Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The R-word (or, no, you don't need to say it)

When I was growing up I was taught never to say the word "retarded." It honestly still bothers me much more than the "s-word" or the "f-word"... because when you say the s-word or f-word you aren't using a word that is used to hurtfully describe a large number of people.  My uncle was developmentally challenged, my cousin has fetal alcohol syndrome (she was adopted from a rather horrible situation), my grandmother helped found the local Council on Retardation (as it was called back then), my mother was a special ed teacher, I have a friend that has a wonderful son who happens to have down syndrome.  I grew up in an environment where I just didn't say that word, because I understood how it could hurt.

I guess I just don't get why people get so angry about being asked to stop saying the r-word.  Using it instead of another word (obtuse, nonsensical, ignorant for instance - here's a lovely post on alternatives) doesn't help you communicate better, it just makes you look like kind of a jerk.  Now, before someone cries "censorship!" and "political correctness!", I'll say I'm not trying to remove the word from the face of the earth.  If I was going to write a book and wanted to demonstrate that one of the characters was ignorant, I might have them use the r-word.  But the fact is, no one NEEDS it to communicate, and the world would be a nicer place if people didn't use it as a catch-all.

The r-word is just one of many ableist words, and I'm trying to eliminate them from my vocabulary too, so I know how difficult it can be (my tough word is "lame").  Still, I'm trying, because I don't want to hurt people -- both people that I love, and people I don't know.

If anyone is interested, here is a list of words that could be considered ableist. Now, not everyone agrees on the words in this list, including people with disabilities.  Still, it makes for interesting food for thought, and has helped me try to pick my words more carefully.

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