BADD But Not Rude

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2008

I did it!

Today I actually put into action my previous plan. It wasn’t long* or eloquent, but it was polite. A student made a remark about doing something “retarded”, and I asked in a sympathetic tone,

“Please don’t use that word. You can say you’re doing something foolish, or that you’re tired, or even just being human. We all have moments like this.”

This post is a part of the annual BADD, Blogging Against Discrimination Day, which is being hosted at Diary of a Goldfish. I spend a lot of blogging time discussing various disability issues, but for BADD I wanted to do something outside of the usual analyses. Like in my example above, I thought it would be useful to offer some alternatives to disability- or difference-related words that are frequently used not just as insults but also as disaparaging terms e.g. retard, retarded, tard, moron, cretin, lame-brain, spaz, mong, lame, having two left feet, cack-handed, blonde, gay, queer, psycho, schizo, short-bus, gyp, et cetera ad nauseam.

Note that I said as disparaging terms; saying someone is gay to mean homosexual, or that your cat is lame because it has a leg in a cast is one thing, but dismissing something as “That’s so gay,” or “That’s a really lame excuse,” is quite another. (I will confess that I have used “lame” in this way because I wasn’t really thinking about it, but I’m not going to any more.)

In any regard, the acid-test is simple: when you are using a word that describes a group of people, or a characteristic of [a group of] people, and are using it as an insult, that is rude. The reverse is also true: if you are using an insulting term and ascribing to everyone in a group, that is stereotyping and rude. These negative words perpetuate social stigmas and stereotypes against people with disabilities. Using them continues to dehumanise people. If the characteristic or attribute is something that a person cannot [easily] change, then insulting it or using it as an insult is wrong. (Meaning, it’s always open-season on ugly neckties, barring describing it with these sorts of words.)

It is not enough to sit around and kvetch about what’s wrong in the world; we must also offer things to do instead. So, here’s a starter-list of other words to use. Not only do they not reference the negative stereotypes, but they are also less hurtful words — they take the event and keep it within the realm of ordinary human fallibility: things we all do. In this way, we don’t distance ourselves from other people as being other people — we just comment upon their actions.

  • inattentive
  • foolish
  • unwise
  • ill-considered
  • rash
  • silly
  • impetuous
  • foolhardy
  • reckless
  • clumsy
  • awkward
  • inept
  • sorry
  • flimsy
  • implausible

I would also like to direct your attention to The “R” Word Campaign.

* Not long? Shocking, I know. I’m not always as loquacious in real life as I am in print.


  1. 29 June 2008 at 14:27

    Did you see the recent “Ask Amy” column? The first letter addresses the term “retard” and “retarded,” from someone asking for ideas how to respond when other adults use the term.


  2. andrea said,

    26 May 2008 at 15:07

    Nat, you misunderstand — I mean that clumsy should not be used as a slur or insult. It’s quite another thing to say that one is clumsy as a matter of fact (which I am, as well).


  3. Nat said,

    26 May 2008 at 11:04

    I have dyspraxia, an impairment which causes problems with coordination and physical activity. By your logic ‘clumsy’ shouldn’t be used as it describes a group of people and is a trait they cannot help. In fact one of the un polictically correct terms for dyspraxia is ‘clumsy child syndrome’ (along with ‘minimal brain damage’)…

  4. 18 May 2008 at 19:53

    […] (A request to people commenting: please use appropriate language — follow the guidelines described in this post.) […]

  5. 8 May 2008 at 13:27

    […] for specific posts, and got several different stories! My post for Blogging Against Disablism Day (“BADD But Not Rude”) earned a higher […]

  6. NTE said,

    4 May 2008 at 21:13

    This is one of those things that so many people (myself included) are guilty of, simply because we don’t think about the power of our words. Saying something is retarded is like… a staple in the conversations of my fellow Mass. citizens… “wicked retarded” is even more popular. I’ve outlawed it for myself, but am not so good at speaking up when someone else says it (usually because I feel they think I’m being snobby)… but I’ll definitely be speaking up more, with this post in mind.

  7. Sara said,

    3 May 2008 at 11:07

    Very useful! Thank you.

    I have to sheepishly admit to having used the word “lame” — in my own BADD post! Fortunately, I realized my error before many hours had passed and replaced it with the word “weak,” which is what I really meant.


  8. Jan said,

    2 May 2008 at 19:22

    Thank you for your post to BADD and giving others alternatives

  9. 2 May 2008 at 18:28

    Well done on implementing your plan! I’m irritated with myself – right after I read your post, I went out to a departmental event, where someone in a conversational I was peripherally involved with used the phrase “off her meds.”

    EASILY my least favorite phrase ever. I’ve blogged about that one phrase exclusively.

    And when the time came, I froze – I just couldn’t find anything to say, and then the moment had passed. *sigh* better luck next time, I guess? All of which goes to say, I admire your nerve in calling the student out, your tact in doing it in such a way that it might actually stop them from doing it again rather than make them dig in their heels, and perhaps most of all your sense of timing. :)

    (Thanks, too, for the list of alternatives; I’ll have to come up with one of my own.)

  10. 1 May 2008 at 18:05

    […] When I hear the r-word, it's my problem. It's my responsibility to stop and say, "Please don't use that word." […]

  11. dave said,

    1 May 2008 at 9:54

    HooRah! I hate that word, just hate it. Thanks for speaking up, speaking out and giving alternatives.

  12. Kelly said,

    1 May 2008 at 5:41

    Well done! It is always important to be polite. As a parent of a disabled child, words like “retarded” do not bother me so much, but as my child gets older, I should understand that they are hurtful to her.

  13. qw88nb88 said,

    30 April 2008 at 12:35

    I re-did the link and it works from here. Thank you, Adelaide.

  14. Adelaide said,

    30 April 2008 at 7:58

    The “R word campaign” doesn’t work as a link, Andrea. Were you trying to give us a new website you were creating, or going to the older blog post?

    Some of the other words I would eliminate immediately. I would have said “I was having an impulsive moment”.

  15. Bev said,

    30 April 2008 at 3:36

    Thank you, Andrea! And congratulations for putting that plan into action. I’ve been talking about this at my own university, and am going to start a poster “R” Word Campaign for the fall semester.

  16. wheelchairdancer said,

    30 April 2008 at 0:29

    Linked back to this and your previous post … brain fart on missing them in the first place.


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