The R-Word

Language is an ever-evolving form of communication. Over time, word meanings can shift and what once was clinical can become derogatory and damaging. This has happened with the R-word.

For those who don’t know: The R-word is “Retard” or “Retarded.”

My daughter Cami has special needs. She has both physical and mental handicaps. She is also beautiful and sweet and perfect. Like so many children and adults like her, her life is hard enough without having to endure name-calling. But, the use of the R-word goes beyond that, doesn’t it? It’s not just a name. We hear the R-word used in casual speech all the time.

“That’s retarded.”

I’ve heard it said so many times in reference to anything from a bad movie to an ugly shirt. The meaning is understood: anything described as “retarded” is bad. But “retarded” is so much more than that. It is also a clinical descriptor of mentally handicapped people (though it is quickly going out of fashion even in those circles) and a derogatory term for people like my daughter.

I’m reminded of the TV show Community. One character on the show, Britta, is known as “the worst.” She perpetually screws things up to the point that, now, when anyone on the show does something wrong or incorrectly, they’ve “Britta’ed” it. Britta, understandably, is offended and hurt by this. Since the show is a comedy, we laugh. In the context of the show, “Britta’ed” is an inside joke among friends.

But the R-word is not an inside joke. It’s a real word that means something real whose meaning has been twisted into something almost entirely negative. When you use the R-word to describe something you disdain–even if you’re not referring to a person–it still hurts. You are “Britta’ing” the English language and bringing down an entire, amazing class of people to make your point.

Words aren’t just words. They come loaded with meaning, and that meaning can change over time.

Right now, there’s a way for you to take a stand against the R-word. I encourage you to go to this site to help “spread the word to end the word” by taking a simple pledge.

I took the pledge for my daughter Cami and for all the people with mental handicaps just like her. Is sacrificing one word in our vocabulary too much to ask to promote love and thoughtfulness? I hope not.

What do you think? Did you take a pledge? If so, please let me know in the comments!