Like us, you may have been surprised to learn (about 20 years ago) that some people frown on the use of the word retard. And every time it’s said again, the same problem pops up. For 20 years! It’s a hilariously retarded misunderstanding that will never go away until someone comes up with a funnier replacement for the word retard. Keep on trucking, mentally challenged. You’re almost there!
Retard as a noun actually dates back to the 1700’s according to etymology types who look into such things, and of course that comes from word retard in the sense of something that was slowed in some way. It picked up prominence in the 20th century as a way to describe people with various mental delays and the juvenile minded amongst us have never looked back. Anything anyone ever did from then on that seemed absent-minded, stupid, clumsy or lacking in forethought could be labeled retarded. Why? Because we were suggesting that someone’s brain wasn’t working quite right. Ha ha, take that, ya retard!
Retard became the vodka of insults, it blended with everything and it was smooth like silk on a hooker’s ass. And slowly, throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, people felt that actual retards were getting the shit end of the stick. Actual retards, of course, being the people who were allowed to be called retards at the time. Because that’s what doctors called people with various cognitive and developmental handicaps and delays. They were called the mentally retarded. But the moment you use a word pejoratively, you can no longer use is descriptively. So it had to be abandoned. And a slew of new terms, like mentally challenged for instance, came in to replace it. Those terms are also no longer acceptable, but we’re not in the present yet. Retarded, we know. Durr.
Strictly speaking “mentally retarded” is 100% devoid of any insinuation or insult and is, in fact, a perfectly reasonable description of someone whose mental faculties are not fully developed. They have been retarded in some way. But it’s offensive now, in the present, to say that, because it’s an insult. People call it the r-word now. The only other words that get that are the f-word (which we can’t say on this site which is totally f*cking retarded) and the n-word (which runs rampant through the comments because we have an RSS feed that goes to a number of institutions peopled by retards. Not the mentally challenged kind, just the retarded ones).
Nonetheless, retard is now embroiled in its most heated battle for survival thanks to people like Sarah Palin who, ironically, are retarded themselves (sorry Republicans, lots of you are swell people but come on. Come on!). The problem is that no one is talking about the same retard any more and that’s what’s confusing anyone. Let’s clarify!
Acceptable: You’ve just held a white fear rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of MLK’s most famous speech. That is retarded.
Acceptable: You are responsible for CBS programming: You are retarded.
Acceptable: New Coke was a retarded idea.
Acceptable: OJ Simpson writing a book in which he hypothetically admits to killing his ex-wife and Ron Goldman was retarded.
Acceptable: Freedom Fries were retarded.
Acceptable: Asking what the definition of “is” is, is retarded
Acceptable: Let’s Get Retarded by the Black Eyed Peas is a retarded song
Acceptable: The anti-mosque-at-ground-zero song is really retarded.
Acceptable: Michael Bay’s filmography is retarded.
Not Acceptable: Corky from Life Goes On? Oh man, he’s my retard!
See what we did there? Yeah you did. The thing Palin and crowd are missing out on is that no one (beyond a few special folks who think overalls are a full outfit) calls people with intellectual delays retards, not any more. That’s a dick move. And it’s not how the word was used in any of the recent instances that have gotten so many panties in a bunch. See, language evolves and words take on new meanings. The word “set” has over 200 definitions in some dictionaries. The word retard can arguably have more than one meaning without people getting all retarded on us. So use it the way it’s meant to be used now. Call Sarah Palin a retard, not her child. Call Glenn Beck a retard, not Corky. And rock on, retards. Rock on.