A View in the Mirror : Why I Am Not Offended by the R-Word

A View in the Mirror : Why I Am Not Offended by the R-Word

Before you send me a hot email informing me of my stupidity,
read this, then you if still don’t understand my point, fire away.


the R-Word | A View in the Mirror | Special HappensAfter careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I am the last special needs parent on earth that is not offended by the R-Word.  A little back ground on it’s origin and usage. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word first came to be in 1895 or about 120 years ago.  It’s meaning from 1895 I can’t trace exactly, but I understand it to an adjective meaning mentally, intellectually, or academically slow.  Where did we get that idea?  The R-Word has a long history, first showing up in circa 1498 meaning “to make slow.”  American print used the word in 1704, from the Boston News Letter reads “…but the Precarious Title of the present King of Spain is likely to retard the fame.” Meaning, slow down. In the 1700-1800’s retard meant to slow, to hinder, or to impede.   My Mother, a clean freak, would tell us kids to spray down the bathroom tile with bleach to retard the growth of mold.  I guess when you grow up hearing retard to mean make slow or to slow down something, you see more than a hateful slur, you see a word.  To this day I hear retard and I think slow down the growth of mold in the bathroom.  I am quite sure I am the only person on the face of the earth that has that thought first.

Times change, people are slow to change.  If you want to change the way something or someone is excepted, you have a give it a couple of generations.  Case in point, shopping carts in Sears and self service gas stations.   My oldest son used to work at Sears when he was in college.  I recall spending many nights on the phone with him trying to make him understand why “old” people wanted personal service and for him to come out of that little cashier box and walk the store with them.  He had grown up in the era of self service and Walmart, I had grown up and worked in the era of personal service.  Yes it’s a true fact that in Sears we used to be sale clerks, and our job was to assist you in shopping, not just watch you shove a shopping cart around the store then offer you a ten percent discount if you opened up a credit card today while we rang out your purchases. “Old” people as my son called them, missed the memo passed out in the late 80’s and early 90’s that it cost money to have personal service in a fast pace throw away society.   They still want you to help them find the right size overalls and boots. To get your thoughts on that riding lawn mower, and to have you show them how it works, not to buy it hope for the best, go home and read the instruction book.  They simply were not raised or worked in the fast food world we live in today.

Sadly the same thing happened when he left college and found himself in the gas service industry.  I got a hot phone call of what is wrong with these “old” people, I have eight stations, and 16 pumps to watch, full time, by myself and I have a store to run and you want me to pump your gas for you and check your oil?  Again I had to share with my son the facts of life, these were once common standards, long before the mcfast self service industry took over.  I could almost hear him say, that’s retarded, if it he been a word he used, and it is not.  Rather I heard him say, “that’s so stupid and lame, if you can’t pump your own gas, you don’t need to drive.”  Maybe, maybe not, you aren’t 80 yet son I wanted to remind him.

Let’s get back to the heart of the R-Word.  I understand there is a movement to strike it from the English and every other language, and even a national stamp it out day.  Am I offended when someone ask me if John is retarded?  No, because facts are, my son is slow, and he is slow in every single aspect of life and living.  If you ask about him, it opens the door for me the stop and share with you my amazing and quite gifted son.  Yes he is gifted, in that he copes well with life in a world where he never gets to speak.  He is a happy, calm person, with a quick smile and twinkle in his eyes.  I get to share that with you, and I get to ask if you understand retarded simply means slow.  If you used it kindly, I am sure you already know this.  I am not offended because when I hear retarded, I am transported back to my childhood where a neighbor had a grown son with great mental deficiencies.  His sweet Mother, a lady I admired greatly and hoped to grow up to be just like, referred to her grown son as mentally retarded.  She was not offended by the use of these words and they spilled out of her mouth without hesitation or need for compensation.  Facts were facts, her son had suffered a brain injury during birth that left him painfully and woefully slow in many areas of life.  It also kept him a toddler in a full grown adult sized body which was both hard and exhausting on the entire family. It retarded a lot of areas of her life, something I have both observed then lived myself.

When a child calls another child a retard as a slur or in jest, odds are they learned it from an adult or older sibling.  This is the time for another adult to step in, ask them if they know the meaning of the word and ask them to choose better words. Remind them that hurting a person with a slur is wrong and ask them to remember how it feels when someone uses an unkind word on them.  Making a federal crime out of it, shaming the child for such careless remarks only makes the situation worse.  Insert other bad words you don’t want your child to use and react that way, as if it’s time to learn why we don’t use the R-Word and why it hurts.

As for the complete loss of retard from the entire language, like I said, give it a couple of generations for the change to happen.  It took about 40 years or so for politically correctness to sink in.  House wives became domestic engineers, garbage men became sanitation workers then sanitation engineers. It seems adding engineer to any cause makes it sound smarter.  In that honor my son John is not autistic, or vaccine damaged (the cause of his issues) or mentally and physically challenged, but rather he could be called differently engineered  rather than the politically correct term of differently abled.  Yea I like that version.


When it comes to striking retardation or retard from life, give it time.  Look for it to go the way of Elvis being a woman’s name, charabanc meaning a car with benches, or for my occupation as a lexicongraher to change to writer, which for the record, does not sound at all impressive.  I rather fancy myself as a domestic goddess who works part time as a word engineer while raising and loving, one very challenging, differently engineered, young adult.  If you will excuse me, I have a bathroom to clean…and some mold to attend to so that I might slow it’s growth.  See, I didn’t say, to retard it’s growth, one generation down, counting on my children and yours to put the R-Word issue into History books.


Editors Note:  Special Happens believes in sharing a variety of views in the special needs community provided they are done so with respect, care and with the ultimate goal of encouraging the growth, individuality, safety, encouragement, love and admiration of our special children.  While I personally am offended by the R-Word, I respect this contributor and believe her opinion has been put forth in a articulate and respectful way.  While we encourage comments and conversation, I would like to remind you that these too should be put forth in a respectful manner; any comments otherwise will be removed.  – Gina St. Aubin, Owner / Contributing Editor


By | 2014-03-31T09:00:46+00:00 March 31st, 2014|Categories: A View in the Mirror, Series|Tags: , , |2 Comments

About the Author:

Cheryl Bailey
Cheryl Bailey is a freelance/ghost writer who lives North Mississippi. She is the mom of two grown sons the youngest was disabled after a vaccine injury left him without any physical skills or speech. Cheryl now works to advocate for all persons of disability, and frequently writes about life with John, subject of A View in the Mirror. Her other passions include sewing, gardening, and spending time her dog Cindy and any stray cats that choose to call her back porch home. When not working as an advocate for persons with disabilities, she can be found working for Soldiers Angels in support of our troops.


  1. April Maria May 14, 2014 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Thank you Cheryl for writing this, very well put. I agree with you 100%.

  2. Cheryl
    Cheryl August 4, 2014 at 8:38 am - Reply

    Thank you April, you are a brave person! 🙂

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