I have decided to take a stand on the ‘R’ word..
Four of my five children have special needs. One of those is physically obvious. I love them. I’ve devoted most of my adult life to doing everything in my power – and beyond – to helping them grow into fine, upstanding, contributing citizens. I respect them and their rights. And I will take out anyone who tries to hurt them.
And yet, I will accept the popular use of the word ‘retard.’
I know! You think I’ve just set the plight of the developmentally delayed back decades – but hear me out.
Throughout the history of mankind, language has evolved. No one says hence, thus, or shall anymore; no one even misses such archaic terms. And while there are those of us who regularly cringe @ the fiasco that txt’g has made of the written wrd, the fact is, things are changing and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
Words come and go. One generation’s ‘groovy’ is another’s ‘sweet.’ ‘Right on’ is ‘down with that.’ And ‘hip’ can be so ‘sick.’ Not one of these words is used solely for its original meaning.
Take the word ‘gay.’ My kids think it’s hilarious when Nana ‘misuses’ that one. What was once happy is now an acceptable term to describe homosexuality. Unlike the word ‘fag,’ which started as a slang term for a cigarette and now tops the pile of politically incorrect labels.
I didn’t realize that the ‘quif’ of my teen years no longer meant that dippy guy who made us all laugh, but had become a unique and effective way to embarrass the crap out of my teenage son!!
And so with the word ‘retard.’ It comes from the French for ‘late.’ In its truest form, it was an accurate description of an affectation causing a person’s intellect and ability to develop or stop at a level below the standard norm. Eventually, the term became a slur against the slow-minded, falling to a state of disgust so abhorrent as to be banned from regular use and replaced with the more detailed ‘developmentally delayed,’ a phrase that, in its multi-syllabic density, is highly unlikely to ever be used by the linguistically challenged – although I am hearing it more and more often shortened to ‘DD,’ opening the door to eventual slurdom.
But because we abandoned the word ‘retard,’ a word with many possible uses, why are we surprised that a slang version has popped up? As with gay, the word has many meanings, and therefore gets used in many ways. Because it can still be used in common conversation, it cannot be banned completely, good or bad.
As opposed to the word ‘nigger,’ which has but one, and only one, derogatory meaning. ‘Nigga’ has become somewhat popular in certain circles. But ‘nigger’ holds the pedestal on the blacklist. It will never be confused with any other meaning.
There are those who hold ‘retard’ in the same regard. And who would like to see popular culture treat it equally. And this is where I disagree. I would like to help the word evolve into the equivalent of ‘stupid,’ leaving behind any link to the developmentally challenged.
Would it not be better to give the word to the popular language, thereby releasing it of its negative connection to those of lesser intellectual ability? Let the word change. Most who use it don’t see it as a word describing anyone other than their friend who just stuck a jellybean up his nose, the guy on the news who drove his car up the down ramp, or the politician who texted pics of his privates. Those who use ‘retarded’ in this way don’t think of my kids when they say it. And nobody calls any of my kids retarded. Because they’re not. They’re not stupid. Challenged, yes. Idiots no.
In fact, I myself refer to them regularly as ‘UNDERESTIMATED.’
So I’m letting go of ownership of the R-word. I don’t want it any more. I will actively discourage use of its nasty form, while promoting it as a way to make fun of people who do stupid things and who should know better! Forgive me if my use of the word offends you. That is an impossible intention. I’ll use more appropriate and acceptable terms to describe my kids. But I would much prefer to join the movement to separate the pejorative meaning of the word from my entire family. I won’t encourage its use around me. But I won’t ban it from my house. I will talk to my kids about its use – both proper and improper. But I’m hoping that this is one nasty little word that, if I don’t give it any power, will melt into oblivion.
In the end, it’s not the word that is the problem. It’s people who think things like this are okay.
For the record, yes, I did write the word ‘nigger’ in its entirety. I don’t like the ‘N-word.’ And in general, I never use it unless it is a necessary and contributing part of a conversation. But the term ‘N-word’ lends an air of mystery and forbidden to a word that doesn’t need any more help on the ugly meter. If you’re going to say it, say it. If you can’t say it, don’t use it at all. Same goes for the ‘F-bomb.’ Really, do you honestly think I’m not hearing ‘fuck’ every time you say that. Putting a bra on a boob doesn’t change the fact that there’s a boob under there. We all know it. In fact, throw in some lace and underwire, and that same boob takes on some real intrigue. Call the boob a boob.
Okay, I’m listening – what do you think? Retard or not retard. That is the question.