The R-Word

More

eunice shriver.JPGAdd the "r-word" to the lexicon of words that may only be referenced by their initials. As Bob Johnson, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Special Olympics, explained today in an NPR tribute to Eunice Shriver, "the r-word, as we put it, has really become a bit of a pejorative ... our athletes are offended by the term that begins with "r," which I'm not going to repeat.  And suggested to us that a better term, a more acceptable term, would be that of intellectual disability."

The desire of people once labeled retarded to be described as intellectually disabled instead ought to be respected, of course.  It's true that the "r-word" is, as Johnson says, "a bit of a pejorative." In the schoolyards of my childhood, "retard" was a common insult.  My elementary school served one small, segregated group of special ed students (which included the only black child in the school), who were at best objects of curiousity and, at worst, targets of mockery. If the special ed students were intellectually disabled, many of the presumptively non-disabled were ignorant and emotionally stupefied.  

Nomenclature can be a form of education or of raising consciousness, (which my elementary school classmates and I sorely needed), but must it become an obsession? When Bob Johnson references the "r-word," stressing his unwillingness to utter it, does he believe that people aren't saying the word "retarded" silently, to themselves? His squeamishness doesn't erase the word from our data banks, much less defang it. Instead, like other words we dare not say, the r-word is invested with brutal omnipotence. No longer a lowly word, it becomes an incantation.


Jump to comments
Presented by

Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In