The Daily Gamecock

Column: Don't use "r-word"


Much controversy arises over the term “retard” when used either jokingly or conversationally.

Originating from Latin or French, the word “retard” carries the meaning "make slow or slower." Applying it as a slur began as early as the 1970s and is even present today in some people’s vocabulary — and used to be in mine.

But when I stopped to think about what the word really means and the implications of tossing around the phrase, I cringed.

Substituted for what we today refer to as intellectual disability in both law and psychiatry, "retard" has since been used unjustly by some to refer to those who do not suffer from an intellectual disability, instead used to carry the connotation of stupid or unintelligent. The effects on society of using this word are weighty, including objectification, discrimination and devaluation of medical diagnosis, among others.

To lash the whip harder on the back of people who are intellectually disabled, they are sometimes even referred to as “retards,” implying that disabled people are not human beings that suffer from a condition, but rather objects that require a name in and of themselves, defined by one characteristic.

In essence, you are defining their value by saying they are of lower intelligence, while in reality some can be intelligent in their own unique way and even excel above others in specific areas. 

The term is harmful not only to those who suffer from mental illness but also those who are close to mentally disabled people and psychiatry professionals.

Using “retard” demonstrates either apathy toward inherent human worth, ignorance toward proportionate intelligence or both.  Pointing out that someone with an intellectual disability isn’t intelligent by calling them a “retard” is like criticizing someone with a broken leg for walking funny — it's cruel and just doesn’t make sense.

Even without knowledge of the offensive connotation of the word or intention to offend, using it is painful for those who care for, diagnose or struggle with an intellectual disability.

Many have joined the cause to stop use of “the r-word” by making a pledge to stop saying it and to "spread the word to end the word." We ought to show compassion and remove this word from our vocabulary as well as kindly call out our friends who use it.