Thoughts On The R Word | Forum

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demi123 May 17 '16
Since I was born shortly after the abdication of Edward VIII in the last century, I have seen a lot of words in the history of the English language. And since my younger sister was born with brain damage, the ones I have paid most attention to have to do with how my sister’s condition has been described.

In the century before Irene and I were born, the medical diagnosis for those with brain damage was “cretin.” Later the term most widely used by doctors was “idiot.” It was not considered a pejorative term then; just described the condition.

Most of the population described in those terms were hurried off to institutions, as one simply didn’t keep such misfits in the family. If you were poor, it just took too much time to take care of them and you couldn’t afford it.

If you were rich, it was a source of humiliation when friends came over. Those who took care of these hapless babies, children, teenagers, and adults came to call them by another word, which was, to them, a kinder description: “feeble-minded.” So we had institutions for the feeble-minded.

As we passed into the twentieth century, people who lived in small towns in England and in America began to take a more kindly approach when one among them was born with brain damage. We all know stories of the village idiot. Some writers concocted stories in which the village idiot was shown to be the wisest person in the village after all.

As we progressed into the 20’s and 30’s the term “idiot” went out of favor, as it sounded unkind. It was replaced by a Netzero Error Code 14 euphemism: the Reasons Why A Personal Trainer Is A Great Choice child “wasn’t right.” The whole town or village, if it was small enough, knew Joe’s boy who wasn’t right, and they gave him small errands to run, and accepted him as one of their own, if he could walk 8 Most First-rate Online Games about town. This was in many ways the golden age for those born with brain damage. They could move about, accepted, even loved, by the whole community. If a stranger came to town and looked curiously at Joe’s boy Billy, a neighbor would just whisper, “He’s a good boy. He’s just, you know, not right.” And the stranger would know. And accept it. And go on about the business of life.

By the 40’s the diagnosis was fairly standard, at least in America: the child is mentally retarded. It described the condition exactly: the child will learn, but slowly. His development will be slow. It was never designed as a pejorative word. My sister was mentally retarded. For years I have explained her that way to anyone who needs to know.

By the 70’s, the word idiot became the word almost everyone used on themselves or on their friends who made mistakes. It never occurred to anyone that it was a pejorative that would hurt those with special needs. It is still used today, and is in many newspaper columns, book titles, you name it.

By the 80’s, the advocacy groups for those with the diagnosis of mental disability began to realize that many of these citizens could and would speak for themselves, if only we would ask them. And they have spoken. Loud and clear.

I had the pleasure of talking with Rachel A Guide To Photo Shooting For Portraits Simon, who wrote the marvelous book Riding The Bus With My Sister. She will never utter the R word again, she tells me. Since I am old, I want to get it right. So I say to her, “Okay, my sister is not mentally retarded. I mean she is, but now I should say she is Runtime Error 40041 a person with mental retardation, right? That way I’m not labeling her.”

“Uh, no, we don’t say it that way either now. We don’t say the word retarded, or retardation anymore.”

“Whyever not?” I ask. “It’s a medical diagnosis, and it just means slow.”

“Because the word retarded sounds mean to those who have the condition. And now young kids, normal kids, have begun to use the R word as a way to tease their friends.”

“Well, yes, they can say, ‘ Hey, you’re such a retard,’ but they don’t mean it to disparage our sisters, really. It’s like saying, ‘I am such an idiot! I lost my car keys again!’ You know, it’s not meant as any kind of slur.”

“Yes, but our sisters, and all their peers, overhear it, and it hurts. They’ve told us so. And some school kids take pleasure in pointing at people with special needs and taunting them with the R word. I will never use it again.”

“You can’t be serious.” I am still back in those halcyon days of small towns when Joe’s boy was loved and accepted. Apparently I have been living in a cave since the turn of this century.

“Oh, I am dead serious. Just last month a group of Junior High kids passed my sister on the street, and pointed at her and said, ‘Look! (The R word)!’ She simply crumbled with hurt.”

I am in shock, as never in my experience has anyone treated my sister this way. If they did, and I was around to witness it, they would be in the hospital. “So this,” I say, “is why the movie Tropic Thunder was boycotted by so many advocacy groups. They do use the R word in there, but they were just showing how stupid actors can be. I thought our folks should lighten up a little.”

“We would if we could but we can’t. We have to make our young people sensitive to hurtful language.”

So I will try to keep up with the current language. I have a hunch that this too will pass, or it won’t, and if it doesn’t, it will become part of our English language and Gssomatic.exe not meant in a hurtful way.

I still struggle with this subject. How far do we go with this thing? At the bookstore we see Word for Dummies, or the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Weight Loss. Are we to picket the store?

It’s probably a healthy thing to call attention to language that can hurt if used incorrectly. I want never to hurt anyone’s feelings, ever. I will work to be sensitive to how I describe my sister. But to embarrass someone who says “My child is retarded,” or, “I know a person who is mentally retarded,” with hostile corrections on their language, simply makes us, the advocates, as rude as a giggling group of junior high kids.

The advocacy groups are working on it, trying to get change in the most gentle, positive ways possible (I think picketing is a little over the top myself, but as I say, I am from another generation). I was given a little card by a staff member of the Arc of the United States, the group that helped organize the picketing of Tropic Thunder. One side says “Notice My Ability.” The dis Win32 Error 32 at the front of the word is crossed out. On the other side, it suggests a better way to describe the condition by saying a person has an intellectual or developmental disability. Another advocacy group uses the R word to suggest we change it to Respect. I can live with that. After the elections and all the exploding passions, and now the crumbling stock market, it will behoove us all to tread a little more gently with everyone we meet. And to be as politically sensitive to our language as possible without losing our own minds.

(Originally published at GoArticles and Windows 98 Usb Memory Stick Drivers reprinted with permission from the author, Terrell Harris Dougan).

Terrell Harris Dougan is author of the memoir, That Went Well: Adventures in Caring for My Sister. She The Excellence of Exfoliation has served as a board member of the Arc of Utah, the Arc of the United States, and assistant to the Beat the Credit Crunch Gloom With a Cheap Beach Holiday Governor of Utah. For more information, visit: That Went Well.


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