When we first caught wind of the "Spread the word to end the word" campaign, we thought: Nice idea. Can't argue with that.
We thought wrong.
Lots of people, it turns out, can argue with that. One argument, played out in the comments portion of an article on queerty.com ("Is 'that's so retarded' the new 'that's so gay'?") went like this:
Point: "Funny how I only see people campaigning against the use of 'retard' or 'retarded,' when 'idiot' and 'moron' originated in the exact same manner: clinical terms for the developmentally impaired. Have you ever used either? Do you advocate the abandonment of all these terms, or just the contemporary 'retard/retarded'? If you don't, you're hypocritical at worst, and inconsistent at best."
Counterpoint: "I am amazed and amused by people who will lash out with arguments like this in order to justify their own entitled use of whatever offensive phraseology they feel particularly invested in. You like retard? Use it, by all means. Argue passionately for your right to do so. Just understand that to people less invested in using hate language, you just look like an ass. And you erode your own right to express indignation the next time someone throws similar hate language at you."
The campaign has some heavy hitters on board, including "Glee" stars Jane Lynch and Lauren Potter, who participated in a powerful public service announcement called "Not Acceptable" and urged viewers to sign an online pledge to stop using the word. (Watch it here on YouTube.)
Hard to say whether star power will fuel the campaign's success, but plenty of stars have fueled the campaign. Lady Gaga replied "That's retarded" to a recent query about whether her "Born This Way" song plagiarized Madonna's "Express Yourself." Jennifer Aniston caught some heat last summer for telling Regis Philbin, on "Live with Regis and Kelly," "Yes, I play dress up. I do it for a living, like a retard." Last month LeBron James muttered "That's retarded" when a reporter asked about a play involving Miami Heat teammate Dwayne Wade. The list goes on.
The utterance is usually followed by an official release with a chagrined (if hollow-sounding) apology. Yawn. But the r-word debate — playing out on the likes of Huffington Post, Babble, and YouTube — is anything but boring. Another peek at some online comments, this time from an Oklahoma Daily article linked from the r-word site:
Point: "As for why I choose to use the word 'retard,' I think about its real definition and when I use it, it is with the full understanding of what it means to retard something. When I call another retarded, it is not out of respect for a medical condition. I use that word because I think they are impeding something in some way, a mechanism of retardation. How do you use the word 'crazy'?"
Counterpoint: "This neglects the fact that the listener will interpret the word his/her way irregardless of the speaker's intent. …. Even if one has no foul intention when one uses the term 'retarded' degradingly, one should still refrain from using the word in order to not offend other people. It is better for one to willingly refrain his/her own right to free language for a moment than spend hours explaining the semantics of a word to the person one has accidently offended."
What are your thoughts? Email Word Works at firstname.lastname@example.org.