"A Word Gone Wrong," is a Sunday New York Times editorial written by Lawrence Downes.
Mental retardation is now generally referred to as a developmental or intellectual disability, as noted above; a person has mental retardation, in the same usage that a person has any other medical condition. Because MR has a specific meaning with respect to capital cases, I continue to use the older term at this website, but not in normal conversation.
This Wednesday is the fifth annual “day of awareness” in a national campaign to stop the use of the word “retarded” and its variants. As a medical label for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the R-word used to be neutral, clinical, incapable of giving offense. But words are mere vessels for meaning, and this one has long since been put to other uses.
“Retarded” and “retard” today are variations on a slur. Young people especially like it: as a weapon of derision, it does the job. It’s sharp, with an assaultive potency that words like “moron” and “idiot” lost sometime in the days of black-and-white TV.
The campaign against it, called “Spread the Word to End the Word,” is heartfelt and earnest in a way that makes it vulnerable to ridicule. I know people who care about language who do not see themselves as heartless and who do not see “retardation” as anything to get worked up about. To them, banishing the R-word for another clinical-sounding term is like linguistic Febreze: masking unpleasantries with cloying euphemisms.