I had big plans for my first post here in a couple of weeks — lots on my mind. Then I decided I’d just write a quick note of praise for my daughter, Eloise, who got an award today from the elementary school. Ellie is part of a book club whose goal is to encourage kids to read 1000 books before they finish kindergarten — this being what research shows is necessary for learning to read. Still in preschool, Ellie has completed 250 books and received a certificate from the principal, in front of the entire school. She was bursting with pride — and so were we.
But then I sat down to the computer, and saw that a friend posted her Boston Herald column today. In it, Lauren Beckham Falcone argues the case for eliminating the cruel, insulting word that too many people fling around carelessly. Retard.
Now, I’ve been guilty of using it in my life, when I was a teen — never to describe a person, but situations or behavior — and I was wrong. I could blame youth and the culture in which I grew, where it was a common epithet. I’d still be guilty and mean. There’s no way to use that word without a demeaning connotation (unless you are using it in it’s intended form, which almost no one ever does, be real.) It’s a word I’ve pretty much eradicated from my vocabulary. Now it’s my job to teach my children that the R word is unacceptable. (Right now they are young enough that the harshest mean word they know is the S word — stupid — which I forbid them to use. Also the H word — hate. And the SH — shut up.) It’s also my job to teach them to call out anyone around them who uses it.
If only more parents agreed.
Lauren writes far more eloquently on the issue than I, so read her column. What actually prompted my post today was her readers’ comments. Most people were pretty peeved with her — suggesting she lighten up, get over it, stop her liberal whining. Really, folks?
It’s disheartening to think that so many in our community could actually argue that the word is a valuable one, and using it is no big deal. One reader actually said, sarcastically, I’m guessing, that we should stop saying “fat” since she was offended (since apparently she is fat). Um, honey? Go for a walk. Cut out the Snickers. Take control of yourself, which you can change. You weren’t born obese.
Okay, you can’t legislate language. I’m a huge believer in free speech. And you can’t make cruelty illegal. There will always be cruel people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for change. It’s what we’re famous for, here in the US.
Words come and go in our ever-shifting language. I’m pretty sure we can get along without this one.