Policing the Word Police

I’ve been surfing the net to find what phrase or word has superseded the older and now frowned upon term ‘mentally retarded’.

I did it for pure self interest, at first, until I found that the phrase I thought might have taken over, hadn’t . At least not totally. That phrase is mentally challenged. I have a bone to pick with this term. Allow me to get rid of this at the outset.

I have a mental illness and as anyone can see, mentally challenged could describe me as well. That is the problem. I don’t want to be lumped in a group with the mentally retarded because a) it doesn’t distinguish among our disparate conditions and b) might imply to people that I’m a very slow learner, which I am not. So this term can be inaccurate and have less precision than the previous language.

The term I support the most is intellectually challenged. To me it’s the best of three possible replacement terms for mental retardation.

The last term I bring up seems to be gaining the most traction in the admittedly unscientific surfing I did. That term is developmentally delayed. First I’d like to point out that the delayed part implies that maybe people with this condition can get a university degree by the time they’re 40 and could have a PhD before they die. That’s not how it works.

Developmentally delayed isn’t even precise enough to tell you it’s a mental condition. Maybe the person with this condition might enter puberty in their thirties. But more important is the fact that many people are developmentally delayed. Kids that didn’t speak properly in Grades 1 and 2 were taken out of my class and worked one on one with a speech coach. After a couple years of this, they all managed to speak quite well and caught up to the rest of the class in what they missed. These kids could be called developmentally delayed, too. There is a host of other conditions that might fit under this term as well. As with mentally challenged, this term can be inaccurate and have less precision than another term.

Some may say it’s fine to lump others with the intellectually challenged – people who object just need to be less bigoted. Let’s lump your group in with the intellectually challenged, then. Some of this wordplay I’m sure is caused by pediatricians. So we can then call the intellectually challenged “pediatricians”. How’s that for the next word on the euphemism treadmill?

I’m quite familiar with the idea of a euphemism treadmill. Here’s my 2 cents. I have a friend (let’s call him Ed) who is insulting quite a lot of the time. So normally I insult him back. But I thought it was funny to one day say “You’re such an Ed!” with a derisive tone in my voice. I used his name as an insult this way for many months. I thought it was funny. He took it as an insult every time, too. That tone of voice is going to be used on the term intellectually challenged and part of the community is going to call out for a new term when it does. We know this happens and could be prepared.

How about we use three terms: intellectually challenged, slow learner, and mentally retarded in a cycle, each portion of which could last 20 years. That way, the insults you heard in grade school would hopefully be changed by the time your kid is found to be intellectually challenged.

This might result in the intellectually challenged and their families to be not so put off by the words used. By the time the cycle was through, caregivers might not care about the name so much.

If we don’t follow my advice about the cyclical euphemism treadmill then we’re on an infinite euphemism treadmill that will never end. Again, I nominate “pediatrician” as the next word that becomes unusable by polite society.

About Larry Russwurm

Just another ranter on the Internet
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