Monday, August 31, 2009

Sully's Soapbox: Retard Edition

An article from the Calgary Sun was riding high on Digg this evening, so I thought I’d give it a read. The poster uncharitably posted the link under the heading ‘Resurgence in ‘retard’ angers idiots’, but the article itself was an open lament on how the word ‘retard’ has apparently made a comeback, much to the indignation of writer Michael Platt.

If you’ve got time for it, I recommend you read the article yourself – it’s short, because Platt doesn’t have anything particularly intelligent to say, and he does such a good job of undermining his own argument that you’ll feel more confused than enlightened as to what the point of the exercise was.

Platt opens his article by talking about his days as a naïve, overly sensitive child, who felt the need to stick up for his best friend’s little brother who had a speech impediment:

“With youthful indignation, I made it my mission to tell anyone who'd listen that the word retard was offensive -- what was once a medical term had taken on a hateful connotation, and it was hurtful to good people, like my friend's little brother.“

His central thesis is that the word ‘retard’ is as bad as the ‘n-word’ [“or maybe worse”!], but despite using the ‘r-word’ 14 times without a hint of irony, the word ‘nigger’ doesn’t appear once in the article. Its omission is so flagrant that the article fails to make any impact whatsoever.

Using "retard" to describe someone with a disability is like using the N-word to describe someone with dark skin -- or maybe worse, because those with disabilities can't always defend themselves.

Platt harks back to an entirely imaginary heyday, achieved through years of progress from his language-Gestapo admonishing slips of the tongue, when the word ‘retard’ was never uttered. It’s possible that Platt simply had no social interaction over these few years on account of his penchant for admonishing his friends, but I’m sure the reader will agree that this era he speaks of never happened.

Fast forward to 2009 and we're back at square one.
The R-word has returned with a vengeance, and a day doesn't pass without "retard" being uttered on the radio, on television, and by newsroom colleagues, usually to describe something or someone idiotic.
Whether it's a bad movie, a butter-fingered football play, or just someone acting the fool, "retarded" is once again the adjective of choice.

In an attempt to show off what a good amateur-linguist he is, Pratt reflects on other trends he’s pulled out of his ass:

“Maybe it's a verbal trend that will quickly wither and die, the way "it's all good," and "bling" have rotted away from daily conversation, to the relief of all.”

To investigate this notion, I consulted Twitter:

Damn fools! Don’t they know that ‘it’s all good’ and ‘bling’ are no longer permitted in conversation, by order of Michael Platt, locution tsar?

As part of his hard-hitting exposé on the shocking rise of hate-speech in Western society, Platt solicits quotes from someone who could nearly sound sensible had the story been written by someone else, and who must surely put up with an awful lot of retards: Carmen Wyton: president and CEO of Special Olympics Alberta.

"Language goes through changes, and the trend right now has the R-word very high [...] It's being used in place of 'silly' or 'ridiculous,' and I think if people really thought about what the word means, they would stop using it."

“Wyton says the word is found in the lyrics of many modern songs, stemming back to the Black Eyed Peas' 2003 hit, Let's Get Retarded.”

Many modern songs’? Yet he only mentions one! One that was hastily changed to ‘let’s get it started’ to appease the political-correct retards that inhabit this world.

Besides making mountains out of molehills, let get on with the part that rips the heart out of this entire masturbatory sermon of self-righteousness, which is paraphrased rather than quoted:

“[Wyton] thinks pop culture has convinced a new generation that the R-word word is hip, not hateful.”

A-freakin’ men! "Hip - not hateful!" Language is not static or rigid – words take on different meaning; once innocuous words can become negatively charged, and vice-versa. Making people afraid of uttering a word in polite company is what gives it power, so this dude should be imploring us to throw ‘retard’ about with wanton abandon, so that everyone and everything is retarded, thus putting everyone on an equal footing, restoring civility to society and bringing about the utopia that has remained just beyond our grasp for these past few millennia.

Regardless of how powerful a word is at expressing something – it shouldn’t matter unless that negative charge is directed towards something. Words like ‘retard’ or ‘nigger’ can be discussed objectively without avoiding their use – cowering behind ‘the n-word’ is a cumbersome way of capitulating to the moronic notion propagated by politically correct nitwits who maintain that words themselves have magic powers.

Let’s get hypothetical for a moment – if every single person in the world agreed to absolutely remove ‘retard’ and its derivatives from their lexicon, the concept would still exist, but people would still be impaired, both physically and mentally, meaning that one of the PC terms would have to be used until it spills over to describe things that are “ridiculous or stupid”, leading to some cretin taking issue with that word, so we have to spin the wheel-of-euphemism again and see what comes up this time.


Yes, I'm embarrassed of my blog. said...

Do you choose the labels for this or does RobotBlog5000 choose them for you? I was just wondering...

Anyway, my addition to this soapbox derby:

Sully said...

Nice clip - I've yet to watch that film, and I'm wondering if I ever will, as that clip (and likely the best parts of the movie) have been spoiled by quote-happy associates of mine.

And generally, when it comes to labelling blog posts, I look at the list of labels I've already used, and throw as many of them at a post as possible, in the hopes that I can get a quick overview of my blogging trends by seeing which labels I [ab]use the most.

I stopped using RobotBlog after the 3000 series - it had the insolence to label every one of my posts 'homo-erotic'.

strange-young-man said...

I hear he went spastic after reading your response...

Jason said...

"Making people afraid of uttering a word in polite company is what gives it power".


Anonymous said...

If using this word is okay, then why in psychological literature is it not found at all? In psych textbooks and journal articles, using that term would surely end all credibility you had as a writer. Also, even though the "idea" would still exist, the term has been drenched in so much colloquial and offensive language that labeling a person using that word is now offensive. Also, where is the line drawn in mental disorders? There is a whole spectrum of people who have minor intellectual disabilities to major ones, so people who can still work and live on their own but who have down syndrome, are they still "retarded?" even though they are fully aware of the negativity of that term?

Sully said...


The point of my post isn't that using this word is okay. It's that we're doomed to keep rehashing the 'retard argument', with whatever word supplants 'retard' in colloquial use, because the use of the word isn't okay.

I don't read psychological literature, and given your postulation that employing the word would "surely end all credibility" - I don't think you do either, so invoking it here is irrelevant (a casual search for 'retard' in the literature does return many hits).

Just because I begrudge wasting energy relearning new ways to talk around the same concepts doesn't mean I have anything against the cognitively impaired.

As much of a curmudgeon as I am when it comes to language, I appreciate that it does evolve, and while I'm willing to move with the times, it doesn't mean I won't bitch and moan about it while I do.

Thanks for the comment! Try to resist the urge to post anonymously next time - that's just gay.

strange-young-man said...

"so people who can still work and live on their own but who have down syndrome, are they still "retarded"?"
-Yup,by definition.
Hey look!I've even fixed your grammatical error!