“I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent.” ~James G. Watt
Reader Discretion is Advised: There are bad words in this post. Bad, bad, bad. And concepts. Maybe a sentence or two that would offend people who think words can be offensive. I call Perlsky a retard. And I mention UK fags and vertically challenged Hungarians and loquacious Canadians. You are warned.
One of our favorite Canadian bloggers talks about it here as does the lovely Budapestian, here, now it is my turn, I guess. I am here to announce that Pearlsky, is, yes, a retard.
The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. ~NAACP
Not the “National Association for the Advancement of African Americans” yet we are not supposed to refer to “them” (oh, no, others!) as “colored” anymore, no siree, they are African American, not “negro,” not “black.” I don’t know about you, but I am having trouble keeping up.
And then there is “queer” which used to mean “different” but then meant “gay” which used to mean “happy” and in England a “fag” is a cigarette, so if one is addicted to smoking and only has clove cigarettes, it is ok to suck on a queer fag if you are in the UK but doing it here can get you arrested, unless of course, you are a congressman.
“Retard” obviously comes from “mentally retarded” or “Mental Retardation.” A search by Google of the NIH site comes up with 99,200 hits for that term on their website.
Yes, I know language changes, words get taken over by groups with agendas, meanings change over time, some become derogatory, some become archaic. But some are just plain stupid, un-smart.
“Special Needs” – sorry, but up yours. What, you don’t have special needs? Heck, even Mariah Carey has “special needs.”
“Typical” – again, get over it. How or why is that more acceptable than “normal”? I get dirty looks at school meetings when I say “normal.” Too bad. Have I told you my goal is for her to be normal?
“Severely disabled” – I actually use this one, not sure why. I think it is more global then “mentally retarded” since it implies more of the physically challenged parts, and the word “severely” shakes people up a bit.
Oh, and “challenged” … well that’s a hoot. I’m challenged every morning when the alarm goes off until I reset it at the end of the day. Am I “life challenged”? Umm, well, maybe I am.
Here is the “accepted” definition of “Mental Retardation” …
Subnormal intellectual functioning which originates during the developmental period. This has multiple potential etiologies, including genetic defects and perinatal insults. Intelligence quotient (IQ) scores are commonly used to determine whether an individual is mentally retarded. IQ scores between 70 and 79 are in the borderline mentally retarded range. Scores below 67 are in the retarded range. ~NIH
So, yes, Pearlsky is “mentally retarded” according to the NIH, unless of course our use of facilitated communication proves otherwise. After all, the law demands she take the NCLB exam, why not an IQ test? She never has, but I digress.
Mentally retarded. A mental retard. Retarded. But a “tard”? (Yes, Erika, I know Tard is also a village in Hungary, but those people are “Tardians”)
I know of siblings, loving siblings, who have a “severely disabled” sibling. And at school, they freely use the word “tard” as a shortened version of “retard” to taunt others. They know what the word means, and the derivation. But they would not call their sibling a “tard,” even when openly admitting that he is “mentally retarded.”
So what’s my point? Words are words. Just use them as you need to to get your point across. To use the first of George Carlin’sseven dirty words , who really gives a shit?
I guess I’m with you in spirit although it makes me wince a bit. And I admit to laughing my head off (ha-ha-plop) when a character in the movie Hungover mispronounces the word ree-tard by putting the accent on the second syllable so that it sounded like the French version: ruh-tard.
I think the movie was called The Hangover, actually.
While I don’t totally disagree, I gotta argue at least a little bit 🙂 Personally, I don’t care if someone calls me or another person of average intelligence ‘retarded’, but when it comes to my daughter I prefer ‘disabled’. Can’t help it, makes me wince. You are right, words are words, but the definition of a word is just one of its properties. Dictionaries also indicate the register of an expression, whether it is archaic, informal, derogatory, offensive, slang, etc. The definition of ‘idiot’, ‘feebleminded’, ‘stupid’, ‘moron’ are also ‘having less than average intelligence’, yet I don’t prefer any of them in connection with my daughter. Similarly, most unwed mothers wouldn’t want their child born out of wedlock to be called ‘bastard’ (regardless of the definition), nor would black/African American mothers like the word ‘negro’ describe their baby. It’s the power of pejoration. However, many times the connotation of a word varies from person to person and culture to culture. A word can be neutral to me while giving you hives and vice versa.
P.S. People from Tard, Hungary are called ‘tardi’ (adj.), pronounced approximately as the English adjective ‘tardy’ with a rolled ‘r’ sound.
so when I call Sarah Palin retarded, who’s most offended?
I just left a comment on the Hungarian (-American?)’s, er, person from Hungary’s blog regarding the naming of a flower. I have also made known on my blog that I won’t join the word-banning movement because I think it is an ineffective method for changing attitudes. Another blog that recently addressed this: http://elvis-sightings.blogspot.com/2009/11/intellectual-disability.html
I am very admiring of both the Hungarian and JoyMama.
This morning (still struck by people who blog in the middle of the night, SD) I am thinking that some differences in opinion (of bloggers) lies in the fact that you, SD, are male, and that Pearlsky is a teenager. Then, I remember that Kim has expressed disdain for the r-word so that blows my male-theory.
There are more data points in my head for reading parents of older children have more comfort with a range of descriptors. I have interpreted that to mean that those parents have more acceptance of their child’s disability. That thought is likely not very appealing to parents. If that offends, my sincere apologies, and perhaps SD will decide to delet this comment.
I’m surprised to learn that a movie used the r-word and an uproar was not mounted to stay away from the movie.
Whilst staying on the neurological ward of a Greek hospital, I was chatting with an Asian woman (I think she was from India but I’m not sure if that matters) who asked if Dimitri was subnormal – I nearly choked on my bad hospital coffee. She didn’t mean to offend and was in fact saying how that it was wrong that Dimitri wasn’t intergrated into school as there was a subnormal kid in her sons class who had an one to one aid – she said I should demand the same for Dimitri.
Moving on – I say Dimitri is severely disabled or has severe intellectual disability – and more importantly refuse to add the “but he’s doing really well” – because if he wasnt’ that would be terrible right?? People don’t like the labels, particular those associated with intellect, cognitive ability or whatever (seriously, I had a bad education and after years in Greece I’m just not up on all the correct terms), because not being smart is “bad” or “lesser”.
If I say my son has severe intellectual disability, it can feel like I’m betraying him, calling him “lesser”, but I’m not, this is the way he is, so I say it and tell people about him and his personality (yes, he has a personality!!!)
I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to say, but there you go.
Elizabeth: We see this the same way. Gotta check out the movie …
Erika: While that black mom may not call her baby “negro” or “colored,” she may be a member of the NAACP or take grant money from them. While I cannot call Richard Pryor a “nigger,” he called himself that at some of the biggest venues in America. The siblings I mention don’t call their brother a “tard,” just other kids, their brother is “disabled.” Dictionaries are not enough to define right and wrong usage, if in fact there is any. For someone who has never met Pearlsky, if they are in my age bracket (old as dirt), I say “she is what we, as kids, called retarded.” A simplistic but true description. In “real life” I call her “severely disabled” even though MR is valid, like you, I don’t use it. But then, both you and I (I assume) would take money from the “Department of Mental Retardation” as it exists in multiple states.
Wow, an entire village called late for dinner. Who knew?
Barbara: “Retarded” or its ilk, is not my word of choice, I just don’t disdain it to the degree others do.
Emma: Thanks for the comment, I see what you’re trying to say!
I still use the term messed-up, frequently, when talking to or about friends with disabled children (e.g. her kid is pretty messed-up like The Kid). When asked by another parent of a “special needs” child why The Kid did not attend the local “special ed” program but was being bussed further away, I answered, “He’s too fucked-up for the local school program.” She then told me I should say “too severe” instead, which is what I would say to someone other than a fellow parent of a “special needs” kid, but she didn’t enjoy my form of including her in the club!
When small children ask why The Kid is in a wheelchair or what happened to him, and they ask all the time, I tell them he was born with his brain a little broken and it can’t be fixed. Perhaps I should tell adults this as well… broken brain syndrome! BBS. Think of the umbrella term possibilities!
Teenage boys have taken hold of Retard and Tard just as us middle-aged women throw Moron around a lot, but, medically speaking, The Kid is MR if it is ever brought up. Moderate to profound MR (Mentally Retarded for you ‘tards out there that don’t know) is what goes on the report.
OH, my…I am not sharing this web discussion with my grad students as I work to mold them into using the most professional language they can when working with children with disabilities. BUT, I agree with (most) of what has been written. I do think that language is powerful and I also think that we learn to use language that is more appropriate within our respective communities. What I do dislike quite passionately is the short-hand that educators and school professionals get in the habit of using and often is offensive to parents. As commented on Erika’s blog I would prefer that we describe observables rather than attach a label but we do need some short hand. A teacher needs to know that the student that wll be in their classroom the next morning has significant intellectual disabilities…they also need to know of their areas of strengths and their needs. I just don’t want to hear that they have “3 MRs, 2 EBDs, and 2 Aspie”. Parents can refer to their child as they wish and hopefully the child is okay with it in whatever way possible. All this talk of “labels” makes me tired. I am a tall, slender, smart, blonde woman with Scandinavian heritage that is hopelessly directionally challenged and HATES rats, mice and other crawly things but makes a mean martini. Takes more time than WASP and one must still be careful not to generalize. Can I quit now? Thanks for stirring the pot, Single Dad!
OMG! That’s sooo funny! 3 MRs, etc. What’s an EBD? My tard mind wants to know. I could totally see teachers speaking like this. I should be offended, I’m sure, but geez that’s funny.
I almost feel like I shouldn’t comment at all, considering the fact that I may be one of the most un-PC people I know. I use tons of words that people frown on, all mood-dependent rather than anything reflective of what makes up who I am, but I totally abuse the power of language too often. Not saying I am proud of it…because I’m not at all. I am simply one rude motherf*cker some of the time. Other times? I’m not at all.
The term retarded doesn’t really bother me. Special Needs does though. Go figure. I don’t like the word ‘need’ as a part of that phrase. Bugs me. No idea why.
I agree with you about the way language has shifted so that any word can morph into an insult, and it becomes ludicrous trying to keep up with what is politically correct. I have joined the movement to stop using the term “retarded” , however. I think it has joined the ranks of such terms like “idiot”, “imbecile”, “moron”, all originally terms to categorize low IQs. Mongoloid is not a word used for Down Syndrome kids anymore either. What has happened is that those words have turned into insults and taunts. What hurts the most about this, is that those being insulted are those who are our most vulnerable.
In your case, Pearlsky, does not communicate any hurt upon being labeled retarded. She does not flinch and feel the flush of embarrassment, horror, when she hears the term. She does not get humiliated at the jokes surrounding the variations of the word “retard”. In any case, you do not see those reactions. But there are kids who feel sick upon hearing those terms. They feel even worse than those who have been taunted with racial epithets, ethiic slurs, family insults, appearance taunts. Because of the nature of their handicap, it is not only difficult, but often impossible to get them to “rise above” this labeling. It’s difficult to get folks with normal and high intelligence to deal with this sort of thing. Why inflict this upon our most vulnerable people? It is a derogatory term these days and used as jokes. It’s bad enough that these kids do end up the butt of these jokes, but to defend the term that has become a hurtful catchword is something we can control. Just as the terms “nigger”, “faggot”, and other words have become politically incorrect, so can the variations of “retard”.
Yes, the other terms will probably transition into insults as well. I hear kids using “special” facetiously along with “challenged” and “delayed”, but they have not gotten the oomph that the r word has. When they do, I’ll switch again. I don’t want to hurt those who so vulnerable. I have far less sympathy for those insulted by ethnic, racial, sexual slurs. The reason they have been able to get those words banned and elicit apologies when their labels get used publically is because they have the clout to do so. Our kids who are described with the “r” need our muscle and clout to get that objectionable term out of polite language. The day we can use other politically incorrect terms publically without getting hurt feelings for group so described, will be the day that I might insist that those with mental challenges should have to keep a stiff upper lip upon hearing the r word bandied and used.
Most gay people I know, including myself, refer to themselves as queer or homos. Just throwing that out there.
I don’t like retarded because it’s inaccurate. When people have a “retarded” day, they’re not talking about subnormal intelligence, but rather a shitty day. When I was growing up, there was a very large institution within walking distance that housed mentally handicapped children and adults. Calling someone a retard when I was a kid was a huge insult, we knew what it meant. What we didn’t know was why the retarded people behaved the way they did, and sadly, our parents did not enlighten us.
As for my daughter, technically, she is mentally retarded with an IQ of approx.25. I prefer handicapped or mentally handicapped, just because. But what the labels and her IQ don’t tell you is how the light shines out of her eyes. Katie is a force of nature.
what’s really pathetic is that you actually think that since you warned people that there are offensive words you’re off the hook for using them.
why did you need to use the word retard? It’s a slur. A very hurtful word to the people in the special needs community. It’s always shocking to me when people throw that word around with no thought involved.
go get your dictionary and look up the word retard. and while you’re at it look up ignorant.
I believe his point was that we shouldn’t get all up in arms and offended when someone uses a word that isn’t considered PC. He wasn’t saying that he makes a habit of saying it.
That said, you are right – words are just words. While certain ones do sting from time to time, I generally don’t let them get to me.
Keeper-it’s emotional/behavior disorder
such useless lables that tell us nothing…
the great thing about free speech is this…you get to state your opinion whether it’s offensive or not. I in turn get to call you a huge insensitive asshole and we all go home happy. don’t you just love free speech?
Woah – what is with people reading (rather, skimming the first few sentences and jumping to conclusions) and then posting rude comments? Disagree with DD if you must, but there’s no need for such foul language, Mary.
I work with the developmentally disabled and I frequently use the words retard and retarded. Never disrespectfully, however, they are accurate in every sense when I do use them. The word ‘retard’ means to slow or be slowed or impeded. This is why what are now called ‘speed governors’ on semi trucks used to be called ‘retarders’. When using the word as it applies to people I use it only to describe a diagnosis or general description; ie: I work with retarded persons. PC is too much to keep up with and often becomes more insulting (in my opinion) the further in you go. For example, I am half Crow Tribe. Older generations call this Indian, now we seem to be sticking with Native American. If speaking of a group of diverse persons hereditarily derived from the oldest known settlers of this continent I think the best bet is American Indian. To me a ‘Native American’ is someone who was born in America. The more PC the language gets, the more general and confusing it becomes. And yes, my wonderful, beautiful, respected and exceptionally beloved baby sister is a retarded Indian. They are just words, so the country should really just unknot its panties and move on.
i agree with you in full force
I like your blog a lot, but I really don’t agree with you here. Words do matter and a lot of people with disabilities (intellectual disabilities in particular, as they’re the people whose opinions matter here) find the r-word to be really hurtful and offensive. And I just don’t see why you would use a word that describes a particular type of person as an insult, it doesn’t make sense and I think it does build a sense of distance and contempt toward that person in a lot of cases. Maybe if this was an argument that only non-disabled people cared about, I would think it didn’t matter, but in my experience most disabled people find the word really offensive and I think that should be respected. (full disclosure, I’m disabled but not intellectually disabled, and I find the word pretty offensive but am mostly speaking as an ally)