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The Word Retarded Should Be More Regarded

Although I generally write about cosmetic facial surgery, the purpose of having a blog is to discuss life.  Having said that, I am writing this piece on the casual and insensitive use of the word “retarded” in our culture.

The recent release of the Ben Stiller movie “Tropic Thunder“has elucidated the casual use of the word “retarded” in our lexicon.  Although I have not seen this movie, it does serve as a forum to highlight the casual and popular usage of the word “retarded” in our society, especially by younger people. Sticks and stones can break bones but words will never hurt me” is simply a fallacy.  Words can be just as crushing as or more so than physical actions.  Wars have been fought over words, people die in urban emergency rooms daily from altercations that began as “words” and the best friendships and relationships have been ended by “words”.  Words can and do hurt!

The word retarded generally means “slow or delayed”.  Mental retardation is described as decreased mental, emotional or physical ability. A more socially correct word is intellectual disability.

History shows that offensive names have frequently gone from common or slang parlance to becoming offensive to a culture.  It was not that long ago that the State Song of Virginia had lyrics that are today considered racially insensitive.  Things change and these are more humane times and people are generally more sensitive to offending others. It is probably impossible to speak English and never offend anyone with a misplaced word, but some words are more hurtful than others.  Retarded is one of those words.  This word has worked its way into our “pop culture” to mean dumb, clumsy or goofy.  Kidding someone by calling them dumb, goofy, clumsy is pretty benign, calling them retarded is malignant.  Any person with an intellectual disability or any parent, brother or sister of a special needs person will be offended when this word is used.  I can tell you first hand by being the father of two beautiful little boys with intellectual and physical disabilities, the casual use of the word “retarded” stabs to the bone.  To affected persons and families, it conjures many unpleasant things such as hospitalizations, operations, wheel chairs, and the general inability of these people to live and enjoy the simple things that the rest of us take for granted on an hourly basis.  The word is reminiscent of being different from everyone else and often of shattered hopes and dreams for parents, families and children.

The casual use of the word “retarded” is no less offensive for involved families than the “N” word is to African-Americans, the “J” word to Jewish people or the “F” word is to Gay people.  There is no reason to use any of these words, even if they seem innocuous to you, someone else is hurt by them.  Fortunately, we as a society have made great strides in sensitivity by eliminating offensive words from our vocabulary.  The only way that this can continue is for young children to know that using the word “retarded” is offensive, hurtful to others and wrong.  It certainly does not stop with children.  Reminding friends and acquaintances that that is a hurtful word when you hear them use it may be a bit embarrassing for them, but it sometimes takes getting someone’s attention to reinforce positive behavior.

Finally, another unfortunate reason that this word is hurtful is the fact that many people with intellectual disabilities cannot stand up for themselves.  Using other politically offensive words may result in fisticuffs, lawsuits, job termination or a hate crime as there are many people looking out for these types of situations, including the Federal Government.  Citizens with mental disabilities cannot stand up for themselves and therefore others must stand up for them.

Please consider how demeaning and damaging a simple word can be to individuals who did not choose to be in the situation they are in.  Be big, stand up for those that cannot.  Don’t use the word “retarded” casually and correct others that do.  You will be helping someone that needs your help.

To find out information about Dr. Niamtu or Cosmetic Facial Surgery in Richmond, Virginia visit


Joe Niamtu, III DMD

Spokesperson, Greater Richmond ARC

Cosmetic Facial Surgery

Richmond, Virginia

Office Address

Joe Niamtu III, DMD
11319 Polo Place
Midlothian, VA 23113

Office Hours

Monday - Friday
8:00am - 5:00pm

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