Even I don't always agree with my opinion


Just Words

Posted March 1, 2008 by jim young in Lifestyle

– jim young

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

Driving along Blake Street with the boychild beside me, (he wasn’t much older than 6 at the time) I began to reminisce, telling him stories of my youth as my father used to do whenever I accompanied him on drives along the backroads of Innisfil Township. As I began to relate a story about a kid I had grown up with, I described the kid as being retarded because, well to put it simply, he was in fact retarded.

“Dad, I don’t mean to be smart…” the boychild began. He was never afraid to challenge me, but the boychild knew when he was walking on thin ice. (After all his cousins hadn’t nicknamed me “Uncle Grumpy Jim” for no reason.) I always respected the boychild for that. Not just for his willingness to challenge me – his ultimate authority figure at the time – but for his cunning to precede the challenge with something like “Dad, I don’t mean to be smart…” What a great maneuver – to lead with a disclaimer intended to soften my wrath of retaliation! Where did he learn something like that? From me – I hope.

“Dad, I don’t mean to be smart, but we don’t call them retarded anymore.”

“We” don’t call them retarded anymore? I had to look over to make sure that my boychild was still just 6.

“They’re Mentally Handicapped,” the boychild continued, “ Retarded isn’t something nice to call them.”

I thought about what the boychild had said. He was right of course. And then I wondered why he was right. I then proceeded to defend my position. In the eyes of a young child a father can do no wrong, but as the child grows up, he or she will learn soon enough that fathers are human too, with their own flaws, imperfections and prejudices. The boychild was already 6 and I wanted to maintain his misconception of my perfection for at least another 14 years.

I explained to the boychild, that in it’s truest sense the word retarded was not offensive and I had not used it in a derogatory manner.

According to Webster’s:
retar’ded, slow in development, mental or physical

“Communication is as much about how you use a word as what word you use”. I tried to explain to him. “Even Mentally Handicapped, can be used in a derogatory manner. ‘You’re handicapped!’ has become an expression that can be as mean now as “What a retard!’ was when I was a kid. You can change all the words you want to,” I continued, “but as long as people continue to use them in a hurtful manner, you’re not really changing anything at all.

“They’ll probably come up with a new word to replace handicapped,” I suggested to him. And it was only a few years later that the politically correct coined the phrase Mentally Challenged.

Today the boychild has kids of his own and little has changed. A retard is handicapped is challenged. Or as composer Dory Previn once wrote, “A rose by any other name still has thorns.” Although the words have changed, children (and adults alike) continue to belittle those less fortunate than ourselves. I wonder why that is?

– 30 –



    You’re retarded!


    Owww! Now that was just hurtful. Shame on you! I can see I will have to have my son have a word with you to explain it all over again.


    The funny thing is my son, who is almost a generation younger than your son, uses the expression ‘retarded’ to describe an inanimate object or an unfavourable situation. For instance – Me: “You’re grounded!” Him: “That’s retarded!” I’m sure no one is hurt by that.
    When I was in high school the mentally challenged were
    called ‘Ocs’ because they were in the occupational classes. Now they’re called ‘speds’ because they are in Special Education classes. Now that’s hurtful!


    Now you get it! Good for you. Your son is wise behind his ears.

    It’s not what you say – it’s how you say it and what you mean.

    “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” – anon

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