Odd One Out

Don’t say that word

I am fetching one of my teaching props, or retreating to the whiteboard to make a quick diagram … just doing something besides speaking at the moment, when one of my students accidentally knocks over her soda can.

“Sorry! Just a retarded moment there,” she apologises into the sudden quiet, snatching the can upright and then grabbing some tissues from her purse to blot up the dribbles.

I freeze. Suddenly at a loss for words. Not for a lack of things wanting to say, but for having too many things to say, and everything getting into a verbal logjam.


All the momentum of being in my teaching-presenting groove evaporates. It literally evaporates, leaving my skin all clammy, and a chill jolts up from my tailbone, snapping my head and shoulder back in one big tic. My hasty breakfast curdles in my gut as I have visceral flashbacks of childhood abuse.

The R-word.

Omigawd I hate the R-word. I hate being called a Re-tard.

To retard means to hinder or delay. Various of my scholastic and social achievements have been delayed, but that never made the word appropriate. In the vernacular it’s meant as a slur, an insult, an assertion that someone is of subnormal intelligence. It’s the N-word of special education. Once-upon-a-time the word acquired a specific diagnostic meaning; someone who was “mentally retarded” had an IQ of less than 70. But whether or not the term is, or was, applicable to me or anyone else present is not the issue. Not even, and especially not, people with cognitive impairments or learning disabilities want to be called Retards.

She had not called me retarded. She hadn’t even directed the comment at anyone else. I would be extremely upset if she had.

But all of my responses are clogged up together in my verbal output buffer: Read the rest of this entry »