Improve your lexicon: -tard

I’m on a never-ending quest to improve my vocabulary – both by expanding it, and by getting rid of some of the more objectionable, oppressive language which we all use without thinking.

But change can be difficult. The best solution I’ve found is to brainstorm alternative words in advance and think good and hard about them. Hence, these weekly posts – as much a tool for me as for anyone else!

I’m not perfect. Sometimes we can easily see why one word is objectionable, but the alternatives which immediately spring to mind may also have bad connotations which we’re not aware of. I may screw up during this process, but I’ll do my best to fix it when I do. All any of us can do is keep trying and keep learning.

This is another one where I cede the floor to FWD/Forward, who looked specifically at the word “retarded” back in 2009:

This medical definition [of “mental retardation] is certainly not what’s intended in contemporary uses of the word. If I say “I saw Zombieland and it was totally retarded,” I am not saying that I think the movie had a low IQ and I observed significant limitations in adaptive functioning. (That doesn’t even make sense.) I am saying that I thought the movie was bad, uninteresting, boring, nonsensical, repetitive, and a waste of my time and money. But for me to mean any of those things by using the word “retarded,” I and the person to whom I’m speaking have to share the assumption that being retarded is bad and that people who have mental retardation are stupid, uninteresting, and a waste of my time.

Note: “mental retardation” was renamed “intellectual disability” in the DSM-5, updated 2013. But that just goes to show that the argument “oh, but words change over time so it doesn’t mean that any more” is often really inaccurate.

In the charming way NZ English has, -tard has become a suffix in its own right. It still means the same thing, and the whole point is to reference the word “retard”, so it’s part and parcel of the same problem. People with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be used as shorthand for “bad”.

Alternatives to “retard”, “retarded” and all their variations:

adjective: archaic, pointless, awful, illogical

noun: prat, clown, fool, embarrassment

other: eyeroll, headdesk, no shit

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