“That is retarded!”

The word ‘retarded’ started out with a specific meaning. It defined people with mental handicaps. Over time, people have used it to degrade others. We use it as slang. “oh, man, you are retarded!” With each use it transforms the meaning. Now, people that are technically retarded are valued as “less” of a person, than one who is not.

So, thoughtful people created words like “mental handicapped”. This was an effort to put retarded people back in a place of equality.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Yeah, right.



About pastorrobin

Hello. I pastor PromiseLand Church in San Marcos, TX. I am married to Erica, and we have 3 kids: Kennady, Jude, and Avery. All little ones! Visit our church site at www.psmchurch.com

Posted on October 30, 2007, in Daily Word. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. It never used to bother me when people said this. In fact, I’m sure that I said it a few times. Now, things are different in our lives. It hurts like crazy.

  2. Our words are very hurtful. All you have to do is look back at some of the comments of radio personalities, politicians, and so forth to see how debilitating words can be. Thank goodness the mentally impaired have a lot more advocates these days, and there is a greater understanding of just what mental illness is, which reduces much of the stigma of the past. Family members who have the mentally ill in their midst have an even deeper understanding. The mentally ill are truly not children of a lesser god!

  3. There are many like phrases that make me cringe now. When I hear one, I want to ask the person, “do you really know what you are saying? Have you thought about what you are saying?” It pays to be cautious of our words for we may not know who all may be hearing them, and how it may affect them—speaking from experience, here.

  4. Like when the terms “deaf and dumb” are used…

    Actually, deaf individuals prefer to be called “deaf”. Most of them think “hearing impaired” gives the impression that something is wrong or broken.

  5. My red neck past gives me a lot of issues to deal with in this area. Thankfully God has placed certain ladies in my life, most of whom read this blog, who have helped me understand that I should not describe a person by the way they look, act or are shaped. I really do not ever intend to demean anyone, just have these old habits to contend with. Now I wonder… should I get all offended when someone comments negatively on my long winded convoluted dissertation while attempting to pontificate with this bolg? Sorry, bad joke.

  6. Having a wife who works specifically with children with special needs, and having had a sister who lived for 4 1/2 years with severe brain damage before finally going home to be with the Lord, I have been fortunate to be surrounded (like Rob said) by those who have helped me understand the way certain words and phrases are interpreted. Sensitivity at all times is necessary.

    As you said, the term “retarded”, in its strictest definition, made sense when it first started being used. Someone who was “retarded” was slower in development of certain abilities and achieving certain milestones in their growth. Nothing derogatory was meant by it. It was simply a statement of where a person was in their development compared to “the norm”.

    But as you very accurately pointed out, Robin, the term went from being a clinical one to being a derogatory one.

    How sad that our language and vocabulary get hijacked so easily like that.

  7. What I find most often is that people are just not educated on this subject. It is ignorance of a situation that usually leads to hurting someone’s feelings. Most people don’t mean to offend others they just have not been told that they are doing so when they use words so loosely.

    Thank you Pastor for allowing everyone to shed more light on this area. As more people read your blog maybe more people will attempt to question others when they hear people use such terms. You should ask them if they really know what they are saying! If they are your friend then they will appreciate it. If they are a stranger then you probably won’t see them again anyway and at least you make them think about what they say.

    And if people say it and do mean to be hurtful … well do your best and pray for them.

  8. True, Melanie!

    Another way we abuse our language is through dilution. We flippantly say things like, “that ice cream is awesome.” “That steak was incredible.”
    My generation has abused many words like these and when it is time to describe God, we use the same adjectives we use for ice cream and steak.
    we dilute our vocabulary’s potency.

  9. AMEN!!!!
    By the way, today is the last day of October, Pastor Appreciation Month. Have you appreciated your Pastor this month?? It is not too late. 🙂

  10. Specificity in word selection can only be attained by an adequate vocabulary. The teen reaction would be: “I’m like, so totally not into this word thing and wish they would like shut up cause we can’t all like know everything.” Hmmm…did I just do what Pastor is talking about? Can we insult someone by example without calling them a name? How far do we take this?

  11. I think we are lazy with our words. Rather than think of the appropriate word, we use slang. We dilute our vocubulary because we are lazy.

    One pet peeves is how our young ladies are treated and allow themselves to be treated. My husband was in a band and the drummer was a young lady. She was around 19 years old and very small. Of coures the band consisted mainly of guys. They called her “J dawg”. Come on. Young ladies should never be called “dawg”. Think of a better nickname or call her by her given name. It’s demeaning to women to be called “dawg” no matter how young or old they are.

  12. This topic is near and dear to me folks. Words have long been used as a way to separate and oppress. Words evolve into labels which create an atmosphere of elitism. For years, I worked with low, income communities of color in the South who were fighting for social justice in their neighborhoods (quality education, healthcare & environment, etc) and people who were experiencing homelessness who were struggling for housing, fair wages, etc and words can really oppress (from the outside) -society stereotyping and making judgements based on the “group” you identify with) as well as can internally oppress (individuals begin to feel like they really are what they’ve been told they are – once you’ve been beat down long enough it’s not unlikely to feel like you’re no good). Young women – you are young women – not all the names that you can imagine young women are called these days. In particiular around people with disabilities, there is a movement called People First. This is an effort to have our world look at the person first instead of the disability first, following what is referred to as “people first language.” For example, instead of an autistic child you could say a child with autism. Instead of saying “she’s retarded” you could say “she is a person with an intellectual disability.” Instead of “he suffers from….” you could say “he is a person with…” See how easy that is? There’s an international movement in the disability rights movement to see changes in policy and governmental wording. For example, most states have a social services agency that serves people with disabilities and the agency/department name typcially includes something like office for retarded citizens or something like that. There is a lot of work being done right now by self-advocates (people with disabilities who are speaking up on their own behalf) to change that type of wording. One of the most recent remarks I heard from a legislative dept in response to a name change is that it would make the name too long. I just have to believe that making a name “too long” is less important than degrading human beings. I mean, who cares how long the name is anyway, within a month an interesting little acronym will be created and it will go back to a 3 letter title. Ok. gotta sleep now.

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