DARE TO ASK: Why do you call someone a 'retard'?

By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union

Question

Why do people call someone with a disability a retard?

Jessica, West Monroe, N.Y.

Replies

It is derived from "mental retardation," which was thought to be less stigmatizing than "mentally subnormal." It implies that some people are slow or permanently delayed in their intellectual development. It has been used to justify treating them as children for the rest of their lives.

Chris, London

People fear what they do not understand, which in a way is very sad. There are people hindered by a disability . . . but are they really? Many reach beyond their handicaps and make the most of their lives. It's all in how you desire to live. It doesn't take any talent to sit in a corner and suck your thumb. What does take talent is to live your life to the fullest. Think about it: Who is the real retard? Someone who never accesses their talent, or someone who strives, no matter the obstacles? Next time you see someone who is physically (or mentally) challenged, think: Would you be able to cope as they have?

Lindsay, 49, San Antonio

In French, "retard" means late. I'm not sure but maybe that has something to do with the way a lot of people call those with disabilities slow?

Shelly, 16, Little Rock, Ark.

Expert says

Well, actually, according to Google, in French, "retard" means delay and "tard" means late.

The pejorative "retard" does, of course, come from the diagnostic condition of mental retardation, which the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) defines as a disability originating before age 18 "characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills."

As a matter of fact, until January, AAIDD was known as the American Association on Mental Retardation. It decided to move away from that name because "mental retardation" itself had become a stigmatizing term and was disliked by those with disabilities and their families, said Executive Director Doreen Croser.

That name, however, was at least better than its original moniker when founded in 1876: The Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Persons. Whoa.

To use "retard" to describe someone is to take on the attitude that "anyone different is [to be] the victim of ridicule and abuse," she said.

"In certain segments it's OK to be mean and hateful. The media doesn't help. There are lots of morning talk show folks who need to be corrected routinely, calling people retards."

As nasty words fall out of favor, others always seem to rush in to fill the void because, she said, "hate is in, unfortunately."

"Now, they use the phrase 'developmental disability' in school, so kids on the playground are calling kids 'developmentals.' "

Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general column comments to phillip. milano@jacksonville.com. You can also hear his podcasts or watch his TV spots.