Thursday, September 23, 2010


A lot of hullaballoo has been, and continues to be, made about the R-word. And I've been right there, shaking my fist, demanding a change in attitude and vocabulary, demanding sensitivity and compassion for my son and people like him.

I have to admit, though, that there are other words that sting me personally (and I'm sure others in my shoes), thanks to Finn and his extra chromosomes. That's the thing about having a child like Finn - it changes your perspective about certain things. And I'm here to say that that's not a bad thing.

The other words I'm talking about are words like idiot, and moron, and imbecile. More words that we casually throw around to describe what we perceive to be stupid or substandard. And like retarded, they're all born out of what were once upon a time merely clinical terms used to describe individuals with developmental disabilities.

I admit it: I am guilty of being a long-time user of idiot - even since Finn was born. I have, however, found myself becoming very aware of my usage of the word, as well as other people's use of it (and the others mentioned above). And I've decided to eliminate those words from my lexicon. Because they do sting.

I'm not going to go on a big crusade to end the use of those words, because the truth is, as my friend Dan pointed out (I asked Dan his thoughts on all this a while back, being that he's taken on the language issue in such a big way):

"My personal opinion is that 'idiot' and 'moron' are sort of archaic.
You would never see a medical report that listed your son as an idiot
or moron. You could quite possibly see a report listing him as
retarded. And so 'retarded' and 'retard' are much more hateful, in my

I think this is a good point, although I do have to say that there is clearly a movement underway to eliminate "retarded" even from medical terminology. I don't believe I've ever seen anything in any paperwork, medical or otherwise, pertaining to Finn that included the word "retarded;" in fact, just today, I received a copy of something from his pediatrician that lists him as "dev. delayed," which, really made me feel very pleased with the progress that has been made in describing these individuals in non-offensive terms. That said, though, I think it may end up being a double-edged sword - if "retarded" is successfully eliminated as a clinical term, then eventually won't it be considered perfectly okay to use in a non-clinical manner, just like "idiot" and "moron" have evolved?

What I'd like to see is the elimination from our human vocabularies, in all of their varieties, of any and all slurs that in any way put down any class of people - be that cognitive ability, race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever.

That said, I fully acknowledge our need as a people for epithets, for words that emote and express frustration with life's little stupidities - yes, even stupid people (and by stupid, I am not referring to IQ, but rather a failing to exercise common sense or class). So I offer you here a list of alternative language:



(Try unbelievable with an exclamation point, and with extra emphasis on the third syllable: "UnbeLIEVable!" Very effective. Go ahead, try it. Also, "ridiculous" and "unbelievable" can be used to boost each other, as in "Ridiculously unbelievable!" or "UnbeLIEVably ridiculous!"

Nouns (Words to Describe People):


I'm sure I could go on an on. And perhaps you think I'm kidding. I'm not. Although I do hope you find these lists of alternative words entertaining, I'm serious about using them to replace idiot, moron, imbecile, and yes, retard.

Come on, people, really. It's really, really not too difficult to think before you speak, to exercise a little sensitivity and compassion for who your audience might be. And honestly, putting forth just that little effort will probably make you feel good.


Susan Carson said...

I love this post and completely agree with you.

On a similar note, I need to stop saying "insane" and "crazy". I realize I say those words a LOT and of course they're as offensive as the r-word in their way. I'm such a jerk!

diane rene said...

love this, as usual :) and I love your alternate words. douche is one of my favorites as well - it just spills so easily. and dropping the F*bomb in front of any of them helps reduce the anger and frustration (not recommended to be used in front of children)

insane? I resemble that remark ;0)

Mrs. Mother said...

Idiot is a bad word in our house. My husband is dyslexic, and he heard it a lot growing up. So, we don't allow anyone to say it. The r-word is another bad word in our house, too.

I like your list of alternative words, too. Asshat is wonderful.

Cole said...

I wrote about this earlier in the week too. I really think the baseline is that we not make our priority to say what we want more important then someone's dignity or humanity. If nothing else if I ask someone to stop saying something in front of me- then gee- can't you do that? Kid's grow up being taught not to swear in certain situations all the time and no one argues about the kid's "right to swear". I need to be more thoughtful about crazy as well like Susan- I guess it really does make a difference when something affects you personally.

Talley Images said...

love this, but also had to laugh b/c alot of the alternative words you mention are just as offensive to people (in a different way)... love your posts!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know about something going on at our high school. This is homecoming week. We have had a young man with ds attending school with my children for many years. My daughters' freshman class is known as not being a very nice class. There are quite a few "mean girls." This years nominated homecoming freshman court included this young man with ds. It also included a pretty popular young girl. When this girl was paired up with the boy (with ds), she scowled through the entire introduction ceremony. Let me tell you, the entire school was pissed at this girl!

Today, I went to the homecoming parade and I watched with pride as the young man road in the convertible with another beautiful young lady! He was selected as our freshman homecoming court, and the mean, popular girl was not! I am so proud of these young people. Most of these kids have always treated him with such kindness and respect. I know you will always worry about Finn, but I hope he is as blessed as this young man! Children can be nice, especially when led by example!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the attempt, since my problem with it all is that there are so few alternatives. We're always insulting people with disabilities, mental illness, or alternative sexual orientations. However.

dolt - definition
— noun
— a slow-witted or stupid person

Twit -
a foolish or stupid person; idiot

a dull-witted or stupid person; dolt.

a silly or stupid person; a person who lacks judgment or sense.
a weak-minded or idiotic person.

How are these better??

Lisa said...

Anonymous - I appreciate the point you make. I guess from my perspective, the difference is that none of those words actually originated as "official" or clinical terms to describe the developmentally disabled. "Idiot," "moron," and "imbecile," all originated as actual clinical terms describing the degree of impairment, and eventually, all those terms stopped being used in a clinical sense and were replaced by the umbrella term "retarded." To my knowledge, words like "dolt," "twit," "numbskull," etc. were not invented or ever used specifically for the purpose of describing a person with cognitive impairment; I could be mistaken, but I believe those kinds of words have always been used as slang specifically to describe assinine behavior/people, and not the actual disabled.

Really, I think I'm just going to stick with asshole.

I appreciate your viewpoint.

Z said...

One of my favorite blogs (Feminists With Disabilities) has a feature called Ableist Word profile that I think you'd like. It covers a lot of what you talk about here, but goes over a lot more words with damaging connotations.

Sharon said...

I agree. There are so many words that I used to use frequently that I no longer do....stupid, dumb, insane, crazy to name a few. My kids aren't allowed to use them either. To me - they're all demeaning.

The Boltz Family said...

You shared the exact same concern I have been thinking about regarding the r-word becoming a word that we will see defended even more so, as it no longer will be used as a clinical descriptor. I, for one, was not exactly overjoyed by Rosa's Law solely for this reason. I am still trying to think of just the right words to say to defend my stance that it still should not be used as a slur. It will take it out of Jack's IEP and medical records, but it still will not take it out of mouths of ignorant people who would rather uphold their freedom of speech than do the right thing.

Lisa said...

you forgot jackass and assclown :)

Melissa M said...

I love your list of alternative words! Ridiculous has always been my suggestion for an easy R-word replacement.

MaggieMae said...

LOL -- Your alternative list is pretty funny. Still, the point you make and the point anonymous makes are valid: The key is to not insult anyone with the language you choose which any individual or group may find insulting. So, really, the key to not insulting anyone is to not insult anyone. I've been contemplating this myself and I think I'm getting a thicker skin about it. I hate the R word and all those you mention. (I can't say I'm not guilty of unintentionally using some of those words on occasion.) But, sometimes words are just words and not meant to insult anyone.