Eliminate These Uses

Somehow, we as a culture were able to do it. The “N” word is offensive, it targets a specific group of people and attempts to describe how worthless someone thinks they are (well, unless it’s used by the people within that group but that’s another post for another day), and we as a culture have virtually eliminated it’s use in public settings. If you were to hear someone using that word to describe someone, you would recoil in shock, no? It’s a disgusting and low thing to do, and we all agree it should be stopped.

There are some other words that need to be eliminated from our casual speech. Specifically the words




when used to describe things we find stupid/idiotic/offensive/ugly/worthless/etc.

I admit, the LDS community, particularly in Utah, is awful about using these words in this way. I’m sure there are other subgroups out there doing this as well, but the LDS society is the one I am most familiar with. I wish I had the courage to stand up to my friends to their face and tell them how awful I think it is for them to use these words in this manner, but I’m worried about hurting or offending them if I tell them in person. So I’m taking the easy way out and declaring my abhorrence of the practice right here on my blog.

I’m sure people who knew me up until a few years ago probably heard me use the words gay and retard to describe things I found stupid, I cannot deny that I was once guilty of the practice myself. But a post on Katy’s blog about how hurtful it was for her to hear people use the word retard or make fun of people riding “the short bus” made me rethink what I was doing. It’s been at least a year since I read that post and I haven’t the word retard in that way since. Reforming my use of retard also made me think of some other words I was using, particularly gay, and I eliminated that one as well.

Recently Hollywood has been giving some attention to these slurs. I’m a huge fan of Glee, and I was surprised to hear the number of people expressing their dislike of a scene where a father of a gay teenager confronts a homophobic boy and tells him to stop speaking about his son in an offensive way. They thought it was over the top and unnecessary! Unnecessary? They must live in a totally different world than I do. I wish I could embed the clip, but I urge you to watch it if you haven’t seen it. Click here and scroll to 25 minutes in. The word that is used in the scene is “faggot” (which should be eliminated as well), but it’s the same as calling someone gay to insinuate something negative. The father points out that any decent person wouldn’t make fun of a girl with Down Syndrome and call her a retard, or use the “n” word. I was literally cheering when this scene was playing! It pains me that the LDS population in particular, a group who claims to be the true Church of Jesus Christ, would overlook how cruel and un-Christlike it is to speak this way. It needs to stop.

Editors Note: Reader Gabby linked to this YouTube clip of the Glee scene. The quality isn’t as good as the Hulu clip but you won’t have to watch any commercials to see it:

This post was inspired by a clip my friend Christiana sent me, from a show called What Would You Do? that’s currently airing on ABC. In this clip, an actor with Down Syndrome is bagging groceries. Another actor comes through the checkout line and begins to berate him for the pace at which he is working, treating him abhorrently and calling him a retard to his face. It’s frankly, very painful to watch. The part where the boy with DS says what he thinks about the treatment gets the tears started every time. I forwarded the clip on to Katy and the two of us decided that we wanted to write a joint post on this very subject. The point of the What Would You Do? show is to point out how important it is to speak up when someone is being treated inexcusably, but I think the real issue is that a portion of our society has been using these words this way at all, in private or in public!

I asked Katy to write about how the misuse of the word retard makes her feel, and any advice she has on how we can affect positive change on those around us.

Here’s a recent picture of her son, isn’t he adorable?

Words have always fascinated me – their meanings, origins, and modern usage.  I love  molding them to express myself and harnessing their power to say I what I mean (I’m much better at this in my writing).  Word choice is  always on my mind…which brings me to a word popular in our vocabulary today – retarded.

I dislike this term not only as a word-lover (because virtually no one today uses this term correctly) , but as a mother of child with Down syndrome, it offends me on an even deeper level.  Many of you already know that my 4-year-old son has Down syndrome, but what you may not know is that I had a brother with cerebral palsy.   Problems that occurred at the time of my older brother’s birth left him unable to walk, talk, or care for himself for his 30 years. Issues relating to the way we treat and speak of those with disabilities has always been very important to me.

It’s important to note that the word retarded has non-malicious origins and can be used in a non-offensive way.   Those familiar with music will note (ha!) that when music is to be played slower, you’ll see the word ‘ritardando.’   Fire retardants are  meant to slow the progression of a fire. I have no problem saying that because of Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) my child has a degree of mental retardation.  Retarded in it’s correct form means ‘slower’.  Those with various forms of mental retardation learn things a little slower than others, yes – - but that in no way means they can’t learn or are ‘stupid.’  Yet THIS is how people use the word retarded – to state what they don’t like, what is useless, pointless, or stupid.

If you use this term regularly, please take time to consider your word choice (that is my polite way of staying stop it! :).   Whether or not we say it, how do we get others around us to stop using this term?  Good question.  I’m in no way great at this  – I’m such a non-confrontational person and sometimes care way too much about what others think of me.  But I’m getting better.  First, it’s easiest to address this problem when seen online.  By writing of your distaste  – in comments, message boards, letters to website owners, Facebook, or on your own blog – others will likely take note.  Many people don’t realize how often they use this word or how offensive they truly are being and will try to change when it’s pointed out.

It’s a little more intimidating to speak up when you hear it personally (for me at least – Miss Non-confrontational).  You can suggest to the speaker : “Isn’t ‘stupid’ the word you are looking for?” or  “Just because everyone uses that word, doesn’t mean it’s okay to say” or you could point out someone you know that loves someone with a disability (you can use me!) and express that you’ve recently learned how rude that word is: “I know this gal who has a son with Down syndrome – she pointed out to me how much it hurts her when people call everything ‘retarded’ and say it in such a flippant way.”

While I’m asking you to stop using (and for you to ask those around you to stop using) the word retarded in this off-hand way, will you indulge me in a few more requests?

* Similarly to retarded, calling someone a ‘retard’ (whether or not they have a disability) is even more offensive.  Forget that someone is showing their ignorance by using this word, it’s tone and intent is especially malicious. (This includes my fellow Mormon friends out there who unkindly refer to Utah Mormons as ‘Utards’.  You know what two words you are combining… it doesn’t make the latter word less distasteful.)

*Using the term ‘short bus’ – Do people really mean to compare idiotic actions or words to those children – who through no fault of their own –  have to ride a bus better suited to their special need?  Really?

*Try to use people-first language. Instead of “that Down syndrome guy” say  “that man with Down syndrome.”  Instead of “that autistic kid”, say “that child with autism.” We are people before our diagnosis.  If needed, the term ‘intellectual disablity’ is acceptable.

As I now gracefully attempt to step off my soapbox, I thank you for reading this.  I thank you for allowing me to get a little preachy - I’m just a mother of an adorable, bright, funny boy – a boy who also happens to have Down syndrome.  On behalf of all the  mothers of children with special needs who love their children deeply and work tirelessly to help them gain acceptance, normalcy, and value in this society, I thank you as well!

Today, I’m writing this post, urging others to reform their language. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be brave enough to speak up on Facebook? To talk personally to individuals I know and tell them how much it hurts me to hear them speak this way. I hope I am able to gain that courage soon.

I’m not the only one trying to encourage people to pledge to quit using the word retard in a demeaning manner. Visit http://www.r-word.org/ to read the pledges of hundreds of others who have committed to stop speaking this way.

If you’re willing to stop using these words this way, or if you’ve already done so, I urge you to comment below and say so. It might not happen overnight but making the commitment is the first step to eliminating this practice. Are there other uses of words we should be eliminating?

P.S.-Laura pointed out these awesome new commercials on eliminating the phrase “that’s so gay” and others like it! I love them.

The last one is my favorite. I like how Hilary makes her point but ends with a compliment.

115 thoughts on “Eliminate These Uses

  1. I couldn’t agree more! 15 years ago my cousin was born with Noonan’s Syndrome – a condition different but somewhat similar to Downs. We all immediately stopped using the word ‘retarded.’ My other cousin, his older brother, would get so angry as a child (3-4 yrs old) when others in school or public used that word. I just think it is so disrespectful.

    Thank you for this! Excellent!

  2. I got fed up with it, too, a long time ago. I told my friends, point blank, how I felt. Some of them told me I was being too sensitive. What did it have to do with me?

    I got them thinking, though. I noticed that they started monitoring their word usage. When a friend would slip, they apologized and told me that they realized that I was right and they were trying to change.

    Speak up to your friends about how you feel. If they can’t take it, are they really the type of friends that you want?

    Katy Reply:

    That is so true – something I should remember because so often the people I’m most intimidated to bring it up to are somewhat close friends. I’m afraid of hurting their feelings (because that’s not my intention-just to inform), but I should remember that IF they were to ever be upset with me, I shouldn’t want to hang around them anyway.

    kylydia Reply:

    Also, wouldn’t you want your friends to let you know if you were doing something that was hurtful to them? Would you be offended if they asked you something similar?

  3. I am 100% with you. I cannot stand when people use these words. So so very hurtful. Thanks for sharing and taking a stand.

  4. Special Olympics’ “Spread the Word to End the Word” was a wake up call to me a couple of years ago. On a college campus – any college campus – it is easy to fall in to thoughtless speech. I agree with and love the author’s comment to use social media to build up resistance to using these words in disrespectful ways. A wonderful reminder to all of us.

  5. Wonderful post, Jenna and Katy!

    I am guilty of using the pejorative “gay” in middle school and high school, before I knew anyone who was openly gay, and before I fully understood how unkind it was. Now, although I still have friends who use both words – some of whom are doctors, for pete’s sake – I make it very clear that they are being offensive.

    So glad that you are both taking a stand.

  6. I was someone who was always teased for telling people how awful it is to use these words in such a way. I think it came from the perspective that my parents both had lots of gay friends (left wing political hippies that they were) and I never understood it. Same went for people who happen to have some form of mental retardation (as Katy said, used in its correct manner, it is not a slight!) – I knew a lot of kids who happened to have delayed development, or whatever, so I never ‘got it’. I think it is great when people make a conscious decision not to use such words with negative connotation.

    It always astounds me when educated, liberal minded, otherwise intelligent people I know still say things like ‘retard’ or ‘gay’ when inferring negativity. Jenna, I commend you for making the change you have and for having the guts to post about it on your blog when you know it might incite criticism. Good for you :)

  7. Great post! I’m so happy to see you speak out against using words like “retarded” and “gay” as insults. This really was a well-written and thought-provoking post.

    My friends/family are very aware of my opinion of these words. If some one says the N word or faggot (ugh, I hate even typing it) around me they apologize. But honestly, I know they don’t mean it (the apology, that is). They just don’t like that I heard it. I’ve had to scold my father-in-law on more than one occasion about the gay thing. I really don’t enjoy being the “word police” but sometimes it’s just necessary. I also don’t claim to be perfect and admit that I have used these words before, but just as I “police” others, I try to police myself as well.

    The clip of Glee you’re referring to was one of the most powerful scenes in TV I’ve ever seen. It got the point across without venturing into the dreaded “after school special” territory. It makes you think “What if my child is gay? What if my child has a mental disability? How will I handle that? How will my spouse handle that?” It’s something that no parent is exempt from wondering.

    I have no idea where this comment is going, but good for you for writing this. I have a feeling you’re opening yourself up to some criticism (not from me. I just have a feeling this might be one of “those” posts, ya know?).

  8. I completely agree! People in school used “short bus” or “retard” all the time. Most recently, I’ve become exceedingly aware of the word “gay”. I notice more men use that word as an insult, and on occasion, my H uses it. I also hate the word “fag”…people throw that around like it’s no big deal and it’s COOL. I hate hate hate the overuse of words like that…I know it’s meant in jest, but seriously, it’s hurtful!

  9. Not that I’m condoning the use of these words in this manner (because I agree with you!), but I just wanted to point out that it’s a pretty common thing to happen in the English language. Just look at the words “lame” and “dumb”. We rarely ever use them to describe someone who can’t walk or someone who can’t talk, even though those were their original meanings.

    Katy Reply:

    Yes, I definately think about this. I’m not sure if there were any campaigns ‘back then’ to stop the degrogetory uses of these words, but unfortunately they’ve been all but 100% changed in our modern vernacular. (also, we’ve come up with different terms to describe these things anyway). I guess we can’t change the past but we can change the future.

  10. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve never been one to use the terms, as I have always found them demeaning. But I definitely have a harder time speaking up to someone who uses them, especially if that someone has authority over me.

    I appreciate the musical reference. My students always start snickering whenever ritardando comes up. It seems someone always has to bring “retard” into the conversation, and I’m always left as the bad guy. In the past year, I took a different approach – what does it MEAN to actually be a person with mental retardation? By the end of class, the person making the original comment usually feels awful and apologizes. It makes the point to the whole class without stooping to a level I disagree with!

  11. Those words have been gone from my vocabulary (at least used in a derogatory way) since I was about 17. And it feels really, really good to put people in their place when they use them in an offensive way (when I am feeling brave enough to do so).

  12. I am so glad you posted this and I’m definitely linking to it.

    I used ‘retard’ until 10th grade when I had a teacher whose daughter had a mental disability (I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it was a severe cognitive impairment) explained why it was a hurtful word. Similarly, a teacher when I was in 12th grade made the same argument for ‘gay.’

    I am 110% for abolishing these words when used with a negative connotation. I adored the scene in Glee and applaud the show for taking such a stance in such a powerful way.

    Great post, Jenna, and thank you to Katy as well!

  13. knockout post. Thanks for saying all this. I am constantly amazed at how different your life is from mine, and yet how similar some of our experiences and opinions. you’re wonderful, Jenna, and thank god for your blog! it truly makes a big difference in my life. I wish we were friends in real life! (And no, I’m not a crazy stalker, just a loyal reader!)

  14. Yessssss Jenna! I am a special education teacher – and people (some of them my friends!) still use the word “retarded” and the phrase “short bus” around me! I always think…”ummm, do you know who you are talking to? Why would you think that’s acceptable?” When it’s friends, I try to at least summon up a dirty look to give them, but it is always difficult to stick up to people.

    I also loved that part of Glee!

    Katy Reply:

    Yes! When people (acquintances mostly) say those words I always do a double take. Don’t you know me? Don’t you know Grant? That just proves to me how flippant it is – people don’t even realize what they are saying. They hear it from so many other people that it’s lost it’s meaning. I guess that’s where this post and that website come in!

  15. Fabulous post! I admit that while I’ve stood up to people saying “that’s so gay” it is so much harder for me to say something about the use of “retard”, because it is has been used for so long that the most random people I know use it- family members, friends, etc. I think, because I’m neither gay nor differently abled, that I feel ok with pointing out the gay offense because of all of my gay family members/friends. For whatever reason, it seems as though people aren’t sympathetic to a request to not use a word unless you have a personal experience with it, or else then it comes downs to “what do you care?”, a crappy look, and then it’s passed off. It always shocks me, and then I’m taken aback, and then I don’t know what to say after that, and then the moment passes. I’m trying to get better at it.

  16. My college roommate (and dear friend) has a mentally handicapped brother. It took one use of the word “retarded” around her for her to gently put me in my place and cut the word out of my vocabulary.

    Great post!

  17. Hear, hear! I couldn’t agree more. I stopped using “gay” as a pejorative in middle school when I had friends who came out, and cahnging that behavior helped me to stop using “retarded” as well.

    Maybe this only applies to some of my less sensitive friends, but in addition to eliminating the use of gay and retarded as pejorative terms, I think people should try to stop using “rape” in contexts that don’t actually involve sexual assault. That is, I wish people would stop saying “That test totally raped me” when they mean “That test was so hard.” Using rape so casually and inaccurately completely diminishes the seriousness of the crime, is disrespectful to rape victims, and can be triggering to people who have experienced sexual assault.

    I try very hard to correct people when they use any of these words incorrectly, and I’ve had some success getting my friends to change their habits–at least around me. I hate being the word police, but I figure it’s worth it if I can get them to at least think about what they’re saying and how it’s harmful to those around them. Sometimes I wish they would take the matter more seriously, but I keep telling myself that baby steps count, too!

    Laura Reply:

    Oh! I forgot to mention that GLSEN and Ad Council recently did a PSA campaign called Think Before You Speak that addresses why using “That’s so gay” is wrong in pretty lighthearted manner. I know Wanda Sykes and Hillary Duff have both done one, and they’re usually pretty funny. You can find the videos on YouTube.

    Jenna Reply:



    Knock it off indeed! I think I’ll embed these in my post as well.

    Jenna Reply:

    Thanks Laura! I agree, if I had actually been sexually assaulted I would be very hurt if people acted like it was funny to joke about it by using the word casually. I don’t think that’s something I say but I’ll be watching out for it from now on!

    Katy Reply:

    I’ve never heard ‘rape’ used like that! Crazy!

  18. What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. I’m committed to eliminating these words from my vocabulary and talking to my husband about his use of them.

  19. Also, I just went and watched that clip, and I completely cried. Very powerful, and didn’t veer into cheesy. Fabulous.

  20. Excellent post! Many years ago I committed myself to never using those words as well. It’s so easy to use a different word! Plus, you don’t sound so unbelievably ignorant and classless.

    Katy Reply:

    Yes! You never know who you are talking to – the new boss that just hired you may have a child with a disability or a gay friend…if you use these words in these ways you never know what negative impression you are leaving and may even be hurting your chances and oppportunities in the future.

  21. I was an RA in college and used the phrase “that’s so gay” in front of my boss one time. He immediately corrected me by saying “No, Natalie, I’m so gay.” That one sentence put me in my place and shut me up so fast. It has really stuck with me in the almost 10 years since that incident.

  22. This post hit home. In high school, I used to use the term retarded to describe everything I didn’t like and my mom tried to correct me. However, I was of the belief that no one calls themself retarded therefore, the word is no longer associated with its origin much in the same way that dummy is socially acceptable. I eventually decided the word made me sound ignorant and removed it from my vocabulary. Don’t get me started on Gay to describe things, I have always found that one offensive.
    My fiancee’s brother is severely mentally disabled (Downs and autistic). During our first Christmas with my family, my brother and cousin were having some conversation which involved them calling various ideas and probably each other retarded (they had never met FI’s brother due to distance and had no ide he is diabled). My dad, started shooting them both death glares but neither caught on and he later told them about FI’s brother. They were both mortified and seperately apologized profusely to my FI. Luckily, he knew handled the situation well and is not easily offended by such things but both my brother and cousin felt embarrassed and ashamed of their ignorance and were a little uneasy for the rest of the evening. I think they learned their lesson that day.

  23. Great post! My brother has downs and he told me once that he might have downs but he is not a retard. Yeah pretty much no one utters that word in my presence!

    As far as gay and the f word, well it’s not tolerated in LA and in schools there is a zero tolerance policy. I think people who were offended by the clip must be sheltered, have no gay friends, or ever been there after a person came out to their family. I cried when I watched Glee.

    You don’t have to be a progressive and believe in equal protection and gay marriage but I think everyone deserves decency and respect!

    Katy Reply:

    Good for your brother! I know I’m completely biased, but I think my Grant is the brightest little guy out there. :) What he may sometimes lack in his speed of gaining new skills, he makes up for *completely* in ingenuity, curiousity, and desire.

    Amy Carter Reply:

    “not tolerated in LA and in schools there is a zero tolerance policy”

    I teach at an LAUSD high school and I’m sorry, but kids say “gay” and the “f-word” ALL THE TIME! They do not get punished for it at all.

    I always tell my students (especially when I teach To Kill a Mockingbird or Huck Finn) that one day we will look back on our use of the words “gay” and “fag” and “retard” as we do now for the n-word. I admit to sometimes using “retarded” in a disrespectful way, but I really try not to. It is a bad habit.

    Emmie Reply:

    I taught at a “last chance” school and they charged kids for saying those words. I just taught law as a community service thing but I thought that was the standard…so sad.

    Emmie Reply:

    And by charge they had to pay .25 cents a word.

    My sister in law teaches in Portland schools I am not sure of the district but they have a zero tolerance policy as well.

  24. I agree these words are being misused big time. I wish you hadn’t said that “I admit, the LDS community, particularly in Utah, is awful about using these words in this way.” I really don’t think that’s true. I think it all depends on who you are as a person and what your family standards and personal standards are. I haven’t typically used them; my husband does occasionally but in his regular speech. I know plenty of non-LDS people that use those words, although I know some LDS ones as well. And I’m not one to stick up for Utah (I currently wish I could move this minute to any other state), but that’s a major over-generalization and just as judgmental as the words you are referring to them usiing. I just wish you would have left it out. It was unnecessary. You know I love you and your blog; just don’t send us LDS people under the bus, ok?? Let’s stick up for each other. :)

    On to the words, yes they are offensive. My little brother has a learning disability. I haven’t been around since he’s been in high school, but I’m fairly certain people treat him very good because he’s incredibly sweet. For that I am grateful. But I think the words come up more in our own peer groups referring to each other. The one that has always bothered me is SPED, or I guess, the short bus reference. If you’re talking about the actual SPED program, as I did as a teacher, than that’s different. But making fun of someone for being SPED or “special” or yes, riding the short bus, is probably what I would be more likely to get all riled up about. I see no reason to make fun of someone because they are dealing with problems beyond their control. And then there is my poor brother who is not TOTALLY “retarded” (in the correct sense) and realizes that he is not normal and totally gets depressed because of it. I hope hope hope he’s never heard someone making fun of retarded people or the Special Ed bus. He doesn’t need it; he deals with a lot of crap coming from his own head. If someone makes a comment like that, usually all I do is say, “my brother rides the special ed bus.” You know what they do? They s-h-u-t-u-p. You don’t need a dramatic speech. Just simply tell them that. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    Jenna Reply:

    Did you not go to BYU? Based on my experience there this language runs rampant. I think we sometimes don’t like to admit our own faults. Homophobic language is definitely one of them because many of us still haven’t been able to come to terms with the idea that we don’t support homosexual activity but that we still support the person. We’re never going to change as a culture until we can admit that this is a major fault we have.

    Maybe I am the one person at BYU who was surrounded by friends in high school and college who used homophobic language (well, and the word retard, what kind of language would that be?) I doubt it. It’s tough to cast your own people in a bad light so publicly, but I know entirely too many people who speak this way to believe that it’s only a small problem. If we pretend like a it’s not an issue for as a culture… nothing will ever change.

    Sure there are other cultures that speak this way as well. But someone else is going to have to stand up and admit that it’s a problem for them, I haven’t experienced it I don’t know. But as someone who grew up in small towns and spent most of my “play” time with other mormons, and then went to BYU and lived in Utah for almost 5 years, this is a MAJOR problem. And it’s not like it was just back then either. Facebook can attest that this still is an issue.

    Jessica Reply:

    I went to BYU and I still think that’s overgeneralizing (and I can’t even think of one instance of it happening in my circles at BYU. It probably did, but no more than anywhere else). I feel very strongly that it is NOT our LDS culture, it’s more of a family/peer issue. My family doesn’t use those words; my husband’s family does, but we have different standards for other things as well (like media, Sabbath worship, etc.). But we both came from strong LDS backgrounds. I don’t think religion even plays a part in this discussion at all (except you’d think people would realize that’s not Christlike); that’s what I’m saying. I grew up in southwest WA and although we had a strong LDS community there, BOTH LDS and non-LDS kids were saying hurtful words all the time like the ones you’ve mentioned. I think it’s become part of our American society, so yeah, that has shown itself in the LDS community because we live in America. I just didn’t see the need to even state anything about religion as it’s not a religious subject.

    You have plenty of comments on here from people who run in different religious/non-religious circles and they are saying that people around them use the words too. I’m NOT saying it’s ok for anyone to use them, I’m just saying the LDS people who do are not unique. Ok, that’s all I’m going to say about it. I didn’t mean to start a war about it; I just wanted to make my concern known. We can agree to disagree, right? :)

    Jessica Reply:

    Also, don’t you think it’s more likely that a male would say those words instead of a female? I can’t think of any LDS girl from back home who would say things like that, but the boys are another story…I think they don’t know how else to fit in except to make fun of someone else and make themselves feel better. Locker room talk. Just a thought.

    Jessica Reply:

    Of course, there I go overgeneralizing males. :) Can’t we get away from judging one another?? I guess we all struggle with that.

    Jenna Reply:

    Yeah but you are using the word LDS as the LDS belief system. I’m referring to the LDS *culture*. Two totally different things. You are right, the Gospel itself has nothing to do with this discussion, but the culture that has developed around the people who live it most certainly does. I think the fact that you can think of ANY example of LDS people using it in your life then it is a problem.

    Jessica Reply:

    But Jenna, I AM talking about the culture! I’m saying it’s AMERICAN culture, not LDS culture. Aah, I should just stop responding because now I’m getting upset. SOME people in LDS culture use it, but not all. SOME people in American culture use it, not all. My main issue with you saying that, is that LDS people are already under such a watchful eye and you have many people who are very curious and quick to judge us, our religion, and our culture. If this were a forum for LDS people only, then it would be a different story. But the fact that the problem does NOT only lie with LDS people and you made it seem like it’s so much worse in our community really made me cringe since there are people who are already looking for something to look down on us for. Using degrading words is a problem, in SOCIETY AS A WHOLE, not just the LDS culture. I’m not saying there aren’t ignorant people in our culture too, and it’s a problem. But we’re not alone in that problem and we certainly don’t need another reason for people to judge US.

    Katy Reply:

    That is great advice – that simple statement would stop people in their tracks. I hope your brother also never has to hear negative words or that someone around him stands up to those speaking awfully.

    As for the LDS community, I can’t speak to exact percentages or anything, but it’s definately something I hear quite a bit in our religous family. You would think people ‘like us’ that try not to swear or use otherwise bad language would also think more about their words, but a number of members I know don’t. As if the only consideration is not using actual cuss words, but everything else is fair game regardless of what you are *really* saying. Drives me crazy.

    As for the ‘Utard’ thing – you don’t really hear it in Utah (for obvious reasons) but I can tell you it’s *highly* prevalant among the members in AZ and CA (the other two states I’ve lived in). Before Grant was born, I was even guilty of using it once or twice I think, but now it just sounds terrible coming out of the mouths of people that on Sunday were singing the hymn “Love One Another” or “Let Us All Speak Kind Words To Each Other”.

    Jessica Reply:

    Katy, it sure has stopped people in their tracks. Usually they feel bad (at least like they’ve been caught red-handed), and mutter an apology. I think most people who use it are just embarrassing themselves and making it seem like they are ignorant. It’s one thing in junior high, but when adults do it, it is just uncalled for, huh?

    I hear it in my husband’s family occasionally. I think you guys have inspired me to say something. It’s hard with your in-laws, but I think if they can dish it out, they can take it. I know they wouldn’t like being called Utards. :)

  25. The worst offenders, I think, are teenagers!

    If you are offended when you hear people use “gay” or “retard” that way, you could confront them, but that will make them defensive and probably not change their behavior. I don’t know about “retard,” but when I heard my students calling something they didn’t like “so gay,” I’d answer “that’s so straight.” At least it called their attention to the fact that what they were saying didn’t really make any sense.

    Katy Reply:

    Oh yes – if only the 14 year old boys of the world read Jenna’s blog! But we can try to get through to them. Even if they balk at us saying something, *someday* they’ll realize how terrible it was. I guess we just have to help plant the seed.

    I use the same tatic when people take the Savior’s name in vain – when someone says Jesus Christ in a inflamed way, sometimes I say “What does He have to do with (insert reason for exclaiming)?” or “I wonder if every time Jesus gets mad he says {insert the speaker’s name}!’” (the last is a little blasphemous?…sacriligious? maybe, but I find it helpful to turn it around like that) :)

    Ashley Reply:

    I agree with you about the 14 year olds – My brother uses these words without even thinking, and brushes off my explanations to him. I think that at that age they know everything and I’m just the uncool older sister who “doesn’t get it”

  26. 100% agree! I was so excited when the clip on Glee happened! For once you see something that most people wont say. And to the audience they target for that show, it’s a great lesson for all to remember. I know that I’ve said those things before too, as I think many people do without thinking one bit about it. But I really have been trying hard to watch what I say because you never know who you might hurt with your words. Great post Jenna!

  27. I’ve had experience with this, in that I’m dyslexic – which is another common way for people to excuse their own inabilities, and it is often used the same way “retarded is.” I don’t use any of the words you mentioned, and I’m also the first one to let me people know I am dyslexic and I don’t appreciate their reference. In high school this caught most people off guard, and eliminated the problem – at least when I was around.

    I do agree though, that more than any other group of friends, my LDS friends tend to use “gay” more so than my other friends. Never been to Utah – so I can’t vouch for them though. In my institute program saying “That’s so gay” was pretty rampant. Once before a lesson I just stood up and said

    “You know what bothers me? I can’t bring any of my gay friends to this class because I would not want to submit them to that. What kind of missionaries are we? ”

    And it was true. I wouldn’t bring ANY of my friends there, because the way my LDS friends so flippantly used “that’s so gay” was really bad.

    Jenna Reply:

    Oh GOOD FOR YOU Jessica. You’re right. We already have a hard enough time fostering relationships with homosexuals, we don’t need to add to that by insulting them right off the bat.

    Katy Reply:

    I love that! You know we Mormons are all about the missionary work too! What a great way to remind others that we truly are Member Missionaries and really need to watch what we say.

  28. Love the post and completely agree! I’m so happy to see y’all getting the message out there, and it’s another example of using your blog in a wonderful way to reach people.

    I have been very good about eliminating these words completely, but my husband still uses them all the time, and I get very upset with him. He doesn’t seem to grasp the big deal, so I am sending him your post and hope he reads it and takes it seriously. It’s coming from y’all much more eloquently than from me :)

    I actually called my dog ‘retarded’ this past weekend and I felt so terrible. I felt like the whole world heard me say the word and thought less of me because of it. So with that random slip-up, I’ll have to be extra careful now so it doesn’t happen again.

  29. I like you an awful lot, but I gotta tell you, I’ve never liked you more than after just reading that.
    Beautifully written.

  30. Thanks for posting about this, Jenna. This is an issue that hits VERY close to home with me, as I’m currently a college senior majoring in special education. It breaks my heart every time I hear people use the word “retarded” so casually, and I am so glad that people are starting to notice and speak up about this issue. It always astounds me when those close to me use that word around me, without even thinking about who I am and what I’ve chosen to do with my life. It’s become such a common part of most peoples’ speech that they don’t even realize they are saying it anymore.

    I also agree with you 100% about the scene recently in Glee. That scene made me tear up and I thought it was so incredibly powerful. People just don’t realize how much their words hurt.

  31. I totally agree that certain words should be eliminated from every day speech. As far as your statement :

    The “N” word is offensive, it targets a specific group of people and attempts to describe how worthless someone thinks they are (well, unless it’s used by the people within that group but that’s another post for another day)

    I totally agree with that too. The few ppl within the culture that still use it are encouraged by the media (music/comedians) and they unfortunately strive to convince ppl that it is still ok and has lost its meaning. They are only kidding themselves. The word is vile and no matter what beat you put it with or what joke you include it in, it still will not transform the word into another meaning. If you don’t want anyone to use it, don’t use it yourself. I think that goes for girls calling each other bit**s and sluts and then say they are just playing. I hear that a lot too.

    If someone else is not allowed to use the word towards you, then you shouldn’t use it either.

  32. Thanks for writing this! I run an after school program and send kids home who use the words retard, gay, fag, or any racial slur…and I can’t tell you the amount of parents who’ve gotten SO MAD at me over that policy. “It’s no big deal, it’s just a word” has been said to me over and over. But they’re wrong, language has power…

    Anyways, here’s the Glee clip, which I sobbed through. :)

    Katy Reply:

    Ask those parents how they would feel if *their* child had a some kind of physical or intellectual disabilty. They likely would sing a completely different tune then. Kudos for sticking to your policy – I support you!

    Those parents probably care less about the reason you sent them home, but more because you DID send them home…they probably just didn’t want to have to see their kid sooner than they needed to! ( I’ve known parents like that sadly…)

    Jenna Reply:

    Thanks Gabby! I searched for it on Glee but wasn’t using the right search terms. I embedded the clip in my post!

  33. So many thoughts!! :

    I sobbed, completely sobbed, during that scene in Glee (mentioned in your post) where Curt’s father scolded Finn for using the word fagot. And I was shocked to hear (in your post) that some people didn’t appreciate the scene.

    The reason I was shocked – I’m in a little bubble. Just like the Utah Mormon’s are in their bubble, I’m in a little bubble where no one says gay/fag/retard derogatorily, and if someone does, we automatically assume that person is trashy and uneducated. We harshly judge people who would speak that way and thus I forgot that probably nice people (who are educated!) say that somewhere in a different bubble than the one I live in.

    I feel like I haven’t heard the word retard used since elementary school, but gay was certainly heard all through high school. People are somewhat unanimous in their respect for the mentally handicapped (and thus I feel that ‘retard’ is phasing out faster), but there is a still a giant portion of our population who do not respect homosexuals. There are sadly many who do feel that homosexuality is bad – and thus their slang/derogatory use of “gay” to mean bad/something-they-hate reflects their feelings (while the same is not true of their use of the word “retard”). So the issue is more complicated when “retard” is said out of insensitive habit and “gay” is said out of actual dislike.

    I love my husband so much, and I can’t imagine not being married to him. Despite 5 years together (and 3 years of cohabitation before marriage) – marriage IS different. It feels different – it feels wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I naively thought nothing would change, and yet it has, and I love being married. This may be harsh – I’d rather bubbles in Utah call me ugly and stupid than forbid me from marrying my husband, which has brought me so much happiness.

    So while I think ceasing using disrespectful language is a very positive start – and I’m assuming you have kind and wonderful family and friends who use this language, and this post is thus very brave – I’d like people to examine the emotions behind their language. I wish I could find the exact quote, but someone once wrote something along the lines of: Just because it is no longer PC to be racist, doesn’t mean racism has gone away. PC language has masked the fact that the problem remains – and now the problem is harder to fight.

    Ellie Reply:

    I agree with you – the people I hang out with don’t call things gay or retarded. We just don’t. So I also assumed that anybody who used those terms was just a big jerk.

    Then I got to college and my college roommate used the term “fag” to describe EVERYTHING. As in, “check out these shoes, they’re so fag.” And, “how fag is that?”

    I didn’t say anything to her, but it took about a month for her to stop using it quite so much – I think either I was a good influence, or she realized that a lot of the people we went to college with didn’t use it much.

    I think it is really interesting to reflect on where words come from – for example, in the 19th century, an “idiot” was a person who was mentally retarded. “Dumb” is also a person who cannot speak. I frequently say something is “lame”, although I would never say something is “missing a limb” even though that is what lame means/used to mean. So I think it’s an interesting dialog to keep constantly having.

  34. Pingback: Can I jump on my soapbox for a minute? « The "I Do" Diaries

  35. Word up yo!

    I was a little put off by that episode of Glee just because neither of the parents realize that Kurt has a crush on Finn and therefore don’t consider that it might, maybe, just be a LITTLE inappropriate to expect Finn to want to share a room with him.

    I think Finn had a total right to protest sharing a room, not because Kurt is gay, but because that’s not a cool situation for anyone, gay or straight, to have to be in. I know if I had a new stepdad with a stepson who though I was hot and they were like “have fun sharing a room with your new brother!” and my new brother was like “yeaaaahhh, I’m gonna watch you sleeping” I might be all ‘OH HELL NAW’ too.

    FM Reply:

    I agree with you that the show minimized that part of the issue (the sharing a room with someone who has a crush on you and is kind of imposing on your space without asking, however well-meaning it might have been), but the point was that the one issue doesn’t give you license to speak the way Finn did – hateful toward Kurt for being gay and the concept of being gay, rather than just focusing on the fact that Kurt was doing something he didn’t like. You don’t get to start throwing racial slurs at someone who is black who does something that you don’t like, even if you’re justified in not liking the thing they did. It’s not ok, and it’s not justified.

  36. When I lived in Provo I worked at Provo Care Center where people (mostly geriatric) with special needs, down syndrome or mental retardation lived. It was there that I realized the offensive use of the “r” word and vowed to constantly work on not using it in a derogatory way. Only in it’s correct context. It was am amazing 3 months that I will always always cherish where I grew so much as a person. Learning about these peoples lives and who they were was so special and I grew to appreciate them and especially their loved ones who sacrificed so much to take care of them.
    Also? I couldn’t help but think about when this mortal life is over and we are all in the Spirit World – will they come up to me and say thank you? Thank you for treating me kindly, taking care of me and taking the time to make me smile? And will others who we pass on the street or interact with in our daily lives come up to us and say “Thank You for smiling at me – for telling those other people to stop making fun or staring” or whatever else. They are spirits of our Heavenly Father just like us and after this life is over they will be made whole and I cannot wait to see those who I came to love so much as they really are.

    I also tried to eliminate the “that’s so gay” thing, too. I am also constantly trying to not use the word crap in my vocabulary. I guess I just don’t like the way it sounds. Gotta find other words to replace them! Nothing wrong with increasing my vocabulary.

    Thank you to you and Katy for this post. You have such a large audience – I’m sure some people don’t even think or know what they are saying. But maybe now they will think.

    And not all LDS people have a problem with this :)

    Katy Reply:

    I found your comment! :)

    Thanks for your kind words! I remember hearing about another program in Utah (I’m sure it’s everywhere) where college age kids volunteer to go out and do fun things with those with intellectual disabilities. My husband’s friend did something like that and every Friday night took this 20ish year old guy with Down syndrome bowling or to movies, etc. I loved hearing about this. I hope programs like this exist when Grant gets older – - everyone, no matter who you are, wants to feel fellowshipped, loved, and important to someone else.

  37. Just want to add to the chorus of people who 100% agree that using these terms in a derogatory way is disgusting and applaud you for this post, Katy and Jenna.

    The way I try to explain it to people is not just that it’s hurtful to use a word, but that using the terms that way perpetuates the discrimination and more hurtful behavior that comes from the hateful feelings reinforced by the hateful words. That’s why people care about being “PC”. Words have power, not just to offend, but also to shape the thinking both of the people who listen and speak those words. I totally agree with Erin that not using the words in line with PC standards can sometimes contribute to masking the negative attitudes that continue to exist, but I also think they shape attitudes and actions. I think if it’s not socially acceptable to use anti-gay or anti-people with disabilities language, it will be more clear that it’s not socially acceptable to act in ways that are anti-gay or anti-people with disabilities.

  38. I do not use ‘retard(ed)’ or ‘gay’ any more. ‘Moron’ also goes in with ‘retard(ed)’ btw and I am working on removing that one as well.

    Jenna Reply:

    Thanks Dienaid! I didn’t know that Moron also had a background similar to that of retarded. I think I’m going to try to refrain from using that as well.


    Dienaid Reply:

    “The word moron, along with others including “retarded”, “idiotic”, “imbecilic”, “stupid”, and “feeble-minded”, was formerly considered a valid descriptor in the psychological community, but it is now deprecated in use by psychologists.”

    Stupid, idiotic and moronic will be the hardest ones to eliminate in my opinion because they don’t really have the same clear connotation that retarded does despite being, essentially, the same. But it does help me to better explain my problems with people instead of simply brushing them off as stupid or an idiot and thinking more about why I disagree with some people can’t be a bad thing!

    Jessica Reply:

    I also thought of “crazy” and “special.” Crazy has been in our culture for so long and I think most people aren’t offended by it anymore, but hey, some people really ARE crazy, isn’t that in the same boat as the others?

    Dienaid Reply:

    People with mental disabilities and illnesses are definitely treated very badly and have their illnesses made into humor for others.

    In a perfect world, nobody would joke about having people in their head, mock slim girls for being ‘anorexic’ or suggest that they might be bulimic (in a snide way), wish that they could meet and hook up with a nymphomaniac, or claim that they are ‘bipolar’ because they are emotional (without the typical traits that go along with bipolar disorder – collecting massive debt from mania, and ruining their lives when they can’t even get out of bed from depression).

    I care about not using words like retarded or moronic, but nothing pushes my buttons like making little of mental illness or marginalizing mentally ill people. I’m not as good about not using crazy (but I do not use ‘special’ – I think it fits better in with ‘retard’) but I should probably be better about it considering I will be the first to go on a rant when mental illness is brought up!

  39. Thank you so much for this post. When I saw that episode of Glee, I cried. My husband sitting next to me didn’t get it at all. He has stopped using “gay” as a derogatory term around me, but still uses it occasionally with his friends, and it’s very offensive to me.

    My best friend and next-door-neighbor while growing up is gay, and he was teased mercilessly in middle school for being different. It got to the point where he contemplated suicide several times during our eighth grade year. Having this experience in my past has made me very sensitive to homophobic terms and attitudes, and it breaks my heart that homophobia is so prevalent in the LDS community, especially when our leaders have specifically spoken out against it. Same-gender attraction is a real issue that many wonderful people live with every day.

  40. That Glee scene was brilliant! I can’t believe anyone would have a problem with it.

  41. I loved this post. I had a friend with down syndrome and her sister talked to a whole group of us about not using the word retarded casually. Now, as a Special Ed teacher, I am the one telling people not to use that word casually. I get offended by it. My old boss would say that things were retarded and once I told him it bothered me, he was really careful.

    I think that people have good intentions and if they knew the way we felt about certain words, they wouldn’t use them.

    Same thing with saying that certain things are gay. I had students that would say that all. the. time. I was constantly reminding them to choose different words.

    Habits are hard to break, but we need to speak out and let people know how we feel.

  42. having kids and especially a 3 year old who copies EVERYTHING we say I have now eliminated MANY words from my vocabulary. Do we really want our 3 year olds saying “retard” and “gay” I don’t think so. It really helps me see all the yucky words I do say on a daily basis when she comes up to me with phrases that make me cringe coming out of a 3 year olds mouth and then I can’t holler too loud because I know exactly where she heard it. She is also the first to remind me, “mommy who don’t say that word!”

  43. I don’t often see eye to eye with you, but I completely agree with this post. Thank you for posting it.

  44. I truly appreciate this post. I think it’s a great idea to vocalize your feelings in an indirect way for people to learn where you stand without offending them. My little sister, Taylor, has Downs Syndrome. She is my hero, my best friend. I watched “What Would You Do?” reluctantly hen they aired the episode with the Downs Syndrome boy. I thought it would be too hard to watch. When I saw the strangers defend the boy, I cried. It felt like they were on my team, taking a stand for my little sister. Until you know someone who is handicap, the word ‘retard’ has little significance. Once you know someone who would once fallen under that description, your whole world changes… Including your vocabulary. I love the interchange of using “special needs” and am hurt when I hear retard used in the direction of a special needs person. I forgive those who don’t know better, but love how you have used your blog to teach others. Yor example has helped me and I think I will try and teach others too. Thank you!

    Katy Reply:

    When I watched that program, I thought it wouldn’t bother me as much because we know that both the bagger and the mean commentor are both just acting. But tears streamed down my face as people defended – especially the remark one woman made about ‘this is someone’s child!’. What a different world we’ve live in if we remembered that about everyone!

  45. For me, I frame this discussion a bit differently though… I choose not to speak that way, not because it’s offensive, but because it’s morally wrong. Slurs dehumanize. Any word that reduces a person’s humanity or worth is wrong, even if nobody in the room is offended. Those slurs come from the offender seeing certain groups of people “not-so-worthy”. Speaking to “retard” specifically, yes, that word is a legitimate word when it comes to the medical term “mental retardation”, however, society has successfully changed the meaning into a straight-up slur, so… I say “mentally disabled”, never “mentally retarded”. The thing is, just because someone is mentally disabled or challenged, doesn’t mean they aren’t a full person with 100% opinions and thoughts and a soul. Most people are uncomfortable around people that are mentally disabled, which is too bad.

    Another thought, most slurs have a violent and sobering history that illustrates intent… for instance “faggot” as used related to people (instead of a bundle of wood) came about because only a few hundred years ago, several people who were gay and sentenced to death would be rounded up, tied together, and burned to death. To me, slurs are an education issue – thoughtful people don’t use slurs.

    Jenna Reply:

    Categorizing people who use slurs as “unthoughtful” is a VERY nice way to put it. :)

    Penny Reply:

    Ha, wellllll, I figured if I called them anything else… it might conflict with the message of this post. :)

  46. Yes ma’am!!! We made the decision to be more mindful of things like that when our son was born, so 7 years ago! I,too, was just about standing on the couch cheering during that episode of Glee. It was SO perfect. I love the way the show is handling Kurt’s relationship with his Dad. His Dad doesn’t understand him, isn’t comfortable with him, and never would have chosen homosexuality for his son. BUT, he loves his son, and will protect him to the death, and do everything he can to help his son be happy in the world. That’s the kind of love we’re called to by Christ.
    Great post, Jenna!

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