More than a word

The list of unusable words is long, but getting claustrophobic about my vocabulary won’t help anyone.

Derogatory terms are facing the social firing squad, although there’s one that has yet to drop as hard as the others.

The word retard is still widely used, often without receiving the mass cringing the others are met with.

Correcting it shouldn’t take a social firing squad. It shouldn’t take a poster, or friends cringing. That makes it a political correctness issue when it should be a human issue.

I don’t want this editorial to be a sermon. If there’s an issue, it shouldn’t be remedied by inciting guilt or shame. We can’t rely on fear to fix social flaws.

If history has mutated a word into a gnawing source of disgrace to a group of people, sympathy for those affected will be enough to prevent its use.

We’re people before we’re anything else. It’s a unifying quality. After it ceased to be a medical term, the word retard defined people by their intellectual limitations, not their humanity.

Disambiguation doesn’t alleviate the word’s offensiveness. Its essential meaning isn’t offensive. Retarded literally means to slow down.

But the common usage isn’t an adjective. It’s a noun that identifies people by the association with a developmental disability, and not by their individual names.

Mental retardation was a medical term—that’s the origin of the inference.

The term no longer has a technical meaning, just a derogatory stigma that remains attached. That attachment sends shockwaves beyond a single one-word insult to demean people we’ve never met.

It’s the unknown individual’s dignity that’s threatened. Those affected don’t need to be around to hear the word used, because the repercussions extend far beyond earshot.

The casual use of the term is normalizing it.

Saying “You’re a retard for doing that” contradicts the objectives of so many organizations that aim to create communities where everyone is included and valued.

I have a need to feel valued. I think it’s a basic human need.

If my name were used to taunt anyone for doing something stupid, it would erode my own feelings of value. I can’t fully create the feeling internally, but I’ve seen it felt on other faces.

The word retard is a label. It defines people by using an objectionable term for their disability. Defining someone by their challenge limits them to that challenge.

We can’t change how we’re born, but there’s potential to become more than what we’re born.

Limiting words that hinder this potential is better than limiting people by using words.

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