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Today Is The Day To Stop Saying "Retard"

By ceridwen |

I have a confession to make. I use the word “retard.” And I use the word “retarded.” I like to think I use these words in a kind of 1970s throwback ironic way. That, somehow, given who I am and how I speak and what I’m saying, these words won’t come out as hateful or cruel. To me it’s almost a  nostalgia for the pre-politically correct era– a time when just regular kids could utter such sentiments as, “Mom, that is SO retarded,” and  “Dad, you’re totally gay.”

But I’ve been rethinking. My experiences as a mother– from making decisions about prenatal testing for Down syndrome to counseling my school-aged children about bullying, teasing and name-calling– has made me more and more aware of how unnecessarily mean the word “retard” can be. I recently read about how kids with disabilities are targeted by bullies. Not surprisingly, the word “retard” is used to detrimental affect in these situations.  Maybe it’s time for me to change my ways. In fact, maybe today.

March 2, 2011 is  “Spread The Word To End The Word Day.” A day devoted to spreading awareness about how hurtful the use of the word “retard” can be. It hurts people with loved ones who have Down syndrome. It undermines support and respect for people with special needs. If you go to the you can pledge your support with the following pledge:  “I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”

Twitter is on fire, spreading the word about “ending the word” and trying to raise awareness. Already this morning I’ve read several very moving blog entries about why we need to take this word out of circulation. One particularly eloquent and stirring post comes from The Red Neck Mommy:

“When you drop the ‘tard bomb into casual conversation, you are demeaning disabled people and reinforcing the stereotype that mental disabilities are bad and that people who suffer these disabilities are lesser; to be excluded and ignored because they don’t know any better. Heck, it’s not like they even know what the word means right? Who are you hurting?
You are hurting me. You are hurting my kids. You are hurting everyone who loves someone who has been labeled a retard due to how they look, how they speak or how they learn.

It’s not okay to go on twitter and announce that your computer is retarded. Did you mean your computer’s operating system is running slow? You might have meant to convey that your laptop is a piece of shit that doesn’t work and you desperately covet a new one, but instead you just conveyed your ignorance and your lack of respect for the most marginalized, disparaged group of people in the world.”

This makes me think about other words, too. Moron, idiot, spaz, dummy… these are all related to actual conditions as well. It’s an important topic that warrants further discussion. Maybe we just need more precision in our language, as The Red Neck Mommy suggests. (My husband was not an idiot for running the dishwasher twice, but he was without intellectual merit.)

But today is about the offensive use of the R-word. The truth is I’ve nearly dropped this word out of my vocabulary. On the occasions when I have let it slip out, it lands with a thud. Once you become aware of these things, it’s hard to turn back.

So please join me today, with hundreds of thousands of others, in becoming more aware of the language we use. Go to the R-word website and pledge. Send The Red Neck Mommy’s blog post out to your social network. Or just quietly stop saying the word.

photo: Marc Wathieu/flickr

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About ceridwen



Ceridwen Morris is a writer, mother, and certified childbirth educator. She is the author of several books and screenplays, including (Three Rivers; 2007). She serves on the board of The Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York and teaches at Tribeca Parenting in New York City. Read bio and latest posts → Read Ceridwen's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Today Is The Day To Stop Saying "Retard"

  1. Jessie Levey says:

    When I hear the word, “retard,” I have a visceral response. It literally hurts me inside. This is not about being politically correct or incorrect, it is about having compassion. I was never comfortable with the word being used as an insult. Now, being the aunt of a most beautiful and amazing niece with Down’s syndrome, my response has grown more intense. I always tell people not to say it if I hear them use this word. I speak up for Helen.

  2. meredith morton says:

    There are a million words I would never use in front of my children…fat, dumb, retarded…pretty much any word intended to describe another person unfavorably or in judgement. HOWEVER, when my kids aren’t around, and Im talking to my girlfriend whose not a PC freak. I will tell her that I read a blog this morning that was retarded. ANd I hope that even if she has a niece that is developmentally different, she will know that my reference is an ode to the 70′s. A time before seat belts, helicopter parenting and up tight political correctness. PS Im grateful for the seat belts!

  3. Jo Anna says:

    My comment was going to be that chances are, if you’re using the word “retard” at all in casual conversation, you’re also using the words “is so gay,” “faggot,” “wetback,” “fat,” “stupid,” etc. I was a child of the 70s and 80s, too, but I somehow managed to purge them from my vocabulary as soon as I was old enough to recognize the harm I was causing, and to have the sense enough to relate that across ALL marginalized groups.

    And then I saw the tags in the article, and I realized that although you only alluded to it ever so slightly early on, you do feel the same about using any of these terms casually. So, yes, for the purpose of this article, and to keep the conversation targeted and on point, there is absolutely no reason to ever have to use the r-word again. Ever. Period. Full stop.

  4. Emma says:

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. From the time I was very young, my parents forbade us from using this word. Back then I don’t know if I fully understood why, but now I am 29 and am proud to say I have never used it (well, except to say “please don’t use the word ‘retard’”.) It’s about time there was a serious movement to rid it from our collective vocabulary. I hope this makes lots of people think twice next time they’re about to say it.

  5. Jessie Levey says:

    Meredith Morton-

    I am also a product of the 70s and I never used that word. I am also not a “PC freak” as you stated. I am a person who practices empathy in my everyday life. It is what I teach my children and my students.

    Thank you, Jo Anna, for your clarity.

  6. nancy says:

    Agree and like the comments here. I’m trying to fight the good fight on this article on FB, but there are quite a few who don’t see anything wrong with using terms like “retard” and “that’s gay” or “queer”. Could you come on over and lend some support? (hope this link works)

  7. ceridwen says:

    Nancy, the link is not working. Maybe try again? These omments are confirming my belief that the casual/70s defense of this word doesn’t hold up. I think the largest problem when you get into banning words is picking which ones (soon you get into the whole Who is allowed to use the N-word? debate). I think the fact that a number of people have commented here and elsewhere that the R-word makes them feel physically bad when they hear it, makes me happy I’ve decided to drop it from my vocab. I’ve also been thinking about how a lot of comedians use the word. Though they use lots of words that are taboo-breaking to bring us a different kind of awareness. In the documentary about her life, Joan Rivers has an amazing, rousing come-back to a heckler who got angry when she made some crack about a dumb or deaf or disabled kid– the guy had a deaf kid. She railed out at him, saying she’s got all kinds of disabled people people in her family and that life is ALL PAIN, and that here we are to laugh about the worst possible things… that’s what comedy is! It’s pretty interesting vis-a-vis comedy and all these words… but then in general usage, when we just become so familiar with calling everyone the R-word, it tends to come off as just lazy, offensive and imprecise.

  8. nancy says:

    Thanks Ceridwen. Just go to the babble facebook page and scroll down until the topic and link to this blog page show up. Then you’ll see the comments I’m referring to. (hope THIS works).

  9. ceridwen says:

    Wow, thanks Nancy– there are some really valid points there, especially the one about how words are used and in what context. But also some very snarky ones. “This post is retarded.” Ahh the joys of blogging. I don’t know if people check back in on those facebook comments, they get lost in the flow of social networking. Here may be a better place to defend your point.

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