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Advocates consider the term a stinging label that is outdated and stigmatizing.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

    wow that is retarded. stop being a bunch of morons. who cares about a stupid word. its totaly cool to shoot people we dont like in the face. i think they should be banning words like patriot. couse the people who call themselves that are liers. or how about they change the word conservitive to mean thief or hater of the poor. also dont they understand for example george w bush see he has an intellectual disability but what we call him is Retarded. its simple people.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Guest4Me

    “intellectual disability”. I like it for it describes over 90% of our population!

    September 28, 2010 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. maddawg

    all i can say is....how retarded!!!!

    intellectual disability? mentally challenged? retarded? iTard?

    they all mean the same thing....if a person is going to be bullied, teased and picked on for being retarded, they will still be subject to the same having an 'intellectual disabilty'.

    you lemmings worry to much about the little nothings in life while at the same time bantering on how the killer of the family down the street should stay in prison the rest of his life instead of being removed from this life.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Kana

    This is retarded!!!
    F*** Political Correctness!!!

    September 28, 2010 at 07:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. demetri

    Wait a minute. Isn't that Political correctness?

    September 28, 2010 at 07:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. intellectual challenger

    Congress is retarded

    September 28, 2010 at 07:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bill

    What is with this Congress and the other sections of government? With all the troubles in this country, they are worried about the use of a word? Also, they are pondering the acceptance of "Crush Videos" (Cruelity to animals). What about the cruelity we American tax payers and workers and unemployed are suffering during these times of our "busy" Congress.
    Think it is time to wake-up Washington....and get those old lazy ba*tards working FOR the people and not AGAINST us!

    September 28, 2010 at 07:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Brian

    Our government is a bunch of retarded rejects!

    September 28, 2010 at 07:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Tony D

    The whole goverment is retarded when they focus their time on a useless word.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sigh

    This entire discussion is intellectually disabled. All this would do is shift the negative connotation from retarded to a new set of words. It changes nothing except what words we use to refer to the condition. If adopted in the lexicon they will soon be looked at as negatively as retarded does today. Why? Because mental retardation is a negative condition. You can't white wash the issues of the world away by changing the words because we don't like what they describe.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. valjean

    With the country's economy falling apart, our military in constant danger, our borders insecure, our schools in a prolonged failure mode and an administration that increasingly is out of touch with the voting public, this is what our elected officials have chosen to exert their energies on? I am no fan of the tea party but it is time to remove each and every one of these dolts from Congress

    September 28, 2010 at 07:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kudu

    But wait a minute, Sarah Palin is a retard

    September 28, 2010 at 07:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Corvus1

    It's a word that needs to go in the trash along with every other slur out there.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Spence

    The biggest re***** are the voters putting in the same type of criminals in office, by voting in more misery, with the only choices in elections being the worst form of humanity.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bill

      Agree....Only suggestion is to include the choice of "NONE Of The Above" on every ballot within every Issue. That way, we voters (taxpayers) can voice our dislike of those running and demand they TRY AGAIN!

      September 28, 2010 at 07:52 | Report abuse |
  15. Jack

    The current joke is "riding the short bus to school". As in "oh, you ride the short bus to school don't you?" So I guess it won't be long before "short buses" are banned because they are stigmatizing. *sigh*

    September 28, 2010 at 07:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. steeve-o

    I wonder if while they're at it, they'll get rid of the word libtard.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. steeve-o

    The R word?
    Republican?

    September 28, 2010 at 07:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. IntelQuest

    Well it seems like when real issues come up, like a Microbiologist who has successfully slowed the growth (retarded) of a resistant bacteria Congress simply can't talk about it. At least there are no official Congressional musicians because they would never be able to slow down the tempo of what they are playing (retard). It seems they just want to ban the one word that most accurately describes the progress congress is making (retarded). Not one of these uses is derogatory so I guess if it's not derogatory it doesn't count as a word to congress.

    September 28, 2010 at 08:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. IntelQuest

    When real issues come up, like a Microbiologist who has successfully slowed the growth (retarded) of a resistant bacteria Congress simply can't talk about it. At least there are no official Congressional musicians because they would never be able to slow down the tempo of what they are playing (retard). It seems they just want to ban the one word that most accurately describes the progress congress is making (retarded). Not one of these uses is derogatory so I guess if it's not derogatory it doesn't count as a word to congress!

    September 28, 2010 at 08:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. IntelQuest

    Well it's a good thing that Fox news doesn't have to listen to congress, otherwise Bill O'Reilly would have nothing to say about Democrats on his show.

    September 28, 2010 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Greg

    I got into a government computer network and stole a list of words that will not be eliminated! A few examples are lobbiest, earmarks, graft, corruption, corporate influence, and the phrase "walking the Appalacian (sp) Trail"!

    September 28, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. OverNOut

    I AGREE with this change. I'm surprised most of you don't. The "r" word has been offensive for a very (!) long time. Anyone who uses it doesn't sound very bright. I hope people will learn to treat others with more love and support. The dictionary definition of the word is not the intent most people have when using it, and we all know it is out-dated and often used in hurtful ways. Good change in recognizing how offensive it is and not condoning the use.

    September 28, 2010 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eric

      So what words would be your next target because you and other like minded liberals find them offensive?

      What other liberties would you like to curtail under the banner of hate speech and the like?

      The modern day Democratic Party is a joke. Not so funny though as they curtail speech, ditch civil liberties through commerce clause mandates, ban the freaking incandescent light bulb, tell you what you eat, what to drive, and on and on.

      Please tell me that there is still a majority of Americans who remember why this country is/was so great. Americans have been free to create, enterprise, succeed and fail – that's called the American Dream. People used to flock to the US for their piece of that dream. Now the Democrats have warped that concept and people flock here illegally to get their piece of government handouts. The liberals welcome this as their Utopian Dream relies on citizens dependent on government – this is also why amnesty for illegal aliens is one of their top priorities.

      Why are liberals so hellbent on the destruction of the successful American idea – in the name of "change" one little piece at a time?

      September 28, 2010 at 11:48 | Report abuse |
  23. BilCat

    Here we go – let's get further into the "correct-speak" group and say which words can be said and which words can't be said. During Clinton-ism it was called "being politically correct". I guess the current environment wants to take it further. Mark my words – there will come a day when you will get arrested for not using correct (by society's standard) phrasing when speaking.

    September 28, 2010 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Tom Legare

    OK, so where does this "lunacy" stop? Now do we eliminate:

    Cripple
    Idiot
    Asshole
    Shithead
    Moron

    Where do you draw the line. Free Speech!!

    September 28, 2010 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Jim McTeigue

    The hilarious irony here is that the word "disabled" is considered to be offensive by some, and was, itself, replaced in PC lingo (by the DNC in the 80's, no less) by "differently abled". Way to go congress! You replaced one "offensive" word with another... talk about intellectually differently abled...

    September 28, 2010 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. FauxNews

    I can't believe this article even used the R-word, how retarded.

    September 28, 2010 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. tess

    Retarded is not a bad word. Look it up. It's not something anyone can change about themselves and applies to many things besides people. Congress is a joke. They legislate politically incorrect words, interrogate ball players, vote themselves huge pay increases and benefits, give voting rights to people illegally in this country, take our earnings and redistribute them to the undeserving all while wearing their designer suits and superior attitudes. There is no way to prevent people from being hurtful to another except thru education. Compassion sometimes has to be taught to those who have never known it. Oh. They've destroyed education too.

    September 28, 2010 at 09:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. maine liberal

    I think that any "retarded" act should now be refered to as a Palin

    September 28, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eric

      Your intelligent commentary is truly inspiring.

      September 28, 2010 at 11:12 | Report abuse |
  29. ussenterprise

    Why does there need to be this bill?
    1st – I am an absolutist. I Absolutely support, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States.
    2nd – Free speech. And none of you will like what follows...
    If you are a politian, and you are retarded enough to include retard and any variation therof in a bill that YOU sponsor and/or write, you deserve what you get. (UNELECTED...)

    As for me, I am NOT a politico. So, I really don't care. But I am in full support of freedom of speech. (And, I believe you reap what you sow...)

    September 28, 2010 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. ironbadge

    Big issue. Now which word to use when we refer to people in Congress? We could not use the R-word anymore. Somebody must invent a new word.

    September 28, 2010 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Ed

    This story is retarded. Not retarded as in slow but retarded as in stupid. I'm like we vote these morons regardless of party to vote on such nonsense. How long before people start saying "Look it's melvin he's Intellectually disabled"... (Push) Then we won't be able to say that either. So I'm saying this once and for all.... If a person has an IQ lower than 75-80 they are retarded as in SLOW. Their brains cannot think as fast as someone with a higher IQ. Not saying that they cannot do things. It just takes them longer to do it because they work slower than people with higher IQs. Fawking liberals... I swear. They make the Democratic party look like a bunch of hippies. Really wish they would off shoot and become the tree hugger party....

    September 28, 2010 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. rivirivi

    Sorry but due to my intellectual disability I cannot understand why would people waste so much time in sounding politically correct instead of SENATE and HOSE OF REP. paying and contributing to Social Security to which they have not paid a cent to yet will get a very nice and full and for life retirement – all at the same time trying to up the retirement age for us working folks to 75. NOW, what is the politically correct to define the Senate and House of Reps: RETARDED! oops, I mean DISHONEST LEECHES who think we are intellectually disable to see what they are doing and not doing.

    September 28, 2010 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. rivirivi

    CNN thinks we are all intellectually disable. Why isn't CNN publishing articles everyday about the fact that the Senate and the House of REpresentatives are nothing but bunch of leeches in their own world and conform their own country away and apart from us? Since when and how and why -maybe the pass the bill at 4:00 am privately – that Senate and House do not ever pay or contribute to social security for hundreds of years and get a very nice retirement for life and is inherited by their families? WHY?

    September 28, 2010 at 10:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. maine liberal

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

    the word hasnt been removed from the dictionary or outlawed. its just been removed from legislation.
    You are still free to use it.

    September 28, 2010 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. d-bone

    Now that we've outlawed the use of retards, will only outlaws use retards?

    September 28, 2010 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Eric

    I'm waiting for Congress to tackle the extremely offensive "pineapple head". I was tormented by mean, nasty kids at school who used this derogatory term to tease me.

    The Liberal Utopian dream – isn't it great!

    September 28, 2010 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. the_dude

    these guys are retards if they think people will stop using the word retard.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Timmy

    I threw up alittle bit when I read this. This country is turning in to a bunch of cowards who are scared to use a word for it's definition. Go to hell politicians.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. wise@$$

    I know several people that have intelectual disabilities...they are everywhere, look at our government.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. david

    well overnout, only the british newspaper the telegraph and also reports out of us embassies reporting that they were showing up, asking for an explanation and being told it was a mistake and given an apology. look it up on the internet and see for yourself. search 911 terrorists are alive. youll see.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. larrywi

    This in itself is "RETARDED" I will continue to use it to describe the current state of the Washington administration!!

    September 28, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. hapyhey

    If something is retarded – it means slowed down. If a personal brain is "slow", that means it is retarded. Like a fire retardent. Why is this a bad word when it simply means slow or slowed. Isnt that the definition. When did ordinary descriptive words become bad? People are way too sensitive. And do these people with brain disorders even understand the difference? Should we now call fat people "unskinny?" Facts are facts! Lets focus on real problems.

    September 28, 2010 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Larp

      Hey retard – us fat people are not 'unskinny', I mean, dang, just cuz we go to 'Omar the test maker' for our clothes ... we are girth challenged :-)

      September 28, 2010 at 13:16 | Report abuse |
    • Larp

      Oops, that was supposed to read "Omar the Tent Maker". Now talk about a waste – all this money we spend for computers and the dang-blasted thing still can't spell!

      September 28, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
  43. Drazul

    My electronic fuel injection and ignition can retard the timing 1 million times an hour in my car.

    September 28, 2010 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. banning words is RETARDED

    and that doesnt mean it's good to use it.
    but a democracy should NOT ban words

    September 28, 2010 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Eric, not Cartman

    banning words is RETARDED

    September 28, 2010 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Serious

    Banning words is retarded. The work retard is used in many other contexts besides talking about someone having a mental disability. It's a slippery slope, but I expected this progression after the word 'n i g g e r' was called the 'n' word. Other words will be used instead, i.e. mental or handicapped. There will always be words used for such purposes as there is sometimes a need. Preservatives retard aging of food products. The word n i g g e r comes from the word negro, which comes from the French word for black. Banning words is totalitarian. No one will ever tell me what I can and can not say!

    September 28, 2010 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. vernxxx

    re·tard 1 (r-tärd)
    v. re·tard·ed, re·tard·ing, re·tards
    v.tr.
    To cause to move or proceed slowly; delay or impede.
    v.intr.
    To be delayed.
    n.
    1. A slowing down or hindering of progress; a delay.
    2. Music A slackening of tempo

    From the Latin "retardāre", from re- + tardāre to make slow, from "tardus" meaning sluggish, slow or late.

    Also the basis for the "Tardy".

    No mention of the actual meaning of the word being a pejorative.

    Congress has finally admitted that each and every one of them is (and have been) mentally reta.....….oh excuse me……I mean, individuals with intellectual disabilities.

    Confirming what most of us already knew to be true.

    September 28, 2010 at 13:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Serious

    Instead of calling people retarded just call them politically correct... same thing...

    September 28, 2010 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. meltemi

    We can still use a synonym: Congressman

    September 28, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. lolol

    They did it for Sarah Palin's retard son!

    September 28, 2010 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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