Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The "R" Word

I like the word "retarded". This, of course, is a problem. I don't use it often, but there are situations where I feel called to invoke the voice of a jaded teen circa 1973, and nothing else gets the job done quite as well.

I know I'm not supposed to. There's a societal consensus on this, and, of course, writers and artists must always heed consensus preferences. That's our role: keep our heads down, tow the line, and stay within the bounds of politesse. Don't be bad. That's how artists roll. I get that.

But I'm not clear on the reasoning. I suppose the word is offensive to genuinely retarded people, but that usage doesn't even exist - the afflicted having been renamed - so I'm at a loss as to whom it offends, exactly. Perhaps simply non-smart people? We don't want stigmatize low intelligence. But then why can I still say "stupid", or "moron", or "dope", or "lunatic"? Why can I freely shower my writing with "shmuck", "putz", "idiot", and "imbecile"?

I'd imagine the answer would be "Well, you shouldn't! These are highly negative, insulting and hurtful words, so they all should be avoided!"

Again, it's not that I'm not eager to diligently update my adherence to trendy social norms of expression. I just want to sensitively parse the ever-shrinking boundaries. So I have two questions:

1. Why is intelligence special? Shouldn't we proscribe "ugly", "clumsy", "untalented", "smelly", "limp-dicked", "flat-chested", and the many other terms stigmatizing deficiency and otherness?

2. Where do we draw the line? Frankly, "retarded" doesn't strike me as all that extreme ("moron" and "dope" contain far more venom). It's mostly just snide. So shall we expunge all snide speech, for example the description of a singer as "horrendously out-of-tune"? That's undeniably hurtful, no? Should she be "otherwise-tuned"?

1 comment:

Display Name said...

Thanks Jim I needed that. Not actually laughing out loud but my innards are tickled. Also brought back my best memory of the use of retarded. I was playing cards with my friend from way back at my kitchen table. I looked down for a moment at my deck and when I looked up he had a marijuana bud between his teeth like a rose. My eyes widened in delight and he whispered "you're gonna get retarded!" I think I still won that game. Barely.

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