Wednesday, 16 October 2013

How I was directly confronted with the R-word last week for the first time

It was Sunday night. I was printing the pictures for Sunny's communication journal and checking Facebook from time to time while doing so.

One of my friends had recently posted that she was watching a movie starring Leonardo di Caprio for the umpteenth time. Comments were made about the movie and Leonardo di Caprio when all of a sudden the following conversation took place (translations by me except for the words in italic which were posted in English; the parts in angled brackets [ ] are explanations I am adding to understand the context. Please bear in mind that I am translating offensive terms because this is what was written):


Person A: My problem with Leo is that the first movie I saw of him was the one where he played a disabled person. Since then I always think that he looks a bit retarded every time I see him.

Me: Retarded? Not a good choice of words, Person A. :-/

Person B: Retarded??!! LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL

Person A: It does sound better than "being slow in development" [I have to paraphrase this because the term she used cannot be translated literally], doesn't it?

Person B: Yes, you are right... I really need to remember this one! :-)

Me: Please do not remember it. The word Retard is neither cool nor funny nor appropriate. In the United States they are desperately trying to curtail the use of this word. Anyone who never heard of this and thinks s/he found a great, hip word I kindly ask you to read the following link:
Please do not participate in spreading the use of this word here, too. Thank you!

Person A: The British use this word and it is new to me that it is not politically correct. Besides, I referenced the movie "Gilbert Grape" where Leo di Caprio plays a mentally disabled boy - I never said that he was disabled.

Me: Have you read the post I linked? I guess it is made absolutely clear there that this word is not PC. Unfortunately, it is still used by many in the US and the UK although it is not PC. I can show you many more links on this subject. It would be great if you did not use the word anymore.

Person B: "Disabled" is not nice, either.

Person A: Yes, I read the post. Is there anything left that we are allowed to say at all?

Me: Person B, you are right, that does not sound nice either. The best way to say is that a person has a disability and not that the person is disabled. But retarded is definitely not a good alternative at all.
Person A, it is one thing to use a word you think is fine because you do not know any better. However, using a word that is not okay and being told so and still using the word says a lot in my opinion. And I am sure that you are able to communicate and get your point across without using this word. There is even a whole campaign with the goal to eliminate the word:
I mean, there are also still many people who use the N-word but that does not mean it is PC.

Person B: That is what I am talking about. Every now and then I say something that is not PC without meaning to insult a whole group.
And I think it is definitely better to call someone "retarded" in German (!) when I get upset whereas all the teens run around and call everyone "a spastic" or "dumb moron" or pose the stupid question "are you retarded?" [which is the fitting translation for the pejorative German term she used here so she totally does not get the point what "retarded" really means and how insulting it is...]
In the United States it probably depends who I am talking to. I would pay attention not to use it but if I pointed out to my mate in Idaho that this word is not PC then he would probably lock me in his truck and surrender me to some obscure country so that he never has to see me again :-)

Me: Okay, I am casting pearls before swine... :-(
Just one more thing before I leave this conversation since obviously no one here cares that you consciously use this word, because in your opinion it is apparently not that bad... not all disabilities are visible. Maybe you say it to someone you do not even know that s/he or her/his relatives have some kind of disability.
This word is just as bad as the words you mentioned above that all the teens unfortunately use. You both look like grown-ups to me. It is a shame that you are not able to refrain from using this word then.


Frankly speaking, that conversation shocked me. Since I started reading blogs some years ago I have repeatedly read many, many posts about the use of the R-word and how insulting it is. But those were English blogs. So I always read those posts and kind of stood on the sidelines. Of course it infuriated me to read about it but since it was nothing that occurred to me personally (yet, as I have to say now) it was no topic I could add anything to. I never came across this word in the German language before - until I did last Sunday.

I truly do not hope that this word is going to make its rounds in our language because it is thought to be hip, cool, better than all the other insulting words against people with disabilities our language already has to offer and which are used frequently, especially by the younger population. But these were grown-up women who used a term they were obviously not familiar with. They picked it up from someone who speaks English and really, honestly think it is more flattering than the equivalent German expression - which means just the exact same and is as insulting?? Oh, how stupid can you be?

It is even more questionable when you are being called out for the use of a word and still refuse to not use it anymore because you cannot grasp the true meaning and the context in which it is used. I was quite taken aback about how I explained and explained and nobody seemed to listen or care.

It makes me sad that I have to write a blog post about the R-word because that means it finally arrived in our part of the world, too, and that is something I did not expect would happen.


  1. I'm sorry Joy. That this word is not infiltrating your culture. Trust me it is not something we are proud of. But I am very proud of you for standing tall and firm in defense of our children.

  2. Oh Joy. I'm sorry that it has popped up there, too, and on your facebook feed. That's just sad and wrong. Good for you for trying to educate them though and for helping to spread awareness about how very hurtful and insulting that ugly word is.

  3. Words are powerful, and should be used carefully. Even if those individuals didn't agree with your point, it would have been nice for them to acknowledge your position and refrain from using that word around you. (Of course, it would be better if they could strike it from their vocabulary.) I'm surprised they wouldn't at least take your feelings into consideration.

  4. From the linguistic point of view describing a person as "retarded" has definitely become an insult. It is still acceptable saying that someone's development is retarded.

    Besides that, I am fairly flabbergasted at Persons A and B.. They really behave like tennagers.. wow.. Sorry you had to deal with idiots like them, but you definitely took the high road out of the situation!!

  5. Oh my goodness. I am so saddened that anyone has to deal with that word. Do people get it? Do they understand what "handicapped" means? As in "a person that has to have their cap handy so they can beg for money because they can't make money themselves"??? My heart aches for you. My daughter is 17 years old and has cerebral palsy (she walks but with a limp, cannot speak but can hear and uses fairly fluent sign language). I've heard that awful word and others so many times. Thank you for educating others for all of us. Who knows how that one painful conversation will change that person and save a fellow-mom from the pain you endured.

  6. someone once told me that "facebook is not the stick by which we are measured". i'm not trying to defend those folks and their poor choice of word, it really sounds like they gave you a harder time after you pointed out how inappropriate they were being, and that was surely childish of them. i admire that you stood up and said something, even posting that link, because i don't think i would have said anything. i'm intrigued by that handicap comment above, i'll have to google that one. if that is truly the origin, i am much more offended by handicap than the r-word. at least the r-word is a medical term, the other is just an insult!

  7. Joy, I honestly didn't know the word was still being used until a bunch of bloggers brought it up. Yikes! So glad it came to you in the form of a movie, not directed at anyone you know and love personally. :) hugs to ou. Thanks for being such a great advocate!


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