Why The Word Retard Is A Bad, Bad Word

I used to say the word “retarded.” Not all the time, but on occasion when I wanted to describe something as ridiculous I’d say “That’s so retarded!”

Then I had a kid with disabilities, Max. He has cerebral palsy, and cognitive challenges ranging from comprehension to articulating words. A couple of years ago, I found out that the Special Olympics had started a campaign to get people to think twice about using the words “retard” and ”retarded.”And suddenly I became very aware of how demeaning and hurtful the word is to kids and adults with disabilities.

Although years ago the medical world called people with cognitive impairment “mentally retarded,” that term is now considered outdated, and offensive. Congress has, in fact, banned the words “retarded” and “retardation” from mention in federal health, education and labor laws; the preferred term  is “intellectual disability.” These days, a whole lot of people use “retard” to describe something or someone as stupid, ridiculous, pathetic or loser-like. When people fling it around, they spread the idea that people who are cognitively impaired are stupid, ridiculous, pathetic and loser-like.

Today is a national awareness day for the Spread The Word To End The Word campaign, started by The Special Olympics. I hope this video I made explains why “retard” is so demeaning to kids like my Max and adults who are cognitively impaired—and to the people who love them. Meanwhile, if you’d like you can head over to the R-Word site and sign a pledge.

No matter what, think twice about using the word retard. It hurts.


From my other blog:

If you ask people not to use the word “retard”

If you tick off a lot of people by not asking them to use the word “retard”

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  1. by Kathryn

    On March 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I cried as I watched this.I am a member of Best Buddies and I hate this word.Almost everyday I hear it in the middle school hallways.I have even been called it.(i have a hearing loss)Last year our school tried to stop it but it was a joke to people.We are tring again next week.(The specail education teacher/advisor is sick)Even when it is not dericted to people with disablites it is.Please dont say it.

  2. by Tooner

    On March 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm


  3. by sassy sandy

    On March 9, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Everyone, needs to stop using this word that hurts.We are all aware of not using the “N” word in this day and age. We are also aware that children and adults with a disability are to be treated just the same as anyone else in society. We all have abilities and disabilities. The difference in our society is that only persons with a disability given labels like retard or cripple. Please stop using this word. We all know better!

  4. by Ellen Seidman

    On March 10, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Kathryn, I am sorry to hear that. Your story is exactly why this word needs to go away.

    Tooner, thanks.

    And Sandy, bravo but sadly not everyone knows better… People get so defensive about this word, and why they have a “right” to say it.

  5. by Sherry Huang

    On March 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Ellen, I almost started crying at my desk at work! Bookending the video with different tweets/headlines really gives the video impact….

  6. by Kathryn

    On March 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Dear Eleen,
    I thought you would like to know how my school’s Spread the Word to End the Campaign worked.Well it was great.We cut out constuction paper hand and the people wrote I pledge to not say the r-word or I pledge to spread the word to end the word and signed there names.Those hands were hung in the glass panels above the main entrance.We also launched Stick it to stop it campaign which involes the mebers of best buddies having handmade stickers that say Spread The Word To End The Word on them.They are given out with an explaination when we hear the r-word.Thank you for promoting this amazing cause and I hope Max is never called it.

  7. by Ellen Seidman

    On March 31, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Kathryn, that’s awesome!!! Thank you for letting me know. And thanks, all, for the support and for understanding why this word is hurtful, which other people don’t seem to get.

  8. by Stop being a hypocrit

    On March 31, 2012 at 12:31 pm


    Can you please explain why “retard” is so horrible whilst stupid, ignorant, idiot, and moron are acceptable? I’ve read in some of your articles where you’ve called people these names, however, these were all former proper medical terminology for mental retardation. This means that when you call someone ‘stupid’, ‘ignorant’, ‘idiot’, or ‘moron’ you are calling them ‘retarded’ , which is the very thing you are campaigning against. So whilst you are trying to appear holier-than-thou, you are not “seeming to get” that you are being every bit as hurtful as you are accusing other people of being. Seems a bit hypocritical of you.

  9. by Jen Erick

    On June 9, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Your son is mentally retarded. Get over it. In fifty years intellectual disabilities will be looked at the same way as “retarded” is now.

  10. by Mark

    On July 13, 2012 at 11:41 am

    What a retarded post. You would prefer I call your child disabled and not retarded? You do realize the definition of disables is more offensive than that of retarded? You, my friend, are a retard.

  11. by Rob

    On July 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Hey Mark,
    You my friend are an uneducated loser for that comment.
    It is people like you that hurt parents who have kids with down syndrome. Do me a favor try to get your GED and a life.
    Maybe we can meet someday and I can show what I think of the word.

  12. by Rob

    On July 18, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    Mark and Jen,

    I hope you don’t have any kids based upon your ignorance that will grow up to be just like you.
    Why are you guys on this site or blogging because you are both fatheaded to get off your couch.

  13. by PC amock

    On November 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I say we outlaw every word in the English language that offends even 1 person. Isn’t that what were heading for anyway??

  14. by Tasha

    On November 6, 2012 at 11:38 am

    @PC amock, based on you’re comment, I’m going to assume you are a child, probably a teenager. If this is the case, please know ANYBODY can have a child with a disability. Now how would you feel about the “R” word if it was YOUR child?

  15. by PCland

    On November 17, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    You people need to get over yourselves. It’s just a word.
    I suggest you look up something called the “euphemism treadmill”, and realize that until recently “mentally retarded” has been the formal scientific term that encapsulated a wide variety of disorders. How is “disabled” any better? If your IQ is under 70, you are OBJECTIVELY mentally retarded. This PC BS is getting really annoying. Maybe you have a child who suffers from retardation, and it’s completely understandable to want to rush to their defense, but accept reality and understand the term as neutral and accurate.

    @ Tasha: If my child were retarded, it’s not like I would try and insult them every day by reaffirming it. It would just be an objective reality that would have no bearing on how much I loved my child.

    @ Kathryn: Welcome to America and the First Amendment.

  16. [...] and the mother of two kids. One who happens to have special needs. A few months ago, she created a video explaining why using the word “retard” is so hurtful and demeaning. And she’s [...]