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Retarded: hurtful or harmless?


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“I did the stupidest thing today, I’m such a retard.”

Similar phrases can be heard echoed throughout the halls of Carlmont. Nowadays calling something retarded is synonymous with being unintelligent or stupid. But what does the word “retard” really mean, and how did it adopt such a negative connotation?

According to Merriam-Webster, the word retard means “a holding back or slowing down.” Mental retardation is a physical disability where an individual processes certain mental elements more slowly and can include “decreased learning abilities or failure to meet the markers of intellectual development” as defined by the US National Library of Medicine.

Mental disabilities are out of a person’s control. Having mental retardation or a disability of any kind does not make a person stupid, and yet the words have somehow become interchangeable.

Karan Perras is the mother of Lindsay Perras, a young woman with Down Syndrome. “I am more sad than angry when those who use the ‘R’ word are supposedly my friends, and often, Lindsay’s friends as well. I think most people know it is offensive.   Our family thinks the ‘R’ word is a close kin of the ‘N’ word.  The growing realization of the ‘N’ word’s offensiveness was a slow process… depending on geographic location, education, race, etc.  I think the same can be said of the ‘R’ word’s growing unpopularity,” said Perras.

Perhaps the reason that the word retard is used so casually is that the impact of the word is not immediately seen.

“I feel very sad because I work with so many kids and I see the other side. The kid who says that word, they say it and they walk away and they go home and they never see that kid crying at night. It’s so difficult for kids at this age and they don’t realize how much the word really hurts, but I see the other side, I see the victim,” explained guidance counselor Theresa Torres.

“It’s not just the kid or the victim, it’s the people around who hear it and act like it doesn’t bother them, but those kids maybe have a brother or sister or cousin. The bully might be aiming it at one kid and doesn’t even realize there’s people around or even teachers who have suffered from it. They don’t even know how much negativity and bad feelings that spreads,” continued Torres.

Sixty-three percent of Carlmont students who answered the Highlander poll consider the word “retarded” to be offensive when used in a derogatory context.

“People say ‘retard’ like it means someone is stupid or inferior. It really means to slow down or slow improvement, but no one ever uses it properly,” said sophomore Kenzie Phillips. “I think that it is offensive if you use it as an insult. The word itself should not be offensive. It has developed that meaning through misuse in everyday conversation.”

“I can see where it can be offensive, I think that there is a time and place for everything, and people should choose their words wisely and should consider how their words can affect other people, it’s certainly not the best word choice and it can be offensive depending on the situation and surrounding,” said senior Ashley Moore.

However, changing everyone’s vocabulary may be nearly impossible, and eliminating a word completely can seem unrealistic. The campaign “R-word: Spread the word to end the word” asks people to pledge to try their best to eliminate this word from their vocabulary, and spread the idea that using the phrase is demeaning and derogatory.

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The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.
Retarded: hurtful or harmless?