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Advocates consider the term a stinging label that is outdated and stigmatizing.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 (1,022 Responses)
  1. Dave

    In my best game show host impersonation: "Ooohhhhh....sorry congress. We were actually looking for you to eliminate 'Recession...' 'Recession' is the word we were looking for."

    September 27, 2010 at 23:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PhoenixRising

      Thanks, Dave! That's hilarious!

      September 28, 2010 at 00:56 | Report abuse |
    • Angie

      that's a good one 🙂

      September 28, 2010 at 03:22 | Report abuse |
    • Larp

      Dave, the problem here is that congress does not know how to spell "recession"

      September 28, 2010 at 12:51 | Report abuse |
  2. Robin Bray

    Of course we all knew that this article would draw out all of the typical remarks that people think is so funny.

    Those with challenges are the last citizens to have equal Civil Rights in this country. Often they are still presented with the concept of separate but equal which is not equal in any sense of the word. In my years of work with those with cognitive disabilities I have found one important thing. Those who we label as disabled are the most open to others of different race, religions, education, places of origination and beliefs.

    They treat others as equals. It is about time we did the same for them.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Thomas Nelson

    Congress is retarded. Next it will be called "Not intellectually superior”. What a bunch of bullshit. Labels are a problem, but some things are what they are regardless of how painful they may be. As for Down’s Syndrome, it is a condition that is both abnormal (extra chromosome) and, if I am not wrong, always results in mental retardation.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mickey Mud Turtle

      I thought that it went w/o saying that Congress is not exactly what most would consider intellectually superior. 😀

      September 28, 2010 at 01:57 | Report abuse |
  4. Joseph Ernesto

    And I thought the "R" word stood for Republican, a word which should be banned. I prefer calling them Gops, anyway (rhymes with Cops).

    September 27, 2010 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Totenkopf SS

    I agree with the majority of the folks here! I for one enjoy the way this word leaves my forked tongue as does N***er and W**B***.. I take pleasure in throwing those mere words around! To all the N****rs and W**B*** out there I love you all!

    September 27, 2010 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rob

    Ridiculous.. a better word... and what is next on their agenda? And we voted for these people.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. david

    if you believe barry soetoro has shown us his birth certificate you are retarded. a certificate of live birth is not a birth certificate. if a certificate of live birth was a birth certificate, it would be called a birth certificate. do you understand that, rick sanchez, or are you retarded?

    September 27, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. ObiWan412

    I thought they R word was be republican.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. david

    barry got another 46 billion. are you retarded or do you believe the united states can print money endlessly and not face any consequences later. if you realize the federal reserve is not federal, you are not retarded. al qaeda and bin laden have NOT been convicted in any court. you realize that means they are not guilty of 911, or are you retarded?

    September 27, 2010 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Lenny

    Wanna know how your taxpayer money is being spent? Here it is. Best retard circus money can buy.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • WinstonSmith

      Oh I just LOVES me a retard Circus!!! The Clowns is da bomb!

      September 28, 2010 at 02:27 | Report abuse |
  11. JayEm


    September 27, 2010 at 23:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Someone Somewhere

    How about changing it to Legally, Ethically, Morally, Constitutionally, South Bronx Offensive, East LA Disapproved, African American Disgraced, White Supremacy Illicit, Other Race Challenged, Illegally In The Country Offended, Some Other Country's Citizens Mentally Challenged...... ??? Did I miss anyone or anything in my factious rant ??? What a crock of chit and waste of taxpayer money...

    September 27, 2010 at 23:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. wtf

    this is intellectually disabled

    September 27, 2010 at 23:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. david

    many of the terrorists of 9/11 were found alive after 9/11. cnn did not has not and will not report that fact because cnn and the reporters there are retarded.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • OverNOut

      Yeah, right. And your source for this information is...?

      September 28, 2010 at 08:23 | Report abuse |
  15. Alex

    It's all about the context. The term used in most contexts is no more insulting or derogatory than calling someone a jacka**. The government can "ban" it from their diction if they wish (Absolutely a complete waste of congress's time) but that won't stop society from doing so.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. david

    why dont americans realize that if a boeing flies into the pentagon, it will leave a hole bigger than 16 feet wide. look up hunt the boeing or be a retard for the rest of your life.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Richard Larson

    I guess the legal definition of libel or slander will have to be extended to include hurtful, falsehoods that offend not only the subject of the libel / slander/ pejoritive slur but any bystander within hearing. This is sick. Please, please, if you are offended by such terms, just refuse to use them yourselves. There are many who could care less if the pejoritive term is hurtful or not. That government should have to involve itself with such less than mundane matters beggars the notion that the Halls of Congress should be where matters of real import are decided, not this kind of pap.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Someone Somewhere

      Ahhh yes... what a traditional misuse of the English Language... Slander is spoken, Libel is written.. so therefor by its definition and your comment, anyone "within hearing" cannot be subject to Libel, only Slander. And the way the courts are going, me saying or writing that You are the most self centered egotistical maniac I have known in the last 5 minutes cannot be considered neither libelous nor slanderous as whether or not I interject the either the phrase "in my opinion" or "Its my opinion" or any derivative of those because it is within my First Amendment right to express my opinion, which, coming out of my mouth or off my fingers on a seemingly innocent wall post, unless I provide factual evidence and footnotes, its all my opinion.... And heaven forbid they EVER use the Yankee Phrase "Youse Guys" or "Them/Those People"...

      September 27, 2010 at 23:33 | Report abuse |
  18. Rick

    Can we make an exception and still reserve the word to describe the new American Taliban, the Tea baggers? How else can we describe Palin, O'Donnell or Rand Paul?

    September 27, 2010 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Louis Schwarz

    Also, why not removing the word "impaired" – we do not want to be called hearing impaired. Why cannot we call the hearing people deaf impaired? Please remove the word "impaired"

    The term "Hearing Impaired" is a technically accurate term much preferred by hearing people, largely because they view it as politically correct. In the mainstream society, to boldly state one's disability (e.g., deaf, blind, etc.) is somewhat rude and impolite. To their way of thinking, it is far better to soften the harsh reality by using the word "impaired" along with "visual", "hearing", and so on. "hearing-impaired" is a well-meaning word that is much-resented by deaf and hard of hearing people.

    While it's true that their hearing is not perfect, that doesn't make them impaired as people. Most would prefer to be called Deaf, Hard of Hearing or deaf when the need arises to refer to their hearing status, but not as a primary way to identify them as people (where their hearing status is not significant).

    September 27, 2010 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. JayEm

    Someone in a coma is an individual with an intellectual disability.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Papasan

    So what they are saying is that you can't say "retard"...

    September 27, 2010 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. david

    people who think the u.s. government never lies, about 9/11 specifically, are retarded. they are also gullible, unable to think for themselves and need to learn to stop trusting. hey cass sunstein, come get me you ugly bald headed freak. cass sunstein is definitely retarded! 911 was an inside job.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. rv1982

    Why? Do the new words mean the same thing? I always took the word to have something to do with mental development, which is different for every single person on the planet. I personally would never want to be classified as being "intellectually disabled"...sounds like an effect. I think mentally challenged is more dignified for those that hope and strive to be their best at any level of intelligence. I don't pretend to define where the "cut off" point is for being “retarded”, “intellectually disabled”, or "intellectually challenged." I suppose now the word "retarded" is just reserved for kids using it incorrectly as a synonym for "stupid" (which it is not). Leave it to Congress to stew over misuse of language.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Someone Somewhere

       /rɪˈtɑrd, for 1–3, 5; ˈritɑrd for 4/ Show Spelled[ri-tahrd, for 1–3, 5; ree-tahrd for 4] Show IPA
    –verb (used with object)
    1. to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.
    –verb (used without object)
    2. to be delayed.
    3. a slowing down, diminution, or hindrance, as in a machine.
    4. Slang: Disparaging .
    a. a mentally retarded person.
    b. a person who is stupid, obtuse, or ineffective in some way: a hopeless social retard.
    5. Automotive, Machinery . an adjustment made in the setting of the distributor of an internal-combustion engine so that the spark for ignition in each cylinder is generated later in the cycle.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • whyusefacts

      [ri-tahr-did] Show IPA
      characterized by retardation: a retarded child.
      ( used with a plural verb ) mentally retarded persons collectively (usually prec. by the ): new schools for the retarded.

      Notice here it isn't labeled as disparaging.

      September 28, 2010 at 02:36 | Report abuse |
  25. Madman09

    That's just retarded.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. bob

    Congress are fart-tards, Why are they wasting our tine with this?

    September 27, 2010 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. New at this

    Dang. When I read the headline, I thought they were banning republicans. Too bad I was wrong. 🙁

    September 27, 2010 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. david

    george w bush retarded the 911 commission. because george w bush ordered 9/11 to happen. george w bush should be tried for crimes against humanity.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Someone Somewhere

      Only after the entire population of the European/Spanish/Mexican/Non Native people who have stolen the land from the Native People of North America .. There has been theft, murders, and other heinous atrocities for centuries committed by Whites and Blacks alike on this continent, all in the name of progress, religion, and freedom. Which one you want to start with?? When Columbus bumped the rock in 1492, or Ponce de Leon in Floriduh, or ??? Get a clue Helen... cause the crap aint going to stop any time soon no matter what name its given, or what race its done by, or what religion endorses it!

      September 27, 2010 at 23:45 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Who cares about 9/11, that's yesterday's news. Let's have a beer and have some fun!

      September 27, 2010 at 23:47 | Report abuse |
  29. Traci

    How is the 'N" word derogatory if it's used in every rap song? It's only wrong when no one can use it.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Stevorino

      Really? "How is the N-word wrong?" Are you kidding? It's offensive to black people, so if a black person wants to use it, it only hurts themselves. However, if a member of another race (white people, mostly) uses it, it slams their entire ethnicity. If a black person wants to use it in a rap song, then they can as they will. But, as a white person, I have NO RIGHT to use that word.

      September 28, 2010 at 01:01 | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      It's the historical and cultural context attached to the n-word that is wrong. The n-word is literally just a slight variation on the latin root-word for "black". Unlinke "retard" or "nerd" or "queer" it has no implied abnormal behavioral/physical meaning just a descriptive meaning which is usually correctly applied in the literal sense.

      September 28, 2010 at 01:13 | Report abuse |
    • maine liberal

      There was a very good book written years ago about the history of the N-word.
      The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word
      Written by Randall Kennedy

      September 28, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse |
    • Randy Crawford

      Formerly, people of low IQ were called idiots, morons, or imbeciles depending on the degree of their deficit. The word retarded came to be substituted as a euphemism, like gay was invented as a euphemism for being perverted, or like depression was invented as a euphemism for stock-market panic and then recession became a euphemism for depression. If we are to be so politically "correct" (actually, politically censored by overweaning bigoted babysitters) that we can't use the word retarded, we might as well start using the word "politician" do designate anyone who is stupid, perverted, censoring, and causing financial meltdowns. After all, we already know Washington is full of such retarded perverted bungling politicians right now, so let's just call them according to what is self-evident.

      September 29, 2010 at 00:36 | Report abuse |
    • WillyWalnuts

      That's R & R = racist & retarded.

      September 28, 2010 at 06:46 | Report abuse |
    • hapyhey

      Its called reverse descrimination. Black people are now free to discriminate at will. Check out a "black" show on tv and check out the ridicule of white latin and asian peoples! Its retarded!

      September 28, 2010 at 12:45 | Report abuse |
  30. david

    will americans use common sense and realize 9/11 was an inside job, or will they be retards for the rest of their lives?

    September 27, 2010 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      I don't care whether or not 9/11 was an inside job, like I care. I'm heading for the nearest casino! Casino deal baby, that's what it's all about!!

      September 27, 2010 at 23:50 | Report abuse |
  31. Jay

    I am not surprised by this most recent attack of political correctness.... after all... the government itself is completely infested with retards.... of course they don't want to be called retards. Too bad, retards.... that's what you are... retards.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. david

    are americans aware that they are losing their privacy rights, and their free speech rights, or are they retarded? am i retarded, or do the american people still have the power of impeachment?

    September 27, 2010 at 23:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      The American people no longer have the power of impeachment, you must have missed that. So accept it and get over it, dude. And then head for the nearest casino to have some fun!! All conspiracy theories must be left at the casino door!!

      September 27, 2010 at 23:53 | Report abuse |
  33. Shrink2Be

    75 years from now Congress will be passing a law saying that the terms "Disabled" or "I.D." may no longer be used in legal, health or education settings because the term is derogatory.
    Mental Retardation is a medical term. It describes someone with an I.Q. under 70. It is used in the diagnostic manual used by all psychiatrists. It is a common medical abbreviation – "MR". It is a term that has a meaning, it refers to cognition and mental ability.
    It doesn't matter what term is used. When it means something abnormal, it will become a derogatory term. Next will they outlaw the word "Bully" for mean kids?
    Soon we will get to the point where no one can be called a loser, even when their team loses...because it's derogatory. We'll have to say that the losing team was the runner-up in a contest of two.
    People who want to outlaw the word "Retard" are idiots, imbeciles, and morons (IQ of 0-25, 26-50, and 51-70 respectively)

    September 27, 2010 at 23:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. steve

    I blame Obama for this PC craziness. I was lectured by my son's second grade teacher for using the term "retard strength" while speaking to his class.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Pissing Off the Reich Wing

    Sarah Palin thinks we should stop using the word retarded? Maybe she should stop carrying that retarded loaf of bread around under her arm looking for pity votes. As far as Congress goes don't those retards have anything better to do? Like extending tax cuts to the Middle Class.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. david

    the 911 commissioners dont believe the 911 commission report. why do you? because you are retarded.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Adam Leyrer

    If a plant's growth is retarded, it grows slowly. If a plant's growth is disabled, it does not grow at all. These are distinct words that ought to be employed with regard to distinct symptoms and diseases in living things, with the goal of accurate description. There is little more offensive than having an unusual behavior or need misattributed; someone who is genetically predisposed to weight gain is not gluttonous, someone with dyslexia is not slothful, and someone who's mental development occurs at a slower pace is not "disabled" or broken. I find the new language to be offensive according to the literal meaning and the misunderstanding it promotes, whereas the old language was merely coincidentally employed by elementary school bullies.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Elexsor

    Interesting. Gotta love political correctness. If I were to think of a way to describe someone I thought was stupid I would use "Intellectually disabled" as in incapable of learning or reasoning. While "mental retardation" would mean one who is mentally slow or slowed mental capabilities. Maybe "Intellectually impaired" I think would be better as in one who has impaired learning and reasoning abilities. I think disabled is a strong term while impaired seems to be better suited. Either way you can't escape what you are trying to escape. The condition is what people inappropriately make fun of. Thus no matter how many names you change the condition to the problem will always be the same. I already hear people using "challenged" as an insult. Soon it will be what you change it to next. Sad but true.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. discoflash

    Running with a beer is retarded.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. david

    world trade center 7 buildings dont fall at free fall speed and turn to dust because they are sad world trade center 1 and 2 buildings did likewise. 1300 architects and engineers know that. you dont because you are retarded.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Larp

      Go soak your head. We are getting tired of retarded tirade of 911

      September 28, 2010 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
  41. Karma

    Bunch of retards in our Congress.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. solo75

    I thought they article was talking about R-epublicans

    September 27, 2010 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pissing Off the Reich Wing

      We couldn't get that lucky. LOL

      September 27, 2010 at 23:50 | Report abuse |
    • solo75

      Hahaha. Indeed

      September 27, 2010 at 23:57 | Report abuse |
  43. david

    jamie mcyintyre reported that he did not see a plane at the pentagon on 911. you forget that because you are retarded.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      I did not see a turd come out of my ass when I had diarreah, but it did, I just missed it because it came out so fast. I almost forgot that, so thank you for reminding me.

      September 27, 2010 at 23:56 | Report abuse |
  44. david

    i deliver undeniable facts and prove beyond doubt that 9/11 was an inside job, yet you continue to believe the government that lied before 9/11, lied on 9/11, and lies after 9/11. not only is that psychotic thinking, it is retarded.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. GoRemote

    Is "Tard" still ok? As in "This is really tarded".

    September 27, 2010 at 23:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. opinion8it

    It's not fair. The R word was the perfect synonym for "R"epublicans.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Maria

    This is retarded.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. doodaddel

    This is just gay...

    September 27, 2010 at 23:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • reality check

      Yes, the word "gay" was hijacked from our vocabulary to soften the negative stigma attached to those who engage in acts of homosexuality.

      September 28, 2010 at 00:32 | Report abuse |
  49. stupidhead

    so if a music teacher uses the term retard (to slow).
    they're going to be fired?

    there's another Ar-tard word that should be removed by congress.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. bigdoglv

    Hey, Congress already eliminated the "J" word.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:56 | Report abuse | Reply
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