Across the spectrum, actor John C. McGinley, spokesperson for the National Down Syndrome Society said on Huffington Post that using the words "retard" and "retarded" is offensive, hurtful and demeaning to members of the special needs community. It "belittles people with special needs," he believes.
McGinley suggests that the way we know that "retard" is an "instrument of hurt" is that it is never used as a compliment. He neglected to point out that this is also true of the colorful epithets "stupid," "dickwad," "ass-hat," or "crusty batch of nature"--but that doesn't mean there isn't a time and a place to use those words.
He compares the R-word, as he calls it, to nigger, kike and faggot. He says that the second way we know that we shouldn't use it is by asking
would the circumstances allow for substituting the N-word instead? Could the R-word just as easily be replaced by any number of pejorative slurs that would serve the same purpose? The answer to both these hypotheticals is; not in a million years!
This argument contains a logical fallacy: it presumes the conclusion, that "retard" is a pejorative slur in the same way that "nigger" is a pejorative slur. It's not, in the same way that the word "cripple" is not necessarily a pejorative slur. It can be used that way; but its use does not automatically presume aspersion against paraplegics. The word "nigger" is always, by definition and common usage, a slur against black people. The word "retard," on the other hand, has been in common use to mean a person, thing, or behavior that is backward, laughable, stupid, nonsensical or indefensible.
I submit that using the word "retard" about someone who is not mentally challenged but who is merely speaking or behaving in a stupid way, who is willfully ignorant, only disparages the insultee. The meaning and scope of the word should be judged by its context and intent.
About a year ago Jon Stewart used the word "retard" on his show, and a parent of a mentally disabled child wrote in to complain about it. She was articulate and civil; and her comment sparked a discussion that went on for 71 pages, over the course of a month. Another correspondent on the message board, also parenting a mentally disabled child, wrote, "Words are just words: you can choose to be offended, and you can choose to not be offended."
No one except school-age bullies uses the word "retarded" to disparage people with mental disabilities--not even Rush Limbaugh. It's unnecessary and a little bit retarded for Mr. McGinley and others to campaign to have the word excised from our collective vocabulary. It's ridiculous and exploitative for Sarah Palin to call for Rahm Emmanuel's resignation because he used the word--especially when she defends Limbaugh using it in exactly the same way.
The Green Room Bottom Line: some words offend some people; and we should choose our words, and especially our insults, carefully.