Today is Spread the Word to End the Word Day. I haven’t yet blogged about this word: retard. I’ve been gathering my thoughts for nearly three years, and this is all I want to say:

I’m tired of people defending their use of the word. I’m tired of people thinking it’s ok. And I’m past the point of wanting to be nice about the whole thing, asking politely for people to stop. Using this word today, in this time, in 2013, is a conscious choice. You can’t claim ignorance anymore.

Some people seem to think it’s “overly PC” to ask others to stop using this word. Some people think we’re being overly sensitive, making mountains out of molehills, or looking for something to rage against. People try to explain it away as “well, it’s a medical term!” or “I don’t mean it that way!” or “I’m saying it about myself!” And my personal favorite: “The First Amendment gives me the right to say whatever I want!!!” (Actually, no – the First Amendment says the government cannot persecute you for saying what you want; it does not give you full, unrestricted license to be a jerk without any consequences.)

Here’s the thing: you don’t get to decide if this word is offensive or not. You just don’t.

The people for whom it is a slur get to decide. 

Would you ever dream of telling a Jewish person they don’t get to be upset about the slur “kike”? Or telling a person of Hispanic decent that they are being “too PC” when they don’t want “spic” to be used as a slur? The fact that we think for even a second that we get to decide on behalf of people with cognitive disabilities that retard is not insulting is a sign of the infantilizing, patronizing way we treat people with disabilities in our society.

People with intellectual/cognitive disabilities are the target of the word retard, no matter how people try to explain it away by saying “I didn’t mean it that way.” Plain and simple, no ifs ands or buts about it. When you say “Oh, I’m such a retard,” you are literally saying “my foolish behavior is exactly that of someone who has a cognitive disability.”

And that is a crappy thing to say.


If you are not the target of the slur, you don’t get to decide if it is offensive or not. People with cognitive disabilities are asking – and asking rather politely, I might add – for people to stop using it. I’m not nearly so polite. I’m telling you to knock it right off.

You can try to justify it, explain it away, attempt to lessen your guilt, but that doesn’t change what you said.

So stop saying it. It’s really that simple. Just stop saying it.

And if you don’t want to take my word for it, here are my three favorite pieces about the word.

Dave Hinsburger’s Excellent Piece about the R Word (and if you don’t read Dave’s blog, it’s fantastic and worth reading more)

Rob Rummel-Hudson’s Fantastic Piece about the R Word (another fabulous blog to follow)

John Franklin Stephens’ Open Letter to Ann Coulter about Her Use of the R Word


11 responses to this post.

  1. Fabulous post!


  2. Posted by Turkoske, Julie on March 6, 2013 at 8:40 am

    I am just about to share your blog on our Facebook page, but I want to be sure that it is ok with you! Will you please, please consent to allowing us to share your very important message?

    Julie Turkoske, Information & referral specialist
    Southeast Regional Center
    Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs


    Now on Facebook! For late-breaking news and relevant conversations, “Like” us at:


  3. Posted by Erin on March 6, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Best post I’ve read so far today, including Dave’s!


  4. Awesome post, Melissa! I’m adding it to my short list of favorite R word posts!


  5. Awesome post, Melissa!


  6. Thanks – another perfect post. I couldn’t have said it better myself.


  7. Posted by Lora Fulton on March 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    You probably don’t remember me but your Aunt Julie keeps me up to date. You did an amazing job with this.


  8. Extremely well put!!!


  9. Posted by Grandpa on March 12, 2013 at 9:34 am

    AMEN, spread this message around the globe and do it now, please.


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