Friday, March 20, 2009

The R-Word

Sigh. I believe this makes it official -- a slur has been placed on the forbidden side of the line. So says a spokesperson of the Special Olympics:

March 31 is being billed a "national day of awareness," a call to Americans to recognize and rethink their use of the word "retard," or as the organization would prefer, the "R-word."

"Most people don't think of this word as hate speech, but that's exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends," a statement about the campaign reads. "This word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur."
I say it's a shame. I see how it would function as a slur if applied to someone with an actual form of "intellectual disability" (I was about to say "mental retardation"), but I don't like the idea of dropping it from the inventory of available words to castigate people who deserve it.

The word goes back a long way, being yet another English word borrowed directly from French, which modified it from Latin. From the start, it has meant "cause to move more slowly or operate at a slower rate," which is an elegant descriptor of people who should be thinking more sharply* than they are observed to be doing.

All well and good, but I recognize that questions of usage decorum are finished when someone resorts to dictionary meanings and etymologies. And the person who cites the dictionary has lost. Henceforth the r-word is perilous -- at best, an invitation to be diverted to the appropriateness of the r-word itself.


* Speaking of sharply, we can still use dull, right? And what about slow?


Zennalathas said...

This reminds me of this advocacy group called Mad Pride. It's trying to take back words like crazy, insane, mad, etc...

Coming from someone who has several anxiety disorders, I just don't think people understand just what hate speech is. Is it really hate speech if it accurately describes the people it refers to? I'm crazy, and it's not a good thing. I don't see why people should care about the word being used negatively; crazy is NOT arbitrarily bad. It actually is worse than being sane.

I just don't understand why people cling to labels that describe them. Is there really going to be Retard Pride? Sure, it's not like retardation is something we should be making fun of, and it's not something that the retards can help, but in what way is being retarded a GOOD thing? Why should we legitimize that odd ball point of view.

I feel that people need to grow up, accept that they have a problem, and move on. I really rubs me the wrong way when people try to tell me that something that's deeply fucked my life is something that they feel has enhanced theirs in some wrap-around way. It's delusional.

Sorry for the rant...

Dale said...

Zen, no problem, rant as much as you like. I agree -- I do get a sense at times that I should be doing a happy dance for a person over the demonstrably life-prospects-limiting condition with which they were born. And I say No.

To an extremely close first approximation, health is better than sickness because flourishing is better than struggling and life is better than death. A complete, functional, somewhere in the big bell-curve-middle human body and brain are the best kinds to have.

I have my own disorders -- mental, physical, inbetween) -- and I can honestly say I'd rather be without them.

Aimée said...

Ahh the r-word. Got me in some trouble quite a few years back when I tried to join a social justice committee. I think I lasted all of a week before I uttered the aforementioned word in front of the president. Oops.

I worked as a community rehabilitation worker for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. I would never have used the word to describe the patients that were under my care, just as I wouldn't call the ones with psychological disorders “crazy”; however, some people are retards and some people are crazy. A word is a word is a word whether it’s a cuddly euphemism or it’s not.