OPINION: Why Should I Stop Saying ‘Retarded’?


I stumbled upon a post and some comments online where someone said that they found the transition from the word “retarded” to terms like “special needs” to be silly and needless – an unnecessary attempt to placate the overly sensitive and be politically correct.

There is nothing inherently wrong with amending the way we refer to something in order to take into consideration the impact that the label, and its perception, has had on a particular group over time.

Admittedly, as people, we don’t like to be told that we are wrong for doing something that we see nothing wrong with. Which is fine. It takes time for us to form new perspectives.


Today, I may not see why it may be considered outdated and offensive to refer to someone with a cognitive or learning disability as “retarded”. But sometime down the line, I may have enough lived experience to view it differently.


I used to get irritated when people would tell me not to say retarded. I’d often use it as an insult to describe a person, or a person’s behaviour, which I found to be illogical and worthy of my ridicule.


But therein lay the challenge – the same word I was using casually as an insult or means of ridicule, is the same word that some still used to describe people, who, by no fault of theirs, suffered from a cognitive / learning disability or some kind.


So, I came to see why the word carries a sense of stigma, contempt and ridicule. No one who has a genuine disability is worthy of contempt, simply for the fact that they have a disability. So, it makes sense to drop the use of a word when it has developed that sort of derogatory connotation.


The impact of words can evolve depending on the intention, context, and tone behind them. What can start off as a simple adjective with no obvious derogatory connotations can later become considered derogatory because of the intent, context, and tone, frequently behind its usage.


If people often show contempt for, or ridicule any particular group, then the adjective used to refer to that group can itself morph into an insult over time, whether used on them, or transposed onto anyone else.


At one point in history, you or I may not have objected to being called the n-word.


But given that prevailing attitudes towards black people at the time of its emergence and initial usage were racially prejudiced, the term itself would take on the connotation of how the people using it view the people whom it is used to describe.


If the people using the n-word at time time viewed Black people indifferently, with no particular prejudice attached, then the n-word would carry the same innocence.


But, it is precisely because the people using the word did in fact view Black people as an inferior people, worthy of subordination and contempt, the n-word bears that connotation.


This is just one example.


Consider that the word retard is from a time not so long ago when many people viewed people who were learning or cognitively disabiled with contempt, excluded them, and ridiculed them. This is demonstrated by the fact that we often also use it as an insult.


As such, the word itself carries a connotation of contempt and ridicule.


Imagine yourself as the parent of child in 2024 with such a disability. Would you happily tell your child, “you are a retard.” If your child was bullied in school by students who called them “retarded” would you say, “Well, it’s a fact. You are”.


Truthfully, many of us who take offence at being asked to drop the use of this and other words, have zero experience working with people with cognitive /learning disabilities and we’re speaking from a place of utter ignorance as to the impact that our reluctance to change the way we speak has on others who are affected by such disabilities.


If you suffered a terrible accident tomorrow morning that left you with diminished cognitive or learning abilities, would you be okay with being labelled “retarded”?


And what if you you didn’t care at first, but later you got to realising how contemptuous the term was, and you objected to its usage, perid, and you were told to stop being so damn “sensitive.”


It’s quite easy to say someone is being too sensitive when you are not in their shoes.In many instances we just don’t like being told that what we are doing is wrong.


We also tend to be unwilling to expend the mental energy (ironic) to consider the different words we are asked not to use, on a case by case basis. We tend to lump everything together, and we say that every time someone says we shouldn’t say x or y, that “these are all just overly sensitive people who need to get a grip”.


In so doing, we become dismissive and unresponsive to the needs of those around us.


Examine things on a case by case basis. You will not always agree when someone says that a certain word should be off limits. But consider why they may be saying so.


For example, I have as yet not seen a good reason not to use the term disabled, though some people prefer “differently abled” . I’m not on that train. What’s wrong with disabled? Most people tend to use that in a literal sense and without any derogatory connotation, right?


The idea is not to create a fantasy land where your disability does not exist and people pretend that it doesn’t exist. The idea is for people to acknowledge it with respect and to make every accommodation so as to ensure that you enjoy maximum accessibility, participation and realization of potential in spite of it, such that having it does not become a limitation on your life. Right?


Anyway. You get the point. You don’t have to agree with everything all the time. But take the time to consider things in each instance. Don’t be lazy and just dismiss everything as warped political correctness.


Henry A. J. Benjamin

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  1. To the Person who wrote this post … there are a lot of things we use to do 50 years ago that we no longer do…because we have improved on them.. including medical procedures, processes to how things are made .. no longer using certain materials because they are harmful etc… long story short … over the years we have improved on the way we have done things… some terms we no longer use.. we simply found a less offensive way of saying them.. because as a society .. we have chosen to show empathy to others.. Now apparently, self improvement has offended you so much, that you have decided to write an entire article on not using a particular term… and that is your right .. so if you wish … to continue using the offensive term ‘retarded’ which by the entire world has been deemed dated and offensive .. go right ahead .. that’s only a small part of your problem in life.. I can imagine what kind of employee and general overall person you are ..:. YOU RETARD !!!!! – I’ll make an exception this one time for you!

    • Lenny, H, You evidently did not read and understand the post. The body of the piece is in favour of not using the word retard anymore. The headline is a question meant to draw readers in. Clearly, you did not get past the headline Lenny H – which is ironic in the context of this discussion.

    • Tell me you didn’t read the article without telling me you didn’t read the article 🤦🏽‍♀️

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