Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"That's So Retarded!"

Before you thwap me, please note that I put the title in quotes. That isn't something I would say about anything, ever, but I hear it so often in schools, walking around town or the mall, and even on TV shows. And I absolutely hate it every time I hear it.

"Retarded." Definition: slow. A hindrance. A person characterized by retardation.
"Retardation": Definition: slowness in cognitive ability, understanding and awareness, development, academic ability, etc.

So when you say, "This assignment is so retarded", you're calling the assignment slow? Really?

Take another look at the definition of retarded. Notice a specific word in it. Person.

I have a thirteen-year-old daughter who is on the autism spectrum. She is very intelligent, but her social skills are lower than those of most kids her age. That's her disability. Throughout elementary school, particularly from third through fifth grade, she was often called "retard" by other kids. She knows all too well how much that word hurts.

People seem to think that it's okay to use "retard" to refer to people as long as they aren't actually retarded. For example, "Jack's driving drunk again, that retard!" They think it's okay to call inanimate objects or other people "retarded" as long as it isn't a person who has mental retardation or other disabilities.


Words hurt, and it doesn't matter your intention in using them. My thirteen-year-old becomes upset whenever she hears someone or something being called "retard" or "retarded", to the point that she actually stopped speaking to her stepfather for an entire day because he used the word. My sixteen-year-old, who is very protective of her sister, ended a couple friendships in middle school because her friends wouldn't stop using the words "retarded" and "gay" (which is a whole other blog post) as insults. Now that she's in high school, my sixteen-year-old takes part every year in the "Spread the Word to End the Word" rally at her school, which is a rally to encourage people not to use "retard(ed)" as an insult.

Stop and think about what you're saying and who it might hurt. If you're an author, think about what your characters are saying. As I said, words hurt.


  1. Jo. Sounds like your daughter is right where she should be- with a loving mother who cares! That is so important because you and I know that we're not going to change kids and their direct cruelty. Most people think schools help kids grow in interaction and there's a lot of truth to that if you're not 'different'.

    My kids are 'mixed' as the kids like to say and even some adults. I am white- with a little Cherokee- and my wife is Thai. I never gave it any thought except the see the beauty of my kids heritages, but in their teens I would find them sad and even crying from time to time because of this heritage. I just didn't understand and my words were not enough to convince them that it was a good thing. Their peers were mean and I think jealous of their features.

    Now they are grown and I have a grandchild that has more then three backgrounds. It worried me so much that I wrote him a story for when he is older. It turned out so well I published it. My children thanked me and wished I would have written it sooner. I wasn't smart enough then.

    You are so right when you address writers and ask them to take care with their words. I call it a duty. We actually do touch lives and bear a responsibility to help as well as provide great stories.

    Thank you, Jo, for posting this and I do hope many will read what you've said!

  2. I think the version of retarted you're referring to means stupid. 'This assignment is stupid.' It's just a slang when used that way. However, I agree it's hurtful when applied to a person.

    My oldest also as AS. Fortunately no one has called him a retard.

  3. Stina, unfortunately it isn't "just a slang." It's hurtful no matter how it's used because it's a term that has been applied to a certain group of people and is being turned into a generic insult. It's the same thing as saying "This assignment is gay." It is hurtful, and it isn't okay, no matter the intent of the word.

    Think for a minute--everyone reading this, not just Stina--about using the "N" word instead of "gay" or "retarded". Would you still think it was "just a slang"?