And Again: A Word That Slip Off Our Tongues


Make the pledge: no more r-word.

I've been writing about this since 2010. In my 1302 classes in the last two years, they've had to write on this topic. Last year, I reflected that it's often not the word itself that's the problem, but the attitude behind it. 

In the last two years, what I have noticed among students and the general public is that the use of this word continues to increase, that those who use it use it with no awareness of how someone with an intellectual disability might take it, and that no harm is intended. They often use it about something they've done, not to others, and as an adjective. So what to do? Confront each and every time it slips from someone's tongue? It's become a completely automated process; it truly does slip with no thought from them. After all, stamping out this word will take every single person thinking reflectively and getting it, really getting the harm it does.

I let it pass almost every time, not because it doesn't make me cringe, but because it is so ubiquitous that it would take up much of my time, and I recognize no harm is intended. Would I jump on it if I heard someone call another person a r*****d? Yes, immediately. I don't hear it used that way, though, so once a year, I throw my hat into the ring and write about it, and I hope that a post and an essay assignment will cause reflection, but the problem is that most of our conversation is off-the-cuff and said without planning, and because it has become so ingrained, wiping out the use of that word will take work. After all, the suffix -tard has become a favorite to add to words.

Let us not forget that idiot, moron and imbecile were once labels for those with intellectual disability and they are forever words in our lexicon, divorced from their original meaning and unlikely to ever disappear. They are pejoratives we use, often with relish and delight to express our disdain for another. 

Disdain. Sometimes the "r" word is used for that purpose, but most often, it is a person's way of explaining he's done something foolish or without thought. It isn't said to hurt, and yet it can and does.

And at times it slips thoughtlessly without intent from our lips. Who am I to cast the first stone? I must, instead, gird myself to be thoughtful of my words, even those spoken in the heat of the moment, usually without a chance for reflection. I must stay my words until I have thought them through.

Sigh. Dumbass ought to go, too, then, huh? 

Words HURT. We have to work harder to remember that, and to remember that we are all human and frail, fallible creatures who make mistakes but get up the next day determining to do better.

Let us not only resolve to do better, but actually do better.


AutismWonderland said...


Ellen said...

This was a wonderfully thoughtful, honest post. I agree, it is hard to say things to people but I have learned to (just a simple hand on the arm and "You know, I find that word offensive.")

I don't think this word is going to go away. I agree, it seems more out there than ever. But what's good is getting a discussion going. When I've talked about it with people, I've heard everything from "You are so right, my mother always told me not to say it but it always slips out!" to "I never thought about it before."