We cannot be too careful about the words we use;
we start out using them and they end up using us.
Eugene H. Peterson
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology
Retard. The word comes from the Latin retardare, "to make slow, delay, keep back, or hinder.” We see it in music direction – ritardando – slowing down gradually. It is a verb.
And then it became a noun. It became a noun used in a medical/psychological sense to describe conditions involving cognitive and developmental delays. It became a noun used to replace previous nouns: cretin, idiot, imbecile, moron….. It replaced those words, those nouns, those labels because somehow they had become derogatory.
Somehow? Here’s the thing. Retard is short for mentally retarded - a person whose learning is slowed, whose development is challenged. However, when a child on the playground, or an adult in a movie calls someone a retard, or calls something retarded, they are not using the term as a medical or psychological description. They are using the word as an insult, a mistake, a stupidity. Which means they perceive the condition of being mentally retarded to be offensive. Which means they find people who are mentally retarded offensive - insults, mistakes stupidity.
And then there’s my daughter – who has Down Syndrome. And there are her friends – friends with autism, friends with seizure disorders, friends with Fragile X - any number of conditions that cause them to be differently abled. Differently labeled. They are not insults. They are not stupid. They are not mistakes.