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September 27th, 2010
02:23 PM ET

Congress eliminates the R-word

The word has rankled Sarah Palin. Using it landed Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, in hot water. And actress Jennifer Aniston got slammed by advocates for saying it in slang.

And now, it’s a step closer to elimination from the federal government language.

The House of Representatives approved a bill that eliminates the use of the words “retarded” and “retardation” in health, education and labor laws.

The bill changes the terms from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” and “mentally retarded individual” to “individual with an intellectual disability.” This shift would make it more consistent with the language already used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations, and the White House.

Rosa’s Law passed in the Senate in August, and now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk. The bill was proposed by Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland.

Rosa Marcellino is a girl from Edgewater, Maryland, who has Down syndrome. She had been labeled retarded by her school - a term that her mother does not permit her children to use, according to a news release from Mikulski’s office.

Read the bill here.

“What you call people is how you treat them,” her older brother, Nick Marcellino had said. “What you call my sister is how you will treat her. If you believe she’s ‘retarded,’ it invites taunting, stigma. It invites bullying and it also invites the slammed doors of being treated with respect and dignity.”

Advocates consider the term a stinging label that is outdated and stigmatizing.

“We understand that language plays a crucial role in how people with intellectual disabilities are perceived and treated in society,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc in a statement. “Changing how we talk about people with disabilities is a critical step in promoting and protecting their basic civil and human rights.”

The Arc, which promotes and protects rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has been advocating the use of “intellectual disability."

“We strongly believe the only 'r-word' that should be used when referring to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is ‘Respect,’” according to the website.

The Arc of the United States originated as the National Association for Retarded Children and adopted its current name in 1992, dropping the term as “pejorative, derogatory and demeaning in usage.”

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, a professional association working with intellectual and developmental disabilities, also dropped the word “mental retardation” from its names and titles of two flagship journals.

“The language we use when talking about disabilities in general, and intellectual disabilities in particular, has changed over time,” said Margaret A. Nygren, executive director and CEO of AAIDD in a statement. “These changes reflect a cultural shift in understanding that people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are entitled to the same dignity and human rights as every other member of society. The passage of the Rosa’s Law legislation to use the term “intellectual disabilities” within federal education, health, and labor laws is likely to have a far reaching impact on the language used in our society.”

But not everyone is embracing the shift. Critics say that changing the word is an act of political correctness, rather than any substantive change.

Christopher M. Fairman is a professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University and author of a book subtitled "Word Taboo and Protecting Our First Amendment Liberties” wrote in a Washington Post column earlier this year: “If interest groups want to pour resources into cleaning up unintentional insults, more power to them; we surely would benefit from greater kindness to one another. But we must not let "retard" go without a requiem. If the goal is to protect intellectually disabled individuals from put-downs and prejudice, it won't succeed. New words of insult will replace old ones.”


soundoff (392 Responses)
  1. WinstonSmith

    So then, the government has eliminated a word?
    I bellyfeel doubleplusungood about that !
    Treat the infection, not just the pus that oozes from it !
    With all the important governmental things that need addressed, how did this insignificant non-item bubble to the top?
    Impeach them all!!
    Eugene V. Debs forever!

    September 28, 2010 at 02:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. WinstonSmith

    If I were retarded, do you think I would notice or care?

    September 28, 2010 at 02:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. the_guy

    This is retarded. Is EVERY MEDICAL word going to be altered within a few years just because some kids use it to insult others?

    The word RETARDED means that an individual is behind in cognitive ability period. Its a medical term, why should it be removed?

    September 28, 2010 at 02:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. LouieD

    "Intellectually disabled?" That's retarded.

    September 28, 2010 at 02:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Brody

    Why is this being debated?

    The 'Tards out there don't care and even if they did could you imagine them forming a protest?

    September 28, 2010 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Bart

    I guess we can't call politicians "retards" anymore. I guess "dolts" will have to do.

    September 28, 2010 at 02:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Tony

    I'm sorry but congress is Blanking Retarded.. If this is what your doing with your time instead trying to help get our country back on its high seat in the world then you my friend are retards. How about you end Don't Ask Don't Tell..

    As for the many people who will bash me for this comment.. Freedom of speech AND I'm 100% sure most of you have used this world many times..

    September 28, 2010 at 02:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. whyusefacts

    So glad Congress has taken care of this national embarrassment! Hopefully now that this important issue has been handled they can work on some of those minor issues that have been on the back burner, like the economy, illegal immigration, and the deficit. I know it is easy to overlook the deficit, I too always lose track of little things.

    September 28, 2010 at 02:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Sling Blade

    it's pronounced ruh-tard.

    September 28, 2010 at 02:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. I love Sandra

    Congress is retarded!

    September 28, 2010 at 02:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. thefatmann

    So if the law says intellectual disability, that could refer to millions of people that did not graduate from highschool and some that did.

    new entitlement program?

    September 28, 2010 at 02:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Bill

    This is a stupid idea. The word "Retarded" replaced "Moron" because it was considered derogatory. "Intellectually disabled" will be banned someday too. Further, the word "Retard" is french for "Delayed" which is all over the Northeastern part of America, as well as Quebec and New Brunswick. You can't legislate a word out of existence.

    September 28, 2010 at 02:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ken Wood

    Stupid crap like this is why some of the congresspersons are not coming back next year...

    September 28, 2010 at 03:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Missy

    So, with the multitude of enormous problems facing this nation, this is what Congress is spending time on? Figures.

    September 28, 2010 at 03:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. FreedomRock

    Thank you Thought Police

    September 28, 2010 at 03:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. FreedomRock

    Maybe instead of the R word, we can just say "See original version of Black Eyed Peas song retitled "Let's Get it Started'"?

    September 28, 2010 at 03:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sydney Australia

    Several traditional terms denoting varying degrees of mental deficiency long predate psychiatry, but have since been subject to the 'euphemism treadmill'. The words changes but the children and their parents till exist.

    Retarded comes from the Latin retardare, "to make slow, delay, keep back, or hinder." The term was recorded in 1426 as a "fact or action of making slower in movement or time." The first record of retarded in relation to being mentally slow was in 1895. The term retarded was used to replace terms like idiot, moron, and imbecile because it was not a derogatory term. By the 1960s, however, the term had taken on a partially derogatory meaning as well.[13] The noun "retard" is particularly seen as pejorative; as of 2010, the Special Olympics, Best Buddies and over 100 other organizations are striving to help eliminate the use of the "r-word" (analogous to the "n-word") in everyday conversation

    September 28, 2010 at 03:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. LAWMAN

    wow congress spending time on this, thats retarded

    September 28, 2010 at 03:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. jamesnyc

    Wasting our time on such trifles is retarded, hmm maybe the work is "stupid". I suppose someone should be able to tell the difference. To me it's like this: A person can be dumb because they are mentally deficient and they can't help it. A person who is stupid is a person who acts dumb but can....

    September 28, 2010 at 03:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. ib42

    I agree with this..only because Americans tend to nit pick and whine over the most simple terms, deeming them objectionable.
    Why not teach kids in school the meaning of the word, and that it is not to be used against another child who has the condition?
    Too much trouble for parents? That's the problem. So many ordinary words are being demonized because of the ignorance of average Americans and their obsession with political correctness. Even the military has absurd terms and descriptions for death of civilians ( collateral damage), etc.
    Sanitize, homogenize and mutilate the reality of life.

    September 28, 2010 at 03:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. James Sedgwick

    There is only one reason for the trumped up movement to vilify the word "retarded" – it was instigated by Microsoft's Paul Allen's media empire as a method to have the book "Rock Prophecy" banned, because Chapter 17 in that book is titled "Retarded History"

    http://www.rockprophecy.com/toc.html

    and the book explains Mr. Allen's role in organizing media to condition all of us about asteroid disaster. The Rock Prophecy book, story, and website are targets of the most intense censorship effort ever and mogul controlled congress is complicit in creating conditions like prohibiting the word "retarded" as means of assuring that the evidence in Rock Prophecy is never allowed any arena for consideration, yet the book remains the single most important and critical set of insights ever presented to us.

    September 28, 2010 at 03:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. JJ

    congress is retarded. it's nice that they can set and pass laws on the language we use but can't seem to agree on anything worth while to the people of this country. way to go congress.

    September 28, 2010 at 03:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kana

      Just chipping away at our constitutional rights. Just make small changes and people get upset for a little while and will forget. Rather than make several big changes all at once..

      September 28, 2010 at 07:25 | Report abuse |
  23. Trevor, Austin, TX

    This is political correctness to be sure, but in this case I think it's justified, and I'm about as anti-PC as they come. Since we were kids we knew that the word "retard" had derogatory connotations, most of us probably used it as an insult in the schoolyard more than a few times. Even one of my college professors used the word regularly in a class I took over this past summer, and it burned my ears every time, even though I probably still use it on occasion; it's all to easy to describe something this way: "That's so retarded!" The word is apt to describe the conditions at hand, but replacing it with a new label is a good idea, so the unfortunate people with down syndrome can live with a little more dignity than they're currently afforded.

    September 28, 2010 at 03:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    This is IQ-challenged legislation.

    September 28, 2010 at 04:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. SJtR

    gotta love political correctness. it's for the overly sensitive cry babies

    September 28, 2010 at 04:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. JoeG

    I am so glad that congress has taken precious time out of their busy hectic and very very important lives to adress the most pressing matter of the nation. A word. One word. Now they can move on the the much less pressing matters of raising their income and getting reelected. Good job America.

    September 28, 2010 at 04:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. antoni caleca

    Our government is retarded. It's always concerned about words and not about substance. Continually, the US government tries not to hurt anyone's feelings, yet doesn't help anybody. They are stupid. Leave Palin alone. At least she believes in free speech and in the rights provided to us by our Constitution. The current administration is stripping us of our freedoms and argues about words. Global Warming is now Climate Change, the liberals can't admit the planet is now cooling. Always it's the same crap. All government is crooked, the liberals are even greater liars and yes, they are really Retarded, every liberal. I am sick of it. Even Colombia voted 75% conservative in their last election. That should tell us something. Liberalism doesn't profit us anything. It strips us of rights. Any moron knows that you don't sign a contract without reading it first, in business and personally. Our Congress passed 2700 pages of Health Care without reading it. They debated it without reading it. NOW, ISN'T THAT REALLY RETARDED? How stupid can that be? And we allow these idiots to stay in office? They should be deported, Pelosi, Reed, all of them. Include our retarded President who is only interested in his personal marxist agenda and could care less about the wishes of the American Public. Elected officials work for us, we are not their subjects, I do not accept the tyranny of the present administration. If this current group is not voted out, shame on all of us. It will be the end of a great nation, America as we once knew it. America as designed by the founding fathers.

    September 28, 2010 at 04:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. antoni

    Our government is retarded. It's always concerned about words and not about substance. Continually, the US government tries not to hurt anyone's feelings, yet doesn't help anybody. They are stupid. Leave Palin alone. At least she believes in free speech and in the rights provided to us by our Constitution. The current administration is stripping us of our freedoms and argues about words. Global Warming is now Climate Change, the liberals can't admit the planet is now cooling. Always it's the same crap. All government is crooked, the liberals are even greater liars and yes, they are really Retarded, every liberal. I am sick of it. Even Colombia voted 75% conservative in their last election. That should tell us something. Liberalism doesn't profit us anything. It strips us of rights. Any moron knows that you don't sign a contract without reading it first, in business and personally. Our Congress passed 2700 pages of Health Care without reading it. They debated it without reading it. NOW, ISN'T THAT REALLY RETARDED? How stupid can that be? And we allow these idiots to stay in office? They should be deported, Pelosi, Reed, all of them. Include our retarded President who is only interested in his personal marxist agenda and could care less about the wishes of the American Public. Elected officials work for us, we are not their subjects, I do not accept the tyranny of the present administration. If this current group is not voted out, shame on all of us. It will be the end of a great nation, America as we once knew it. America as designed by the founding fathers.

    September 28, 2010 at 04:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Charlotte Crist

    Wow...something Congress can agree on...It's a small step, but at least one in the right direction. Maybe if we called our current economy, wars, and divisions "retarded"...they could be fixed too, with the stroke of a pen!

    September 28, 2010 at 05:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. hombresincamisa

    Its all right. A rose is a rose. About every 20 years they change the name. From "idiot, imbecile and educatable" when I was young (That took offensive meaning) to "mental retardation" to this. Give it time and the term "intellectual disability" will have to be changed because it has become offensive. This is our congress doing their best impression of "doing something." They are frickin intellectually disabled... the retarded idiots.

    September 28, 2010 at 06:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. JeremeF

    Great change, but making it a law to not use the word alien when it comes to immigration would be even better! Alien is very derogatory.

    September 28, 2010 at 06:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. W.G.

    It´s a shame that a word that perfectly describes the republican and teaparties is to be eliminated . It truly is a sad day
    in America :(

    September 28, 2010 at 06:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Francis Marino

    Noone and I mean NOONE has the right to control the way we speak. This is a disturbing trend from Iiberal side. Controling language is controlling thought – George Carlin.

    September 28, 2010 at 06:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Terry - Indiana

    This might be the dumbest thing I have heard in a very long time. Webster defines the word "retarded" to be: " Sometimes offensive " Slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress. Webster defines the word "disabled" to be: Incapacitated by illness or injury; also: physically or mentally impaired in a way that substantially limits activity especially in relation to employment or education. I have used the word retarded numerous times while discussing the Congress of the United States, the voters in Bell, California, and President George Bush, and in each case there is factual evidence that the word use was correct to define those discussed. I do not use the "N" word, because that is truly offensive, not only to Blacks, but to all people of color, because they realize the person using that word must also have a descriptive word for their race. Frankly, if the Congress of the United States bans the use of the word "retarded" how will I address that ship of fools?

    September 28, 2010 at 06:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. brad

    Another pointless, empty gesture by congress to make it look like they are doing something at election time. Next comes the debates on candidate A did vote for the measure while the opponent candidate B did not etc etc etc.

    September 28, 2010 at 06:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Big Brother

    Newspeak is closer to becoming a reality? This is doubleplusungood.

    September 28, 2010 at 06:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Peter E

    So the same right wing that says liberals complain too much about political correctness suddenly want to impose correctness because the media is obsessed with their failed VP candidate? (not to mention a quitter governor) The same Sarah Palin who has repeatedly used that very word repeatedly to attack Obama and democratic policies? Yes, it is all very consistent...

    September 28, 2010 at 06:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. LongSausage

    What's the big deal? My sister called me "retarded" the whole time we were growing up and I thought it was a term of endearment. Now I'm supposed to hate her for it ?

    September 28, 2010 at 06:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Limbaugh is a liberal

    I demand Congress pass a law that prohibits the use of the word 'old' in all public speech and policy. It is discriminatory and derogatory! I demand all use of this word be replaced with 'senior.'
    However I don't actually care to change the discriminatory policies that single out 'senior' people. That's not important. The only thing important is that the previous word is replaced by a different one that means the same thing!

    September 28, 2010 at 06:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. LongSausage

    Use the word "Stupid" instead.

    September 28, 2010 at 06:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. y2daddy

    I need a new dictionary now just to keep up with all the words I'm not supposed to say. Geez.

    September 28, 2010 at 06:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kana

      It's not so much learning the "new" word. Now you have to speak in alphabet... "insert letter" word. One good thing about this is it will teach more people how to send text messages....

      September 28, 2010 at 07:21 | Report abuse |
  42. danno

    Congress is retarded.

    September 28, 2010 at 06:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Rick Mavers

    Ahhh... America. Ever 30 years or so, a group decides a word commonly used to describe them is offensive and demand a new word... then years down the road they decide THAT word is offensive and the cycle goes around again and again. Things aren't that stupid in Europe.

    September 28, 2010 at 06:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Ruth

    This is why Congress cannot get a budget passed or help the economy improve because they are debating over a word. We Americans need to ban together and vote out every member of Congress and the Senate every election year until they start taking care of our country's needs and not the petty issues. These kind of debate are school aged spats. Come on Grow up and work the real issues. Congress and Senate by working this petty issues do not have to make real life tough decisions prior to elections. I for one will vote every year to change every person in the House and Senate until they start to listen to the people as a whole and not a select few.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. WillyWalnuts

    Better get Steve Colbert's opinion on this...

    September 28, 2010 at 07:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Graphite

    Congress is retarded. Now I'm going to try and work this word in everyday.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Hogwash

    I have a bother who was born premature and his is mentally retarded. It took me over two years and hiring a lawyer to get him his social security benefits at age 55 due to the fact that my parents thought it would be the right thing to do to live in a small town and help him by employing him in their business and then helped him get a job by the people who knew him and that he could do little jobs. Well after that plant sold he was unemployable to the new owners. So now if is is not mentally retarded but "individual with an intellectual disability' is that really going to make a difference in whether or not he can draw the social security that he paid in for 30 years.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Jason B.

    The critics are right. This is all for political correctness. If "retard" is "banned" because it hurts someone's feelings, bullies will just pick a new word to use.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. whyusefacts

    Spending time on this issue has retarded congressional progress on real issues.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Ddale Zalewski

    Political Correctness raises its ugly head, again. The next thing you know, they'll want to change the name of 'Mother Goose' to 'Underappreciated Primary Caregiver Goose'!

    Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end."

    September 28, 2010 at 07:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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