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+1 vote

My friend last night made a (drunken) argument that the word "retarded" should become colloquially socially acceptable, much like the words "stupid" and "idiotic" because, according to her, when people use the word they don't actually mean it in a slanderous/derogatory way, and so therefore people should stop being so "sensitive" and "butt hurt" (her words) about it. She says the small city where she's from, people use it all the time and it's okay, but the last few days she's been visiting me in California and she says Californians have a stick up their asses as "PC elitists" (and no I'm not talking about computers, ha ha). Or at least, that was what she felt like was her experience when she did live here for a few years. I obviously disagree, but am biased because I am from here. But also, I believe she is making two completely different arguments, one about whether the word "retarded" should be okay to say or not, and the other about how Californians are "politically correct elitists". I don't really care about the second argument. But feel free to share your opinion on that if you have one I guess :)

As for the first argument, in my opinion I don't really think the intent matters. It's a privileged, selfish opinion to say that you don't care how the words you use affect other people, especially if those words are impacting an already disadvantaged, marginalized demographic. While the harmful intent may not be there in the actual day-to-day use of the term, not enough time and distance has been created around the original meaning for someone who clearly does not belong to that group (my friend) to decide that it's okay to start using that word again in a non-harmful way. But, I'm probably just being an elitist Californian!

in Friendship by (78,010 points)
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+1 vote
Best answer

I disagree with what your friend says about people being too “sensitive” about using the word “retarded”. I think mentally retarded is a medical term for a person who doesn’t have the mental capacity to function as normally as another “normal” person would. The words “moron”, “idiot”, and “imbecile” are also medical terms doctors and psychologists use to describe the intelligence, or lack of it, that a person has. I understand people use the word retarded frequently to describe people and situations, but it shows a lack of sensitivity and maturity. Imagine one having a mentally retarded ( now the term is mentally challenged) relative and hearing someone use the term, and how hurt and angry they would be. So while there may not be intent at all, it may be seen as such with someone else. 

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.       -Socrates

by (1,157,550 points)
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I agree with you, Amy. It absolutely sounds as though she only seems this is acceptable terminology because she just does not know anyone from this group or even someone who knows someone from this group who has spoken up to defend them (or, maybe they have and my friend refuses to acknowledge it as a legitimate offense). It baffles me. I haven't yet had the chance to follow up with her about this, because she drinks quite often and I know in an altered mental state she just would not be capable of having an adult, mature conversation. But I appreciate your and everyone else's replies here as it's validating and helping me know I wasn't overreacting to her insensitivity.


Of course. And, maybe she’s just at a loss for words and can’t find a less degrading substitute  for it. It’s ok— it’s just an expression—-but a poor choice one. 

+2 votes

What's acceptable changes over time. I also think if people want to use offensive language they should be able to in one sense as people will form an opinion about them based on that. Although I wouldn't use that word.

Life is what you make it.

by (4,055,521 points)

Great points as always, Blue. My friend seems to have some resentment for feeling like she couldn't say "that's retarded" when she lived in California because people were not accepting of it, but now that she's moved back to where she's from she is happy she can say it again (though I'm not really sure who she's saying it to since she said she hasn't really been seeing anyone since she moved back there during the pandemic and hasn't made any friends). She associated the acceptability with place, not so much with time. I was trying to make the time argument to her last night, but it didn't get through to her. 


I guess location can be a factor as over here if you live in a certain postcode you're more likely to die younger than other areas. Factor being financial wealth.

Yeah let's just say she is not at all from a place where she needs to worry about dying young!

Some people also have no clue of the impact. Our Prime Minister puts his foot in it regularly. Then some people couldn't care less and you're wasting your time attempting to enlighten them.

+2 votes

Reminds me of when I was in the US Army.  I was from a tiny town in the west.  It was common to refer to guys as "boy".  Sort of used like Dude is used today commonly.  I was talking to a bunch  of guys from the south.  Black guys.  And I opened my mouth and said "boy".  It got very quiet, they all.looked at me and said "We hope that you didn't mean that".  I was sputtering and trying to find out what I had said.  They were explained, and informed me that if I wanted to live long, I should never use that word again.

Who says something, and who they say it too makes a difference.  There is no sense in being annoying just because you can and just because you can be an asshole back home does not mean that you can be one everywhere.

by (1,568,760 points)

Thank you for sharing that story. I feel like everyone has got to have at least one story like this, where they have said something inadvertently disrespectful or offensive, and what makes all the difference is how you react after the fact. As you said, just because you can be an asshole one place does not mean you can be one everywhere. My friend sure sounds like she really wishes she could be though.

+1 vote

I agree with you.  Using the word retarded is offensive.  

by (985,750 points)

Much appreciated, Grin.

+2 votes

When I was an 8-year old boy in the 1950s, it was not unusual for kids my age to say, "You RE-tard!"  "That's so GAY!"  " What are you, queer or something?"  Or, also as a criticism from one boy to another, "You WOMAN!"  

In those days, all of those criticisms were commonly used, and they reflected, in general, the common views of the society around us.

As I got older and became more socially aware (NOT politically correct, but socially aware of how words affect others), I learned not to accept those comments as "normal."  I learned that they were mindless slights of others. They were offensive to others.  They promoted social values that I came to reject, as did our society as a whole as the years went by.

As you can see for yourself, the expressions that were "normal" in my boyhood reflected a lack of respect for others.  They were in direct conflict with my adult values as I matured, so I stopped using them.

The use of the word "retarded" has little or no negative connotation for your friend because, I'm guessing, she does not have family members who are mentally challenged (or who are clinically retarded).  I'm guessing none of her friends have family members who have such challenges.  I'm guessing that she and her friends do not have interactions with those who face mental, physical, and/or emotional challenges, and therefore, using terms that are offensive to that "group" of people carries no sense of "hey, this is not right" about them.

Watching old TV shows can be really educational in this regard.  I grew up with westerns like The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, and others. In The Lone Ranger, Tonto was most frequently called an "injun."  In more than one episode, the Lone Ranger "helped" women who were put into men's traditional roles (sheriff, boss of the ranch, etc.) to understand they would be MUCH better off getting married and learning their place as bearers of children and cooks in the home.  In The Cisco Kid, Pancho was the stereotypical lazy Mexican--silly, ignorant, and unskilled. 

In old movies, blacks were used almost exclusively as servants, slaves, or comic relief because  of their ineptness. When I was in high school, I watched the movie The Glass-Bottomed Boat, starring Doris Day (1966).  I thought it was the funniest movie I had ever seen, and I must have watched it six times. A few years ago, I saw that it was on a cable channel late at night, and I thought, "Oh, I HAVE to see this. I remembered how funny it was.  When I started watching it, I was truly embarrassed that I had found it funny; there is nothing but misogyny throughout the movie.  I learned a BUNCH about how my views of women have changed since that time.  And back in those days, the parts of "Indians" in films were played by "non-Indians"--almost exclusively played by white actors. Why? Because the people in charge at the studios held the belief that "Indians" were not smart enough to play the roles.  Jay Silverheels (who played Tonto on The Lone Ranger was an exception.)

When I was in college, enrolled in the Army ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps), it was at the height of the Vietnam war.  We had to read the army's official history book for one of the ROTC courses.Here is the actual wording from that official history book about how the West was won: "...the brave boys in blue defeated the savage redskin..."   I was appalled by that.  Not only was it a racist stereotype of Native Americans (now more properly known as Indigenous People), but it also ignored the atrocities of the army's treatment of those people--giving them blankets from diseased soldiers to them in trade, which wiped out entire tribes because they had not built up any resistance to white men's diseases.

My final comment here is that your friend has to learn that avoiding language that is offensive to others is NOT being "too PC."  It is showing the respect for others that we would hope would be extended to us.  She wouldn't like it if she were introduced as "my old lady" or "the ball and chain" or "the little woman" or "a sexy broad," would she?  It's time for her to grow into a more compassionate social view.

by (952,330 points)
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