Friday, September 28, 2012
Don’t you know about the word? Well, the Meandering Mouse knows that you can’t “end the word”
In the past few years, a movement has arisen to excise the word “retarded” from the English language. On websites called “Spread the Word to End the Word”, activists fight against what they call the “R-word,” pleading with us never to use it lest it hurt the feelings of the developmentally disabled.
This movement is, no doubt, coming from a good place in the heart.
It is also futile.
Protesting against “retarded” (and its little brothers, “retard” and the suffix “-tard”) at this point is like…well, I hate to resort to a cliché, but it’s like closing the barn door after the horse has run away and sired enough descendants to fill the Queen’s stables.
“Retarded” does not mean now what it did decades ago. If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at three other words which have changed meanings: “moron,” "imbecile," and “idiot.”
In the early 20th century, psychologists developed new terminology for people with mental disabilities. Those with an IQ between 51-70 were “morons.” (70 was the baseline of “normal” IQ; 130 and above was “gifted.”) Those with an IQ between 25-50 were “imbeciles,” and those with an IQ between 0-24 were “idiots.”
(Aside: I shudder at the horror of having an IQ of 0.)
In the decades between then and now, “idiot,” “imbecile,” and “moron” drifted out of the psychologist’s office and into the dictionary of pure insult. That process has already happened with “retarded.” I can’t think of any well-regarded psychological professional who still uses “retarded.” We use better, more accurate terms like “developmentally disabled” and “mentally challenged.”
If you can’t tell the difference between screaming at a developmentally disabled five-year-old, “Shut up, you little retard!” and saying about a temperamental Xerox machine, “That printer went full retard today,” you need to brush up on your critical thinking skills.
If someone directly insults your child with the word “retarded,” deal with it appropriately. If someone uses “retarded” in a context that has nothing to do with your child, let it go.
Just let “retarded” (and its little brothers) go in your own mind the way it’s already run away in real life.
It’s a word, after all, not a bullet.