The “R” Word

Today I read something that made me wonder if I wasn’t being too sensitive about the word “retarded”.  What I read isn’t important, but the thoughts and feelings it evoked in me are important.  After all, it is just a word.  Used in many different contexts, it is a perfectly harmless word, right?  Wrong!

The dictionary shows it as: 1. A Verb (used with an object) to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede. 2. A Verb (used without an object) to be delayed. 3. A Noun; a slowing down, diminution or hindrance as in a machine. 4. Slang, Disparaging – a. a mentally retarded person. b. a person who is stupid, obtuse, or ineffective in some way. 5. Automotive, machinery; an adjustment made in the setting of the distributor of an internal-combustion engine so that the spark for ignition in each cylinder is generated later in the cycle.

Ok, so with the exception of 4, not so bad, right?  Then I got to thinking about all the other slang and disparaging terms that are taboo in our society, you know them all, so they don’t need repeating here.  These words were also once commonplace in our society’s language, with benign meanings in the dictionary.  But through misuse and stereotyping, became offensive to someone, or a group of someones.

Then how did these words become taboo in society?  Grass roots movements, people spreading the word, writing letters to editors, contacting politicians; much passage of time and exertion of effort has made these words undesirable.  Except of course for a few ignorant people who don’t know any better, and those too prejudice to care.

Where does that leave me?  Well, it is important to me personally because of my son, and because it is the right thing.  It might make me unpopular or seem like a pest to continually comment when I see abuse of the “R” word.  I may lose some friends over it too.  So be it.  I won’t apologize for my persistence to “Spread the Word to End the Word”. (See

In October 2010, President Obama signed “Rosa’s Law”.  The law removes the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy and replaces them with people first language, “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability”.  All but 7 states have signed similar laws or have legislation pending (see if your state has changed the wording of its laws at

Feel free to express your comments whether you agree or disagree.  Either way, I hope the next time you hear the word, or think about using the word, you might just stop and think about it first.  I’ve done my job.


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