Is it okay to use “retard” to refer to someone who just acted stupidly?
No, says a public service announcement set to air tonight on Fox's Glee. (Not even if you pronounced it like Zach Galifianakis' character in The Hangover — re-tard, with a short “re” and long “aaard,” apparently).
Well, actually, in the PSA (video on the next page), what appears to be a developmentally challenged young woman says …
“It is not acceptable to call me a retard.”
The spot equates this with calling, for example, a Latina a “spic” or a gay man a “fag.” The PSA parallels recent ads discouraging the use of “gay” to simply mean not cool.
“The 'r-word' is the same as every minority slur,” says Glee's Jane Lynch. “Treat it that way and don't use it.
Well, first off, it's not really the same as every minority slur. There's an ugly history of discrimination, slavery and homicide that goes along with the 'n-word,' another example used in the PSA.
And to say don't be a retard, or retarded, is not really entirely inaccurate. While the connotation might say, Don't be like that mentally challenged person, it literally means don't act slow, don't hinder your accomplishment. (See the Merriam-Webster definition here).
We understand the impulse to protect the developmentally challenged from hurtful phrases, and this should be pitched that way. When you tell young people not to use an accurate word, at least explain why. Don't wrongly equate it with other words of discrimination. That only builds mistrust.
Even referring to it as a taboo — the 'r-word,' is illogical. There are plenty of instances in which one could legitimately use retard. It's not like fag, unless you're a British smoker.
This is PCism on the comeback, in the worst way.
To equate an accurate word to ones associated with utter hatred and even lynching is, well, retarded.