End the R-Word

 Words matter. They are a reflection of what is in our hearts. Jesus put it this way, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks*.”

When I say to my son, “I love you,” my words are expressing my heart and thoughts about him. I say three words that express a world of emotion, hopes, memories, and delight in him as a human being.  My son knows what I mean when he hears or reads those words.

Similarly, when I say, “You are beautiful,” to a friend my words are telling her that she is a kind, gracious, and strong person. My friend knows what my heart believes about her when I say those three words.

Yes, words matter. Whether the words are shared for other people or they are directed at ourselves, they matter. So, what does it mean if I say to someone, “That’s so retarded” or “I am such a retard”? The R-word is being used to communicate stupid, slow, clumsy, or unattractive. What is this communicating to people who have been labeled “mentally retarded” by a doctor? When they hear someone use the R-word they hear themselves being insulted; they hear all people with their medical diagnosis being slammed .

The big problem with using the R-word is that in the origin of the word it was a medical diagnosis. Doctors stamped that word on to people’s medical charts. Somehow a medical diagnosis became part of common vernacular and came to be used as a putdown or an insult.

The R-word needs to disappear. It needs to disappear because words matter and when this word is spoken it matters that it is being used to insult, slam, judge, demean, or criticize.  It matters because there are people who have that medical diagnosis** and use of the word as an insult is a painful insult to them.

Words matter.

*Luke 6:45

**In 2013 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual officially changed its vocabulary to delete references the diagnosis “mental retardation” and replace it with “intellectual disability” and other terms. Also is 2013 the Federal Register noted legislation to officially replace references to “mental retardation” in government documents with “intellectual disability.”


Words Matter

My words matter.

My words paint images in your mind.

I can use my words to manipulate the image they paint in your mind.

If I tell you “She is a cripple” I say those words for a reason- for pity.

If I tell you “She is an artist” I say those words for a reason- for admiration.

Both sets of words maybe accurate about She, but only one set of words is true.

Only one set of words about She matters.

The words about She’s purpose, She’s giftedness, She’s difference that she makes in the world; those words matter. Those words make She matter.

The other words describe what the environment does to her.

The other words make She not matter, they make her different. They are not true about She.

“She is a cripple” is not about She, but about the non-accessible world She inhabits.

Crippled. Crip. Handicapped. Bound to. Confined. Suffers with. Words that are not true. Words that do not matter.

Artistic. Fun. Creative. Adventurous. Contributor. Delighted. Cherished. Words that are true. Words that do matter.

Words matter.



End the Word

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.