The Word “Retarded” Hurts People


I’ve been hearing the word “retarded” a lot lately.

“This is so retarded.”

“That person is retarded.”

Or (what people sometimes think is a more clinical, respectful term) “That person is mentally retarded.”

Why shouldn’t we use the word “retarded”?

I’m going to give the most basic explanation: It hurts people.

End of story.

The arguments:

1. What am I supposed to call people who look/act retarded?:

Nothing. Chances are that you’re referring to people as “retarded” not to offer a compliment, but to point out a deficiency. Think about why you’re telling someone about that person. What’s the point of the story? If it’s not a positive story, then why share it? If you do have a positive story to share, think of another description: “The woman over there with the curly brown hair was so helpful!”

2. Isn’t “mentally retarded” a well-known term in the medical community?

I’m not a doctor, but I will tell you that I’ve never met a doctor (and I’ve met many!!) who has used that term with me. It’s an out-dated term.

3. But it’s harmless to say “That’s retarded.” I’m not talking about a person. I’m talking about a thing/event/activity.

The word itself is hurtful. And if you use it, your kids will learn that it’s ok to use it too. And if our kids use it, the word will live on and on and on… Also, you never know who you’re talking to. You never know a stranger’s set of circumstances. If you use the word around a stranger without knowing his/her background (“This baseball game is retarded.”), you have no idea how that word will impact the person you’re talking to. What if the stranger’s brother was once called “retarded”? What if his niece was once called “retarded”? I guarantee that, most of the time, your words won’t come across as fun but as hurtful.

4. Hey, lady, haven’t you heard of Free Speech? No one tells me what to do.

I’m a BIG proponent of people not telling me what to do. I’m kind of rebellious in that way. If someone tells me to make a left, I’ll go right. If someone tells me to have a cheese sandwich, I’ll have PB&J. I really, really, really don’t like when people tell me what to do. BUT if I know that my action has the potential to hurt someone else, I won’t do it. I do believe in Free Speech, but I don’t believe in causing pain to others–even perfect strangers.

5. People are so sensitive. There are so many words that we’re not supposed to use anymore!

I can count on 1 hand the number of words that are not appropriate to use. It’s really not that many. If you stay away from about 5 words when talking to others, you’re golden. 🙂

4 thoughts on “The Word “Retarded” Hurts People

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