When Is It Okay to Say "Retard"? Check This Chart

When Is It Okay to Say "Retard"? Check This Chart

Ever find yourself in a situation and wonder: Is this a time when it's okay to use the adjective "retard"? Well, luckily, you're not the only one.

Created by the Military Special Needs Network, this handy chart recently resurfaced as a good resource for anyone seeking guidance on this prickly etymological issue.



Originally used to signify slowing down of things or for someone with an intellectual or developmental disability, the word retard has since come to be a slang characterizing a range of displeasing situations or people, especially those deemed ignorant or unintelligent. This chart highlights that no situation justifies the use of the highly insulting term with reference to people. 

We've seen this before. Words that denigrate or marginalize groups tend to become part of the common lexicon. (For example, the expression "that sucks" is rooted in a homophobic implication about gay sex.) Sometimes, those phrases and words become so ingrained that people forget their hurtful origins.  

Not convinced the R-word is actually hurtful? Just read this powerful open letter sent by Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens to conservative pundit Ann Coulter after she called President Obama a retard in 2012.

"Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren't dumb and you aren't shallow," Stephens wrote. "So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?"

He continued, "I'm a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public's perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night."

The issue, as exemplified by campaigns like the Spread The Word to End the R-Word is that educating people about the origins of a derogatory word like this isn't enough — we must eradicate it. Spread The Word's message is as powerful and important as the Military Special Needs Network's: Next time you have the urge to use the R-word, do everyone a favor and don't. 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Smriti Sinha

Smriti is a multimedia journalist trained at the Columbia School of Journalism. Before moving to New York, she was a sports reporter at The Indian Express in New Delhi. She continues to cover issues in sports, women's and LGBT rights.

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