I’ve been reading a lot about banning the word “retarded” lately. Some of the SN-mom blogs host some very militant posts about the issue, and some of them have attracted some very venomous comments. A couple have even impelled me to leave a comment, going so far as to compose lengthy replies, which, however, I never published.
I think I understand the issue with this word, but I’m not sure, and I’m not sure which side I’m on.
I mean, first of all, I’m definitely against banning the word – I’m against banning any word, period. If a word gets banned, literally, you’re only one step away from burning books and putting people to jail for expressing their ideas. Do I agree with some of the ways the word is being used? Not really. I’m not for insulting people in general. But banning the offensive words is definitely not the solution. Secondly, why focus exclusively on people with intellectual disabilities (I DO hate this word, is it still OK to use handicapped?)? What about deaf, dumb, blind, lame people? Should all those word be banned as well?
Moreover, why focus on “retarded” specifically? Is “idiot” any better? Or “moron”, or “imbecile”?
Imbecile was a medical term used to describe a person with moderate to severe mental retardation, as well as for a type of criminal. It arises from the Latin word imbecillus, meaning weak, or weak-minded. “Imbecile” was once applied to people with an IQ of 26–50, between “moron” (IQ of 51–70) and “idiot” (IQ of 0–25).
The word, on and of its own isn’t really offensive – it means delayed, slowed. Like fire retardant fabric. Disabled sounds a lot worse in my ears. It means “incapacitate”, “maimed”, “disqualified”. Is that really better?
Even if the campaign to have the word eradicated were temporarily successful, any word used to diagnose people with mental retardation would eventually become a derogatory term. I have an acquaintance who uses the word “special” in the same way – usually pronounced thpethul and with the accompanying idiotic *whoops, see I just did the same thing with an older word without meaning to, but how else can I express this? Asinine maybe… * look on his face.
I don’t claim to have a solution here – I’m not even sure exactly where I stand on this matter – but I know “banning” the word, either literally or in a “it’s not P.C” way is definitely not the answer.
-Footnote: I suffer from mild / moderate hearing loss and very frequently I have to ask people to repeat themselves. Several times they’ve asked me “What, are you deaf or something?”. It doesn’t offend me, I just reply that yes, I’m a little hard of hearing. It saves me the trouble of having to volunteer the information.-