Just how toxic is the word ‘retard’?

This post will mostly state the obvious. Discussing an already widely accepted belief that using the word ‘retarded’ or ‘spaz’ to describe someone or something is just a no go. Both of these words need to go in the bin as soon as possible. I’m going to tell you why retard is so offensive.


Lets start with the origin of the word. According to dictionary.com  the origin of retard comes from Latin in the 1400s. The word generally meant to be slow and a lack of ‘tardiness’. (Okay not too bad so far, no connection to disabled people yet.) It wasn’t until the 1960s that it started to be used as a word to describe people with disabilities. Surprisingly disabled advocates preferred the retardation label in order to replace words such as ‘moron’ and ‘imbecile’ which had developed negative connotations (shocker).  Retard was a word that would be genuinely used in medical practices eg someone could be diagnosed with having some sort of ‘mental retardation’. It wasn’t until 2010, when Obama changed certain laws ( eg Rosa’s law) in America that stopped the use of the word in medical and political frameworks, instead replacing the phrase with intellectual disability.


So why do I have such a beef with this word? It’s just a word, it can’t actually do any harm… or can it? I would argue that the frequent and free use of this word is comparable to using other discriminatory labels like those used to describe POC and LGBTQ+ people. What is the difference?


Even though the word is rarely directed at a disabled person and is commonly used in teasing buddies or in an argument, it’s meaning still bothers me. I certainly feel awkward whenever it’s used as banter in my presence. People freeze up once they realise that they have dropped the R bomb or S bomb. You can see the little cogs turning behind their eyes “oh ma god wat ave a done, she is DiSAbleD an I jus sed rEtarDED”. Too late to go back now, the words are out and I will relish in your discomfort before suddenly changing the subject in order to save YOU the prolonged embarrassment. It bothers me deeply because the basic message is that “I am calling you a word that has been negatively used to describe people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, wrongly categorising people as idiots and has been used to insult them since the 60s. By calling you a retard I am therefore indicating that you are comparable to someone with a developmental disability and you should be offended” Realise how nasty that is?


So why do people say it so casually in conversation? As far as I am aware the disabled community have not wanted to reclaim the word. I’ve never heard or seen any disabled person use it, even in attempts to be ironic or sarcastic, so it is clear to me it’s a phrase that needs to die out as soon as possible. I do not have a learning disability but the word still wildly offends me, as it should everyone. I feel as though many people do not even realise the meaning behind the word, which is kind of ignorant in itself. I hope this blog post will make people think about a word that doesn’t seem to get enough critical attention.


If you’re unconvinced of the meaning of the word have a little look on Google and Google Images and type the word retard in. It’s hard to look at. Then you decide how toxic the word is.

Let me know your thoughts.

Thank you for reading xox

One thought on “Just how toxic is the word ‘retard’?

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  1. I agree completely. It’s also funny to me that people with cognitive disabilities are usually very kind and hardworking because they have to work so much harder to accomplish a task that average people take for granted, yet people try to use the word as an insult. “Hardworking” and “determined to succeed ” don’t sound like insults to me.


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