended, you are doing it to yourself, and I can't help how you misinterpret a word.

It's great that you read the comments. Or the article. And thus realize that he isn't trying to prevent the word "retard" ever being used ever in any context, but rather objecting to the use of "retard" and "retarded" as insults.

robself: I think he's making a mistake a lot of people in this thread are making, but assuming that because "idiot" was used as a medical term to describe someone with severe cognitive impairment (along with "cretin" and "imbecile", which described other points on the scale) that calling someone an idiot was at some point like calling someone a retard.

However, they are different use cases. "Idiot" has existed in the language for getting on for a thousand years, as far as one can tell, to mean a stupid person. For a relatively brief period, it was also used as a diagnostic term with a specific meaning, but that was always secondary to and dependent on the general usage. The degrees of mental retardation as a diagnostic term sought to clinicalize that scale. "Retard" as an insult came from and depends on that relatively recent, artificial and medicalized use of the verb "retard". It's a very different case from calling someone an idiot, which has been done since before psychology existed.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:57 PM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sure. And you don't get to decide whether I should care about your offence or not, or whether I get to disagree with you about a word's acceptability. Freedom of speech, son. The clue is in the first word. That's not funny, my brother died that way.

How utterly unsurprising who the edgy non-PC trailblazers are. (I laughed so hard at your comment in the mistaken MLK quote thread.)

Hey, I know some people that totally agree with you, maybe you should check them out? Freeps, Tea Partiers, Westboro Baptists, Dittoheads.

And hey, freedom of speech goes both ways. You're free to talk like an asshole, I'm free to call you an asshole.
posted by kmz at 2:05 PM on May 7, 2011


Can I say "frequent oil changes retard wear on car engines"?

Seriously, I'm asking. "Prevent" is not an acceptable synonym here, as "prevent" is ambiguous about "some" or "all": "fluoride prevents (some) cavities" but "a dead battery (always) prevents a cat from starting". Oil changes prevent some wear, but they don't stop it.

And "retard" has a sense of a holding back or slowing down or always taking some quanta of motion away (like friction), while prevent has the sense of a barrier (to motion); they are acceptably synonymous only when holding something back is equivalent to putting a barrier in front of it.

Moreover, "prevent" connotes an action at one time, while "retard" connotes continuous action: "the police prevented the protestor from entering the building" but "the flat tire retarded his car's progress up the hill".
posted by orthogonality at 2:08 PM on May 7, 2011


Why does he think he owns the word because he has a mentally challenged son?

Is it still RTFA day? Because the author has a daughter, not a son.
posted by rtha at 2:14 PM on May 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Can I say "frequent oil changes retard wear on car engines"?

Yes.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:43 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Orthogonality Can I say "frequent oil changes retard wear on car engines"?

Seriously, I'm asking.


Well, you just did. So yes.

If you mean "If I say 'frequent oil changes retard wear on car engines', will Rob Hummel-Hudson be mad at me?" - well, take a look at the article. First up:

The short story of why this came up this week is this: An old friend from high school had a comment thread going on Facebook, about politics and Osama bin Laden and all that, and another person from high school took the opportunity to insult all of us Liberals with a term cleverly derived from the word "retard".

Second up:

You don't get to decide that context makes it okay to use a word that gets thrown around in reference to kids who can't even defend themselves as an insult to anyone.

Third up:

Imagine they're calling you or someone else a retard, but instead of hearing that as a random insult, you associate it with someone you love, and that association is, by design, intended to be devastating and intentionally using your loved one as a benchmark for extreme stupidity.

Emphasis mine. What do you get from that? I get from it that he isn't really talking about frequent oil changes. He's talking about calling people retards or retarded - either as an insult applied generally, or as a medical classification applied specifically to his daughter. Since you probably aren't in a position to give his daughter an IQ test, that leaves general use to insult people. He'd rather you didn't do that, I think.

Does that make sense?
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:47 PM on May 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can I say "frequent oil changes retard wear on car engines"?

You can say that, and any damned thing you like. That's the beauty of freedom of speech. It is beautiful, isn't it?
posted by Decani at 2:49 PM on May 7, 2011


Is it still RTFA day?
posted by rtha at 2:14 PM on May 7 [+] [!]


No, but it's still rtha day!!!!

I always preferred it to RTFA day, anyway.
posted by liketitanic at 3:01 PM on May 7, 2011


[please feel free to use your own internal editor next time - comments removed at poster's request, carry on]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:02 PM on May 7, 2011


humanfront: Retarded, gay, and whining like a girl are terms I wish were not deeply ingrained in my speech patterns. I don't say them anymore, but they still come into my head. [...] This is not how I want to think. Any suggestions for purging these patterns from the brain?

For me, it's just extra attention to what I say/write, and practice. If I find myself thinking or wanting to use a word I've decided to stop using, I stop to think about what idea I'm actually trying to convey. By "That's retarded," for example, do I mean that it's absurd? Unfair? Cruel? Poorly-thought out? Whatever meaning I'm looking for, I just say that instead.

It definitely gets easier with time; it's just a matter of sticking through the learning curve. When I first decided to consciously stop using "retard" and its derivatives it felt like I was constantly self-editing, but now it almost never pops into my brain unless the term is already being discussed. The nice side benefit (aside from, you know, not hurting people's feelings and making an ass of myself) is that since I started doing this my writing (and speech to a lesser extent) has become a lot clearer and more nuanced, at least by my own self-assessment. I have to work through my thoughts to the conclusion instead of spitting out the first generalized sentiment that comes to mind.
posted by bettafish at 3:06 PM on May 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have classroom rules that address this and other word issues. They are as follows

1. NO DRAMA!
2. I am NOT YO MOMMA! (Clean up after your selves and leave the room as you found it.)
3 STOP THE BOMBING! No "F-Bomb, B-Bomb, S-Bomb, R-Bomb, G-Bomb," no swearing or bullying.
4. I am here for you.
5 You listen-I listen-We hear each other, we learn.
6. Get your Art on!

I explain the first or second time I hear the "R" word, and I would rather hear the F-Bomb, than the "R-Word", or the "G-Word."

Gradually I hear no, well, or not much swearing, and none of the terms that are insensitive. As the semester goes on, the students realize there are a lot of special needs, and really nice kids, in their classes, and no one needs criticism at all. Keeping a safe and enjoyable creative culture requires work, but everyone is served by it.
posted by Oyéah at 3:36 PM on May 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Why can't we all just .. be good to one another?
posted by Kangaroo at 3:49 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


>Being disabled sucks balls. If they had a pill to cure this persons daughter, should he give it to her.

>Because being deaf has no downsides other than the stigma? Right?


Speaking for myself, yes, of course my deafness is a disability. I do not have an ability which others do.

That said, I do not think that my existence "sucks balls". I do not think I need to be "cured". My experience of the world is simply different from yours. It is not less or greater than anyone else's, it is not better or worse than anyone else's -- it is simply different.

And perhaps there is a stigma to being deaf, or otherwise disabled. There were stigmas attached to all sorts of differences between people which we've seen as right and just to overcome. Disabilities remain on that list for some reason, but I've no doubt that in time, I'll just be seen as me, an individual, rather than a person whose life "sucks balls".

David Lepofsky once said that "there are two kinds of people in the world -- those who are disabled, and those who are not disabled... yet."

Everyone's time will come. Don't you worry.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:57 PM on May 7, 2011 [25 favorites]


Hi. I have an autistic son. As I type this, I can hear him "stimming" in the next room.

I don't give a rat's ass what words you choose. I really, really don't care. Neither does he. Or at least, I don't think he does. He has a near-total lack of an expressive language.

It would be nice if ya'll took that energy you spent arguing over words ... fucking words ... and used it to vote for a government that provided my family some additional welfare and educational resources. We're going to need it. Or rather, he's going to need it. When I'm not around to provide it.

So, I'll trade you "retard," and "idiot" and even "Mongoloid" for food, shelter, clothing and the opportunity for him to do meaningful work when he reaches adulthood. Thanks.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:16 PM on May 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


I empathize, Cool Papa Bell, but I think the two fights are related.

When people use "retard" as an insult to mean "you are acting like one of those people," it encourages the idea that people with developmental disabilities are different and less deserving of respect and opportunities.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:37 PM on May 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, he can keep fighting his crusade, and I'll keep fighting mine to preserve the use of 'cancer' as an expletive*.

Seriously, people that want to get rid of words "because they're hurtful" (connotation: bad) do way more to perpetuate stigma than people who thoughtlessly use those words.


*I really like the Dutch language's use of diseases and genitalia as expletives. 'cancer' and 'cunt' have the equivalent usage as 'shit'. For some reason there is a growing trend to treat cancer as an unmentionable word, and that annoys me very much.
posted by HFSH at 4:38 PM on May 7, 2011


So, I'll trade you "retard," and "idiot" and even "Mongoloid" for food, shelter
What do Asians have to do with this?
posted by delmoi at 4:50 PM on May 7, 2011


Also:
And I found Louis CK's "faggots" bit pretty annoying. The guy is pretty much the walking definition of white, straight privilege.
I was more annoyed by the false etymology given. But beyond that Louie CK is actually a Mexican. Grew up in Mexico, speaking Spanish, the whole deal.
posted by delmoi at 4:53 PM on May 7, 2011


But I don't think that the stigma is paramount in the case of gayness. What's paramount are the laws and the classifications that the stigma creates. . . . The deprivation of rights based on a flawed presumption that homosexuality is abnormal is paramount. Whether that deprivation stems from stigma or not isn't the point. The stigma has been encoded and systematized into law. That's what matters.

I don't disagree, except to say that all of that is the sort of thing I mean by stigma.
posted by Marty Marx at 5:05 PM on May 7, 2011


Hey, words are multidimensional! Check it out (warning: some academic spewage ahead)...

A word has one or many denotations (literal meanings).
A word has one or many connotations (social meanings).
A word can belong to many domains or registers (places, situations or contexts in which it is used more or less or in different ways than other words).
A word has an etymological history (its origin, denotations, collocates, etc. throughout the entirety of its history).
A word has a social history (its social meanings, associations, influences, etc. throughout the entirety of its history).
A word can index many things (calling to mind all the associations we make, assign, create and share – such as histories, identities, specific people, other words, ideas, etc.)
A word has collocates (words that it shows up with often).
A word can have a high frequency (occurring more often than other words, and therefore be more common and more or less resistant to changes, depending on other factors.)
A word can have a low frequency (occurring more often than other words, and therefore be less common and more or less resistant to changes, depending on other factors.)
A word can be subject to many (competing or complimentary) rules – orthographic, phonetic, phonological, morphological, pragmatic, social, etc.
A word has sound symbolisms and associations (based on knowledge we have about other, similar words).

And those are just a few things to consider. Also, every one of these dimensions is subject to change based on time, place, person and context in which the word is uttered.

Some of the dimensions are more salient for particular words than others. For example, 'nigger' has such an infamous social history, indexing many past and current shameful events that it not only has a widely known and respected taboo status, but for many speakers, its sound symbolism associations deter use of any word that is phonologically similar (niggardly, snigger, etc.). 'gay' has had such strong indexical ties with a population that the denotation has shifted rapidly in the last several decades. 'idiot' is a rather frequent word these days, with an etymological and social history that has caused it to move out of the clinical domain and register and into the common vernacular. 'deaf' has various meanings and referents, depending on the domain in which it is used...there even is a special orthographic differentiator for one of the domain-specific denotations (capital 'D', as in 'Deaf culture')! 'cunt' has several social histories that stigmatize it in different ways, depending on where you are geographically. 'drama' has a collocate, 'queen', that is also stigmatized and so, for some social groups, influences the connotations and the frequency and contexts in which 'drama' can be used, regardless of whether or not it is being used in the phrase 'drama queen'.

All of this makes it really hard to compare words. People communicating successfully together are engaged in an ever-updating (usually) unspoken (heh) agreement about the current, salient dimensions for each word (to the limits of their knowledge, social awareness, access to information, cognitive and empathetic abilities, and subject to personal variation and idiosyncrasies.). In this discussion of the use of the word 'retard', to draw one or two lines in a careless dismissal of the argument, the person who makes it or the group it represents crucially ignores what's salient. It is, quite literally, ignorant.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:12 PM on May 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


The mean kids on my son's playground don't need to use the word "retard" to harass him. They can laugh at him or imitate his excited flapping without using any terminology at all.

Even so, I'm going to be the last one who insists that someone who is upset over words should just get over it. I don't think (or so I hope) anyone here at MeFi is calling someone a "photo wrecker," as this mother's child was referred to when she politely asked people on Twitter to stop saying "retard."

But you know, this is what some of us face if we haven't faced it already. Or, as Cool Papa Bell mentioned, it's just a minor thing that we think about when we aren't worried about what might happen to our kids if we die before they do.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:13 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I usually seem to show up in threads about disabilities. I think it's part of my own personal role in learning how to be an advocate for my daughter. It's a long row to hoe, but so be it. I'm not going to dissect the article other than to say that I agree to a certain extent. I will point out, strictly out of a love of historical trivia, that Langdon Down's original diagnosis for people like my daughter was "mongoloid idiot."

I have two stories and one hope to share.

When I was teaching, about when my daughter was 18 months old, I had a gallery of pictures on the wall near my desk in the classroom. I had a student who while she was working on something was frustrated and said, "I am so retarded." At the end of class, I asked her to stay for a minute and showed her the pictures of my daughter. This is a Penn and Teller trick - you get the audience to fall in love with the bunny before it goes into the chipper shredder. She thought she was cute. I asked her if she knew anything about Down syndrome. She said not really. I explained, with patience and no anger, that in all likelihood, my daughter would be considered retarded in the real sense of the word and that she (my student) is not nor every would be retarded, and would she maybe consider that the next time she used the word. I wrote her a pass and sent her on her way.

Recently, my son (who is 4), was teasing her older sister about the way she walks. She had a stroke when she was born. I decided that it was time for the talk. And I was the one who learned the most from it. I started off with, "Hey Stuart - have you noticed that Alice is different from most kids?" He nodded. "How so?" "She can read." How else? "She can dance." And every time he asked, all he did was list things that she could do, instead of the things that she couldn't do. He is so used to her that he has taken it in stride that she wears orthotics, walks with a pronounced limp, can barely use her right hand and her speech isn't particularly clear (except when she's shouting at him). When I put all that into perspective for him, I let him know that chances are she's going to get teased a lot by other people and that she didn't need any more teasing from her family. In fact what she probably needs is people who will stand up for her and help protect her. "Like a knight?" Yes, like a knight. "Woo-HOO! I get to be a knight!" he took off running and yelling, "Alice! I get to be your knight and you can be a princess!"

Yeah. I was the one who learned about how we look at disabilities that day. And in that, I have a hope - and the hope is that with strong advocacy for full inclusion programs, all children will benefit from a rich classroom environment (this, by the way, is well-documented) and that the need for pejoratives will fade away because those with special needs in the classroom will be just "my friend Alice" and not "that retard that rides the short bus."

And in case you are curious to read more in depth, I've ruminated at length on my blog.
posted by plinth at 5:13 PM on May 7, 2011 [31 favorites]


(ugh, didn't close my tags. overemphasis is overemphasized.)
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:13 PM on May 7, 2011


they aren't necessarily taught sign language from birth, but are still at a disadvantage in hearing culture and don't fit in there either.

Well, that sucks! Cochlear implants are indeed pretty awful at the moment, despite all the advances. From experiences of people I've read it seems it's something like getting to listen to a robotic scratched chalkboard for the rest of your life. At least say adults, I have a feeling babies might adapt a little better. (Also, I think there's something to be said for keeping the auditory cortex alive in these kids, they might thank us in 2030 when the technology is much improved.)

But your argument puzzles me. These are people who treasure their language, their culture, and close-knit communities. Enough that they'd make the undoubtedly tough choice not to give their children cochlear implants. If they went the other way, why assume they wouldn't even teach their kids the language they speak? Why would they abandon all once they make the choice to give their kids the implant? What you suggest seems to me it would be more of an issue with hearing parents having a deaf child.
posted by floam at 5:21 PM on May 7, 2011


Rummel-Hudson is absolutely right to worry about what the MR label would mean for his daughter -- and not in some oh noes my feelings are butthurt because ppl are so mean kind of overly sensitive way, but rather in a what does this mean for my daughter's ability to get access to proper schooling and crucial services that could really improve her life kind of way.

My three-year-old son is not-autistic-but-not-neurotypical in some fairly entertaining ways (severe language impairment, apraxia, sensory integration problems, echolailic, etc. -- longer explanation here), and I actually had just came back from a local Special Needs Fair right before I saw this thread a few hours ago. We are partway through his first IEP with our school district and, as so very many families with kids with special needs must do, we are fighting their assessments, their placement offer, and their pathetically meager offer of services. We have retained an advocate, and if our mediation attempt does not go well later this summer, we will be filing due process with an attorney.

How meager was their offer of services, you may ask? Well, my son's number one most obvious challenge, among his various issues, is his severe speech delay and his problems comprehending speech. He has MERLD, and probably auditory processing problems, which means he basically lives in a real life version of Prisencolinensinainciusol, but without the cool outfits.

The Los Angeles Unified School District did not offer him any speech therapy in their IEP offer.

Their speech therapist did not even bother to attend our group IEP meeting, although I brought our private speech therapist along and submitted all her assessments and progress reports from the year she's been seeing our son. See, LAUSD claims that if he attends their offered placement in pre-school where the teacher just, y'know, speaks a lot, he will be receiving language all day, and that will count towards meeting his needs. I shit you not. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

In the meantime, our family continues to pay for all his therapies and services out of pocket, with a little help from our incredibly expensive PPO health insurance, with whom I also fight bi-monthly over their mishandling of simple, basic reimbursement forms. (But that's another story.) Call us crazy pushy parents if you must, but we seem to think that developing the ability to understand verbal language might just be a worthy goal for our son. In the meantime, he has managed to learn the alphabet and how to count to twenty and totally figure out his iPad, and we're hoping we can get him reading full words in the next year so that he can absorb some language visually since his aural sense is so scrambled. Did the LAUSD put learning to read on his IEP goals list, or learning assisted technology like an iPad? Do I really need to answer that?

This kind of crap is not at all unusual; this is standard for what parents with kids with special needs must go through to acheive some kind of help for their kids. It is in the school districts' best interests to offer next to no accommodations to your child, because they can be expensive, and states like California are in a serious budget crisis, doncha know. (Nevermind that the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for all students is a nearly 40-year-old Federal mandate, not a state one, so while their budget shortfalls are unfortunate, they are also a non-sequitor when it comes to your child's rights under the law.) And alternately, it is also in the school districts' best interests to classify your child as severely disabled so that they can argue that it's not worth it to give your child the therapy hours they need because they will not benefit from them as they are not on an academic track. The trick is to find the sweet spot where they admit that your child has quantifiable disabilities -- and you will often have to hire your own experts to do assessments to quantify them adequately -- but not so utterly severe that the district can try to shuffle your kid off to a warehouse and pass them from year to year without any kind of expectation of academic progress.

For example, here in Los Angeles, the school districts will often try to label kids -- including very, very young kids -- as MR. (I know one kid where LAUSD gave him that label at two.) And we're not talking about IQ tests, either -- we're talking about assessments that are predicated on how well non-verbal children who can't understand language can follow simultaneous verbal directions on totally separate tasks from three or more LAUSD IEP team members in a visually busy room with other staff members working on computers in the corners of the room, which also serves as their office. Furthermore, as apparently happened in Rummel-Hudson's situation, the child is often not allowed to use any assisted technology devices to help them type out the answers to the questions they are being asked!

And then if the kid gets a dual diagnosis of autism, the Regional Centers will now have an excuse not to provide ABA Therapy (even though intensive early ABA is crucial to helping young autistic kids learn to function) and the school district will have a reason to avoid letting the child attend mainstream classes with a one-on-one aide and instead argue for placement in a setting with no typically-functioning peers whatsoever. In fact, this very scenario came up on the LAFEAT listserve just this past week.

What Rummel-Hudson, and other parents of special needs kids, have learned over the years is that when it comes to dealing with school districts, everything can be a trap. Everything is a reason to avoid expecting too much from kids who are different -- to either stick them in a completely typical class and claim that they are fine and deserve no accommodations or specialized help from the district, or else to say (in a less direct manner) that they are not really salvageable and therefore do not deserve to have resources wasted on them.

What benefit will having an MR diagnosis do for Schuyler? Will it open any doors for her at all, such as being given life skills classes by her school district, or eventually being granted SSI disability benefits? Will it help her in any measurable way at all? Or isn't it much, much, much more likely that she will be given overly broad yearly IEP goals that are little more than "will learn to color in the lines" and "will learn appropriate behavior" while any mention of developing academic skills or developing appropriate peer relationships and social skills gets ignored and/or flushed away?

Mean words are not the problem here. But it's easier to talk about mean words than to talk about things like inclusive education, least restrictive environments, FAPE, IDEA, 504, and other terms parents of kids with special needs know all too well.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:26 PM on May 7, 2011 [42 favorites]


And that is why he is trying to avoid the use of the word "retarded" as long as possible, so that the rest of the world will at least try to fight with him for a bit longer

And in the meantime he is denying her the specialized care that she could get, at an age where she might benefit from it the most. Where do you draw the line?
posted by eeeeeez at 5:27 PM on May 7, 2011


Remarkable timing on the simultaneous posting of the two comments directly above.

Seriously, people that want to get rid of words "because they're hurtful" (connotation: bad) do way more to perpetuate stigma than people who thoughtlessly use those words.

Cite? Seriously.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:29 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, but it's a technical term (of sorts) that's getting lost.

But getting replaced by an equally descriptive technical term that doesn't carry that stigma. Mental health professionals should care about how their diagnoses affect their patients.

No meaning is lost by choosing a less loaded term, just as shifting from "colored" to "black" confused no one and upset no one except or certain white people.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:29 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


For, rather.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:30 PM on May 7, 2011


Using specific technical language to correctly describe an object or chemical reaction, its properties, or how it moves (or doesn't) isn't a problem. Or did you think your snark was making a valid point?

rtha, chill. People are saying "it's simple - you shouldn't use the word ever", and you're saying it's ok to use it sometimes, and I would genuinely like to have myself a course of least evil charted between using language naturally and not getting smeared by people's unrelated baggage (and I'm not happy about this necessity - I think some people are primed to reactions that are over-sensitive, but at the same time I also think it's good to not offend when you don't intend to, so one ought to be able to accommodate people), and you are calling this snark and being nasty about it. Well, it's snarky in the sense that I think people overreact and I don't trust people to not take offense at things that should not offend them, but it's not snark in the sense of it being known to me whether there are clear boundaries as to where social reaction begins and ends.

I have gleaned from your comments that you think it is so clear that no-one would object to the word "retard" in a mechanical sense, that my questions must be bullshit.
I'll take some comfort in that, it suggests the word remains useful, but for the record, there is a gradient of uses, with one end clearly beyond the pale, a middle that depends more on who is in the audience than on intentions of the speaker, and another end that seems ok to me, but has the caveat that white people don't get to decide whether the n-word is ok. So frustrating as it is to me, i

But this is progress to me. rtha wouldn't blink at some uses of the word "retard". As someone who uses the word in a technical sense, and does not wish to offend, that is comforting to me. And that is not snark.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:38 PM on May 7, 2011


Thank you, Asparagirl, for your explanation of why Rummel-Hudson bothers to fight this fight. You shared a really passionate and personal account of just how systemic the problem is. I can't even imagine how costly, time-consuming and emotionally draining it must be to deal with this broken system. But thank you again and a million times over for taking the time to share it all with us.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:42 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


And in the meantime he is denying her the specialized care that she could get, at an age where she might benefit from it the most.

Oh really? And what specialized care is that? What is being denied to her? What will an MR diagnosis DO for her? She is already eligible for special education and is already being treated by doctors. What is this magical thing you think will happen when MR gets stamped on her educational file?

I'm going to guess that you have no experience with special education services in the US, not even secondhand, because that is one retarded statement.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:43 PM on May 7, 2011


I am curious why so many of you get so worked up about the so called political correctness. Why is there is offense at the suggestion that we stop using a term which is mostly pretty ugly. It seems like you are letting your sense of self entitlement overwhelm your empathy.
posted by humanfont at 5:47 PM on May 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


> People are saying "it's simple - you shouldn't use the word ever",

No, I don't think anyone is saying that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:49 PM on May 7, 2011


eeeeeez: "And in the meantime he is denying her the specialized care that she could get, at an age where she might benefit from it the most. Where do you draw the line"


Oh, he certainly doesn't do that. If you read his blog, or his book, you'll see he spends hours and hours -- hell, he spends years -- fighting to make sure his daughter gets the care she needs. They even move to a different school district for it. His point, as I understand it, is that she wouldn't get any additional help if she had that label, and might even be denied some services.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:51 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


hi Asparagirl - Thanks for your earlier comment. It brings the problems into sharp focus. I'm sorry my off-hand remark appears immediately underneath it. Truth is I didn't see your comment when I wrote mine, and I wouldn't have posted it if I had.
posted by eeeeeez at 5:54 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


People are saying "it's simple - you shouldn't use the word ever",

Who is saying that?
posted by rtha at 5:58 PM on May 7, 2011


People are saying "it's simple - you shouldn't use the word ever",

No one is saying that. When I said that I don't need to use the word, I meant in the strictly pejorative sense, not in the chemical/physical sense, like flame retardant, using brakes to retard a vehicle, whatever.

I'm reasonably certain most folks would agree that using "retard/ed" as a slur is a shitty thing to do, and one that's easily avoided, as our language offers a plethora of other words that can convey the same general idea. And yet, we have a small but vocal group of users who are acting like the Word Police is back to stamp out all their fun. It's mind-boggling.
posted by shiu mai baby at 5:58 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


-harlequin-: As the corpse in the library says, I don't think anyone has said that the word should never be used in any context.

Looking at the article, in response to basically the same question as yours , one gets basically this answer to the question "what does the writer of the linked article think about the use of the word?" HTH.

There's no suggestion that "flame-retardant" has to be removed from the language, or any other purely mechanical usage - with this one, highly contextual caveat that should not affect you unless you are in a remake of Mean Girls.

(Also, despite this, people are still using this word as an insult all the time, and then going off on tirades about freedom of speech if people express unhappiness with that usage. So, I wouldn't worry too much about people's baggage - there's plenty to go around.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:00 PM on May 7, 2011


floam: "But your argument puzzles me. These are people who treasure their language, their culture, and close-knit communities. Enough that they'd make the undoubtedly tough choice not to give their children cochlear implants. If they went the other way, why assume they wouldn't even teach their kids the language they speak? Why would they abandon all once they make the choice to give their kids the implant? What you suggest seems to me it would be more of an issue with hearing parents having a deaf child."

One big part of this is how language acquisition works. Children aren't 'taught' language, and not from their parents anyway...it all just doesn't really work that way. However, culture, which is inextricably tied to language, is somewhat 'learned' (in the sense that you seem to be using the word 'taught'). As far as language goes though, if there's stimuli and you're a child, you're gonna take it in and run with it. If you are a deaf child with a cochlear implant, you'll take in the world of sound around you, but not quite in the same way as a hearing child would. And you wouldn't quite be like bilingual children's acquisition either; neither language would be being experienced and processed in the way a child in a bilingual speech environment would experience and process. And within Deaf culture, you would be perceived, treated and positioned in that society as a child who has a cochlear implant (including everything that that means in that culture). Basically, you'd be adding on some disadvantages with the cochlear implant, and there could be stigmatizing, irreversable consequences for the child in his/her language and cultural acquisitions.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:02 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did read your (shiu mai baby) comment as a suggestion, but with you and a bunch of others all concurring that the word is ok when in appropriate context, that's great. My concern is resolved. Thanks all. We now return to the bigger issues at hand :)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:04 PM on May 7, 2011


...and if you've got severe MERLD, you barely acquire aural language anyway, thus disqualifying yourself from the Deaf/Cochlear/Hearing argument in the first place!
posted by Asparagirl at 6:09 PM on May 7, 2011


Apology accepted, eeeeeez.
posted by Asparagirl at 6:09 PM on May 7, 2011


Regarding the word "niggardly": the word is not etymologically related to the n-word. It means "stingy" and it comes from some Nordic language. I never use it in conversation because of this very misunderstanding, but really it is not an offensive term.
posted by stinker at 7:04 PM on May 7, 2011


How you can call someone stupid or an idiot, which has the historical connotations of a disability that your child has, and seem to think that words matter? I feel like any word used to categorize or label what "retard"/"idiot" have would become a slur, just because. (See: "special," "stupid," etc.)

The issue is not one of words, then. It's societal response to disability. We shun disability people because we see them as subhuman and flawed, which I guess is a step up from the days when we used to "expose" them after birth.

I think it's kind of interesting that nobody gets enlightened by others when they say "fell on deaf ears" to describe someone with the ability to hear but chooses not to listen or respond. I wear hearing aids, was born with a hearing loss and I have "deaf ears," but nobody jumps to our defenses:
"EXCUSE ME, BUT MY FRIEND/CHILD/ETC. HAS 'DEAF EARS' AND SHE MAKES EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO LISTEN AND TO RESPOND! SHE HAS A MEDICAL DISABILITY FROM DAMAGE TO THE HAIRS IN HER COCHLEA!"

I think it's because despite being offended that "retard" defines your child, you're not able to be sensitive to people with other disabilities. I don't think that's wrong or makes you a bad person. It just shows the problem that our society has.
posted by autoclavicle at 7:06 PM on May 7, 2011


Even so, I'm going to be the last one who insists that someone who is upset over words should just get over it. I don't think (or so I hope) anyone here at MeFi is calling someone a "photo wrecker," as this mother's child was referred to when she politely asked people on Twitter to stop saying "retard."

This was an interesting link (and sad - "photo wrecker," really? Christ, what assholes), but...I don't know, it seemed like a bit much? I have trained myself not to say "retarded," and you can bet if I were a parent or a teacher my kids would not be allowed to say it, and I'd probably even call out a friend who said it, but tracking down random strangers on the internet and telling them not to say it just seems...I don't know, like you're asking for drama or need to find some new hobbies or something. I feel sort of bad for having that reaction to it though. Am I totally off-base here?
posted by naoko at 7:20 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


autoclavicle: How you can call someone stupid or an idiot, which has the historical connotations of a disability that your child has, and seem to think that words matter?

I don't think those connote in the same way, as discussed in the comments to this post. If you haven't read the comments yet, I would really suggest you do - there's some discussion of deafness, as well, FWIW.

stinker: Regarding the word "niggardly": the word is not etymologically related to the n-word. It means "stingy" and it comes from some Nordic language. I never use it in conversation because of this very misunderstanding, but really it is not an offensive term.

Well yes. Probably Old Norse - hnoggr. "Niggard", certainly is a Middle English word that predates its offensive near-homophone. I think most people know that, right? But like you, I avoid using it, because it doesn't impoverish my language options much and it minimizes a real risk of accidental mishearings. I'd rather not have the guy at the next table thinking I N-bombed him for the sake of a word with so many alternatives (miser, skinflint, penny-pincher).
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:25 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also:

Metafilter: like you're asking for drama or need to find some new hobbies or something

I thankyew.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:26 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man, synonyms for "parsimonious" are all pretty fun to say. Miser. Tightwad. etc
posted by jtron at 7:42 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The other week I called myself 'special' because I was misfiling a whole lot of things, and generally screwing up. I did it in earshot of one of our volunteers with special needs, as well as her father. This particular volunteer wouldn't even come close to making the mistakes I was calling myself special for, just to make it particularly ridiculous. I felt so incredibly awful because I was being a jerk. He didn't say a word, no one mentioned it, but I still felt like a jerk and I am making the attempt to stop using that word in that way.

And that's the crux of it, not using that word that way. It isn't analogous to 'nigger' because special and retard have other contexts and meanings that aren't illustrative of the othering and discrimination felt by people with disabilities. It is that using retard to describe someone/something you dislike is explicitly stating that retards are something you dislike. And that is a fucked up way of making your point about the thing you dislike.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:44 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


because that is one retarded statement.

Oh so it is okay if we aim it at words/things/situations, just not people then?

I think the word is still a bit too charged for that, personally. Your usage really stood out to me. Aren't you in a way calling the person who made the statement retarded? I think it's implied, but other people may have other readings.
posted by marble at 8:42 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


How you can call someone stupid or an idiot, which has the historical connotations of a disability that your child has, and seem to think that words matter?

Time. Words come to have different connotations.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:13 PM on May 7, 2011


Jesus fucking christ, when will we learn that you can't control dialogue by controlling words. Do you know how quickly language can evolve in a middle school when kids learn that they get sent to the office for saying the word "retard" but not for saying the word "broccoli"? "Haha, Johnny, you're such a stupid broccoli." It's not the goddamn words, it's the intent.
posted by tehloki at 10:56 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Time. Words come to have different connotations."

I don't think it's so much a different connotation. I mean, it's obviously used against someone for their supposed low intelligence. That was also the medical definition. It still has that meaning. It's just an acceptable insult whereas "retard" isn't because tons of parents with children on the autism spectrum have their child is described by it, and are offended by its' use as an insult. If their child were described as something and it was also used as a common insult, it would be the same exact thing.

"If you haven't read the comments yet, I would really suggest you do - there's some discussion of deafness, as well, FWIW."

I did, but I had passed over the deaf mentions. Also, I thought it was kind of funny that someone used the phrase "fall on deaf ears" and people advocating for not using "retard" as an insult didn't say anything about that.
posted by autoclavicle at 11:26 PM on May 7, 2011


"It's not the goddamn words, it's the intent."

I think a big part of the problem is that it's easier to promote "not saying the 'R' word" than it is to promote full acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities. I think they mean the latter but think it can be achieved by the former.
posted by autoclavicle at 11:34 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


astro zombie and iamkimiam are (as usual) much smarter / clued up than me on this issue. I'm not convinced yet, but there's some stuff been said here that makes me think.

astro zombie: I guess if you're deaf, then you're not going to want to view it as a disability. I'd find it difficult telling a deaf person they had a disability. But, the fact that the only effect of the disability is to reduce communication with a majority population doesn't really stop it from being a disability.

hermitosis: I wan't taking about cochlear implants (which BTW have made astronomically huge advancements in the last 10 years). I was talking about deaf parents genetically screening for deaf kids.

iamkimiam: The multidimensional monster that is context and history and everything else is important. Of course. I'm happy to concede this. But the opening salvos of this particular exchange (and have we been through this so many times) are always crude. I said that there are a number of different medical conditions to which the "retard" argument (as stated up to that point) could be applied. It's a blunt force counter-argument, but it was in response to some pretty crude statements.

If the argument is that we shouldn't use a medical condition as a general insult if somebody or the parent of somebody who has that condition on hearing the insult would be upset, then bringing "blind", "schizophrenic", etc into the argument is arguably valid.

If the argument is that "retard" as an insult impoverishes those that have issues with mental reasoning in a multitude of ways, then we can have that conversation. I think it's a different conversation, but it wasn't what was initially being addressed.

And yes. I'm totally having this conversation because I'm a tea-partying freeper with no concept of privilege and a huge chip on my shoulder because I think my rights to free speech are being quashed.
posted by seanyboy at 12:57 AM on May 8, 2011


The big one for me growing up was 'spastic'. It was the ultimate insult, and if my Dad ever heard me saying it, I got a stony silence and a crushing stare of disappointment rather than the clip round the ear I got for other stuff. That's how I knew it was extra, extra bad. I understand it's less of a big deal in the US, though that doesn't do anything to relieve the knee-jerk 'what the fuck did you just say?' response I feel when I hear it overseas.

I say 'retarded' sometimes (usually 'that's retarded' rather than 'he / she's retarded', though I'll plead guilty to that too). Hell, I used it not two days ago. I am not a good person for saying it. There are plenty of other words I can use that won't upset somebody, and if I'm really honest with myself, part of the reason I use the R word in the heat of the moment is precisely because part of me knows it's a seriously hurtful word. I even used to be one of those people who'd defend the word on semantic grounds. These days I figure if I've got to resort to an OED etymology to show I'm not being an arsehole when I really am anyway, I've probably lost whatever it was I was trying to win, not to mention my credibility and my dignity.

For those of you saying it's OK to say - ask yourself why you're so attached to it and so defensive about it. If it's because you say it a lot but can't accept that you're flawed in some way, it's easy enough to draw a red line through your life and say 'yeah, the old me used to think that was OK, but not now' without being a hypocrite. If it's something to do with history or the evolution of language or 'but he said that other word that was just as bad 300 years ago' or 'FREEDOM', get over yourself. You're putting a fucking dictionary ahead of your fellow human beings. You're correct, but you're not right, and you're not making the world a better place.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:53 AM on May 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


I don't use "retarded" and I cringe when others do. It's the intent? I can't know intent, I can only judge people based on behavior. It's a word that's really going to sting people, and if you're using it, you're as thoughtless at best, mean at worst. Use it if you like, but it's the sort of word that will have a surprising number of people think less of you as a result.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:24 AM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I use the word retarded to insult people, all the time.

My brother has Down's Syndrome, rather severely if you care.

This is how I use the word retarded.

'My brother has Down's Syndrome. He's not retarded. You are.'

This entire argument is retarded.
posted by Bushidoboy at 5:31 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


When you insult anyone, you're trying to hurt them. So you already believe that words can hurt people. It's not a huge leap to believing that insults, carelessly applied, can end up hurting people other than the person you're trying to hurt.

Context is paramount, of course. If you're quite certain that the target of your insult is the only person who's going to hear it, then the insult only matters to that one person. But how can you really know that? Even if you're communicating by Instant Message, it's likely enough that one or both of you will later relate the incident to another person.

The third party will make assumptions about what you meant. Maybe they'll assume you were just trying to say the most offensive thing that came to mind, and didn't care what it actually meant. But maybe they won't. You can't know.

Anyway, I find that if I really want to hurt someone's feelings, insults don't work nearly as well as sharp personal criticisms, delivered in the most detached, critical tone I can manage.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:33 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you know how quickly language can evolve in a middle school when kids learn that they get sent to the office for saying the word "retard" but not for saying the word "broccoli"? "Haha, Johnny, you're such a stupid broccoli." It's not the goddamn words, it's the intent.

That may be true. But the difference here, is -- when one kid insults another kid by calling him "a stupid broccoli," there isn't any sentient broccoli standing nearby to overhear and think "wow, I guess they think that broccoli is just inherently a bad thing to be if they're going to use 'broccoli' as an insult. So that must mean they think I'm just inherently bad too."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:36 AM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cubby Broccoli might be nearby. But, then, he could console himself with the fact that he made the James Bond movies, and the insulter didn't.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:40 AM on May 8, 2011


When a LOT of people with disabled kids tell me a particular word causes them additional pain on top of the pain they're already saddled with, I see no reason to insist on using it. Of course you have the right to whatever language you want, but why? Why insist on it? Either it's a particular word that has a particular derogatory meaning like no other word, in which case they have every right to be bothered by it, or it isn't a particularly important or special word, in which case plenty of other words will serve that don't cause so much unhappiness.

The slippery-slope arguments strike me as specious, as far as "What's next? I can't say anything?" If I convinced myself that making any concession to politeness was a dangerous road toward having to make EVERY concession to politeness, I wouldn't even say "bless you" when other people sneezed. I feel confident that I can choose in appropriate cases to bend to other people's feelings -- especially people who already have a lot on their plates -- without making a vow that I will never say anything, ever, that anyone doesn't like or even anything that anyone finds offensive.

As far as the "why waste time on language when you could be doing actual good?" question, I am another person who's been reading Rob a long time, and you can rest assured that Rob worries about language on TOP of everything else, not instead of. Obviously, not everybody cares about this stuff, but for people who do, it doesn't necessarily mean they don't have their eye on the ball.

And finally, please don't say a parent is denying his kid services she could be getting unless you know it's true. That's a big bat to swing.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:08 AM on May 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


Seanyboy: If the argument is that we shouldn't use a medical condition as a general insult if somebody or the parent of somebody who has that condition on hearing the insult would be upset, then bringing "blind", "schizophrenic", etc into the argument is arguably valid.


Arguably valid indeed. The way you made that point was quite different, though. Let's revisit:

The response here is typically schizophrenic. On the one hand you've people blind to the facts. All attempts to explain fall on deaf ears. On the other hand you've people who are cripples to political correctness. Maybe I'm paranoid, but there's something sick about how often this conversation comes up and how OCD we are about it.

Exactly the same sort of brilliant rhetorical flourish as "this argument is retarded", essentially.

Of course, shortly thereafter jtron pointed out that when people use "lame" around him to mean "sub-standard", he can't help but feel lessened by it. Many gay people feel lessened by hearing "gay" used as a synonym for "stupid" or "worthless" - including Gandalf. Autoclavicle is deaf, and doesn't enjoy seeing "deaf ears" to connote wilful refusal to listen. People I know with mental health issues don't like to hear "schizophrenic" used to mean "having multiple personalities", because it is misleading about what schizophrenia is and how it affects people. And, really, "cripples to political correctness"? Is "cripples to" even a phrase?

So, yeah, like I said.

My imperfect conclusion: there are lots of words that may or may not be upsetting for people to hear. People in the countries largely represented here get to use the words they want, most of the time, because, as Decani says (repeatedly), speech is (at least largely) free. But that doesn't mean those words have no consequences when other people hear them. From then on it's just a sliding scale based on how risky you think a word is, how far away anyone you think might cause a fuss is standing, how entitled we think they are to take offence, how likely anyone will agree with them, and the ambient noise levels - it's the same lightning calculation people make before telling an off-color joke.

Will Juan laugh along? Will Juan get offended? Will Juan complain to the foreman? If Juan gets offended, but Jose laughs, will that be enough to convince Juan not to be pissy about it all day? Oh, shit, was Sanjit walking past behind me just now? He's super oversensitive. And so on.

And when we think that calculus has gone potentially wrong, we might feel bad about it, or we might apologize awkwardly, or try to cover it up, or ignore it and hope he or she didn't notice. Or we might get silently pissed off about how they might now be silently judging us. What right do they have to make us feel bad about using a perfectly acceptable figure of speech?

We all decide where to draw your line about what we want to use as an all-purpose pejorative, seanyboy. For you, "faggot" is on one side of that line, "retard" is on the other. That's your choice, and it's a pretty popular one. But if you're going to fight a passionate rearguard action for your right to call people retards (an insult that has only been universal for a few decades) and demand that nobody ever picks you up on it, and that anyone who is made to feel bad by it has to acknowledge that this is their problem, not yours, why would anyone even want to try opening a discussion with you about feeling belittled by "lame"?

OK, maybe if they were on a scavenger hunt and needed a monologue about political correctness, or a bunch of peer pressure not to make a big thing out of this and ruin the day for everyone, but otherwise?
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:08 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


You don't need a monologue on political correctness.

Guy needs to stop thinking of his daughter as retarded. The word means nothing unless it holds some truth. It has no offensive value unless it addresses something that is taboo.

His daughter isn't retarded, and no amount of passive aggressive blogging will make the word go away. People call each other stupid, ignorant, moronic, idiotic, retarded, whatever. The words are all purely relative and the hysteria is embarrassing.

The 'first world problems' indignation comes from the fact that people still associate the word with truly defining those people who may be born with some atypical neural or cognitive state.

As long as Insulted First World Dad gets angry about someone calling his daughter retarded, he is essentially calling his daughter retarded, because he is encapsulating her into that word.

She isn't retarded. This entire issue is.
posted by Bushidoboy at 6:20 AM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Guy needs to stop thinking of his daughter as retarded.

Happy RTFA weekend, everyone!
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:29 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently Bushidoboy thinks the best way to make points is with a series of presumptions and condescension: "Passive aggressive," "First world problems," "Insulted First World Dad."

Honestly, if you want me to think you have something significant to say about whether something is insulting, it might do to knock off the condescension. The guy made the post in earnest, to address something that affects him, and his argument might be treated with a little more respect. Because you have a problem with tone that I suspect you're totally unaware of.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:32 AM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


You wish; or miss my point :)
posted by Bushidoboy at 6:33 AM on May 8, 2011


Or, better yet, go up a few posts to my first one on the issue.
posted by Bushidoboy at 6:34 AM on May 8, 2011


And better yet than that, why not Read The Fun Article, Bushidoboy?

(Apologies if you suffer from a condition that allows you to write, but not read, paragraphs of text.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:37 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or, better yet, go up a few posts to my first one on the issue.

I've read it. You have a problem with tone and you're dismissive, and I don't give any credibility to your ability to tell whether or not something is insulting.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:39 AM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's Mother's Day and I have places to be and this is a two-day=old thread that maybe no one is reading and so I don't feel like now is the appropriate time to delve deep into my personal experiences as a parent with school districts, special needs services and IQ tests. But I would favorite Asparagirl's comment about school-administered tests a million times if I could. These tests, as given by districts looking to save as much time and money as possible, are generally designed to give a child with special needs as few options as possible.

And well-meaning but not particularly thoughtful individuals within a district, trying to beat a rigged game on your kid's behalf, will sometimes deliberately try to test your child in a way that will make that child get a lower score, with the idea that that low score might help your child get more services in the short term. But long term, an essentially faked low test score can hang around a kid's neck like an albatross, preventing that child from accessing the level of education he or she is really ready for and legally entitled to.

And I would like to add that the way a child will score on many types of IQ tests depends on much, much more than intelligence. Working memory, reading ability, processing speed, and cultural background are all factors that can strongly influence scores.

A brilliant child with dyslexia may score low on a traditional IQ test if accommodations are not made for her reading problem. A child with ADHD will not score at his true potential if not given extra time to take the test. And a child with verbal challenges, like Schuyler, will absolutely not test to her full mental abilities if she is forced to take a test without the assistive device she learned to speak on. That's like asking a child with a missing leg to run a race without a prosthesis in order to determine her athletic ability. It's certainly not a meaningful metric in terms of predicting someone's long-term success in the intellectual realms of life (which is what IQ scores are supposed to do).
posted by BlueJae at 10:13 AM on May 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


All I have to say is that the real issue is that human being are cruel. Our social structures are cruel. This is nothing new. Children are especially creative at pointing out the differences in others and exploiting those differences. I grew up a stutterer, and everyone on the playground would say "be,be,be,be" to ridicule me and laugh when I stammered. I felt understandably angry and humiliated. No one (forget the King's Speech) is going to to elevate the status of stutterers to some kind of "protected" status.

And you know what. F-F-F-Fuck that. I don't need your protection!

There is another kind of weeding out that happens in the process of verbal cruelty. Those who willfully insult and denigrate others cast themselves in a terrible light. I knew from a very early age, because of my stutter, how to recognize who had character and who did not.

Also, I think that it is ironic that we are trying to ban the word "retard" at the same time as technology becomes available to to screen out specific defects from the gene pool.

At that point (if it comes to that) people will simply find another way to insult each other, another way to differentiate. I think that instead of harping on one work, we teach critical thinking and empathy. Banning words without teaching empathy is F-F-F-F-Fucking ridiculous.
posted by thebestusernameever at 7:35 PM on May 8, 2011


The word retarded was used in academic papers in education as late as the 1990's. Here's a gem from the 1970's
http://www.mendeley.com/research/functional-analysis-wisc-performance-learningdisordered-hyperactive-mentally-retarded-boys/
posted by thebestusernameever at 7:47 PM on May 8, 2011


Also, I think that it is ironic that we are trying to ban the word "retard"

Are we? Huh. OK, I'm game. What's the plan? V-chips in people's heads, or punitive legislation?
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:30 PM on May 8, 2011


For parents of kids with special needs who might be reading this thread: check out this awesome "how to deal with stupid statements at your IEP meeting" list.

For people with no connection to the special needs world who might be reading this thread: you should check it out too, just to get a tiny taste of what we have to put up with when dealing with school districts.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:30 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have absolutely zero patience for...

Well, aren't you a special little snowflake.
posted by Goofyy at 2:51 AM on May 9, 2011


Asparagirl: So, the problem appears then that the school "authorities" have set themselves up as adversaries with the parents of children with special needs? That is retarded!

See, this word, "retard/ed", it's a fine word. Not okay for DD? Okay. But that leaves it free as a descriptor of idiotic rules and actions, especially when done by alleged "authorities". I like it better used to describe stupid authorities than DD anyway. HRMPH!

But everyone knows, playing 45 RPM records at 33.33 RPM is retarded. Can we agree on that? (What do you mean, "what's a 45?"? Get off my lawn!)

posted by Goofyy at 3:20 AM on May 9, 2011


Well, aren't you a special little snowflake.

I was just thinking, the other day, that if there was one thing we were missing as a community, it was somebody able to apply the techniques of race baiting to other minority groups. Do you do requests?
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:50 AM on May 9, 2011


Astro Zombie: I don't use "retarded" and I cringe when others do. It's the intent? I can't know intent, I can only judge people based on behavior.

Speaking to the slippery slope argument (which has merits, but which I don't really hold trruck with), I just now saw your much favourited "Kurt Kobain shooting himself in the head" comment in my feed reader.

In my life, I've lost between 1 and 2 people I love to suicide, and had a very good friend nearly kill herself this year. I assume that quite a high percentage of 40+ year olds have similar experiences. I'm not going to base your comment on behaviour, and I'm not going to judge you on your insensitivity. You made a joke. It was made outside the context of what suicide really is, and even if it gave me a little heart stab, I know it was not your intent to harm. You said a funny thing. That was funny.

If I had the mind and the rawness and the sensitivity, I'd be in metatalk now asking for a discussion on this. And you'd be reviewing your stance on it and potentially blocking yet another avenue for expression from your personal metafilter vocabulary bank.

And some other people (not you) would be saying "Hey, we had a discussion about this and we all decided this was wrong."

This is what the slippy-slope-apologists fear.

Despite what running order squabble fest may think, my mind isn't made up on the usage of "retard". But the discussion is more nuanced on either side than anyone gives credit for.
posted by seanyboy at 4:10 AM on May 9, 2011


Also - Was thinking about this last night and ruminating on my perceived childhood illegitimacy (bought up by a single mother).

I'm aware that in the early 70's there was a lightening of the prejudice associated with the word bastard, but it still had a bit of power. Twenty years earlier, being a bastard was more of a problem. My thoughts vis-a-vis this discussion.

1) Even as a small child, I was completely capable of differentiating between Bastard as a general insult and Bastard as a born-out-of-wedlock based insult. Also, one hurt and the other didn't.

2) Not sure how my mother would have seen this.

3) It's 2011 now, and despite the fact that bastard has never been stripped from the general insult bank, it still lost power. There was no need to stop using the word. As illegitimacy became more socially acceptable, the original insult and the hurt it caused drifted away. Nobody I know cares that they or I am a bastard.

4) I'd never say the word bastard in a job interview.

It's hard to hear the word retard, but I think we need to stop assuming that using a word like this as an insult outside the original meaning reinforces stigma.
posted by seanyboy at 4:21 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, I love it when people go through somebody's past posts in other threads in order to make slippery slop arguments.

I am sorry you have lost people to suicide. I have as well. But the "If this upset me, it would upset me," retort doesn't make a case for using the phrase "retarded." If anything, it makes a case, albeit a mediocre one, against making jokes about suicide.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:30 AM on May 9, 2011


I didn't go through your past posts. That's not my style.
That comment was shown to me by Google Reader 10 minutes before I made the post.

And yes. It makes a mediocre case against making jokes about suicide. That's my point. That's what the slippery slope people fear.
posted by seanyboy at 4:39 AM on May 9, 2011


Actually Astro Zombie. I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself badly, or you're just wilfully misrepresenting what I'm trying to say and how I'm trying to say it. Maybe time to step away.
posted by seanyboy at 4:43 AM on May 9, 2011


That's what the slippery slope people fear. But we shouldn't give in to fear, right? We should try to assess dangers rationally, and act accordingly. Which is where I think the idea of a hypothetical "we" is tricky. For example:

It's hard to hear the word retard, but I think we need to stop assuming that using a word like this as an insult outside the original meaning reinforces stigma.

And some other people (not you) would be saying "Hey, we had a discussion about this and we all decided this was wrong."

I think that the "we" in these cases may be the same "we" who thebestusernameever thinks are banning the word "retard". And if you're imagining what one hypothetical group (the slippery slope people) are afraid another hypothetical group (we) might do, that's getting quite abstract.

I'm just not seeing a situation where some other people would say that we had all decided this (reference to suicide) was wrong, and that would have any force. The right of people to say basically what they like on MetaFilter as long as they were prepared to be accountable for their words would be restated, and the show would go on.

Likewise, I think that we are not necessarily assuming that using a word like this as an insult outside the original meaning reinforces stigma. I think that belief might be a contributing factor to some of the discussions here, and it's manifestly clear that some people here (and Gandalf) find pejoratives using a word that also describes their disability upsetting because they have told us that, but it's not the core of the FPP. The core of the FPP is a guy with a daughter who lives with a condition that includes cognitive impairment talking about how "retard" and cognates, used as insults, make him feel.

Finally, "outside the original meaning" is a tricky proposition. "Bastard" meaning "asshole" is pretty clearly outside if not the original meaning then certainly the contemporary use of "bastard" to mean "a child whose parents were not married". People (of the group that makes up the recruiting pool for MetaFilter, let's say) don't believe that being born out of wedlock affects one's fundamental nature for the worse, and haven't for some time. On the other hand, retard as an insult absolutely depends on the idea of developmental or cognitive impairment. Maybe in the future this will not be the case - anything's possible - but right now it's absolutely critical to people's understanding of how the term works as an insult.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:56 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


People (of the group that makes up the recruiting pool for MetaFilter, let's say) don't believe that being born out of wedlock affects one's fundamental nature for the worse, and haven't for some time. On the other hand, retard as an insult absolutely depends on the idea of developmental or cognitive impairment.

no... no, no no, I'm sorry running order squabble fest but that is kind of fucked up.

Having a disability is no more grounds for making the words describing it pejorative then doing the same with words describing illegitimacy.


If I may paraphrase edgeways in a way which describes how flipping nonsensical this whole discussion is.
posted by seanyboy at 5:11 AM on May 9, 2011


Go away, have a cup of tea, come back, read what I actually wrote, try to understand it again. If you're still having problems understanding it, ask me what it means. I will explain further.

I will not insult you based on your inability to comprehend written English. Nor will I describe the conclusions you reach based on that inability as "fucked up". I will try to be accepting of your limitations. Nor will I write off your contribution to this discussion as nonsensical, even when it actually makes no linear sense when related to previous statements.

Have a nice cup of tea.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:15 AM on May 9, 2011


My point r.o.s.f (in case you missed it) is that the beginning half of my involvement in this discussion had people (including you) telling me strongly that I couldn't make the exact kind of comparison that you made when you said

People (of the group that makes up the recruiting pool for MetaFilter, let's say) don't believe that being born out of wedlock affects one's fundamental nature for the worse, and haven't for some time. On the other hand, retard as an insult absolutely depends on the idea of developmental or cognitive impairment.

But thanks for the condescension. That's nice.
posted by seanyboy at 5:30 AM on May 9, 2011


I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself badly, or you're just wilfully misrepresenting what I'm trying to say and how I'm trying to say it.

Well, I'm not willfully misrepresenting you.

Look, slippery slope arguments are bad. Everything one earth is on a slippery slope to somewhere else. And arguments by parallel are bad, because everything can be made to parallel anything else. But your comparison is a rather bad parallel. Because the key to understanding humor is knowing who is the subject of the humor. While my joke might have been in poor taste -- and I won't deny that -- the subject is a specific suicide, and not suicides in general, and it does not make out that suicides are inherently subjects of fun. It's a very specific joke to a very specific situtation.

Calling something "retarded" inherently, and necessarily, associates everybody who has a cognitive disability as a subject of mockery or contempt.

It's very different. It would be a closer parallel if we used the word "suicide" as an insult. "Did you see that girl with that awful haircut? What a suicide!" And, were that the case, I might agree with you that we should be more cautious with that use of language.

But language is not so threatened by using it carefully and thoughtfully will automatically cause us not to be able to use it carefully and thoughtfully, because, hey, everybody is offended by something, and we're all going to turn into unbearable proscriptionists. When it happens, I am willing to entertaining that discussion, but we are cautious about our language every day -- most people don't use "Jew" and an insult anymore, and it's generally considered extremely unpleasant to toss around racial or sexual epithets. We don't swear in front of our grandmothers, we don't discuss our bowel movements in front of strangers (for the most part), and we don't engage in graphic sexual discussion in front of children, for the most part. We are able to decide what sort of language is right for what sort of moment, and asking that people use the same care in using the word "retard" is not the same thing as setting off an avalanche that ruins language.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:46 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seanyboy: It wasn't condescension. It was an attempt at non-judgmentally saying that you weren't understanding things, and thus that your attempted gotcha was incoherent. But, OK, long way round...

What edgeways said was that it was fucked up - his words, not mine - for you to decide that it was OK to use "retard" as a pejorative and not "faggot" on the grounds that it's an objectively bad thing to have a disability, but not to be gay. I and others pointed out at that point that a) an awful lot of people still think, very viscerally, that it's bad to be gay, but also b) that the yardstick on what is considered "bad" shifts as cultures change, and that even among people regarded as relatively educated, modern and socially liberal - the MetaFilter set, if you like - homosexuality was considered a biological disability and something one would seek to "cure" until very recently - certainly within living memory.

(And there's some interesting stuff about how the dialog of homophobia has changed in places to being about "lifestyle choice" - that is, something which people choose entirely of their own free will and thus have to be held morally accountable for - as science and social mores have unwound from each other. But never mind that now. Most social assumptions that being gay is bad are based on homosexuality being "unnatural" - either a biological deviance or a social one.)

Now, the question of whether being born out of wedlock made a child intrinsically less good or less likely to be a good person ab initio than a child born within wedlock was a live issue around the time of King Lear, but much less so by the 1970s - whereas biological, essentialist narratives for the badness of homosexuality were still very much live. A social stigma still existed, which was justified in various ways around the welfare of the child, the ability of single mothers to raise children adequately or the necessity of the family unit as the basis of a cohesive society. I'd argue even at that point that the notional enclave would more often be aiming to use the child to shame the mother than aiming to shame the child, but that's a nice distinction, and not one that the child's peers would often be competent to make.

So, my point is - and was - that you were not making a like-for-like comparison. If you call someone who just cheated at cards a bastard, you don't expect them to parse that as "I am being likened to someone who is lacking because of an intrinsic failing in me due to the circumstances of my birth". In those terms, it's a dead metaphor. In this or the next generation, as you say (and in our notional educated, rational, socially liberal enclave), the idea of being born from unmarried parents being a bad thing even in terms of its social stigma will pretty much die out. My grandmother wants grandchildren more than she wants in-laws, and I doubt that's going to reverse if and when I take up that grandparental position.

So, I think if you understand it fully you probably agree with my statement:

People (of the group that makes up the recruiting pool for MetaFilter, let's say) don't believe that being born out of wedlock affects one's fundamental nature [emphasis mine] for the worse, and haven't for some time.

Now, a parallel issue: your previous argument was that it is OK to call someone a retard pejoratively (because developmental disabilities are bad) but not OK to call someone gay pejoratively (because homosexuality is not bad):

Also, one reason why faggot may be wrong as an insult when retard is less so, is that there's nothing wrong with gayness. Being gay is not a disability. We need to differentiate between the things we want to fix and those we don't.

This directly contradicts what you are now saying - that it's OK to call people bastards precisely because nobody (in our enclave) thinks there is anything wrong with being born to unmarried parents any more. By which logic, it would be OK to use "gay" as a pejorative but not OK to call people retards. You've flip-switched your argument.

But anyway. You believe that "retard" as an insult depends on its connection to cognitive impairments and the people who live with them, as you clearly stated in the quote above, and subsequently when you clarified:

You miss my point edgeways. Gayness is not a disability. Saying someone is teh gay makes the social assumption that being gay is bad. Its not. Being disabled sucks balls.

So, again, you agree with my statement "retard" as an insult absolutely depends on the idea of developmental or cognitive impairment.. QED.

Now, to draw a viable parallel between 1970s "bastard" and 2010s "retarded", you'd actually have to reverse your argument again, to claim that there is a way to use "retard" as a pejorative that has nothing to do with cognitive impairment (and by extension a way to use gay as a pejorative that has nothing to do with sexuality). That would then match your parallel:

Even as a small child, I was completely capable of differentiating between Bastard as a general insult and Bastard as a born-out-of-wedlock based insult. Also, one hurt and the other didn't.

Plenty of people do argue that when they call someone gay - or retarded - that it has nothing to do with homosexuality or cognitive impairment. I think it's a weaselly argument in almost every case, but it does exist. However, it's not an argument you have so far advanced, and it would directly contradict both of your current directly contradictory positions. And I'm not even sure that's geometrically possible.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:12 AM on May 9, 2011


(PS - I don't mind when people use "obsessive-compulsive" as a general pejorative to mean "punctilious", but I'm pretty sure it's clear at this point that that's not the way it applies to me. Other people might take offence, though.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:19 AM on May 9, 2011


I seem to have woken up to a punctilious argument.
posted by rhizome at 10:04 AM on May 9, 2011


On the whole, I was hoping for the cup of tea option. That up there was the equivalent of cleaning the bath tap with a toothbrush - precise, comprehensive and with an absurd disparity between effort and result.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:18 AM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


sigh... sorry to drop that in and not being around to elaborate a bit.

You miss my point edgeways. Gayness is not a disability. Saying someone is teh gay makes the social assumption that being gay is bad. Its not. Being disabled sucks balls.


Having a disability is a descriptor. Being gay is a descriptor. Neither one of those states is who a person is. I strongly object to essentially saying "Oh, well retarded is not so bad, at least they are not saying he is gay". I think you are splitting mighty fine hairs if you are arguing that one form of social bigotry is better then another.

There are a lot of folks with disabilities who refuse to see themselves as being broken or in need of being fixed. Having lived with, around and working with folks with a wide range of disabilities I feel I can say with some measure of confidence that starting with the assumption that someone with a disability is broken, or is "bad" in some manner is a dubious position at best, when arguing how hurtful people can be.
posted by edgeways at 12:12 PM on May 9, 2011


seanyboy  Even as a small child, I was completely capable of differentiating between Bastard as a general insult and Bastard as a born-out-of-wedlock based insult. Also, one hurt and the other didn't.

running order squabble fest  Plenty of people do argue that when they call someone gay - or retarded - that it has nothing to do with homosexuality or cognitive impairment. I think it's a weaselly argument in almost every case, but it does exist.

I don't have much individual control over a word's common connotations and denotations and I don't have much individual control over how quickly an old meaning or usage passes away.

I stopped using "retarded" as a casual pejorative not because I thought I consciously or unconsciously associated it with a defined class of people when deploying it, but because it became clear to me that a substantial fraction of the population still does and will for a while.

I never wanted to aim at those people. Why, then, would I not mind that though my ignorance or carelessness there were so many of them getting hit?
posted by hat at 12:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


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