Some words just aren’t cool

Most of my close friends know that I hate hearing people throw around the word retarded. I find it offensive as well as being one of those trite things people say that in most cases just make them sound stupid. And like young kids started using gay as a commonly thrown around insult. I think people only say it when they believe that others around them won’t find offense with it and must, in fact, agree with whatever they’re using it for.

Well as this Washington Post story relates, not everyone appreciates the term, especially when it’s being used on them:

A security officer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center pulled a handgun and fired 10 rounds at a fellow guard during the morning rush hour yesterday at the hospital’s main gate, striking no one but sending stray bullets into two cars and a utility pole, D.C. police said.

Police said the incident started on hospital grounds just inside the front gate along Georgia Avenue NW after one officer jokingly referred to an armed colleague as “retarded.”

Of course common sense would tell me not to lob an insult, even in jest, at anyone with a gun, colleague or not.

Now when I grew up, there was a building down the street from our schools called the Georgia Retardation Center (now called Brook Run, I think), it was a state-run hospital and nursing home for the mentally ill. Our school health class took trips there, and after the first one, no one ever used the word retard as a schoolyard insult ever again.

I was in scouts as a young lad and when we were learning leatherworking, I think it was, one of the less coordinated boys was having difficulty doing something that our scoutmaster assumed would be pretty easy. The scoutmaster yelled at him, “What are you, retarded or something?!” (No, he wasn’t the best scoutmaster, I already know this) But the boy came about as close to snapping as I think someone our age could, he started crying and shaking and finally screamed back, “My sister is retarded!” — I didn’t know him or his family very well, I don’t think any of us did so we certainly didn’t know about his sister, but the scoutmaster realized that he’d crossed a line and apologized. As someone who’d been called many a hurtful name by then, it really struck me how hurtful that word could be and from then on I’ve only ever used it in the proper context.

Of course by now it’s just become one of those words people toss around as though it doesn’t really mean anything, but when I hear someone use it, they kinda go down a little bit in my estimation. But that’s just my 2¢.

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3 Responses

  1. shindo says:

    I’ve also had my share of hurtful names in my childhood, which is why I don’t like them at all. Words are powerful things, after all, and can’t be dismissed as “just words.”

  2. Murphy says:

    With apologies to Marcus Aurelius, I’ll paraphrase…It’s not the word itself that causes your pain, but rather your estimate of it. This, you have the power to revoke at any moment.

    Words only have the power we assign to them. Who didn’t get called all manner of nasty things when we were children?

    Feeling hurt by words is a choice to be hurt. I won’t give some asshole that power over me.

    • Brian says:

      With all due respect, it isn’t the word itself that causes me to think less of someone, it’s the fact that they chose to use it.

      It would be much easier if I were talking about random assholes, but I’m also talking about colleagues, sometimes friends who should know better, but don’t bother to, even when called on it.

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