It's not funny anymore

The kids were finally asleep. I cut the wrap from our new $5 copy of Semi-Pro and snuggled up with my husband to relax on the couch like we used to, before kids.

The opening scenes roll through and we laugh at Will Ferrell's cheesy '70s-retro basketball persona. The line-up on his losing basketball team is announced:

"From South Bend Indiana...Bee Bee Ellis!"
"This guy has a heart of gold," says one announcer.
"His brother's a retard," adds the other conversationally. Matt and I laugh, then cut ourselves short.
"He reads to him and paints him pretty pictures..." he continues. We sit in uncomfortable silence. That could be our son, we're both thinking.
The line up roll continues: "Scootsie Doubleday! Scootsie Doubleday taking the court now."
The announcer comes back for the unexpected punch line:
"Yeah, his brother is really retarded..." Not funny.
"Ronnie Doubleday!"
"... he has all three major kinds of retardation." Very not funny.

It used to be. It used to be really funny. That was before we had a son with a brain injury.

Retarded is a funny-sounding word. It has punch, with those three hard syllables. It feels good to say when you draw them out: "That's re-TARD-ed."

Like "gay," the word has come to mean stupid in popular slang. How do these things get started? Why are they so hard to eradicate? You can use the R-word Counter, powered by the Special Olympics, to see how often the word comes up all over the Internet. Ellen Seidman of Love That Max, recently followed Twitter posts that included #retard and came up with thousands of instances in just a few days.

What she didn't know, what I didn't know, what my husband didn't know before we had kids with brain injuries is that being intellectually disabled is not funny and using the r-word is really hurtful. A mom with a child with CP and a child with Down's syndrome who blogs at Double Dose of Special compares it to the n-word that is now (nearly) universally considered derogatory and hurtful.

"... the bottom line is that the r-word is never used to describe something or someone in a positive way. Ret-rd(ed) is never a compliment." (See the full post here.)

So in honor of today, March 2, 2011, which is Spread the Word to End the Word Day, I took the pledge:

I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.

You can, too.


  1. Wow, Shasta I remain floored by what a talented writer you are. xoMeg

  2. Thanks so much, Meghan. I really appreciate it.

  3. I couldn't agree more! An amazing post. My husband and I have also become very sensitive to this word. I also work in a middle school where I unfortunately hear the word way too often. I stop and educate every kid when I hear it used.

  4. Thanks, Marcy. Yeah, I bet Middle School is lousy with it.

  5. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Brilliant beautiful post, Shasta. <3 I hope you don't mind if I share this post.

  6. Please disseminate widely!

  7. Anonymous7:52 PM

    here is another one of my favorites on the word.


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