Words like "imbecile," "idiot" and "moron" were once appropriate to label people who had disabilities. But they eventually were deemed offensive after their meanings changed and their connotations implied negative things about who they were used to describe.
In the 1960s, the term "mental retardation" became the preferred term, but just like the words that preceded it, the implications of the R-word evolved.
George Orwell described occurrences like this by saying, "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." It is simply the society we live in where words are thoughtlessly used to fit myriad situations.
The word "retarded" was never meant to be synonymous with "stupid" or "bothersome." When something does not make sense, people will use the R-word to communicate their confusion. When something is broken, people will use it to express their frustration.
We use this word where it doesn't belong — in contexts that don't involve disabilities at all.
The R-word once was correct to use when describing someone with disabilities.
When you hear this word today, you just assume it's the punch line of a joke and think nothing of it. Turning a tragic disability into mockery; that's funny, isn't it?
We think it doesn't matter because it doesn't mean anything. However, to the kids who feel labeled by it, it means everything.
People don't consider the audience or the consequences of their words; they just want to make a joke. Sticks and stones, right? Words never hurt anyone.
Who are we kidding? Words can hurt worse than any stick or stone, and we all know it.
I used to think it was no big deal when I heard this word; I thought it was the proper term for discussing disabilities. However, last year, an exceptional education teacher spoke to my English class about People-First Language. This means putting the person before the disability. Instead of identifying someone as "disabled," say that a person "has an intellectual disability." Saying "the mentally challenged boy" implies that's all he is: challenged. Putting the person before the adjective conveys that people are more important than impairments.
Spread the Word to End the Word is a movement that seeks to eliminate the derogatory use of the R-word. By going to www.r-word.org, you can add your name to the online pledge. This simple act will take less than two minutes, but it can be a huge first step in becoming more conscious of the offensive and exclusive nature of the words we use. This also can help end the corrupt relationship between thought and language.
I encourage you all to do this and expunge the R-word from your vocabulary. Start spreading the word.