The “Cleansing” of Language: In Defense of Certain Words

Rahm Emanuel had his head handed to him a few weeks ago when he referred to one of his political enemies as “retarded.”  Sarah Palin wanted him fired.  Rahm apologized ( and managed to hold onto his job.

There is currently a campaign afoot promoted by the Special Olympics Committee to have people take a pledge not to use the word “retarded.”   We should say instead that certain people are “mentally challenged.”  They are “intellectually disadvantaged.”  They may even be  “developmentally challenged.”

No one should call a Downs Syndrome child “retarded,” but I can’t promise to never use the word.  There are times when none other will do.  When I’m in the midst of the annual income tax horror, and I go to the drugstore I’ve used for years, and  the pharmacist won’t allow me to pick up my husband’s medical expense report, and I was the one who dropped off the prescriptions and paid for them and carried them home, there’s some huge lack of common sense working there in that drug store.

I like the phrase “special needs.”  Don’t we all have special needs?  There’s something touching about admitting a person has special needs.  It makes you want to reach out, offer a helping hand.  To admit to having “special needs” is to affirm that you’re a part of the human race.  It unites us in a way none of the other phrases do.

The pharmacist who refused to give me my husband’s medical expense report does not have “special needs.”  As I drove away from the drug store, wondering how I was going to get my husband to pick up the form I needed, and thinking about the stupids who wrote the Hippa legislation, there is only one word that will do.  Retarded.

One Response to The “Cleansing” of Language: In Defense of Certain Words

  1. Rick Romfh February 23, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    As our language evolves, it drops some older words, picks up some newer words, and changes the meanings of other words. The word “gay” does not have the same connotation it had in the 1950s. I think the terms retarded and mentally challanged more aptly describes many of those in Congress, and I have no qualms applying it there. As a Red Skelton character used to put it: “I calls ’em the way I sees ’em.”

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