Words have meaning; that is why we use them. They are a tool to communicate ideas, questions, problems, solutions, emotions, opinions, and directions. Words are used descriptively. Sometimes the descriptors are obvious, as in “He is tall.” Other times the descriptive words are allegory: “He is a teddy bear” does not mean a person is a literal stuffed animal, but he is a large man with a gentle personality. The phrase “She is an Einstein” does not mean that the girl is related to the Einstein family, but it means that she is smart in mathematics or scientific concepts. So what about the phrase “She is so retarded.” It is almost always used negatively to mean that a person is stupid, dumb, or clumsy. The problem is, there are actual people with a medical disagosis of mental retardation and the words “stupid, dumb and clumsy” do not describe them. They are capable, kind and hard-working people. When someone calls another person “retard” in a way that is negative or derogatory s/he is making a negative and dehumanizing judgement of all peple who have that medical diagnosis. It is used as a word that diminishes the value of other people. With that in mind, why use it?
I will resisit the urge to get preachy and dive into the question of why a person feels the need to use a negative word to describe themself or another person. English is a rich language. There are many words to communicate our messages that do not hurt and tear down others. Why use a word that is known to hurt and ripples out to negatively impact others?
Spread the Word to End the Word is a global movement sponsored by the National ARC. Please visit their site to learn more about this compaign to end a dehumanizing and degrading word.