Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Open mouth...Insert foot

I almost brought this up when J.J. posted his thoughts on his personal lexicon. It’s a topic I’ve nearly addressed a time or two, but have decided that today is the day.

It’s about the use of a word that we throw around, that I used to throw around, but about which I have tried to be more aware. The word in question? Retarded.

I used it in my yoga post, and hesitated a bit before I did. See, I try to avoid it, but I was mad and hurt and felt slightly like breaking the rules. But—I did pause, and with good reason. One is that I personally feel it’s inappropriate, and another is that I know it is particularly offensive to a close friend who reads my blog. (Well, actually, I thought he’d quit reading it.) I’d never throw around the “n” word (feel too weird to even type it) or any other racial slur, even when in a huff, but went ahead and threw this one out there.

Why is it that I (and I assume others) who consider ourselves to be thoughtful in regards to language that pigeon-holes or is derogatory to a certain group of people will use the word “retarded” as though we were 3rd graders teasing kids on the short bus? Do we feel somehow safer using it than its ugly cousins? Is it a kind of disrespect that as habitual or one that we feel carries less of a social penalty? I really don’t know.

Growing up LDS, saying “God” or even worse, “Jesus” as an oath was SUCH a no no that I remember the first time I did. It was 5th grade. I was walking around with a group of friends, and said, “Oh my God!” The earth didn’t crack open, I wasn’t struck by lightning, and my friends didn’t even blink. And know what? It didn’t feel bad. It felt good. Why? Because it was bad. Because my friends said it and now I did. Because I could. Now, of course, I slip up all too often, and have said “Jesus Christ!” in such a way in front of my sister-in-law as to turn her face white. And I felt bad—but not for saying the words—personally, I don’t think Jesus really cares—but because I offended her.

I feel differently about his one.

I guess different language is offensive to different people. I’d say that “retarded” is one of those words that is “officially” offensive to many, but realistically, offensive to only few. Again, I’m not sure why. Frankly, I kind of like to swear, and don’t see myself quitting anytime soon.

But a swear word, I think, is different from a slur. Swear words you just don’t say in front of your mother or your teacher. Slurs imply a lack of sensitivity, and shouldn’t be used at all—even when not in the company of those whom they might offend most.

Saying “retarded” is easy. You can even argue the term was originally just used by health professionals (i.e. Association of Mental Retardation (AAMR)), as a label for those who have an IQ score of 70 or below—that it simply means slow—that its use in the mental health community was fairly common until school kids picked it up and started using it as a name to call one another. But I think that a word’s connotation carries much more weight than its denotation. Saying “Are you retarded?” to someone who you think acted inappropriately, or stupidly, is certainly not in keeping with its original use as an IQ measurement, and using it as a slur is disrespectful to those who know, love, care for, and have mental disabilities.

So here I am, officially revising my personal lexicon. I’m not saying I won’t slip, but I’m not going to excuse myself and think that it’s no big deal.

Nuff said.

Today’s best thing about being a mom:
Damn that girl can be funny! Speaking about denotation and connotation, this weekend, she was pretending to be a frog, and based on her amphibian lessons from school, went around telling everyone, “I’m moist!”

Today’s worst thing about being a mom:
Taming the bed-head


A Man without a Band said...

Thanks. In retrospect (and after getting your email), mine probably would've been a comment more appropriately private, and I certainly wasn't expecting all of this, but thanks anyway. I think you said it all.

And of course I still read your blog. Just don't get as much time as I used to. At some point, if I ever get this friggin' book published, I'll have to revive mine.

~A~ said...

Damn blogger for eating my comments. And it was a good one.

Now I have time for only....

One more to add to the list. Cancer. Nathan's dad wrote in his blog how he's now disturbed how the word cancer is used as a derogatory term. One example was that a sports reporter was saying how player so-n-so is a cancer to his team. Yes the guy is bad for his team, yes cancer is bad, but the guy is not a life threatening disease that hurts families.

NME said...

It's seemed to me that there was a resurgence in the use of that word - which just strikes me as wierd. I'm not fond of it. Of course I'm overly sensitive about those things - anything vaguely racial sets my blood to boiling. I don't even like when feminine things are used to belittle others - like douche came up in a recent friend conversation and it's use made my stomach turn. I also got really turned off of a friend who yelled at a person who cut them off by calling out to them to tell them they were "TRASH!" I just found it so callous and cruel to say that another person was useless refuse. I'd much rather be called a fuckhead.
Words can be so powerful and polarizing. It's amazing.