Publisher promises to retire offensive word
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:39 AM
Soon after the Bluff Country Reader hit the mailboxes in the area, we received a note objecting to the use of one word in last week's issue. Later, after Reader stories from the issue were posted online, we received similar feedback through online comments. The offending word, repeated several times, is "retarded," which was used to describe a pheasant in a light-hearted Biker's Diary column last week.
At first, my reaction was something along the lines of it's political correctness run amok. After all, the description was used on a pheasant, not a person. And it was a purely humorous story, not something that pretended to be newsworthy.
Although I didn't see the story before it ran, it was in my publication and my first reaction was a bit defensive, as often happens when someone is faced with criticism.
As a writer, I know there are many land mines, some of them planted by people with hidden agendas, to navigate through when publishing for a very public and diverse audience. For example, I have to think twice before light-heartedly calling myself crazy in a column because there are people who object to that description in any sense because mental illness is really a medical disease that shouldn't be treated as a joke.
Sometimes it seems as if no humor is acceptable because there is always the risk of offending someone, and that's, well, just sad.
However, my defensive posture quickly faded away and, being a curious person, I checked out the website, r-word.org, that many of the objectors referenced.
Soon, I could see their point.
When I was growing up, mental retardation was a common clinical term for people with intellectual disabilities. I knew it had fallen out of favor over the years and it wasn't a term I ever used in writing and one I never used in speech or heard in casual conversation.
However, I soon found out that I am out of the loop of popular culture because I didn't know, or at least never dreamed how prevalent the word is used in slang, particularly among young people, to describe something as dumb or stupid. It isn't necessarily a putdown aimed at a particular person, but is often a description - "that is so retarded."
And, I can see how families or friends of individuals with intellectual disabilities could see that as a slur. It wasn't as obvious to our editors as the n-word or other racial slurs because the r-word was a perfectly acceptable term at one time.
However, language is a living creature that evolves over time. Meanings of words change as the times change.
Our editors and publisher have always known the power of words. We just didn't realize the power of this particular word.
We also know that we're always learning, even if our education comes a bit too late. We apologize for any offense taken and leave our readers with the assurance that the r-word is now officially retired from our publications.