The R-Word: Why Do People Still Insist on Using It?

Updated on March 9, 2018
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more daily than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, & LGBT advocacy.

Is Respect Really That Hard?


What Is The Deal With People STILL Using The R-Word?

Can we please stop with the r-word?

I've never understood the appeal of using it in the first place.

For the record - and for those who might be wondering - the "r-word" is "retarded." It's a denigrating term that is often used to refer to those who might require special needs, or even for those who, simply put, might need extra support and time - among other resources - to learn information and skills and synthesize them, either for school or simply as a part of their regular routines.

It's been used for years, and to be perfectly honest, we need to know better than to use it. We need to do better than to use it.

While I do understand that according to Oxford Dictionary, retarded has made its way beyond simply meaning "to be slowed down" to ‘less advanced in development than is usual for one's age’, and the term was used to describe people who have developmental or intellectual challenges ever since the 19th century, there are still those who use it as a part of their common language to simply refer to something they view as stupid or unnecessary. If you think about it, it's a term many of us hear far more likely than we might realize.

How many times do we hear the phrase, "That's so retarded?" and no one says anything to correct the person about what they've said or attempted to teach them just how incredibly disrespectful and rude what they've said is?

It pops up from time to time in communities, schools, and shopping malls. As a teenager of the 1980s, I know that it was almost a part of our common language - a "code," if you will, that we found something so incredibly distasteful that we had to tag it with that term.

Now that I'm quite a bit older, I'm stunned that there are still occasions where I have to correct people that this is not an OK thing to say. There are still disrespectful terms cropping up beyond the r-word, and it bothers me greatly that we're still having to have the conversations that we need to speak respectfully of each other - even (and sometimes especially) when we disagree.

Take, for instance, the phrase "that's so gay." That seems to have replaced the r-word as far as an expression of disgust goes, but here's the thing. We are alienating people by using these expressions. We are cutting connection - a vital part of human existence - when we insist on incorporating these terms as an acceptable way of expressing our displeasure or our disgust about something.

If we cut connection with each other, we lose our humanity.

I know that sounds incredibly extreme, and maybe it's time we take an extreme focus on how we actually communicate with each other. Our growing reliance on living life through social media - and screens in general - has numbed us to the sensitivities we used to have about how things we said and did impacted others. We put things in text and social media messages that we wouldn't dream of saying to someone's face for fear of looking like a jerk. We post things as statuses that we would not ordinarily bring up in polite conversation, and it's had an impact on the vocabulary we use in communicating in general.

I'm not saying that we have to go back to the days of extreme propriety and be so mindful of how we are talking to each other that we are afraid to say or do anything at all. That's not what this is about.

It's about respect and being decent with each other.

It's about not using terms in such a way that your heart would hurt if the language was directed your way.

There's no need to use the r-word - not even a little bit. Sure, if you're talking about spraying fire retardant, that's one thing, and an appropriate context in which to use that language.

To refer to anything as being retarded, though, now or ever is completely wrong. We absolutely have to do better as far as that choice in language goes, and not just for us.


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