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Advocates consider the term a stinging label that is outdated and stigmatizing.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

    well mike, congress just gave 46 billion to barry soetoro. pretty soon you will not have money to go to a casino. if the u.s. thinks it has the right to kill americans in a terrorist attack, what makes you think they wont nuke the casino youre in. im still waiting for your false flag attack barry soetoro. if you and cass sunstein want to kill me, nuke st.louis. im sure ill get killed or die slow death due to radiation.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Patti

    Congress, please spend your time doing something useful and eliminate the G W-words. GOVERNMENT WASTE!

    September 27, 2010 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. hahaha

    Change the word, the meaning remains. Just like the term "mentally disabled", retard started out as an innocent technical descriptive word. The truth is, the word doesnt matter. Retards just dont like being reminded that they're retarded. If you start calling the neighborhood retard the neighborhood mentally disabled person, they'll quickly find that term offensive as well.

    Oh well.
    Retards will be retards.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. josh

    It's not right to call a handicapped person retarded, but I reserve the right to call a moron retarded.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. lmao

    this law is retarded

    September 28, 2010 at 00:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. DN3

    Please! Use of the word is entirely derogatory! Who, when using the word, isn't using it as a way to ridicule people or a put down???? Sheesh!
    They call it political correctness, but really it should be more about being nice to people. Sure the origin of the word 'retarded' is a normal word with an origin meaning slowed, but it's connotation in english has changed and people is it as a noun, like calling someone a 'retard'. If you don't like it when people call you fat or stupid or useless,etc. then don't call someone else (especially a kid) retarded!

    September 28, 2010 at 00:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Special Z


      September 28, 2010 at 00:53 | Report abuse |
    • Elexsor

      You are absolutely right. We shouldn't use a derogatory term. We should call them slow instead. Oh wait that is a derogatory term also. Anything used in a way to put down someone is a derogatory term. Now here is the reality. Mentally challenged people are no longer retarded. That is not the term used to refer to them. HOWEVER there is a definition for retard in the way it is used as a form of derogatory NOT related to the mentally handicapped: a person who is stupid, obtuse, or ineffective in some way: a hopeless social retard.
      It is now a simple derogatory no different than stupid, dumbass, or nitwit.

      This is why the PC thing should have never happened to begin with. People have never addressed the real issue. This congressional change is yet another thing that will not help the cause.

      September 28, 2010 at 02:32 | Report abuse |
  7. Leon

    Next they will require "Dick" Van "Dyke" to use Richard Van Lesbian.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Allen7487


    September 28, 2010 at 00:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • reality check


      September 28, 2010 at 00:24 | Report abuse |
  9. whatnext

    If I see somebody who can't think straight, I just think of them as Palinesque.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jeepers

    My son has Asperger's Syndrome. When he was 3, he was in a class for children with disabilities. It was scary to put him in there. I think the teacher understood my apprehension and asked me to volunteer a few times so I'd be less worried. Two little boys in the class had Down Syndrome. The first day, one of those sweet little boys climbed into my lap with a book for me to read to him. There was no stranger danger...no fear...just innocence. That was the day I stopped using that word in every day conversation.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hahaha

      Jeepers – What you witnessed was a shell of a human with severely limited common sense, reason, and ability to learn.
      In the wild, he would create a quick and easy meal for the nearest carnivore. However, since he is not in the wild, it is simply a soulless burden.
      The sweetness you describe is pure and unadulterated ignorance. You have mistaken the lack of basic human instincts with the cuteness you associated with your dolls as a child. In a sense, you have put the blinders up to in order to cope with the hardships you will surely face down the road while trying to maintain one of natures mia copas.

      September 28, 2010 at 00:20 | Report abuse |
    • Jeepers

      Wow, hahaha. "Soulless" sounds like it describes you pretty well.

      September 28, 2010 at 00:54 | Report abuse |
    • Elexsor

      I don't understand why you stopped using the word retarded. It is a shortened descriptive term. You are not being insulting by saying so. Do you think intellectually disabled is a nicer term? They are not intellectually disabled. They ARE intellectually impaired. This is what happens when you play word games. There was nothing wrong with the term mental retardation except for the fact that it could be modified to be a more accurate descriptive such as intellectually impaired. Intellectually disabled makes it sound like they are stupid because it quite literally means that they are unable to learn or have the ability to reason which is not true. You can't escape the condition but by playing these word games it is all that people are trying to do in this country.

      September 28, 2010 at 02:03 | Report abuse |
  11. Dee Dee Dee

    The fact that time and money was wasted on this issue is retarded on it's own, instead of focusing on REAL issues like unemployment. How I wish ol' George Carlin was still with us just to hear what his take would be on this retarded issue. And isn't it amazing throughout the years, especially the last 10 years or so, that when someone says the word "retard" or "retarded" in a conversation, and suddenly those "sensitive" people gasp and their eyes widen, and there's a sudden hush in the room. Now you realize you've just offended someone. Yet, what's the first word that comes to your mind at that very moment? "Oh my God do I feel like a retard!" You can't tell me that has never happened to you, and I'm referring to anybody who reads this.
    So please, can we get back to the more pressing issues at hand!

    September 28, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DN3

      This issue is not 'retarded' to people with children with disabilities. I find it amazing that so few people are able to put themselves into someone else's shoes without having to experience it firsthand. And I fail to see your point with your story about offending people with the word 'retarded'. So just because you use the word on yourself, everyone else should be OK with the word and not get offeneded then?

      September 28, 2010 at 00:19 | Report abuse |
    • Elexsor

      DN3: People with children with disabilities need to come to grips with the fact that their child has a disability. End of story. Retarded is not offensive. Making fun of the condition is what really offends the people. Thus no matter what you try to call your child: Mentally handicapped, challenged, impaired, disabled, or slow it doesn't matter. If someone says "hey what are you slow" do you think the parent would be insulted. Yep. They would. Why? Because it is a descriptive of their child, who is slow. Therefore it doesn't matter was PC term is chosen they will always be offended and need a new term because they can't come to grips with the situation and don't seem to understand what really bothers them: The fact that their child is disabled and people refer to that disability in a negative way and use it as a insult to others or to refer to a situation that they feel someone with that disability would do.

      September 28, 2010 at 02:11 | Report abuse |
  12. hahaha

    runswithbeer – As the parent of a shining example of the human species, I see you as a carrier of mutant gene that threatens our species survival. I'd appreciate it if you'd sterilize yourself, as well as any and all relatives. This will help insure that future generations will be free of degenerate parasites like yourself and your grandchild.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. david

    jeepers, was the book "my pet goat"?

    September 28, 2010 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. david

    Osama bin Laden is not a retard. the american people are retards. on behalf of the american people, we are sorry for accusing you of 9/11. we are gullible sheep because we cannot stop believing the government that continues to tell us lie after lie. the american people are retards.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DN3

      Awkward segue?

      September 28, 2010 at 00:26 | Report abuse |
  15. Help Here

    Hey Guys, will you visit SaveStan.ORG a friend of mine with 4 babies is fighting for his life..... Thanks

    September 28, 2010 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Renee

    I suppose one less adjective with which to describe former President Bush isn't such a bad loss!

    September 28, 2010 at 00:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. drk

    Those folks moaning about loss of freedom of speech probably aren't retarded, but they are most likely ignorant and possibly illiterate. Folks, the government is not going to make you stop using the word retarded. The change will be to how the LAWS refer to intellectual disability. Just because the government isn't going to use the word any more doesn't mean that it's going to stop you from doing so. Also, please note that freedom of speech means that the government cannot imprison you for saying things it doesn't like–it doesn't say that your friends, neighbors, or employer have to put up with it. So have a blast calling people retarded. But don't expect the rest of world to like you for it.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DN3

      good point and well said!

      September 28, 2010 at 00:28 | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      Why? Retarded means something that is occurring or developing later than desired or expected; delayed. Why would you be offended by the use of this word? Seriously, I think most people who are anal about "political correctness" are retarded.

      September 28, 2010 at 00:39 | Report abuse |
    • hello

      Thank you for that! I was beginning to think everyone was insane.

      September 28, 2010 at 01:32 | Report abuse |
  18. ShatteredDrift

    And when "disabled" replaces "retarded" as the sinful word of slander, what shall we reword it to?

    September 28, 2010 at 00:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. TIm

    I have only one thing to say about this: "This plan is so perfect it's retarded"- Peter Griffin

    September 28, 2010 at 00:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Joe

    If I were retarded or intellectually limited I would be very angry with all of the comparisons with my condition and the incompetence demonstrated by our nations leaders. I would classify them as negligent, bumbling, boorish, and reprehensible but calling them retarded is besmirching the innocent that have no control over their handicap. So I say to all of you out there, knock it off. Congresses decision to waste time and effort on this is not retarded, its incompetent.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. reality check

    I know, why don't we just make a collection of all the words that people find offensive, whether true or implied and just ban them from the world's vocabulary. Kumbaya, kumbaya.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Victor

    Really people did anyone bother to read the article, Congress isn't infringing on anyone's right to free speech, they are simply changing the term used in the "health, education and labor laws". Its really simple and a non issue.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Special Z

    What a bunch of retards....maybe if they spent more time trying to fix the mess we are in (war, economy) and less time on getting rid of words (and really the people "retard" describes have no idea what is going on), we would all have jobs right now. Also this is going to cost a fortune to enact...and really benefits no one. Way to go Washington!!!

    September 28, 2010 at 00:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Justin Beeeberr

    I think they should throw out the entire Congress, for being RETARDS.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Jonathan Telling it Like it Is

    I would like to define a way in which the word "retarded" would be acceptable to more people: The girl Rosa, is "mentally challenged, " but Sarah Palin is "retarded."

    September 28, 2010 at 00:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Andrew

    Yes! This paves the way for "retard" to be an acceptable put-down, good work! Just as "idiot", "imbecile" and "moron" were once medical terms for mental handicaps...now they are mostly non-offensive put downs. Give it 5 years and school children will be saying "This is so disabled..."

    September 28, 2010 at 00:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Stevorino

    It's kind of weird how the "R-word" is treated like a swear word in today's language. Yet, the "S-word" is now being used on T.V. on a regular basis. Times, they are a changin'.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. lover of words

    Haha, God bless America she still gets headlines!

    "Retarded" ex gov.(and sinking party) wants to ban words; lets get arm bands, burn books and elect her next the president non immigrant presidnet.

    McCain lost because of her(polarizing) and you all still pay attn to her crap, wow, no comment.

    Going to cry in the corner and feel sorry for america.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Tom

    "Individual with an intellectual disability" is too broad. It could refer to a moron or to a Congressman but, I repeat myself.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. publius enigma

    Can I call this bullshit or do I need to use the words "intellectually dishonest"?

    September 28, 2010 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. chris

    Well I a for one am glad to see Congress take such a strong stance on the use of the R-word, now if we could just get them to do something about the U-word (ugly) and maybe the F-word (fat) and the multitude of other "offensive" words we would have something to really be proud of as Americans. We can all thank Congress for another step towards socialism and the government telling us what to think and say. To hell with the E-word (economy), that is certainly a word they have removed from their lexicon!

    September 28, 2010 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. dave retarded

    This article is retarded.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. randy

    hmmm. And this means what in real life? Unless they have their own greedy little hands in our pockets,or they are helping some big contributor pick us clean, does anyone pay any attention the moral retards that currently make up our congress? Retards, Retards, Retards, morally and ethically which is 1000 times worse because they choose to be that way.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Bad Patient

    I thought they were going to say "R"epublicans was the R word they were trying to get rid of.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Captain_Awesome

    okay i guess. now lets find a new word for a bunch of ninnies to get angry over for almost no reason . it will mean the same thing. this change is dog poop (S-word) and all these fudgers (F word) can suck my dangwangler (D word)

    September 28, 2010 at 01:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Michael

    Oh my goodness! I hope we are not digressing to the 1990's and going to having to re-live being politically correct all over again!

    September 28, 2010 at 01:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Avid Day in CA

    Really?! What's truly, but sadly, ironic is that a majority in both chambers who are apparently not much more than a collective of "individuals with intellectual disabilities" themselves, think this is such a more pressing issue in our country now than say, oh, I don't know, jobs, the economy, health care, energy policy, illegal immigration, education reform, or larger civil rights issues, to name a few? Not that changing this particular public vernacular isn't warranted or won't positively affect pejorative & discriminatory attitudes in a culture of sound-bytes. But why should we expect anything less from so many expert spin-masters of distraction who use any chance of inauthentic appeal to prey on the vulnerabilities of emotions? After way too long of hearing "Do as I say, not as I do" they simply need to be "retard" from office.

    With all due "R"espect to Ms. Nygren, her associates, & constituents, do they want to seriously wave a banner of equality & engage in debate over those among us who are still not fully granted "the same dignity & human rights as every other member of society" is entitled? More basic but no less serious threats exist to civil liberties of those with similar "disabilities" over which they have no mental or intellectual choice. I'm curious if the AAIDD classifies a lost sense of reality among its criteria to define disabled development or intellect?

    Mr. Fairman, however, postulates more accurately that the public is usually light years ahead of our esteemed Members of blowhard in that it's only a matter of time before we just come up with another word to replace the uglier one before it. Just because certain words aren't suitable for utterance in polite society doesn't mean they disappear behind the snide, core beliefs that fuel conversations & convictions of policy makers behind closed doors. Thus the propagation of where the real culprit lay. So to them for their enlightened efforts to lift from doldrums the dreary spirits of a beleaguered country, for which they are not surprisingly largely to blame I say, good job you morons & good luck in November!

    September 28, 2010 at 01:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Ginny L

    Twenty-five years ago I used to ride public transit to get to college. The same bus I rode also picked up individuals from the adult handicapped school. I usually sat on the bus with a young women who was "intellectually disabled", though at that time the euphemism was "mentally challenged." When we were talking, I used the term "mentally challenged' and she jumped up and yelled at me, "I'm mentally retarded! Everyone should be mentally challenged." Perhaps she realized changing the word or phrase to describe her limitations does not change other people's perspectives of her.

    I am manic/depressive, though the politically correct term is bipolar. I have found that no matter what you call it, the disease remains the same and scares the hell out of people when they find out I have the disease, even though it is controlled by medications, and they believed I was like "normal" people until they found out I have a mental illness. The media portrays us as violent, dangerous, and unable to fit in with society. Most bipolars are none of the previously defined terms. I retried after many years as a college business professor (which perhaps explain my insanity) and never once tried to shoot any of my students, though I thought about taking out some others profs and administrators. (I'm joking.) Their reaction, though, wrong, is based and reinforced on what they see on TV and in other media. As several people may have mentioned, the best way to destigmatize any disability is through education, not changing words or terms.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Ed

    So now, when kids on the playground want to make fun of each other, they won't be saying..."Hey, Retard!' Instead, they will be saying, "Hey, you....you individual with an intellectual disability!!"" Yeah...just a few more syllables...that' all...

    September 28, 2010 at 01:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Mickey Mud Turtle

    It's pitiful how many words, phrases, and expressions are becoming politically incorrect these days. Our representatives are getting a little too worried about keeping their jobs, methinks.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Squeeker

    Does this mean that I can't refer to Sara Palin as a retard anymore???

    September 28, 2010 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Brian

    The word "congressman" is also becoming a pejorative. Maybe Congress should stop using the word congressman. The term "cranial rectumitis" could replace the word congressman.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Dave

    Darn! I was so hoping when I read the article's title that they were talking about Republicans! That would do health care a lot more good, anyway.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Pointless1

    Just ban all forms of speech all together... it would be best when we live in a society that people make a federal case out of everything...

    September 28, 2010 at 01:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. cindy

    I will continue to use the word RETARD because it so accurately describes what I need to say and if it offends anyone, tough titties. Retards are retarded and are not offended by its use.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. maine liberal

    remove Sarah Palin

    September 28, 2010 at 01:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Brett

    I had to read into the second paragraph to even figure out what the R word was. The title left me racking my mind for words that started with R. I didn't really know this word was wrong to use even when refering to individuals who were classified as such?

    September 28, 2010 at 01:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. m1sterlurk

    The problem with the "R" word is that ANY term for those who are mentally deficient will inevitably become an insult.

    Unlike other slurs used against people simply because of their skin color, ethnic background, religion, etc., retarded is something that actually is inherently a deficiency. Sorry, but your retarded kid is not going to be a rocket scientist, because he's retarded.

    September 28, 2010 at 01:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. shaka

    how very lame what makes either PALIN or RAHAM important to this it has had a very long run with the comedy crowd for some time,wrong though it is & I'm sure someone is trying for brownie points when such invalid names are used

    September 28, 2010 at 01:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. bruce

    Retarded is a much better word than intellectual disability or individual with an intellectual disability which is far more insulting in my opnion. Retarded is a very appropriate word. By definition its the perfect word and it doesn't take a sentence to write. Let's face it, no matter how much you sugar coat it, its still the same. Political correctness and lawsuits will be the death of this country.

    September 28, 2010 at 02:06 | Report abuse | Reply
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