So over the past month or so, the word ‘retard’ has been a hot topic of debate between my coworkers. Being resident advisors, we have to be inclusive and watch what we say, but of course that is easier for some than it is for others. ‘Retard’ has also been a debatable topic in American society, as well, so it is no wonder it has trickled down into people’s everyday lives.
There is one specific coworkers who fully believes in the use of ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ and has been debating all of us on the idea that people shouldn’t be offended by it. I had that conversation with him today, and I have to say he makes a logical, valid point. Though he admits to using ‘retard’ out of context sometimes, he also argues that most of the time he uses the term correctly. There are several different definitions for ‘retard’, and it depends on what dictionary you are looking at. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has the word as a verb and a noun, saying the verb form definition being “to slow up especially by preventing or hindering advance or accomplishment” and the noun form being “a person who has slow mental development ; also : a stupid or foolish person”. I think most of us agree that the verb form of ‘retard’ was first to be used and the latter form was added on when people started using it to describe an intellectual disability, and then to describe a stupid person as an insult. Because of the negative connotation the word has received due to it being used as an insult, many people have shied away from the word all together and scolding people who use it rather than trying to revert the word back it its original definition.
My coworker, Ced, made this argument:
When I call someone a retard or say something is retarded, in most cases I am calling them slow, not stupid. I am using the medical definition and not the offensive definition. Therefore, people should not be offended when I use it correctly. If people are offended, that means they are, in their minds, connecting the word retard to the definition of stupid, so they are wrong in their definition and that is not my fault.
Fair enough. I think that is a valid point. I then asked him if someone was offended by his use of the word retard, for whatever reason, and they asked him to stop, would he? His answer was no. He said if someone had someone close that had an intellectual disability, he might consider attempting to curtail his use of the word, but he would not apologize if he used it in front of that person. I understand his argument and I think it is solid, but I think he lacks a certain sensitivity. I explained to him that people with an intellectual disability get the word retard hurled at them all the time as an insult to their intelligence, and so naturally they and those around them would always associate the word with the negative definition and that wasn’t their fault. I mean, what are they supposed to do, decide that people those awful people aren’t using the correct definition they should just brush it off and laugh at their lack of intelligence? To that, Ced said yes, they should.
Obviously there is no changing his mind, but do you think he has a point? This debate is a very difficult one, and many say that people should stop being so sensitive to words. I think I agree to a certain extent, but if words are being used as insults, that needs to stop.