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Kristin Kittell | Assistant Perspectives Editor
The English language is old, to say the least. It’s developed over centuries, from the classic bawdiness of Chaucer’s tales to the poetic nature of Shakespeare, landing firmly in the modern realm with an affinity for fact and straightforward explanation.
Throughout this time, old words have been extinguished, making room for new words and others have mutated, changing in implication and tone. This usually goes unnoticed.Mainstream words like “cool” and “awesome” are used by most every day with no special attention to their original meanings.
Sometimes this morphing of meaning is turned derogatory and detrimental. The term “retarded,” specifically, has grown from its original oxford definition of “diagnosed with or characterized by learning difficulties or an intellectual disability” and is now applied as an insult when someone’s actions appear illogical, irrational or clueless — to be blunt, like that of someone with a learning disability.
I’ve seen campaigns discouraging the use of the term “gay” as a description for something that is displeasing. Yes, the word is being misused, and this is inappropriate. Homosexuality is, arguably, an uncontrollable attribute, just like height and hair color.
It is as much of a disadvantage as race or gender, and no more. Therefore, while I support this campaign, I must point out it grossly overlooks the misuse of a word that is far more hurtful. The weaknesses that an individual possesses, whether genetically or acquired, are sensitive areas.
They’re difficult. They’re painful. They make challenges out of life that others cannot understand. And for those that do not possess these weaknesses and simply love others who do, it presents entirely different sets of pains and heartaches.
So how can one not take moral offense to the application of the word “retarded” as an insult applied only when someone or something is utterly failing?
We all have moments where we’re not exactly at our intellectual best and do things that make no sense to those around us and make admittedly poor decisions. But using a disorder that is completely outside of the control of the individual as a description for these moments is unethical.
A disability is not a joke. To see this word used so freely by my peers distresses me — are we failing to notice the implications of our language at all? Words are our primary form of communication.
They are our connection to one another. They bring us together, and they drive us apart. We need to take responsibility for them, each and every one. Wouldn’t it be a travesty to hurt someone around you with something you didn’t even realize you were saying? TAS